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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

8 thoughts on “Home

  1. Tracy Kiesler

    Excellent work here. I am a survivor of abuse as well as a recovering alcoholic. I have four minor children. I couldn’t agree more with the fact that recovery from addiction for mothers is different than men. It it is different because of our relationships with our children and our fears of losing them. As a recovery mentor, I see frequently the experience of abuse coming into play in addiction. It’s an escape method, a coping skill when we don’t know what else to do in our situations. The key is being able to get new tools, ones that work. Also, providing support to a woman as she is going through recovery and life changes is so very important. Juggling recovery and children is very difficult. Especially considering financial issues, legal issues, and possibly the fact that she is facing leaving an abusive relationship. All of these things can be so overwhelming that relapse is common. Thank you so much for helping bring awareness and reducing stigma! Recovery IS possible!

  2. kathryn page

    I cannot wait to see this video! Mothers’ stories need to get out there, so that better support can be generated. I only have one “but” here: “if children who are prenatally exposed to drugs grow up in a relatively decent environment they have a good chance of developing normally”–applies to drugs other than alcohol. If the fetus’ developing brain was exposed to alcohol, brain cells wander off to the wrong place, slide off their destination, and die off at high rates. The child can seem fine until around the age of 3 when reasoning starts to be expected–and again around middle school time, when life gets so much more complicated we sometimes see behavior, mood, school taking a big hit. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders look a lot like AD/HD, the complicated kind. Another great video, this one for FASD, is called “Recovering Hope”, and shows five moms in recovery with their kids, all affected in different ways by prenatal alcohol. Available from SAMHSA, free, and i think also on youtube.

  3. Christie

    I truly feel for all of these moms, they have a tough road ahead of them. I am a single mom to an awesome 3-year-old little boy, and I have been sober for 2 years. It was not easy for me to get sober this last time, it took a great deal of help from the local support group and a lady calling me every hour to check in. I waited too long to get help, though, and I almost lost my son my son because of it. He nearly drowned in the family swimming pool and I had to give him CPR. Our local child protection agency took custody from me, and it took me over a year to get him back. It was the toughest year of my life. If you are a mom in active addiction, please don’t wait as long as I did to reach out to your local support group. I was given the gift of a second chance when my son came back to life, and I do not expect to receive such a blessing the next time (which is why I work hard everyday to make sure there won’t be one). Getting sober is only part of the battle for single moms in recovery, though, as being a single parent is incredibly tough, and reestablishing yourself in the work force takes time and hard work. However, it can be done! The love I have for my so, and the joy of living a healthy life keeps me going everyday, and connecting with other moms in my situation sustains me through the tough times. If you want to change your life, reach out for help, and If you would like to follow my story, you can find me at my blog: AChrisalis.com.

  4. Wendy Penner

    Congratulations on your beautiful film. I wish everyone could see this! Educational, inspiring, heartbreaking-it does a very compassionate and intimate job of telling the stories of these women and of exposing the challenges of overcoming addiction, and inspires hope for recovery.

  5. rosie bachand

    Bless you, bless you, bless you. i developed and ran an intensive day treatment program in Stockton Ca. with a NAIDA grant. like everything when the money ran out so did the interest in the program. there is nothing to compare this video/cd to. women use differently, they use different drugs and they use for different reasons. if i had a dollar for every woman that was led into the use of alcohol and other drugs by or because of their family we could build enough residential recovery centers for women in America. i pray for you and this program daily. i do know there is a struggling program in Knoxville, Tennessee to which i led a mission trip just this last November. the program, “Susannah’s House” is a part of the Cokesbury Methodist Church Recovery mission. after 30 years in women’s health and addiction medicine things are slightly better, perhaps because of the development of medically assisted treatment (MAT) but the women at Susannah’s House have to fight every day to stay sober, to be with their kids, to build a life. i sincerely pray that programs like these can keep receiving the breath of life.

  6. Melissa Cooper-Johnston

    I’m newly in recovery (again) after a 2 year long relapse. I have 2 done ages 2 and 4. No CPS involement. I was living with my (ex) mother in law; Nana. In March of 2017 I was kicked out due to my use and my children stayed with my in-laws. Since then ive been in and out of jail and their lifes. On June 21, 2018 I finally made the decision that ive had enough and I’m back in recovery. My clean date is June 22nd, 2018. Today is day 50!!

    Ive been seeing my boys at random times and days on Nana’s schedule and I have had on overnight with my oldest son with my sister.

    Ive now started I.O.P and an slowly involved and intagrating back into support groups.

    My question and needing help with a better solution to how to intagrate the children back into eachother lives. Whats the best way to do this my boys? With the ultimate goal to have then back inyo my custody full time?

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Melissa, Congratulations for getting back into recovery after a long relapse. I know that’s not easy and I wish you the very best with your recovery. I would suggest you work with a therapist, or social worker to integrate your children back into their lives and yours with full time custody. Perhaps the support groups you are with can recommend someone.
      All my best, Sheila


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