November 20, 2012

Photo project aids in recovery


---- — PLATTSBURGH — To represent her past, Yvonne Quilliam chose a photo of the local hospital she would frequent in hopes of being prescribed pain medication.

While the various ailments the Plattsburgh woman often described to the hospital’s health-care professionals were never real, her addiction to opiates was. 

”I did it for 14 years,” she told peers about her prescription-drug abuse.

”I don’t even remember being, like, sober.”

Quilliam, 28, spoke during a recent photography-themed class at Behavioral Health Services North in Morrisonville. 

The class is part of the agency’s Dual Recovery Module for individuals who struggle simultaneously with mental illness and substance addiction.

It is one of many services offered through the Personalized Recovery-Oriented Services program, known as PROS, at the Morrisonville location. 


Quilliam and her photography classmates meet once every two weeks with retired Plattsburgh City Court Judge Penny Clute, who gives them photo assignments intended to aid in their recovery. 

Participants are expected to either snap new photos or gather old ones that correlate with the assignments. They then share the images and their reasons for choosing them with the group, which also includes counselors, titled rehab practitioners.

“It’s a way to express yourself,” Quilliam told the Press-Republican. “You can’t always express it through words.”

One photo assignment, “Old Life, New Life,” inspired her hospital picture, which is one of many images she selected to tell the story of her old life as an addict, as well as a victim of physical and sexual abuse. 

Another of her “old life” photos depicts two one-way street signs, each pointing in different directions. 

”I didn’t know which direction to go,” she told the group. “Did I want to live, or did I want to die?”


In a separate interview, Quilliam shared how the decisions she made in her old life led to jail time for burglary and losing custody of her 8-year-old daughter. 

“I spent Christmas in jail in 2010,” she said. 

She was eventually released and sentenced to serve three years of probation, but even that didn’t initially stop her from using drugs. 

“I was using, and I did it successfully for a year without my (probation officer) knowing, and I finally just had enough of the secrets, the anxiety, always trying to hide and run, lying to myself, lying to everybody.  

 “One day I just looked at her (my probation officer) and said, ‘You know, I’m an opiate addict.’”

Following her confession, Quilliam was sent to rehab, but she left after two and a half weeks. 

“I just thought that it was kind of worse in rehab,” she said. “There was heroin; there was pills. It just wasn’t meant for me.”


But Quilliam was determined to turn her life around one way or another. 

“I said, ‘I can do it. I can be me. I don’t know what that is because I haven’t seen her since I was 14, but I can make my own path.’”

So she begged her parole officer to allow her to receive rehabilitation services at Behavioral Health Services North, and finally got the OK. 

“It’s awesome,” Quilliam said of the organization’s Personalized Recovery-Oriented Services, which she participates in four days a week.  

“It gives us people a chance at life again and to realize you’re not the only one out there.”

To represent her new life, one that includes her being sober for nearly six months now, Quilliam chose an image of herself smiling.

“I stop and think about things (now),” she told the group. 

One person never far from Quilliam’s thoughts is her daughter, whom she now sees during supervised visits. 

“She deserves a lot better than what I was giving to her,” she told the Press-Republican. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t love her.”

Quilliam hopes to eventually regain partial custody of the child, however, she doesn’t want to upset the young girl’s routine. 

“I don’t think it’s fair to keep on tearing her from home to home and being unstable.

“I just want to be there, like, physically and mentally there,” she said. 

Another of Quilliam’s future goals is to counsel individuals who find themselves in situations similar to her own. 

“I want to help people that are like me.”

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This is the first story in a two-part series that shares the stories of two women recovering from mental illness and substance abuse. Wednesday, meet Crystal Crombleholme, who drew the strength to find wellness from a baby born to her in jail.