First ever "Festival of Recovery" addresses addiction and mental health issues

Jim Christopher Health Guide
  • Our big day went well, surprisingly smooth, with no major glitches.  The first annual Festival of Recovery brought in more cars than our large lot could accommodate; folks streamed in throughout the day.

    We opened our doors at 9 A.M., Saturday, April 26, on a warm sunny Southern California morning.  I had arrived a 7:30 A.M. to tie up last minute loose ends and greet numerous presenters, representatives and event volunteers who came in earlier to set up display tables, unbox organizational literature, unstack countless chairs, unpack and open buckets of food, prepare barrels of iced soft drinks.

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    We literally took over an entire building: the Center for Inquiry’s famed Steve Allen Theater was host to professional presenters throughout the day and we utilized the center’s lobby, patio, downstairs conference room, my upstairs office (SOS International), three other second floor offices and the large second floor seminar area.

    James Underdown, Director and CEO, Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles, welcomed everyone, addressing them from the stage of the Steve Allen Theater, and he introduced me as host for the day’s event.  I made several announcements including the news that Ruth Hollman, founder of SHARE! (Self Help and Recovery Exchange), sponsor of the festival, along with us (SOS International and Project Return Peer Support Network) would arrive later in the day due to a debilitating illness.  Ruth is a dynamo, a real trooper and she did indeed join us later in the day.  Jason, a SHARE! Staffer, announced the first set of addiction and mental health issues recovery meetings to be held in one hour sessions, simultaneously, in five meeting locations throughout the day as the stage presentations progressed separately.  There was no designated lunch break; folks had food and drink whenever they wished.

    The smokers body, a grotesquely impactful poster depicting male/female body parts ravaged by chronic nicotine addiction (created by COLORS magazine), was covered in a black casket in the center’s lobby at my Escape from Nicotine Country and SOS International exhibit area.

    Barry S. Solof, M.D., Regional Chief of Addiction Medicine, Kaiser Permanente Hospital, Fellow, American Society of Addiction Medicine, was the first onstage presenter.  Dr. Solof was followed by peak performance strategist Jairek, son of legendary self-empowerment speaker, Anthony Robbins.

    Pallbearers Wendy, Susan, Ari and Armen were in the lobby preparing to begin the procession for the 9th Annual Funeral for the Unknown Smoker, carrying the casket up the aisle and onto the theater stage, standing the closed coffin upright facing the audience.  David Barlia, technician, director and producer for the Festival and Funeral, provided appropriate music and lighting.

    I solemnly led the procession and, after the pallbearers had situated the casket and stepped back, I approached, lifting the top off exposing the spotlighted smoker’s body.  Yes, audible gasps were heard from the audience.  I replaced the casket lid after a short showing and announced that folks could “view the remains” in depth out in the theater lobby.  The coffin was then borne out, preceded by yours truly.  I met with folks who wanted to free themselves from nicotine addiction later that day.

  • Additional stage speakers were Valerie Banarie, R.N., Certified Hypnotherapist specializing in addiction recovery; Dr. Randolph J. Atkins Jr., Ph.D., research scientist, sharing the results of his landmark study (which included the anonymous participation of SOS members) funded by NIDA; and John McCready, Registered Addiction Specialist and National Certified Addiction Counselor - 1, Case Manager and Group Facilitator.

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    Visit me at, and I look forward to being with you again next week.

Published On: May 05, 2008