“When I was an addict, I didn’t know how to access the creativity in me. I was passionate about it, but afraid of it,” says Elizabeth Addison, a local playwright currently writing and producing her own musical — This Is Treatment — about women and addiction.
The play is the debut for Reviving Visions Theatre — a company which Addison is in the early stages of developing and one that she hopes to bring to fruition. A preview with select scenes of the play will be performed at The Dance Complex (536 Massachusetts Ave.) on February 16 for individuals in the mental health field and February 23 for the general public. Both shows start at 5 p.m.
The play shares the stories of seven women in a long-term treatment facility. Although the piece is fiction, Addison says the story was inspired by hundreds of women she met in treatment. The play focuses on the connections and relationships among these women.
“Yes, this is about addiction, but it’s also just about women in general and learning how to bond and form relationships,” she said. “I look at the women I was in treatment with — I can share anything with them — anything. It’s that open. I think when you can be that open and honest with someone, they feel that they can be honest with you in return. I think this is the type of connection we all want, but don’t know how to go about getting. People come together in times of struggle.”
“Alcohol and addiction really fuck with your mind. One second you think you need help and then the next you think you need nothing at all,” she said.
Addison is a Boston native who relocated to San Francisco after she finished high school. “Around 19 or 20 was when I got wrapped up in smoking weed and drinking heavily,” she said. “I was a black-out drinker from the beginning. I was sexually assaulted, got into a car accident and just ended up in bad situations. … I was always losing my jobs and I didn’t really have any relationships. The ones I did — I managed to sever.”
Addison describes herself at this time as “spiritually bankrupt.” It went on for eight years. Over time, she drank more. Her “rock bottom,” she says, was when she drunkenly let someone into the apartment she was sharing with her sister and that individual ended up burning the place down.
“At that point, I felt like I’m going to either have to get better or die before I hit 30,” she said. “The feeling of addiction is like you are enslaved by something that dictates your move and what you think and what you feel.”
In June 2011, she went into treatment. After spending more than a year at a rehab facility, she has now been sober for nearly 20 months. “I am like a shadow,” she says.“You would not have recognized me.” Of This Is Treatment, she says: “It’s weird because now this [arts-theatre] thing feels so natural. I feel like I tapped into what I was supposed to do all along-my whole life, which is amazing…The reality of addiction is that it’s sad and painful and devastating but when you can get to recovery, for those of us lucky enough to do so, it can be beautiful once you start working through all that shit.”
Finding beauty in the struggle of addiction is one of the primary themes in This Is Treatment. Although Addison was not a musician before she started working on this musical, she wrote all of the music for the play herself. The music consists of 16 songs ranging from hip hop to jazz, blues, rock and soul. The play also fuses many different forms of dance including hip hop, modern and contemporary from choreographer Ricardo Foster and director Pam Newton.
Addison sees her work not just as entertainment, but education. “This is meant to entertain while also helping one another connect and maybe learn a little bit more about a disease that is really misunderstood and taboo in our society,” she says. “I believe that the way to get to the bottom of these issues is through honest communication.”
“I want to help people see addiction and treatment in a different way. If they see it through song and dance, it might resonate with people more than, say, just going to a group. There is a misconception in society that all you have to do is put the drug down — or that it’s a moral deficiency. It’s not that easy. If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be such a huge problem,” Addison says.