September 16, 2012

The revolution televised: 16th Annual Prism Awards

Posted Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012
Coverage brought to you from Renew Media and the ONE80CENTER.

By Ashley Dane

I had the good fortune to be invited to E! Entertainment Studios to watch the host segment taping for the 16th Annual PRISM Awards Show. I attended the actual awards show a couple of months prior during the spring at the Beverly Hills Hotel, so it was great to see Dr. Drew, Tamala Jones and Allison Haislip creating the in-between segments.

The PRISM Awards itself is a very moving experience — from the actors, writers, producers and directors who were recognized for tackling socially pertinent issues such as drug addiction and mental illness, to the fact that the EIC and the PRISM Awards exists to honor those very people. It struck me as such a beautiful endeavor on the part of the EIC to have created the ceremony to honor those who bravely portray sensitive and controversial topics in order to shed light on them in the public eye.

Click here to see a photo gallery of the 2012 PRISM Awards.

Media is the most influential way to disseminate information. Weaving education into entertainment is a surefire way to increase awareness, compassion and tolerance. It also bridges the gap for people who feel isolated and alone. It is people like those honored by the PRISM Awards who are staging a quiet, but incredibly important, revolution.

When it comes to revolution, they say it won’t be televised. But this one is, subtly perhaps; embedded into the characters and stories on your favorite TV shows. Millions of people are being taught to understand their fellow human being; millions are feeling less alone in their addiction, or disease or mental illness. That is the quiet power of this revolution. When you really consider the implications, and how far reaching it could be, you understand implicitly that we are really witnessing a changing of the guard.

Dr. Drew, Alison Haisip, and Tamala Jones sound off about their involvement with the PRISM Awards:

I got to watch Dr. Drew in front of the camera, and he was indefatigably poised and charming. I was delighted to find he is the same in person. He is passionate about the topic of recovery and the dispelling of myths that create the stigma that keeps addicts in shame and isolation.  In terms of addiction and alcoholism, what do you think is the biggest misconception that exists in the minds of the general public?

Dr. Drew: The biggest misconception is that it is a choice. The other flip side of that misconception is that people don't understand that it’s a brain disease, nor do they seem to want it to be a disease. People somehow want addicts to be responsible; they want to remain angry at addicts ….

Renew: Why do you think that is?

Dr. Drew: Because addicts behave in unpleasant ways and people get angry about that and want to hold addicts accountable, but the big problem is that people have to understand that while there may be choice involved in picking up a drink in the first place, or the pills or the joint, fine, but once the switch is thrown in the brain in those who are genetically predisposed to addiction, it’s no longer choice. It’s about motivational disturbances. The usual priorities of family and job and health dissipate and this one priority emerges, which is using, and that is a function of the brain.

People have real difficulty coming to terms with that, and I would argue that the choice to use in the first place is very much colored by trauma. If you have trauma so prevalent in your life as a child and in late adolescence, someone shows you a substance that makes you feel better. I don't think there is a lot of choice involved in that either. Trauma motivates people to look outside their bodies for solutions to their internal disregulation.

Renew: What kind of feedback have you personally received as a result of your own experience bringing addiction and recovery into people's living room?

Dr. Drew: The most powerful and moving response, in my experience, is when people come into treatment because of something they saw on TV when we were able to break through their denial, like when we create an experience on television that they are able to identify with that motivates them to make a change. 

Renew: I find the Prism Awards exciting on a lot of levels. I think its shows an expansion of awareness and understanding. What excites you about what is going on here?

Dr. Drew: The most exciting thing to me is that there even is a PRISM Awards and that there is an EIC. I have gotten to experience it firsthand. I've seen it grow in the past 15 years, it’s not just that the EIC is getting better in terms of communicating its mission to the public, but that it has been embraced by this community, the entertainment community, so that when you watch television now you see shows and you go, “Oh my God, that is so accurate. That is so true to life”.  It’s going to be that much more powerful from a human experience stand point. I know that it's going to reduce stigma and it's going raise awareness … the media is so powerful. So powerful! I think we would all agree that it isn't always good. Certainly if it has negative impact on our culture, it must be equally powerful in the positive influence … which it will be if we take the reins and do what the EIC is doing. 

Alison Haislip was featured in such shows as Reno 911!, The Voice, Battleground and Attack of the Show. I caught her in her dressing room, where I asked what she thought about the PRISM Awards and the impact its honorees have on social consciousness. I personally don't suffer from addiction, but I had a roommate who was struggling with it and I witnessed the whole process that led up to their going into treatment. I have a real respect for that struggle. I have an appreciation for how mental illness and addiction is being represented in television and film — it’s ingrained into the characters and its part of who they are, and you don't even realize that you are learning something. I remember when I was a kid and there would be a special episode, like Saved by the Bell or Charles in Charge … there was always that one episode that they were like, “Today we are going to teach you about something. This is the episode about sex, or drugs.” It wasn't part of the flow. These days, shows definitely incorporate these issues in a very natural way, which is cool. People kind of turn off if they think you are trying to “teach” them something. I think the PRISM Awards is definitely honoring people and shows that make it a part of the story, the entertainment, so people don't bristle at it. They laugh or cry or whatever. They invest into it and it gets them thinking.

Tamala Jones, of the TV series Castle, was honored for a honest portrayal of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Jones he has been a very busy woman, with many films and television shows under her belt. I asked her how she felt about her involvement with the PRISM Awards, and why was it important to her.

Tamala: It is great to be involved with the PRISM Awards. I've always tried to encourage people to do better, and I have been through a lot and recovered from a lot so I understand how important it is. Recovering is really empowering and you want to give that empowerment to someone else as well. You want to let people know it’s okay to make mistakes, just keep trying. Recovering is really the best part, the worst is behind you.  I don't know if its drug addiction or a disease like bipolar disorder, anything like that, when someone has an issue, I feel like they sometimes feel alone, like no one gets it, and then they go deeper and deeper. Sometimes it takes just one person to say, “I know. I understand.”  Then recovery can begin, when someone in isolation can finally relate to someone else. That is what the PRISM Awards is all about.

My recovery has nothing to do with substance abuse. I had a brain aneurism, and had to recover from that — learning everything over and over again until you get back to normal. That’s something I never wanted to talk about. I was so young when it happened, and I was embarrassed. I had to recover everything; the whole right side of my body was gone. I didn't want anyone to know, and I did feel very much alone, and lately I have been talking about it more and more and connecting with people who are going through the same thing who feel alone, the way I did.

We all have weaknesses and we all have strengths and we all are different, that is what people have to understand; doesn't matter what you go through, it matters how you come out. It doesn't matter what your issue is, as long as you are working on it. It helps a lot when people understand it and support you. I think it’s great that more and more is being shown on TV and in movies about it. It helps.

Photos by Lisa Rose.

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