November will mark four years sober for Jermaine Thornton, of Westminster, and he wants people to know that it was a long journey to get there.
“I used heroin for 25 years,” he said in an interview. “I started very early on. It brought me to a lot of criminal activity, also. But since being in recovery, I’ve become the person I never thought I could be. A person in the community that wants to give back to the community he took so much from.”
And on Thursday night, before a sold-out crowd of 265 ticket-buyers, Thornton gave back, telling his story from substance use disorder to recovery at the first This Is My Brave performance in Carroll County, at the Arts Council, in Westminster.
This is My Brave is a national organization built on the idea that there is power in telling personal stories of recovery. Founded in 2013 by a woman who found her own empowerment by blogging about her bipolar disorder, This is My Brave now helps organize performances around the country that offer people a chance to tell their own story in their own way to the community.
On Thursday, Thornton was one of 12 people telling their own, diverse array of stories of recovery from not only substance use disorders, but mental health and life challenges.
“We have someone who has dealt with an eating disorder, and we have two women whose sons passed away due to overdoses,” said show director Lora Strosnider in an interview. “We have someone whose sister almost completed suicide, and then we have a transgender speaker as well.”
But the idea was not just to share stories of hope and recovery, Strosnider said, but to break down the stigma around talking about the issues in the first place, the stigma that can keep people from reaching out for help when they are struggling.
“It’s an anti-stigma campaign, that’s why we are doing it,” she said. “So we know substance use or mental health issues are not something to frown about, or to push people away. To say, it’s OK, you can talk about these things.”
Because silence due to stigma is not, as Thornton puts it, helpful to anyone.
“I think it’s very important. In my family it wasn’t talked about. It was like, if we don’t talk about it, then it’s not really happening,” he said. “But nobody benefits from that.”
The idea of bringing This is My Brave came out of a larger anti-stigma campaign, the Carroll Anti-Stigma Resilience Effort committee, a collaboration between the health department, Carroll Hospital and The Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County.
Linda Auerback, a member of the committee, a substance abuse prevention supervisor and a producer of Thursday’s show, said she’s very proud of the work that went into the performance.
“I think we have been working very hard in our community to break the stigma against substance use and mental health issues, and I think this is just what our community needed,” Auerback said. “I think this production, where real people tell their stories in our own community, so people can see you can come out the other side — I think this will go a long way and will be talked about a long time.”
Auerback also noted the importance of the partnership with Carroll Arts Center, the use of which was donated for the night of the dress rehearsal and the night of the performance.
For Thornton, it was a chance to say things he has wanted to say for a long time.
“It’s an honor just to do it in the county and city that I grew up in,” he said. “So many people have seen me at my worst, and now they are getting to see me becoming my best.”