Colorado Artists in Recovery Uses Creative Workshops to Fight Addiction


When Darin Valdez was working as a sobriety counselor a few years ago, a young man walked into his downtown Denver office crying and screaming. Then he asked Valdez for a sheet of paper.

The man disappeared into the basement of the Sobriety House with the paper, and after about an hour Valdez assumed he was gone for the day.

“I went downstairs and he was wrapping this green paper around the coffee straws we had there. And I looked over his shoulder, and he had a whole bunch of these origami paper lilies, ”Valdez said. “And I looked at his face, and he was calm and he was smiling and I thought, ‘this is what we need. “‘

Colorado Artists in Recovery founder Darin Valdez holds an origami flower bouquet made by a former customer on Monday, October 18, 2021 in Denver. Colorado Artists in Recovery is a free creative expression workshop serving artists, musicians and writers in the recovery community who have achieved at least 24 hours of sobriety. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Encountering origami that day is one of the many reasons Valdez recently created Colorado Artists in Recovery, which offers creative expression workshops for people recovering from addiction and other health issues. mental. Isolation, depression and overdose death during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Valdez to accelerate his plan to launch the new organization in January.

“I’m heavily involved in the recovery community and go to a celebration of life every two weeks,” he said, referring to the dozens of funerals he attended during the pandemic.

Through his work as a former recovery counselor, Valdez has noticed a trend: Many people in recovery often struggle with social anxiety and find it difficult to seek help, so they turn to art or musical instruments to help them recover from addiction and other mental health issues.

“Some of them would bring their musical instruments, and they would play them, and that would be the only way for them to calm down,” Valdez said of clients at Sobriety House, where he previously worked, a treatment center. based in Denver. offering affordable services to people seeking lifelong sobriety.

Many life experiences have led Valdez on the path to founding Colorado Artists in Recovery, a free Denver-based workshop that supports people who have at least 24 hours of recovery. Their friends, family and loved ones are also invited to join the six-week program.

“There are people who are recovering from a lot of things,” said Valdez, who has been sober for seven years. “We are trying to get back to substance use, but we have found that the community – our community – has so many people who are striving for inclusion, community and finding their true selves.”

In his first year as Executive Director and Founder of Colorado Artists in Recovery, Valdez offered 15 six-week workshops for anyone in recovery looking for a community with similar experiences. It hires teachers, who are also recovering, to lead classes, each typically offered to 10 to 12 students at a time.

Wil Snyder (left) gives a one-hour keyboard class, “Speaking the Language of Music & Recovery” on Monday, October 11, 2021 in Denver as part of a free six-week music program offered by Colorado Artists in Recovery. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

At a recent workshop, seven students were in a music class led by Wil Snyder, a pianist who plays 13 other instruments.

“When I teach music to people, I teach them music. But when I teach these classes, I teach people to connect with themselves, overcome their fears, and learn how music and playing music can help you heal in different ways, ”said Snyder.

“Sometimes sobriety is not enough,” he said. “It wasn’t for me. I needed something else, and having a community of creative people was exactly what I needed.

In a recent workshop, Snyer acknowledged that fear can arise when students practice the skills they learn in the classroom, on their own at home.

People sometimes lift their own emotional barriers to learning music, he said. “I’m not good enough. I can’t do this. I have no talent. What do people think of me?”

The same emotions can arise for people during their recovery, he added. Learning to overcome emotional barriers during a music class can help people deal with those same emotions when they arise during sobriety, Snyder said.

When Shannon Green joined Colorado Artists in Recovery six weeks ago, she was at a “really low point” in life, but was looking for community after a romantic relationship ended. Through the recovery workshop, she faced childhood trauma, while struggling to fight an emotional eating habit, she said. Other course participants also encouraged her to seek mental health counseling, she said.

“I’m better than I was because looking at my old diaries that I used to write, they were so sad about how I feel today,” she said. , just before the start of the workshop on a Monday. night earlier this month.

“The struggles that I had before, I wouldn’t say they have resolved just yet,” she said. “Basically over 19 years old doing the same thing over and over again – it takes a while to get over that.”

Harrison Edwards, a musician for 15 years, had to leave Texas, his home state, to begin his recovery. Many of his friends back home suffered from substance use disorders, and alcohol was present in most of the musical jobs he had been hired for.

“Drinking was part of my job,” he said. “It’s something I did at work. I did it everyday.

“And that was the main way I met musicians and did the creative things that I do. It was all connected – the work I did, my creative goals and the use of alcohol and drugs, ”he said. “So I’m looking for opportunities and ways to keep doing the things that matter most to me, and meeting like-minded people is very important, especially in recovery.”

The nonprofit Caring for Denver The Foundation helps fund Colorado Artists in Recovery and a few other programs that tackle addiction and mental health issues through the arts and creative expression. For example, Caring for Denver also helps fund Art from Ashes, a program that has engaged nearly 14,000 Colorado youth over the past 16 years. Art from Ashes works with young people who have experienced abuse, poverty and other hardships.

Valdez hopes to offer 18 workshops next year, including dance, creative writing, singing and meditation. Valdez is also asking community members to donate money, musical instruments and other art supplies to the association.

“What we are looking for help for is to find a place to live, a place where people can still go and they will know we will be there,” he said. Community members keen to provide long-term space for the group are encouraged to contact Valdez, the founder and executive director.

On October 25, the students of the current workshop will perform in a recital, to celebrate the end of their Colorado Artists in Recovery experience. The free event is not open to the public, but relatives are encouraged to join.

“We’re doing this because we want them to see how many people are like them,” Valdez said. “It really helps change the stigma surrounding recovery and gives them the opportunity to shine… It’s a simple night out, but I hope it will encourage them to keep pushing forward on their journey to release. the addiction.”

Shannon Green (left) participates with other students in a one-hour keyboard class, “Speaking the Language of Music & Recovery” on Monday, October 11, 2021 in Denver as part of a six-hour free music program. weeks offered by Colorado Artists in Recovery. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Four workshop participants interviewed earlier this month, including Dusty Rose and Spencer Thompson, said they hope to continue their music studies and plan to stay in touch with their classmates after the program ends.

“The reason this program exists is because people were in a dark place, and it takes people from that dark side that we all have and teaches them to find their light,” Rose said.

The value of workshops often extends beyond students battling their demons. Sometimes the teachers in the group also get help.

Snyder, the piano teacher at the current workshop, said he had had mental health issues earlier this month and was about to enroll in a mental institution.

“I didn’t do it because I knew I had this (class) coming up,” he said earlier this month. “Honestly, just talking with a few people, being here and sharing this story, I feel so much better again.”

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