Note: to protect Casey’s privacy, we are using an alias and not including her actual picture.
Finding a New Perspective
My name is Casey, and I’m from Texas. Photography has always been an incredibly life-giving experience for me. When I get behind the lens, it’s almost like I feel like I’m in a different world. I’m able to see things in a new perspective. I get to see something new, and create and share something. Even today, I find incredible rest and a breathe of fresh air when I’m out on an adventure with a camera. My favorite thing to do is to have a spontaneous adventure where I’m just free to just shoot. Portraits, landscapes. It’s where I feel most like myself. I feel connected, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
It started when I was 12, when I borrowed my uncle’s camera to help take pictures at my dad’s second wedding. It continued throughout high school and into college. Photography also played a huge of part of my life in recovery. I struggled with depression primarily, and unhealthy use of alcohol.
Looking for Acceptance
When I was younger, I never felt like I belonged. I always felt like an “outcast.” I had friends; I wasn’t particularly weird, but I cared way too much what people thought about me. I grew up in a very wealthy neighborhood. Even though I was in an upper-middle class family, I didn’t feel like I could fit in because folks were a little richer. Family wasn’t easy. My parents got divorced when I was six, and it was an ugly divorce. I grew up believing that yelling and being assertive was needed to get things done. I believed that I had to fight to be heard, especially as a woman. I’m creative, and it’s like I speak a different language than my mother does. We’ve had trouble connecting.
In high school, I started to drink to fit in. I went to large public university in Oklahoma. I decided to study education, because that was what my mom wanted, instead of pursuing my passion for visual art. My community centered around my sorority, which wasn’t a good fit for me. It was tough for me to make deeper connection in the group; I don’t love shallow conversation.
Dealing with Problems
I started partying more and more to deal with my feelings, and I was very depressed at the same time. A night of heavy drinking and taking extra medication ended up with me in the hospital, and then with me spending three days in a psych ward. At the age of 18, it felt devastating. I finished my freshman year of college, but during the summer I continued partying heavily. Another hospital visit followed.
Shortly after, my mom took my brother and I to Arizona, telling me it was a vacation. It was actually to drop me off at a rehab facility. They didn’t even say goodbye. I was pretty pissed off to say the least, going from home to a center surrounded by others struggling with addiction. It took me several months to be okay and accept being in treatment. My mother’s approach did not help our relationship, but I think she was afraid that I would turn into my dad, who over the years drank significant parts of his life away.
After a couple months, I started getting acclimated. I thought, “If I’m here, I might as well use the resources.” I wasn’t convinced I had an alcohol addiction, but I knew I had significant issues with depression. It took me three months to admit that I had a drinking problem. I ended up spending six months at the center, which really helped me process my anger and depression, via the psychiatrist and psychologist on staff.
Challenges in Early Recovery
The first couple years of recovery were hard, mainly because of unhealthy family dynamics. I ended up moving and finishing my education elsewhere, and started to freelance around photography. I speak a different language than my family does. My first couple years of recovery were trying to find myself. A lot of what I did while growing up was for everyone else. I was learning to find my own voice and continuing to do what I love.
Depression was my biggest issue and I still have some battles with it. But putting a name to it takes the power out of it, and the thoughts it brings. It’s not who I am. Depression doesn’t own me, and doesn’t have to have control in me.
The Power of Community and Reconciliation
Early in recovery, I got very involved in Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to meetings and the community become an important part of my life. From game nights to other outings to making friends in the community from all over the world, I experienced growing connection and friendship. When you’re getting sober, you need people. I needed someone to talk to, and I had to learn to be okay relying on other people for help. Through this community, and other forms of support, I’ve been able to continue to work through some root issues — particularly around relationship with my dad. Some of that healing has taken years, but I’m grateful to be where I am today.
Family reconciliation continues to be a journey for us, but I’ve seen growth. My dad, inspired, by my story, has gotten sober. When he tried to detox, he had to spend time in the hospital because his body started shutting down. I got to take part in caring for him, and helping him in his own recovery.
I’m less involved with AA today, because I’ve found other forms of community and connection through which I process and find deep experience of life, but I’m thankful for their structure and organization, and the role it played in my recovery.
Photography became not only my passion but also my career, as I got connected with nonprofit organizations with whom I could work. I feel grateful to be able to do something for work that I love. Through recovery, I’ve learned how to process and deal with unexpected circumstances and deal with transition. Sometimes, when life is hard, you just need to remember to go out and do something that’s fun, or that stirs your heart.