He came to Martha’s Vineyard as a part-time resident nearly 12 years ago. “Two years later, in 2010, I entered a treatment program for alcohol addiction. I lost nearly everything, including my family, my financial assets, and my soul. As part of my recovery and healing, I taught myself the workings of cameras and the process of ‘creating’ images after learning of an individual who found the artistic process liberating and helpful with his severe depression,” he said.
“Photography has been a key to my sobriety. I consider myself an ‘inspirational photographer’ and find photography a spiritual source of strength and healing. I write and attach words to postings on social media in an attempt to reduce stigma and encourage the seeking of help for those with addiction and mental health disease,” she said.
In 2017, he started the Crossroads Gallery in Oak Bluffs. “In 2018, the Crossroads Gallery was named ‘runner-up’ in the ‘Best of The Vineyard’ voting, compiled by Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. The gallery serves as a community center in addition to hanging my fine art photography. We have events for people in recovery such as Yoga, Mediation, Drum Circles and group therapy,” he said.
Blanchard continued, “In October of 2014 I wrote Fighting for my Life: Finding Hope and Serenity on Martha’s Vineyard, a book on my story of recovery. I have sold nearly every copy of the 2500 printed. The book’s proceeds allowed me to donate $10,000 to the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services New Paths Addiction Treatment program, and I continue to raise funds as part of service work. My new book titled Through A Sober Lens: A Photographer’s Journey recently won the Ben Franklin Award as the most inspirational book by the Independent Book Publishers Association.”
Sobriety cannot continue without a focus on giving back to others and maintaining a sense of community. In addition to my photographic work, I recently received a Masters in Psychology and mentor people with addictions. The combination of mentoring, photography, Martha’s Vineyard, and a beautiful family is as good as it gets!
It seems from reading about you and your story that Martha’s Vineyard has had deep roots in your life. You have experienced both lows and highs while living there. Talk to us about how it has grown to become a part of your life and home now in 2020 especially during a global pandemic?
“I was introduced to Martha’s Vineyard in 2007 by the woman I would eventually marry. We learned we were both struggling with alcohol and made a mutual vow to not drink and help each other make it through. She had a home on the Vineyard and even though we lived in Boston, Martha’s Vineyard was our healing place. We had the most amazing and spiritual 18 months leading to our marriage.”
“I developed an unexplainable affinity for the Island. An energy and spiritual peace I couldn’t explain. When I started to drink again after the 18 months the marriage fell apart and I lost my home. I was almost desperate to keep a foothold so I rented an apartment on Martha’s Vineyard in addition to my home in Maine. In the two years post-divorce, it helped me deal with my life’s greatest heartbreak in losing her, while staying sober. My soul is attached to the place. I never stray for too long.”
“For the first time in my life, I have stayed in one location long enough to become part of a community. I know them, and they know me. I am respected in the community for the service work I do. I no longer run away because of lack of self-worth. I have a place. I have a home. The pandemic has reinforced that sense of community. We help each other. We understand each other’s pain. We are a tourist-based economy at a time where people are supposed to stay home and not travel. In a strange way the stress and turmoil has brought us together and we feel proud of the ability to adapt and be grateful even in the worst of times.”
Your new book, ‘Through A Sober Lens’ is an inspiration to many. When looking through the lens of your camera to capture and create your new book, what was the one takeaway you hope those who see the imagines contained inside take away from your book, not just from the photos but from your life’s experiences?
“Out of the darkness of addiction, depression and trauma, can come a complete transformation, and an opportunity to grow in ways not achievable without having gone through the pain. No time is wasted in becoming the person you are meant to be. Post Traumatic Growth.”
With so many captivating photos inside your book what is one of your favorites and why?
“This bird is me. Early on in sobriety when I started to learn how to use a camera I took a photo of a Sanderling looking out into a great ocean. It stood alone trying to decide what to do next. The ocean looked beautiful but seemed blurry. Everything in the photo was out of focus except the bird and the sand beneath its feet.”
“After falling down and losing much of the world that preceded, the bird finally had its feet on packed sand; it could see itself again as worthy; it had a place in the world even though the exact place was unclear. I called the photo ‘Starting Over’ and the story is in my book, and the picture became my favorite of all time.”
Your first book Finding Hope and Serenity on Martha’s Vineyard is such an empowering book, why was it important to give back through donations a portion of the proceeds?
“When I was arrested for the third time in three months as a COO I should have been fired. The health system I worked for decided to give me the chance of going to rehab and working my way back. The company insurance paid 80 percent of the $50,000 high-end rehab bill.”
“I now realize how I was in the top one percent. Rehabs are incredibly expensive and none pay for three months like I received. I had such blessings and good graces given to me that I feel compelled to help others who are as bad off as I used to be. I give, to help others, and in turn I stay healthy. Addicts and alcoholics fight past demons and the best way to retaliate is to give back to others.”
With so many successes in business, art and photography why was it important for you to go back to school to receive your Masters in Psychology?
“I had decided to become a Licensed Addiction Counselor at a Master’s level. I was certain starting a profession as a therapist was the best use of my real world experience in helping others. It took me five years to complete the MA in Psych degree. I learned an immense amount about psychology and addiction. I applied for an internship to continue the process of getting a license. But as the time to start the program drew near, I realized I had a different calling. I was given this previously unknown gift of photography and writing and I was helping people on a larger scale. I believe I was led to this place and needed to stay the course. I don’t look at the Master’s as a waste of time. I have expertise in substance use disorder and mental health disease that gives more credibility to my writings and fundraising efforts.”
Through A Sober Lens: A Photographer’s Journey by Michael Blanchard is available on Amazon.