After recognition, plans to expand ‘The Rooms Project’

Journalism professor Jillian Bauer plans to expand ‘The Rooms Project’ to feature stories of recovering addicts from all over the country. | Finnian Saylor TTN
Journalism professor Jillian Bauer plans to expand ‘The Rooms Project’ to feature stories of recovering addicts from all over the country. | Finnian Saylor TTN

For Jillian Bauer, darkrooms carry a lot of meaning.

In a modern age of digital imaging, darkrooms are a thing of the past, but there was a time in Bauer’s life when the “darkroom” was a very real place – a metaphorical location of addiction and denial.

Her Internet blog, The Rooms Project, features photos and the accompanying stories of those recovering from addiction – and the entire idea behind the project, which she recently discussed on WHYY last Friday and Sunday mornings, stems from her own experience as an alcoholic.

“Being featured on WHYY was one of the many incredible experiences I’ve had thanks to this project,” Bauer said. “It gave me the opportunity to talk to a larger audience outside of the recovery community about what my recovery means to me and why I’m doing this project.”

The Rooms Project, which Bauer started in March 2014, is a way to empower recovering addicts by sharing stories and significant experiences.  The website profiles individuals in stages of recovery and in rooms that have significant meaning to each person.

“[The rooms] offer people living in long-term recovery, like me, a space to share their experience freely without the judgment that often comes along with the diseases of addiction and alcoholism,” Bauer said.

Bauer, a Temple graduate and a School of Media and Communication adjunct professor of eight years, is a professional photographer and owns her own photography company.

Now, Bauer wants The Rooms Project to reach beyond the limits of Philadelphia. She has planned three separate “recovery road trips” to Chicago, Portland and Miami and beyond, and plans to make stops in many different cities along the way, according to the kickstarter page.

The Rooms Project currently has about 30 posts. Hoping she can find participants across the country who are willing to share their experiences, Bauer wants to add to her collection of stories online by finding people through Facebook, Twitter and other digital means.

As of right now, Bauer is planning to make her cross-country trip sometime between March and September of this year and hopes to have 100 entries by December.

Bauer is currently in the process of raising the necessary funds required to take the trips and has turned to Kickstarter for support, so far raising $1,000 of her $5,350-by-Feb. 21 goal.

“People are basically paying for my gas and hotel stays, and I’m putting in the service of running around to capture these stories,” Bauer said.

Bauer is a recovering alcoholic who struggled with addiction in her undergraduate years of college. She describes herself as “a person in long term recovery.”

The website explains Bauer’s story, intermingled among the others. The text overlay reads, “Jill: March 24, 2013,” and the underlying photo, taken in her photography studio, her “room”, shows her perched on a metal chair, legs crossed, sporting a keen smirk and a side ponytail.

“I was your token hot mess drunk,” Bauer said, laughing. She said she didn’t identify her drinking as an addiction during her years of higher education, although a broken ankle and poor grades might have indicated otherwise.

Later in her professional career, Bauer found herself working three jobs, which she used as justification for, “why I’m not an alcoholic,” she said.

For Bauer, drinking had an underlying purpose: to suppress anxiety. As someone who was put at ease by drinking, the sips and gulps came easily, she said.

It wasn’t until she spent a night in jail for drunk driving, got drunk at a photography client’s wedding reception and was flagged by a nightclub bouncer that she realized something had to be done.

And she did. She contacted a sober Facebook friend of hers, who, having been aware of Bauer’s reputation for drinking, had “been waiting for this phone call for years,” Bauer said of her friend.

That was 22 months ago and she said she has been sober ever since.

As Bauer writes on The Rooms Project’s website, “There are more than 23 million Americans living in recovery, but people won’t expect us to succeed unless they hear about our success.”

Finnian Saylor can be reached at finnian.saylor@temple.edu

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