Addiction and Motherhood: Sheila Ganz has a Powerful Story to Tell

From the Duffy’s Napa Valley Rehab blog

Addiction is hard—we all know that. But as a mother, going through an addiction means your baby girl or little boy goes through it with you.

The documentary, On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery tells the gripping stories of five mothers battling addiction while trying to care for their children.  Since its premiere in April, the film has been the official selection at three major recovery film festivals including the REEL Recovery Film Festival in San Francisco Bay Area Edition.

Artist, Sculptor, and the director/producer of the documentary Sheila Ganz, sat down with us for a few minutes to answer questions about the film. Before jumping into the Q&A, here’s a brief synopsis.

About On Life Terms: Mothers in Recovery

The film takes you on the three year journey of mothers recovering at Center Point, Inc., a women and children’s residential treatment program in San Rafael, California. The palpable stories of the mothers de-stigmatizes addiction and promotes the discussion of treatment vs. incarceration (leaning heavily towards treatment, of course).

The trailer accurately portrays what the full 56 minute film is all about.

Q & A with Sheila Ganz

Q: What is your relationship with Center Point, and what motivated you to make the film for them?

A: In 1969, I unwillingly relinquished my daughter for adoption, not something I wanted to do.  I was not given a choice.  This life event motivated my first film, Unlocking the Heart of Adoption, about the life long process of adoption for adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents in same race and transracial adoptions and eventually my second film, On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery, about keeping families together.  So you could think of this film as a continuation from my first film.

I wanted to make a film about family preservation, and I wanted to work with an organization committed to helping mothers keep their children, so I called up Dr. Sushma Taylor, CEO of  Center Point. I eventually received permission to film the stories of mothers recovering at the Center Point program.

Q: So this was more of a personal pursuit?

A: Exactly. I went to the program and met with the women. I shared my story, they shared theirs. On my second visit to the center I showed them Unlocking the Heart of Adoption, we talked and then I passed around a piece of paper asking for volunteers to participate in the film.

Q: Tell us about the success of the film, and what you hope the film to accomplish.

A: Well, really it’s just a “baby film” right now—only a few months old. It’s had a successful premiere at a film festival. We’re currently working on launching the film nationwide, getting it on Public Television, and distributing it to educational institutions. Ultimately we’d like to see the film in as many cities as possible doing community screenings across the country.

Q: In a sentence or two could you sum up your goal in making the film?

A: My goals with the film are to combat the stigma surrounding addiction, encourage a greater understanding about the underlying issues of addiction and to promote the need for substance use treatment opposed to incarceration.

I also hope the film will help a lot of people—those seeking or in recovery and their family and friends.

Q: How does your film help remove that stigma, or at least take steps in that direction?

A: If you talk to someone about a mother doing drugs they’ll think, “Oh, that’s awful, put her in prison.” What I’m hoping my film will do is put a face on mothers struggling through addiction. Real people, with real life circumstances that brought them to use drugs in the first place—I hope this will show people the underlying issues that need to be dealt with.

I hope the film dispels the stigma, and encourages people to empathize with these moms and see treatment as a superior option to incarceration. The film shows that treatment works!

Q: What is special about Center Point?

A: The Center Point program is gender specific.

Historically, treatment models were created on research with men. Of course this is a problem because women fundamentally react differently to addiction and have different needs as well as a unique perspective on children. So Center Point comprehensively treats moms—as moms, and not as men.

Q: How does Center Point handle the children of the mothers?

A: Center Point does everything they can to keep the children with the mothers.  Some children actually live at Center Point during the treatment process. There is a bonding time after breakfast when the mothers spend time with their children and of course they have meals with them and quality time in the evening.

Q: In the making of the film I’m sure you interacted with these mothers quite a bit. How did this interaction change your perspective on these moms and you personally?

A: It gave me a greater appreciation of how tough it is to be recovering from substance use addiction.

I have a thyroid problem, so I shouldn’t eat a lot of salt, but when the potato chips are on sale and I’m walking down that aisle, then I think about these women and what shelves and aisles they have to walk past.

So it makes me think about things that I never really thought about before.

Q: If someone reading this wants to watch your film, what should they do?

A: In this country today, there are less than 150 residential treatment programs that will take a pregnant woman or mother with young children, if they are using drugs. I really want to get the word out about the importance of treatment options for women and mothers.

One way to do this is through community screenings and panel discussions where groups invite policy makers, judges and law enforcement along with people in the recovery community and the press to get the word out and to start to make change.

If readers are so moved, please contact me about doing a community screening. Thank you.

You Can Help

What a stirring demonstration of how we can carry out Step 12, and an inspiring example of the power of combining our talents with our passions to further the message of hope! Thank you Sheila, for your work and for taking the time to talk with us.

If you’re interested in learning more about screening or supporting this beautiful project, you can contact her at or visit her website.

Please donate to help us launch the documentary On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery nationwide hosted by gender-specific residential treatment programs here – Thank you!