4 Oct 2016 Events

LIVES Challenge Winners: Q&A with Sydney Johnson and Tori Utley

Recovery Brands

Today we’re thrilled to announce the two lucky winners of the LIVES Challenge.

Sydney Johnson, a student at Indiana University, was chosen for the People’s Choice Award, and Tori Utley, founder of More Than an Addict, was chosen for the Judge’s Choice Award. The two women are passionate to bring new, inspiring messages to the public’s attention in hopes of prompting people to speak out and seek treatment.

We sat down with Sydney (Unconditional) and Tori (More Than an Addict) to get the inside scoop on their winning videos.

Here’s what they had to say…

Congratulations on being chosen as the winners of the LIVES Challenge! Tell us a little bit about your video. What was the main inspiration?

Sydney: Honestly, my main inspiration was wanting to help others get through the same pain that I went through. It’s never easy, but it can be done. We are all so much stronger than we realize. It took some long hours to write, film and cut, but it was so worth it in the end to see my message about unconditional love and support come together.

Tori: Thank you! We couldn’t be more excited or honored. Our video speaks to the heart of our organization, More Than An Addict. We see stigma as a deterrent for many people both in seeking treatment when they are struggling, as well as in recovery when they’re trying to build their lives back up — getting a job, going back to school, starting a company, mending relationships, etc. It keeps many people stuck, often feeling insecure or inadequate. Our main inspiration is our organization’s goal of eradicating stigma to help those in recovery have the empowerment, dignity, and opportunities that we believe are possible in recovery. We felt this video and the forum to share a unique story can be understood through the lens of someone struggling and someone in recovery. It was an exciting way to spread our message.

What went into your thought process as the story came together? Was anything particularly difficult to film?

Sydney: When I first started the film, it really was to raise awareness. Then, my focus changed to actually helping those who are suffering — just as I had. In a way, filming sort of rehashed some of the memories I had put behind me. But I think, all in all, it was a helpful reminder to see how far I have come and that I made it, and that others can too.

Tori: We had many brainstorming and ideation sessions with our board of directors, actress, and videographer, Ross Ballinger from Knowble Media. It was a highly creative process, which made it more meaningful and gave insight to more than one person’s story of recovery. The biggest difficulty was making sure the story and the emotion expressed was authentic. Struggling with addiction and facing stigma in recovery are very real feelings, which is why we knew we made the right choice in choosing our actress, Chelsee Ferk. She was able to convey these emotions so clearly through her passion as an actress and her personal story of recovery.

What did entering this contest and filming this video teach you about yourself?

Sydney: This video served as a lesson in reminding me who I am. We are not defined by our past, but by how we overcame adversity. By making this film, I really saw how something so seemingly small can make a big difference, to me personally, to those around me, and to those watching the video. I learned that I really can make a difference.

Tori: As the founder of More Than An Addict, it taught me more about those who our organization is trying to help: the millions who have been affected by addiction. It taught me the unique ways to view someone’s story and the lessons they’ve learned, and reinforced the concept that the lessons learned in recovery are valuable. Above all else, it made me more proud to be supporting and advocating for the recovery community and those seeking help.

What do you hope others take away from your video?

Sydney: I hope that when others watch my video, they know that love and support are key. Even if it’s only one person helping you, latch on to them. Cherish love and friendship and just remember that it never fails. Even when it feels like you are alone, you are not.

Tori: Put simply, we want people to see they are more than their addiction. They are more than the shame, they are more than the barriers, they are human beings and their lives and the lessons they’ve learned along the way are valuable. For people who are not in recovery and who possibly know others in recovery, the goal is the same: to convey that those who struggle are more than the struggle itself, and are deserving of the hope in recovery. Beyond seeking help, those in recovery are more than their past struggle of addiction – they are capable, valuable assets to society and we should treat them and empower them as such.

If there was one piece of advice you could give to individuals who are struggling with a substance use disorder and/or mental illness, what would it be?

Sydney: My advice would be to take some sort of small step forward, initially. Know that, no matter what, someone out there loves and cares for you. There were so many times that it felt like I was alone, but sometimes one conversation can change that entire perspective. Reach out to someone, and something great can come from it.

Tori: Our advice is to keep going, keep pushing forward. As the actress in our video said in a recent blog post, “Know this is a journey, know there is a next, living in addiction isn’t it.” We believe recovery is possible and that hope is available to all who pursue it. Beyond this, we believe that those in recovery can be dynamite forces in our society — they are students, business owners, leaders, and great employees — and we want those in recovery to understand how transformational recovery can be to all aspects of life.


Thank you to everyone who participated in the LIVES Challenge!

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