BookLife Talks with Michael Blanchard
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Through a Sober Lens'Blanchard’s second work of photography and writing, Through a Sober Lens, is not only a look back at his recovery and nine years of sobriety but also a guide to help those struggling with addiction and help their loved ones better understand the journey ahead.
When did the concept for Through a Sober Lens first come to you?
For the last six years, I have been taking photographs and writing about my story on Facebook. My fan base has grown to nearly 55,000 followers. I educate, share my experiences, and help others struggling with mental health and addiction challenges. I bare my soul in the interest of reducing stigma and helping others. The writing is more powerful because it is paired with a photograph. I truly believe photographs are windows to the soul. Many of my fans suggested taking the best of the Facebook posts and compiling them into a second book. I have posted thousands of stories and images, so reducing that number to 40 was a daunting task.
Was there a photograph or bit of writing you wanted to include but couldn’t?
I wanted to include a story about my 23-year-old daughter overcoming her own struggles with an eating disorder, severe depression, and cutting. The latter was difficult to deal with and, despite our best efforts, permanent scars remained. As she got older, she wore long-sleeved shirts to cover them out of embarrassment. But then one day she went and got tattoos of the word “Warrior” etched over the scars. She became an inspiration for many. But she was too shy and wouldn’t let me include it!
How do you imagine readers at this moment will connect to Through a Sober Lens?I learned in my master’s program in psychology that imagery and art are used in recovery from cancer treatment, addiction, depression, PTSD, trauma, abuse, etc. These maladies have a common element: isolation. The process of leaving the house to take photographs transported me from isolation back into the world. In the beginning, I sought empty beaches and landscapes. However, I learned quickly that while seeking solitude, I would often bump into people and form amazing connections. Those interactions brought me back to life and reconnected me to community. Many describe how empathy and caring form the basis of healing for both the afflicted and the healer. Finding a passion, whether it be cooking or painting or any other activity, helps us connect with something larger than ourselves and reassures us we are never alone.
How does this book compare with your first work, Fighting for My Life?
My first book was an effort to make sense of my life, heal the damage done, and reflect on the lessons of early sobriety. Fighting for My Life was my way of getting my life on paper in a form that would help others and give them hope. If I could make it back from three DUIs and a suicide attempt, so could they. The stories in Through a Sober Lens span from early recovery through the writing of the new book as I approached nine years of sobriety. The essays are loosely tied together and serve a specific purpose. Addiction has many faces, and some stories help parents and loved ones better understand the disease, while others look specifically at the process of coming back after hitting bottom. We intentionally included essays that deal with the difficult issues of parenting, intimacy, and other things in order to be of interest to readers who come from different perspectives.
Any other news you’d like to share?
The response to Through a Sober Lens has been amazing. We won the gold medal for most inspirational book at the 2020 Benjamin Franklin Awards along with a second gold prize for interior book design. We’ve received endorsements from Oscar winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Emmy winners, MBAs, MDs, academics, mental health professionals, and more. I appear in two upcoming documentary films, one of which is being produced to change norms around substance use on Martha’s Vineyard. Owing to the strong response to the new book, my publisher is bringing Fighting for My Life back in a second edition. Most important has been the feedback from readers, who tell me the book has helped them and their loved ones sustain hope.