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Taking Back the Dreams – the Poem

This is one of the first versions of my recovery story. I also have poem by this same name that is the same story told on poetic form. I’d love to hear which one works better for you. This is one of my first spoken work poems that I memorized. This video was recorded in 2009 after I rode my bike to Omaha for Alternatives. You can see the parkinson’s movement in my hands, the Tardive Dyskinesia I got from Geodon.  This has almost all gone away now, four years later. I’ve also learned a lot more about poetry performance and composition now, and I recite a lot faster and my rhymes are a lot less predictable.

Taking Back the Dreams:


What Happened with the Taking Back the Dreams Poem:

This poem was written to people who didn’t really believe in recovery. My friend Al Henning, who died of depression heard the part of our ability to dream in color, and he said at one point, “Oh, I’ve been dreaming in black and white.” He was so discouraged thinking he’d be disabled for life that he stopped trying. He was also a person who was afraid to be happy, afraid to be OK with himself, and that was hard for him. He found taking back the dreams impossible, partly because he had never been very clear on his dreams in the first place.

Many of our call line staff were working on taking back the dreams in their own lives

Many of our call line staff were working on taking back the dreams in their own lives

The funny part about the Taking Back the Dreams poem is that I designed it to be performed at day programs because at that point in my life I was working at an advocacy organization running a call in support line and I went to all the day programs in town to recruit volunteers. I found that these poems were a  big hit.

I have some lines about, “Stuck in the system – some dreary nursing home somewhere/ Groups all day long, but no one to say aprayer, to teach me to swear, to dare me to compare/ My life to where I want it….”  These lines were put in directly to make fun of the day programs, which are really just cash cows for the mental health centers since most centers have known for a long time that supported employment gets better results.

But I just said “nursing homes” instead of day programs and no one ever caught that I was making fun of the actual places that were inviting me in to perform. Instead, the inmates just absolutely loved it and thought it a very hopeful poem. It’s a very tricky balance.  You want people to start Taking Back the Dreams even though they may not believe that recovery is possible. So how do you incite people to want to leave a program without letting the staff of the programs know that’s what you’re doing?

The key is “Plausible Deniability”: I don’t have to make my art completely without incitement – I just have to make it so that staff watching can deny the incitement that I caused. Most staff hope that they are promoting recovery and are a bit cynical about their programs’ actual ability to do this, so most are OK with new ideas.

This poem ended up being a great launching point to further work I did later. It worked out really well for my career, plus since it was online, it netted me my first keynote speaking engagement.





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