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Book and Movie Reviews

The Central East Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network and The Danya Institute are pleased to present original reviews of books and movies of special interest to our stakeholders.

Movie Reviews

No Kidding! Me 2!!

No Kidding! Me 2!! is both the title of a film and the non-profit organization behind it that are dedicated to "stomping the stigma" surrounding mental "dis-ease". The documentary is the directorial debut of actor Joe Pantoliano, who has appeared in such films and TV series as The Sopranos, The Matrix and Memento. Pantoliano's goal is to make brain disease "cool and sexy" so that somebody suffering from this condition could openly admit to it in the same way that they could any other physical malady.

According to statistics in the movie, since 1 in 4 Americans suffer from mental illness 4 in 5 Americans have a friend or family member with this condition and are indirectly affected as well. Having to cope with stigma makes treatment and recovery additionally challenging.

This 76-minute documentary focuses on the stories of several people who have survived and flourished in spite of their disease. They include the director himself, who relates his experience with clinical depression and addiction. He explains how it influenced his decision to become an actor and how it affected his career. His wife and children also share what it was like to live with him during his bad periods.

We also meet a diverse group of people who also share their stories of enduring clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, self-mutilation, attempted suicide, schizophrenia, PTSD, ADHD and addiction. This engaging film is available for purchase as a dvd or video stream through and iTunes. Numerous reviewers on Amazon report that it has been useful in encouraging discussion and greater understanding in a number of venues including classrooms and clinical settings.

For those inspired by this film to work for the reduction of stigma we offer the following free toolkit, available both as an electronic download and iPad book: Anti-Stigma Toolkit: A Guide to Reducing Addiction-Related Stigma

Additional Resources: No Kidding Me 2!!! Facebook page

No Kidding Me 2!!! Website

Strategies for reducing stigma toward persons with mental illness – article from World Psychiatry, Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association

The New Black

The New Black is an engaging and timely documentary by Yoruba Richen “that tells the story of how the African-American community is grappling with the gay rights issue in light of the recent gay marriage movement and the fight over civil rights.”

The film demonstrates that while stigma against homosexuality certainly exists in some segments of the African American community, sentiments are certainly not unanimous.

Richen first became interested in the issue when learning about the fight over Proposition 8 in California. In this legal case, a ballot initiative was used to reverse the right of same sex couples to wed in the state. This right was eventually restored by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013.

The original success of the ballot initiative revealed a split between many African-Americans and the progressive contingent who support same sex marriage. In 2012 a referendum called “Question 6” was placed on the general election ballot in Maryland. It was a similar attempt to reverse a bill that legalized same-sex marriage (called the “Civil Marriage Protection Act”). However, the results in Maryland were different this time, and the Act was upheld by a 52.4% majority of voters.

Richens decided to explore the issues raised by focusing on activists from both sides in the weeks before the election. With unbiased compassion she gives voice to many in the community - not only those who are unequivocally for or against same-sex marriage, but those who are struggling to reconcile their beliefs. There are a diverse range of opinions, and many people hold evolving views on the subject.

This reviewer saw the film at the AFI Docs festival, where it received a standing ovation and generated lively discussion afterwards. It also won the audience award for best feature. The New Black should prove a useful tool for those who want to expand the conversation about stigma and race.

When I Came Home

When I Came Home is an authentic and gritty portrait of an Iraqi war veteran’s struggle to rebuild his life back in the states. Dan Lohaus’ powerful 2006 documentary is now available for free viewing online at

This film allows Herold Noel to tell his story in his own words. He left his hometown of Brooklyn New York to join the service because it was a place with very few opportunities for a young person without an education. However, he returns to face all of the same challenges he tried to leave behind. In addition he now must also cope with the torment of traumatic memories of his time in Iraq. His PTSD frequently robs him of his sleep and ability to function normally.

We see him struggle to find shelter and assistant for himself and his children in the face of an extremely bureaucratic and unhelpful system. This experience transforms him into an activist, speaking out to everybody in government and the media who will listen. While he is the main character, we also meet several other veterans from both Iraq and Vietnam as well.

It is actually fortunate that there is not too much focus on facts and expert talking heads in this film, as the number of homeless veterans has been reduced considerably since it was made. Undoubtedly this moving film and the work of Herold Noel and others forced the Veterans Administration to make significant strides in reducing homelessness among its veterans. However, there is still much work to be done. The film remains a powerful testament to the difficulties veterans face when trying to rejoin the civilian world.

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare

This compelling 90-minute documentary was directed by Susan Froemke and Matthew Heineman. It endeavors to tackle the complex subject of not only what is wrong with the healthcare system in America but how it should be fixed.  While it is not the first documentary with such ambitions (attempted before most notably by Michael Moore with Sicko) it makes a worthwhile contribution to the discussion.

Escape Fire initially confusing title is explained by the story of a team of firefighters surrounded by a fire burning too quickly to outrun.  One firefighter manages to save himself by actually starting a fire at his own feet, reasoning that if he burns the fuel around him before the main fire reaches him he will be surrounded by a safety zone. This "escape fire" allowed him to survive unharmed while the rest of the crew perished. The film posits that we are in a similar situation – unless we can start to think more innovatively about new solutions we will be engulfed by the flaws in our current system of health care.

This documentary artfully presents statistics to illustrate this point.  The filmmaker’s also have a real skill bringing those statistics to life with human stories.  Particularly affecting are some profiles of soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan addicted to dozens of medications who are successfully treated with alternatives such as meditation. Experts such as Dean Ornish explain how “75% of healthcare costs go to treating chronic diseases that are largely preventable” and what can be done to change this alarming fact.

At 90 minutes the film is too long to be absorbed in one viewing.  However, its many compelling segments should hopefully help to play a role in reimagining the future of healthcare in the US.


Post-trauma Wellness:  A Guide for Helping Professionals

Post-trauma Wellness: A Guide for Helping Professionals

This recorded lecture presents timely and cutting edge insights into the best ways to improve behavioral healthcare. A project of the Center for Post-Trauma Wellness in California, this DVD features John Records, JD, and Heather Larkin, PhD. They begin by explaining how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s “Adverse Childhood Experiences Study” was able to document the strong correlation between childhood experiences of abuse, neglect and family dysfunction and later health problems.

The evidence is overwhelming that the more a person under 18 years old is exposed to one or more “adverse childhood experiences” the more likely there will be long term consequences that carry over into their adult lives.  “Adverse childhood experiences” include emotional, physical or sexual abuse, emotional or physical neglect or domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, divorce or incarceration of a family member.

Consequences of this exposure may include chronic diseases such as those of the heart, liver and lungs, mental health issues, obesity, substance abuse and domestic violence among others. While this may seem discouraging, the presenters do not believe that the past is destiny. Behavioral healthcare providers can “help people see that their story is essentially heroic”. One can learn to view oneself as a survivor capable of recovery and change. The “Integral Therapy” they recommend takes a holistic approach to treating the mind and body of a person as a member of a larger community and social network.

Consequences of adverse childhood experiences

Their presentation ends with a quote:

“Some of the healthiest people I know are those who have had to heal from the most challenging situations, and in the process, have gained insight and wisdom far beyond what a “comfortable” life would ordinarily provoke.”

Fire in the Soul by Joan Borysenko

More information and resources are available at the Center for Post-Trauma Wellness’ Website:

Book Reviews

The Patient's Checklist - 10 Simple Hospital Checklists to Keep You Sane, Safe and Organized

The Patient&39;s Checklist - 10 Simple Hospital Checklists to Keep You Sane, Safe and Organized

Elizabeth Bailey's The Patient's Checklist - 10 Simple Hospital Checklists to Keep You Sane, Safe and Organized  is more than just a book. It is a tool to empower those who are facing a stay in the hospital and the families who want to support them.  

The book starts with a horror story. The author’s experiences will surely frighten anyone facing their own or a family member’s hospitalization into becoming better prepared for what awaits. The author’s 81 year-old father went from an active and independent life to an ordeal of steroid induced psychosis, a one-month stay in the hospital and a disastrous commitment to a psychiatric hospital. This completely preventable chain of events started with an incorrectly prescribed medication and was exacerbated by incompetent and uncoordinated medical treatment in the hospital. While he eventually recovered, his remaining quality of life was diminished needlessly as a result.

This experience led the author to create a series of checklists to help families and patients navigate the hospital experience. There are many special checklists including ones for before the patient enters the hospital, what to bring, medications, insurance etc. Since the experience of hospitalization is stressful for all involved, these checklist should prove very useful in helping to ask the right questions and keep track of the many things that should be documented.

Unfortunately the excellent content of this book is delivered in a somewhat shoddy package. The first page of the review copy was half off its spiral binding. The cover is made out of a flimsy cardboard that was already a bit dented in shipping. This is unfortunate, as this is the kind of book that is meant to be carried around and used instead of sitting safely on a bookshelf. I would recommend taking a few minutes to cover the book in clear contact paper to protect your investment in this useful book.

Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It's Necessary and How it Works

Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It's Necessary and How it Works

Jonathan Gruber, HP Newquist and Nathan Schreiber's new graphic novel is entitled:  Health Care Reform:  What It Is, Why It's Necessary and How It Works. Its goal is to explain the basics of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It does a remarkable job of combining text and images to bring much needed clarity to abstract and complicated issues. This reviewer was able to get through the entire book in approximately 90 minutes. Some reviewers on Amazon complain that the book is a propaganda piece for the ACA. While it is clearly in favor of the act, the book does address in detail many of the criticisms and uncertainties that its implementation will entail. It makes a thoughtful case that while some aspects will need to be tested and revised, it still makes sense to support and go forward with it.  

This long overdue book is highly recommended and will hopefully contribute to more reasoned and informed discussion about the future of health care in America.

Redesigning Leadership

Redesigning Leadership

John Maeda’s Redesigning Leadership is a pretty little book whose insights about leadership are delivered in an easy to digest 78 pages. It has been definitively established that addictions treatment organizations are facing a severe shortage of adequately prepared leaders. While the author is not specifically coming from a behavioral healthcare background, many of his bountiful little nuggets of wisdom apply to leadership generally.

The author’s path to leadership was untraditionally. He thought he was on a fixed career track as a professor at MIT when he was quite unexpectedly recruited to be the President of the Rhode Island School of Design. He believed that “a creative leader is someone who leads with dirty hands, much the way an artist’s hands are often literally dirty with paint”. So in order to better understand the organization he was to lead he actually immersed himself in the day-to-day workings of the school firsthand by doing such tasks as serving food at the cafeteria and carrying the luggage of new students. However, he came to understand that the downside of being a ‘dirty-hands’ leader is that you risk ‘taking away the work that’s to be done by the people that you lead.”

He also recommends having the courage to acknowledge what you don’t know, declaring that:  “competency results in success results in complacency results in failure results in learning how to be competent again.” Leaders need to be able to welcome criticism and receive it with grace in order to improve.

This little book will provide much food for thought for leaders at any stage in their professional development.

90 Days, A Memoir of Recovery

90 Days, A Memoir of Recovery

90 Days, A Memoir of Recovery by Bill Clegg is a short novel that packs a lot of drama into an easy-to-read 194 pages. A follow up to his Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man,Clegg painfully details the many relapses and missteps along the way to finally achieving 90 consecutive days of sobriety. It’s a clear and convincing story of the possibility of recovery. However, it paints a humbling picture of the many challenges one will face on this journey.

Clegg’s drug of choice was crack. Before he started abusing it he was a hotshot young literary agent who represented famous authors, had plenty of friends and co-owned his own agency in New York city. After his addiction started to take its toll he basically lost it all and burned many bridges along the way.

However, Clegg was extremely fortunate in still having a few resources to fall back on in addition to his skills as a writer. A prepaid gym membership gave him something to help fill his days and one angel of a friend left gourmet groceries on his doorstep ever week. He managed to beg and borrow enough to pay the rent. Given this gift of time, he was eventually able to acquire the wisdom to start on his path to sobriety.

What Clegg was able to find was the grace to accept that he couldn’t achieve sobriety on his own. Lasting sobriety was only achievable through immersion in a supportive community of others in recovery. It proved as essential to give support and encouragement as to receive it.  In his words:

“My sobriety, that delicate state that can, for years at a time, feel unshakeable, is completely dependent on my connection to other alcoholics and addicts, my seeking their help and my offering it. . . . ”

This book should serve as a valuable addition to the canon of literature about addiction and recovery. It provides an unflinching, yet ultimately sympathetic depiction of the humanity of those struggling to recover from addiction. It also proves that even frequent relapses are just part of the process and not unalterable failures.

Simone Fary is an Instructional Design and Technology Specialist at The Danya Institute

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