For Options Recovery Services, art is a cure for drug addiction


When Samuel McFarland entered a drug treatment program in July 2018, he turned to his sketchbook.

He had always been drawn to drawing, even as a child, but it was not something he had ever practiced full time. Life was too busy – he played sports, went to college and then worked as a firefighter.

But when his drug addiction finally led him to Option recovery services at Berkeley, he learned to tap into his creativity.

“There was a sketchbook and a pencil, and it was like a lost dream awakened,” McFarland said. “Whenever something happened, it was beneficial to draw. I think there is something healing in being able to exteriorize feelings, emotions.

Today, McFarland strives to help others in treatment achieve a similar healing through art.

He helped create the Recovery Through the Arts program at Options, where he taught art classes for clients and helped support the publication and distribution of their artwork through annual calendars, newsletters and social media.

Samuel McFarland, a former Options Recovery Services customer, is pictured Tuesday, November 2, 2021 in San Leandro, California. McFarland now runs an arts program at Options Recovery Services. (Aric Crabb / Bay Area News Group)

Options Recovery Services is a full service treatment center for people with addiction. The center offers outpatient drug and alcohol treatment as well as low-cost accommodation for those participating in the treatment.

A team of employees – drug and alcohol counselors, medical assistants, doctor, acupuncturist and others – are promoting a holistic treatment center for people with substance use disorders, said Justin Phillips, Executive Director of Options.

The organization received funding this year from Share the spirit, an annual vacation campaign that serves residents in need in the East Bay. Donations to the program will help support 56 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Options will use its grant for the arts program.

Options’ art program flourished after McFarland, who had volunteered in the organization’s development department, wanted to illustrate a series of drawings to depict what the 12 Steps to Recovery looked like to him. The art was released as a calendar and used in a grant application to help fund Options’ art program.

In the first step, titled “Admit His Helplessness”, McFarland illustrated a rooster whose wrists and ankles were handcuffed and chained to anchors labeled “addiction” and “relapse.” In step five, titled “Admit Wrong,” the bird flees what appear to be demons in a closet.

The emotional progression of the illustrated stages is clear: the first expresses some chaos and pain, while the more calming is the penultimate stage, ‘seeking grace’, in which a satisfied bird sits in front of rolling hills, the sun and a rainbow.

McFarland said the timeline represented his own feelings as he worked his way through the stages of treatment.

His own addiction “was not a problem until it was,” he said, explaining that the transition from high school to college and into a career was so functional it never happened. didn’t realize he was developing a problem.

“I thought, I have a job, a car. It’s really progressive. Before you know it, you trade going to work to stay home and take whatever drug you want, ”he said. “Literally one day I woke up like, what happened?”

Samuel McFarland, a former Options Recovery Services customer, is pictured Tuesday, November 2, 2021 in San Leandro, California. McFarland now runs an arts program at Options Recovery Services. (Aric Crabb / Bay Area News Group)

It got worse when he found himself struggling with homelessness and overdosed in a park, where he fell and broke his teeth. People stole him and left him for dead.

“Staying the same outweighed the pain of change,” he said of his realization that he needed help then. After a rehab trip, his mother took him to Options Recovery.

The great thing about Options is that it doesn’t reject people for lack of money, he said. Otherwise, many people like him – whose addiction drove them into poverty – would not be able to access expensive residential treatment that can cost several thousand dollars a month.

Instead, the combined offerings of Outpatient Treatment Options and Low-Cost Housing scattered across Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro are free to clients who require these services.

“It’s unique,” said Phillips, explaining that all too often people with drug addiction struggle to stay on treatment if they don’t have a sober and safe living situation or thousands of dollars to get in. in a residential establishment.

Option contracts with Alameda County, cities and state and receive clients referred by court or other agencies. It also receives donations and grants to continue operating. The organization serves about 1,500 people a year, Phillips said.

The treatment program is eclectic and offers clients the opportunity to be expressive and “think outside the box,” said Phillips. For those who have difficulty expressing themselves in words, art can be useful.

To that end, Options and McFarland used their series of illustrations to create a timeline that served as an example of what can be accomplished in their application for a grant from the California Arts Council to expand the arts program. Since then, McFarland has taught art classes for Options clients and helped develop the program to help attendees post their art through calendars or on social media.

It’s “one of the coolest things I’ve had in my life,” he said. “Getting people to say, ‘I’ve never done something like that’, it’s almost magical. It is a beautiful thing.

He is now in his second year of study in Marriage and Family Therapy with an emphasis on the Expressive Arts, and he hopes to help facilitate artistic expression and therapy for others in their recovery, such as art helped him.

“The options saved my life. The arts saved my life, ”he said.

Share the spirit

The Share the Spirit vacation campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, brings relief, hope and opportunity to East Bay residents by funding non-profit programs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

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