North Texas Daily

Eagle Peer Recovery to host annual film fest

Eagle Peer Recovery to host annual film fest

Eagle Peer Recovery to host annual film fest
September 16
00:13 2014

Dalton LaFerney / Senior Staff Writer

The North Texas Recovery Conference and Film Festival, hosted by Eagle Peer Recovery, returns to campus this year for its second annual gathering.

Themed “Recovery for Life,” the conference will run from Sept. 18-20 in the Gateway Center from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. each day.

The conference wasn’t part of the festival last year, but has been added this year to better educate those who attend.

“We thought of how we could promote something that’s fun, engaging and educational, as well as provide a place for students to amass themselves to realize there were other students out there just like them who are dealing with the same issues,” social work and psychology senior Robert Ashford said.

EPR put the film festival together with the Substance Abuse Resource Center, Residence Hall Association and Student Health and Wellness Center.

Students are invited to attend the conference and films, and will be allowed to come and go for free. Tickets for non-students have already sold out.

Expanding the Scope

Ashford said EPR wanted to expand this year from just talking about substance use disorders to other, less talked-about disorders. The festival will highlight the topics of eating disorders, intimacy and relationship recovery, and substance use disorders with films such as “Out of Sight,” “Shame” and “Thanks for Sharing.”

Keynote speakers like Brian Cuban, brother of Mavericks owner Mark, will enlighten audiences with their knowledge and experience with addiction and recovery.

“Brian is in recovery from disordered eating and he talks openly about it,” Ashford said.

Rob Weiss, the founder of the Sexual Intimacy Disorder Treatment Facility in California, will keynote Friday’s discussion on sexual addictions.    

The festival has seen an increase of sponsorship from last year’s six sponsors to more than 40 this year. EPR has also partnered with the Association for Addiction Professionals and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“We support programs that help with recovery month and the work force so we receive a grant from SAMHSA and then our affiliates receive a grant,” Cynthia Tuohy, executive director of NAADAC, said. “North Texas was an award winner for that grant because they are doing an event to help develop the workforce and spread the message on recovery.”

Reaching More People

With the larger stage, EPR hopes to share the message of recovery and expose the stigma that comes with substance use disorders.

“Students in recovery have specific needs that are often marginalized,” Paula Heller-Garland, faculty adviser for EPR, said. “Everyone is entitled to a normative college experience and when young people are in recovery, sometimes they have to choose between college and recovery.”

Ashford agreed.

“Look at Greek Life and other student organizations,” he said. “Everybody drinks. College is a recovery-hostile environment.”

When Ashford transferred to UNT, he began looking for services for people in long-term recovery like himself. At the time, the university had no such programs. In July 2013, he and two other students created what would eventually become Eagle Peer Recovery.

“Being a person in long-term recovery, it’s important to me,” Ashford said. “It helps me sustain my own recovery and continue to grow as a person. I don’t introduce myself as an alcoholic or addict. I say I’m a person in long-term recovery.”

Ashford said he has been sober for more than two years.

Stopping the Stigma

In the beginning, EPR was a student organization endorsed by the university, but as of Sept. 9, EPR is an official program signed into existence by Provost and vice president for academic affairs Warren Burggren and housed in the Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation department of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service.

“UNT strongly believes in the power of advocacy, knowledge and community engagement,” Teresa McKinney, assistant vice president for Student Affairs said. “We encourage the development and sustainability of organizations, services and programs which remove barriers to student success.”

But even as the university supports EPR, it is similar to other universities in that funding is limited for such programs.

“Unfortunately, at public institutions in Texas there is not a tremendous amount of increased funding for new programs,” Ashford said. “If we did get more financial support, it comes with inherent benefits like increased staff dedicated to helping this program grow.”

Sober Tailgating is one of the many events hosted by EPR. The group saw and served food to more than 200 students at Apogee Stadium before the game against SMU. EPR has daily recovery meetings as well as education meetings for people who want to understand recovery more. Members also attend addiction conferences around the country to present and discuss recovery-related topics.

“I think there’s such a stigma attached to addiction that I don’t think the general public understands what recovery is, so they [EPR] go out and combat that stigma,” Heller-Garland said.

Heller-Garland, who is the president of the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals, an advocacy group that works with addiction professionals, said she will speak at the opening and closing of the film festival. She works regularly with professionals in the field of recovery and has seen firsthand the effects of substance use disorders. She said people in recovery are often stigmatized because of the nature of their disorders.

“If a student stood up and said they had cancer, we would throw them a benefit,” Heller-Garland said. “But if a student said they had an addiction, it would be normal to turn our backs on them.”

The North Texas Conference and Film Festival aims to spread the message that substance use disorders are a struggle for many students and thousands in America.

The penal system prosecutes people with drug addictions, but Heller-Garland says focusing on fixing the problem rather than punishment is preferred in order to change addiction.

“I want us to embrace recovery and understand addiction better,” she said. “I’ve sat across the table from incredible people, but they just struggled with an awful disease. And I want people to know that.”

Substance addictions are the most common with UNT students, Ashford says. He also said there are some students on campus who struggle with sexual addiction.

For EPR, the mission hasn’t changed. They believe all the work they do is important.

“If we didn’t do it, where would these students go?” Ashford asked. “I wholeheartedly feel that we are changing the climate not only here at North Texas, but around the world.”

Featured illustration by Jake Bowerman – Senior Staff Illustrator

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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