HOLYOKE — Honest. Humble. Healing. These three words help describe Michael Blanchard’s 12 years of sobriety after decades of alcohol addiction that increasingly took control of his life and came close to ending it.
He is now an award-winning author of two books, Fighting for My Life: Finding Hope and Serenity on Martha’s Vineyard and Through a Sober Lens: A Photographer’s Journey. His stories of struggle and success with the disease of addiction are paired in the books with landscapes of poetic beauty that his camera captures on the Vineyard, where he lives.
“I came to realize in the reactions to my work that the right photo and the right words have the ability to move people to get help or for people to not lose hope,” Blanchard said. “This realization helped me feel this is why I was put here — to take pictures, to write stories, and try to help people who are suffering from mental-health disease and addiction.”
Blanchard will speak on Tuesday, Sept. 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, 1233 Main St., Holyoke, as part of National Recovery Month. The event, billed as an “evening of inspiration and conversation,” is free to the public with registration.
The event, titled “A Picture of Recovery: An Evening with Michael Blanchard, Photographer, Award-Winning Author, Philanthropist,” will include a slide presentation featuring a collection of Blanchard’s photos, as well as a book signing.
“I get a wide variety of folks at these events where my goal really is to keep things simple and to help at least one person sitting there,” said Blanchard of his speaking engagements. “I try to share the stories and words people need to hear to take action.”
His work has earned him loyal followers on Facebook, countless visitors from around the world to his Crossroads Gallery that is open summers on the Vineyard, and accolades from such celebrities as actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who is 24 years in recovery and whose charities he supports.
Once a corporate executive in healthcare, Blanchard is gratified that, in switching to the life of a writer and photographer on his recovery path, he finds himself helping others who see their own lives echoed in his stories and photos.
Prior to being hospitalized for detoxification in his early 50s and then entering a three-month residential rehabilitation program for recovery, Blanchard, now 65, faced the possibility of incarceration on drunk-driving charges, and planned to end the control of his addiction by taking his own life.
“If you are concerned about the stigma and shame associated with what you are going through in your addiction and you hear someone openly telling their story, there is an immediate bond or connection,” said Blanchard of his decision to publicly share his experiences through his books and talks. “I am proof to the addicts and alcoholics that you can get to a real low place and still make it back, and that there is no time lost that involves productive struggles in recovery.”
Blanchard’s talks are also directed at “those supporting, or affected by, the addict or alcoholic,” he noted.
“I almost spend as much time talking with parents and family members, and this is very rewarding in terms of education as they are often in a place where they don’t understand what the person who they are supporting is thinking. Sometimes, you hire a thief to catch a thief, meaning I am there to explain what is going on in the minds of people with the disease of addiction. I am also an example to them as well that their loved one can be in a real low place and can come back.”
Similarly, he added, he wants clinicians present in the audience to know their work means something. “There can be a lot of burnout in the field of addiction counseling as it is a hard job, and clinicians need to hear what they do, and stand for, means something.”
Click here to register for “A Picture of Recovery: An Evening with Michael Blanchard, Photographer, Award-Winning Author, Philanthropist.”