(Christin Day, Brandon Lee and Carey Gerst Photo: Scott Faust Studios) The HeART and Soul of Recovery By Barbara Nicholson Brown with Brandon Lee and Christin Day ...
(Christin Day, Brandon Lee and Carey Gerst Photo: Scott Faust Studios)
The HeART and Soul of Recovery
By Barbara Nicholson Brown with Brandon Lee and Christin Day
SEVEN HUNDRED canvases and 50 GALLONS of paint are used each month at the Art Of Our Soul studio in Phoenix. Five days a week, the Art Of Our Soul team facilitates classes for a community of people from treatment facilities, intensive outpatient centers, and many other health organizations in the Valley. Art Of Our Soul provides a safe space to create. This isn’t traditional therapy — it’s a unique way for the participants to have fun, express themselves and aid in their healing.
Trading in his suit and tie for T-shirts and jeans splashed with paint, former news anchor Brandon Lee is not only creating art with flowing acrylic paint and the heat from a hair dryer; (not a paintbrush in sight), he is sharing his passion with others so they can discover their joy. There is a such a sense of freedom when people use their imagination, and go with the flow.
Last year I took a class with 14 people I had never met. Within minutes the room filled with camaraderie, energy and laughter. We cheered each other on, watching our choice of colors form magnificent shapes. My soul felt good — remarkable actually. That day I tapped into my abstract creative side, reminding me to play more and…. maybe…. work a little less!
Knowing Brandon is knowing an honest, sincere, humble and generous man — who is always willing to share his recovery journey. When we openly share our stories, we connect on a level that reminds us we are not alone.
This is valentines, hearts and love month!
I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate February than by sharing how Art Of Our Soul grew from a dream and words scribbled on a napkin — to the success it is today. I’m excited to see what lies ahead!
Follow Art Of Our Soul on Facebook to see the art and smiles of the proud creators in the room. https://www.facebook.com/BrandonLeeNews
Through Art of Our Soul, you’re living with purpose every day. How has life changed since opening the studio and leaving mainstream media?
I am so grateful for my career in news that lasted 22 years. I had the opportunity to work at the TODAY Show in New York City which led to me working in amazing cities like Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and most recently Phoenix where I worked as the main anchor for CBS5/3TV for the past decade until I retired in 2021. I was able to live in so many parts of the country that really gave me an incredible opportunity to experience all of the amazing cultures that make America so great. If I’m being honest, I never thought I would leave journalism. It was the only thing I thought I was good at. But, I hit a breaking point in my life. I experienced trauma in 2020 like so many other people. It really got me to see life from a totally different perspective and through a different lens. I began deep trauma healing work on myself. It was hard. It was heavy. But, I stayed committed to the work. That’s how my life changed. I discovered my life’s purpose after I healed from my childhood trauma. That trauma healing work led me to creating Art Of Our Soul: an art healing program for trauma survivors. I get to truly help impact someone’s life every single day. There is no dollar amount that can ever compare to that. Instead of reading negative headlines for 5 hours a day, I get to give hope to others who are hurting and provide a healing modality that allows them to experience joy.
You are very open about your traumas and addiction, that creating art saved you at your lowest point. From those darkest days to now — did you ever imagine this could be such a powerful healer?
I only realized the power of healing art when I used it to heal myself from my own trauma. I didn’t know the proven science about how healing art can be. I never created art thinking it would lead me to opening Art Of Our Soul. I started creating art in my guest bedroom. I would come home from the newsroom stressed out. My anxiety was through the roof. Creating art at night helped with my depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Art, when done in the right setting, has the ability to take someone from a Beta to an Alpha state. It’s in the Alpha state where we can heal the mind and body. Experiential therapy is crucial to helping someone heal from trauma. Not everyone learns the same way. Not everyone heals the same way. Not everyone is verbal. So, we have to offer different programs to people to find what works for them.
Art Of Our Soul began as a way for recovering addicts to heal and now works with people suffering from brain injuries, PTSD, domestic violence, sex trafficking and more. Talk about that.
When we first opened our doors at Art Of Our Soul, we had 3 addiction treatment centers who partnered with us. In 15 months, we have grown to 16 partners. At first, I thought we would only help recovering addicts and those with severe mental illness, but now we also offer art healing sessions to frontline nurses, veterans, survivors of sex trafficking, survivors of domestic violence, survivors of child abuse and neglect, cancer survivors, and survivors of traumatic brain injuries.
What are a few magical moments you’ve seen with clients when they are painting, expressing and working together as a group?
Oh gosh. There are so many! There are moments every day that make such a profound impact on me personally. I think I will share with you about a recent moment we had with a guy in recovery at Crossroads, Inc. His name is Chase. It was his first time at Art Of Our Soul. Instead of me sharing about the experience, I will let him share it in his own words:
“This is my first time to Art Of Our Soul.. I relapsed 2 weeks ago and the obsession to use has been non-stop. I’m still detoxing and have been struggling, but today during Brandon’s session… the entire hour I was here I didn’t think about using once. I didn’t want to get loaded. I was lost in the art and in the moment of what we were doing together. Not only was it therapeutic, but the creativity and fun behind the art we made trumped any desire to use. I’m extremely grateful for having the opportunity to experience this today.”
That’s my purpose. We get to help people like Chase every single day.
What are the future plans?
When I first opened Art Of Our Soul, I thought 10 partners would be amazing. I thought I would only have one studio here in Phoenix. But, so many CEO’s have come to me asking me if I can scale up so we can serve even more people with our innovative program that is a combination of both music and art healing at the same time. We have plans to expand nationally as we begin to partner with large behavioral health companies and hospitals that offer programs to their patients and members. It’s an exciting time for us at Art Of Our Soul.
Learn more at https://artofoursoul.com/
What drew you to becoming an instructor for Art Of Our Soul?
I worked for a treatment center who had partnered with Brandon in March, and I would come to the classes with clients and participate. I jokingly told him if he ever needed me to fill-in to let me know. Little did he know I had been manifesting working with him for months. In August 2022, Brandon asked if I would be interested in filling in for Monday and Wednesday evening classes. I was beyond excited! I remember walking into my first class teaching the Florence Crittenton girls, and in my heart knew I was in the right place. (https://www.flocrit.org/)
What changes do you see within yourself as you teach others who are seeking recovery and healing their traumas? Talk about the bonds you’ve made.
The biggest positive change I see is, at five years sober, I’m not perfect. There are many things I still need to work on. Being around Brandon helps me want to be a better person.
My level of compassion and empathy has grown from working here. Some of the bonds I have made is working with the girls from Florence Crittenton. When I started, one girl wouldn’t paint at all. She just refused. I sat with her and said, “you don’t have to paint, just pick out colors and I’ll do it for you,” to try and get her involved. The following week she participated a little, and at the next class she was so excited she painted a picture for her aunt. It’s those little things that show why we do what we do. Another bond I have is with Crossroads. I worked there for two years in admissions. Now, on Wednesdays I assist and help teach class to the residents, some of who I did their intake, and some who are back from a relapse. It melts my heart to see them walk through our door.
With all you give each day—how full is your cup?
I will be honest my cup is more full from working here than it was in the four years I worked in behavioral health. I get to connect on a different level, a heart level.
Many people reading this might say, “But I’m not creative, I can’t paint,” what would you say to inspire them?
I wasn’t an artist when I walked through those doors five months ago. We make an artist out of anyone who comes in! I’ll be there to guide you every step of the way and help you create your art piece!
Tell us about your journey finding recovery.
I’ve lived a big life in my 40 years, with the best part being I’m five years clean and sober from meth and heroin. The early days and months in recovery were difficult because I was filled with so much guilt and shame. It has taken a sincere commitment to stay clean, and a lot of work with my sponsor who guides me.
I moved here from Texas in the mid-nineties. While enrolled in high school I tried to join in with others, but was bullied. I acted out to the point of being kicked out my sophomore year. Then I attended a charter school but ran with the crowd who did drugs and drank. I became pregnant at 14, and had to have an abortion. At 15, I was skipping school more than I attended. And then I met a guy. Within months I was pregnant. I was enrolled in teen parenting classes and decided to get married at 16. We eventually separated. The year I graduated, I suffered a miscarriage and turned to drugs and alcohol to suppress my feelings and confusion.
After a few months apart we gave the marriage another chance in Texas. Soon after I was pregnant again — while discovering he was cheating. So it was back to Arizona to start life as a single mom. I applied for college after my son was born, received a full scholarship to ASU West, and worked three jobs to make ends meet. Then I was introduced to crystal meth.
Working, and going to college was exhausting and I thought, maybe meth was helping me get through the day. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. I lost the scholarship, jobs and all hope. I gave temporary guardianship of my son to my parents.
I was doing meth every day when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I believe God did for me what I couldn’t do for myself at that time when I was arrested for selling meth to an undercover cop. After nearly 3 months in jail, I entered treatment at a facility where my daughter was welcome. I did okay for awhile, and moved back to my parents. I never thought drugs were my problem, men were.
Addiction took me to places I never thought I would go. My daughter was getting in the way of me getting high, and I gave her up for adoption to a family friend. It was an open adoption so I was at least able to watch her grow up.
I had my last child in 2005, with every intention of doing everything right, being the best mom possible, but that didn’t last. After I gave birth, I started using meth again.
In 2015, I was introduced to the needle, shooting meth and heroin. Within a matter of a month, I lost my house, car and kid to DCS. My life was in shambles. I was completely powerless until I had a moment of clarity to try treatment again. I attended Native American Connections that October. I did the 45 day program and 90 day IOP and entered sober living. Once I graduated I was back with my parents.
Three weeks away from getting my daughter back from DCS, and thinking I didn’t need meetings or to call my sponsor, soon after I was high again. My rights were severed, my daughter was adopted and her name changed. That news sent me on a relapse for a year and a half. I was in a very dark place, and did anything and everything to try to kill myself.
In October 2017, I was arrested again for possession. I was trying to kick heroin too. Clearly, as if it was yesterday, I remember begging God to give me one more chance. It took another month until I found the sobriety that I cherish today.
This time sobriety worked because I jumped back into the 12 step rooms, found a new sponsor, followed directions, and thoroughly started working the 12 steps.
This time I wasn’t getting sober for DCS or my family; it was for me. That decision saved my life. I stayed in the middle of the herd of women who loved me until I could love myself, and they didn’t judge, or shame me.
Sobriety is beyond anything I could ever imagine possible. Today, I have an amazing husband and family and job I love. I am blessed with the opportunity to work alongside Brandon at Art Of Our Soul. Helping and sharing with our participants helps me be a better mom, wife, and friend. If it wasn’t for my 12 step program and the support I received, I would have nothing, I don’t think I would be here.
I know now God had a purpose for me. If you are new in recovery or need help, always reach out. There is a solution, you’re not alone!