Annual Awards Show Highlights Overcoming Stigma of Addiction

By John Lavitt 02/27/15

Last night's Experience, Strength And Hope Award Show celebrated the connection between entertainment and recovery.

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Photo by Nina Nava

On Thursday night at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, the 6th Annual Experience, Strength and Hope Award Show celebrated the close connection in Hollywood between recovery and entertainment.

Honoring actor and author Joe Pantoliano, and presented by Writers In Treatment and Leonard Buschel, the positive event highlighted the importance of standing up and being of service. The main goal expressed was to go past the boundaries of anonymity in order to help young people overcome the stigma of alcoholism, addiction, and mental illness.

During the red carpet pre-party where hors d'oeuvres and networking mixed with the free flow of Pellegrino, The Fix had a chance to speak with Pantoliano. Asking Joe what receiving this award meant to him, the emotional combination of his honesty and passion were palpable when he replied, “The fact that I found a way to deal with my pain and suffering means the world to me. Coming here, I have the opportunity to tell my story and maybe people can see reflections and glimpses of themselves, helping them to find their own path to recovery.”

Like the path of long-term recovery, the actual award show experienced a few bumps and bruises when host Ed Begley, Jr., had to be replaced at the last minute by criminal lawyer and television journalist Darren Kavinoky. In his introduction, Kavinoky described how reading an article about Rob Lowe’s second chance in People magazine helped lead him to the path of long-term recovery. “Yes, it’s true,” Kavinoky smiled, “Rob Lowe helped me to overcome the stigma of my addiction. Help does come from the strangest of places.”

Receiving the Experience, Strength and Hope Award for demonstrating “character, courage and creativity in recovery,” Pantoliano was enthusiastic and forthright.

"Why the bigotry, why the stigma, why the shame when we almost all have a version of this disease? We’re all using something to deal with the pain and suffering of being human," he said in his impassioned acceptance speech. "Why are we a nation that waits for a person to break before anyone even seems to give a shit?...Today, I realize my greatest gift in life was discovering my mental illness so I could recover and help others along the way."

Later, upon being given the The Audience Award from the Reel Recovery Film Festival for directing The Wisdom To Know The Difference, Daniel Baldwin succinctly expressed the overall message of the night. “I made this movie because it helps me stay sober," Baldwin said. "How far would you go to repay such a debt?”

Shuffling in our seats, each member of the audience looked for the answer within as the night actually helped to foster a touch of experience, strength, and hope in our own souls.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.