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Interview with Sheila Ganz for Women’s History Month 2023 by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation read here.

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Driven by the desire for custody of their children five mothers struggle to overcome substance use disorders in a gender responsive treatment program.  Their intimate story reveals experiences with domestic violence, prostitution, incarceration and complex inter-generational relations.  On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery interweaves the women’s three year journey to self-sufficiency and new found pride with drug laws that impact mother and child, and will inspire hope for recovery.  This documentary film will reduce the stigma by addressing the larger issues that Treatment Works and Family Preservation is Prevention, which breaks the cycle of addiction, abuse and poverty.

The Moms in the Film

Why filmmaker Sheila Ganz made the film

The issue of family preservation is very important to Sheila Ganz, because in 1969, she was an unwed mother.  Ganz became pregnant as the result of being raped.  Her parents wanted her to go into a home for unwed mothers in Boston.  They lived on the North Shore.  Ganz didn’t want to go there, so she got a job, saved her money, bought a car and headed out for Los Angeles.

On January 19, 1969, the day before Nixon was inaugurated the first time, Ganz totaled her car just east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  She was pinned under the car with a fractured pelvis.  She was five months pregnant.  She was in the hospital for two months recuperating and then went into a Booth Memorial Home for Unwed Mothers for the remaining two months.  Ganz was given no choice and very unwillingly relinquished her newborn daughter for adoption.  “Losing my daughter was nearly devastating.  It felt like an amputation.  I lived for the day that I would find her and tell her I love her.”

Ganz began her artistic career as a painter and sculptor.  After taking part in numerous adoption triad support groups, she was inspired to make the documentary Unlocking the Heart of Adoption.  The film explores the lifelong process of adoption for adoptees, first/birthparents and adoptive parents in same race and transracial adoptions with illuminating historical background.

Ganz found her daughter at age 19.  They have met, but do not have a relationship at this time.  “There is always hope for the future.”

“I wanted to make my next film about family preservation.”  After looking for a program that helps mothers keep their children, Ganz was referred to the Center Point, Inc. Women and Children’s Residential Treatment Program in San Rafael, just over the Golden Gate Bridge.  She met with Dr. Sushma Taylor, President and CEO, and the two Vice Presidents, and told them her idea.  They gave her permission to make the documentary.

She met with the women.  They sat in a circle and shared their experiences.  Ganz went back a second time, showed the women Unlocking the Heart of Adoption and passed around a paper asking for volunteers.  Through the women’s particular experiences, a universal story emerged.  A wide range of audiences have felt the impact of the women’s intimate stories and been inspired by them.

On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery  will catalyze social change by stimulating a national dialogue on gender responsive treatment vs. punitive laws and the long term impact of breaking family ties.  Our intention for the film is to validate and inspire women and men in recovery, educate social service providers and the criminal justice system; and encourage policy makers and legislators to fund more family-centered substance use residential treatment programs.  This timely film removes the mask of stigma and stereotype to reveal the humanity of these women, and promote recovery and hope for everyone.

Differences in drug addiction for women and men

Although there are many similarities between men and women when it comes to drug use and addiction, there are also many differences.  Differences that are important to take into consideration in understanding the addiction, as well as in treating it.

Some of the differences for women center on the physical effects of addiction while others focus on how women relate to their families, their communities and their children.  All of these factors can affect  how women respond to treatment.  Many of the symptoms of addiction for women tend to be “inner directed” including anxiety, shame, and depression.  For men, the symptoms tend to be more visible and external – aggressive or drunk driving, fighting and assault.  As a result, there is a need for, and benefit to, gender-specific services for women who also recognize the important role that trauma may play in her addiction and in her recovery.

If you are seeking help with substance use issues call, or go to the website for information and listings:

Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator
1-800-662-HELP (4357), 1-800-487-4889 (TDD)

Drug Rehabs and Addiction Treatment by State

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-799-7233

Funded in part by: Artemis Rising Foundation, Pacific Pioneer Fund, Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund, Open Meadows Foundation, Inc., Penny Harvest Roundtable and Individual Donors.

Please contact us at: (415) 564-3691 or sheila.ganz@gmail.com if you or your group would like to host a screening.

© 2023 Sheila Ganz