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Marisa Vitali

Marisa Vitali, creator of “Grace,” speaks after the screening of the film. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Marisa Vitali

Life happens in the in-between spaces, from here to there. Recovery happens in the in-between spaces, when no one is looking and no one is around. How do we choose to live? How do we choose to be in those quiet moments with self? Have I filled my void, my spirit with happiness?

Or do I look outside myself for a drink, a drug, food, sex, shopping, cigarettes; to make myself not feel; to fill the void, the gaping black hole of low self-esteem and low self-worth?

I’ve learned that in recovery I have a choice. I’m no longer a slave to my next bag of dope and I can choose to see the glass half empty or half full.

Myself, I want it all, but when I logically prioritize, longevity and quality of life are on the top of the list. Every minute I spend obliterated is one less finite minute I have to feel life.

I do my best on a daily basis to choose happiness; to live happy, joyous and free. Recovery allows me to be in a place of rediscovery. To relearn the wisdom I was born with and somehow let slip between the fingers of my mind.

Just to be living is truly a gift and one not to be squandered on those people, places and things that cause us pain. Life is a gift to be celebrated and shared with those we love and who bring us even more joy than we may already be feeling.

Having this opportunity to live in recovery, I so know it didn’t have to be this way.

I always say: My life is nothing what I thought it would be and yet nothing I ever could have imagined it to be.

I don’t know the source of life, but I do know the humility I feel when confronted by nature and the magical way everything is prepared for every situation it could possibly encounter. That delusion in and of itself eliminates anxiety and I’m in deep.

I have come to the realization that living life to the fullest is not about my achievements — it is about my breath.

“I’ve learned that in recovery I have a choice. I’m no longer a slave to my next bag of dope and I can choose to see the glass half empty or half full.”
—Marisa Vitali

This moment, right here and now. Feeling everything there is to feel and experience in this one breath of in and out. This is what is intended. To soak in every drop of this thing called life.

We all intellectually know about breath and present moments so I will spare you the details in favor of encouraging you to do what you truly desire before it’s too late. Or keep collecting excuses that will serve you well in your final moments.

Because all we really have is today. There is no need to mar this experience with drugs and alcohol in order to escape this moment, this breath.

Not to make you nauseous with platitudes, but I do feel an urge to recap the classics. Living at the highest-level means feeling good about your life. There’s give and take without malice or greed, there is healthy socialization with challenging, stimulating people of integrity. There is reverence way before relevance, so if you turned down that road, I suggest you make a U-turn in the first driveway.

That’s what we’re all here for: to live the good, the bad and the ugly. To feel, to grow, to better ourselves and to help one another. We are here to serve, regardless of our elitist aspirations, so share your talents and energy freely. Our influence is exponential and will outlive us for eternity.

If one falls, we all fall, and so it’s a treasure and an opportunity to uplift one another in times of need with love, compassion and authenticity.

We all fall eventually. I fall at the door of a true friend. One of the most vivifying experiences is the exchange of love, and that I’m not afraid to express anymore.

This life, this recovery is a journey; it’s all in the same, with twists and turns, mountains and mole hills.

No matter what I choose not to use. I am evolving into whatever my imagination is capable of, without ego and defects of character that keep me small, dictating how it all should play out.

We are so much more powerful than we could possibly acknowledge. Tap into that source. Your source of creation, whatever that may be for you. The answers you seek are deep within.

There but for the grace of God go I. Live free, as the only thing constant is change.

So change! Do something different. I dare you. If nothing changes, nothing changes. Simple yet true.  The clock is ticking. Seize the day and all that carpe diem s—.

But seriously, take a look around – this is all of your creation. You did this, you made this happen, you made these choices.

Will you run and hide like you’ve always done, or will you stand tall in the eye of the storm and dance in the rain?

We all have choices. I know what I choose. Do you? I dare you to live.

Marisa Vitali is a Northport native actress who created a short film about the journey of recovering from drug addiction.

Marisa Vitali, creator of “Grace,” speaks after the screening of the film. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Community members from all around the Huntington area packed into the John W. Engeman Theater on Tuesday night for a premiere screening of “Grace,” a short film about heroin recovery.

Marisa Vitali, the film’s creator and a Northport native, based the film on her own struggles with drug addiction and rehabilitation.

“I would have never been able to do this without all of you,” Vitali said after receiving a round of applause once the film ended. She shot the motion picture in Northport, primarily at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner, and used members of the community as extras in the film.

During the unveiling, Vitali said she realized that she has been clean for 14 years, four months and four days, to the day.

“I am so grateful,” she said. “I am so grateful I didn’t wake up dope sick today and I am so grateful I didn’t have to use. Everything else is just a blessing on top of that.”

She then spoke to the people in the room who may be currently going through the same challenge or have a loved one who is.

“I’m sure there are people here who are struggling, who don’t know where to go … but I want to let you know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We do recover.”

The event was hosted in partnership with the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force. Profits from tickets, food and raffle tickets sold at the event went toward the Youth Directions and Alternatives, a nonprofit organization serving communities throughout Huntington by developing services and sobriety programs for youth in the communities.

According to Anthony Fernandino, chair of the task force, the event had raised $7,500 before raffle ticket proceeds were counted.

Fernandino has been working with Vitali for almost four years trying to get the event together and was ecstatic to see it all come together.

“It feels great,” he said before the screening. “We sold out and exceeded our expectations. I’m excited because we have a house full of people that we will be able to educate and bring awareness to this issue.”

Northport Mayor George Doll, who Vitali said was a vital part of making the film, was proud to be a part of the event.

“This is a fantastic thing,” he said. “We have people coming here all the time to do films, but hers was special.”

Northport Police Chief Bill Ricca agreed that it was a unique and important approach to combat addiction.

“From a law enforcement standpoint, we can’t arrest ourselves out of this problem,” he said. “We need the community’s help, we need treatment, prevention, and education.”

After the film, there was a question and answer portion in which audience members asked Vitali about how she first got into drugs, got clean and continues to live a healthy life. Barry Zaks, director of Huntington Drug & Alcohol Counseling Center, also answered questions on how and when parents should start having conversations about drugs with their kids.

The poster for the short film "Grace." Photo from Marisa Vitali

By Victoria Espinoza

“Grace” did not come easy for Northport native Marisa Vitali, but she has used her struggles to help inspire others.

 The poster for the short film "Grace." Photo from Marisa Vitali
The poster for the short film “Grace.” Photo from Marisa Vitali

The village will be rolling out the red carpet for the premier of Vitali’s short film, “Grace,” based on her experiences battling addiction and recovery. In an interview, the filmmaker said she wanted to tell her story differently and focus more on the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I felt like a turtle without a shell, raw and emotionally exposed,” Vitali said of her struggles. “This was the story I wanted to tell in the film ‘Grace.’ Anyone can watch a film and learn how to shoot a bag of dope or smoke a crack pipe. I wanted to tell a story of hope and recovery and bridge a gap between addicts and non-addicts to start that conversation of recovery.”

The film focuses on a woman in her first year of recovery working at diner, which mirrors Vitali’s real life. She worked at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in Northport during her first year of recovery. Vitali said she included the snapshot in her film because of how important the first days of improvement are for recovering addicts.

“The first year is the most difficult,” she said. “You’re left with fear, shame, anger and guilt.”

Vitali, who is now nearly 15 years sober, said she went to an outpatient program at Daytop Village Inc. in Huntington Station once she made a commitment to get clean, and continues to attend support meetings.

Discussing the problem is half the battle, Vitali said. She said a lot of people think addiction will never happen to them, or their loved ones, so they end up not having the information they need to deal with the struggles of substance abuse.

“Addiction is still portrayed as a taboo topic,” she said. “There is a lot of stigma attached to it. There is something to be said about how we can all be a little more compassionate for one’s struggle to overcome against all odds.”

Anthony Fernandino, chair of the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force, said he hopes the film sparks a conversation about the importance of the prevention side of dealing with drug addiction.

“I felt like a turtle without a shell, raw and emotionally exposed.” — Marisa Vitali

“We want to continue to raise awareness, and provide the community with more education,” he said in a phone interview. “If we can prevent a kid or give a parent the tools they need to prevent this from happening, it is a much easier [task] than treating a kid who is already in the throws of addiction.”

He said this film could help give parents new talking points for more open conversations with their children and provide concrete examples of what to do to keep a safe and healthy environment.

This film also lines up with an ongoing battle facing Suffolk County, and the nation as a whole.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 28,000 overdose deaths in 2014 as a result of heroin or opioid abuse across the United States — the highest number on record in any single year. Last year alone, Suffolk County suffered 103 fatal heroin overdoses and tallied more heroin-related overdose deaths than any county in New York from 2009 to 2013, according to the New York State Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention 2015 Report.

“Grace” was filmed at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in the village, and Vitali said the community has been extremely supportive of this endeavor.

Marisa Vitali grew up in Northport, which is also the setting for her short film. Photo from Marisa Vital
Marisa Vitali grew up in Northport, which is also the setting for her short film. Photo from Marisa Vital

“It was important to shoot in Northport because it was a homecoming of sorts, and it felt like I had come full circle.”

Not only has “Grace” been received well by the community, it has also won film awards including Best Drama at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival, the Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Long Island International Film Expo, and was selected for the short film corner in the Cannes Film Festival.

And the journey isn’t ending anytime soon for this short film.

Vitali said she is working to use the film, along with a lesson plan, as a learning tool for health classes in the Northport-East Northport school district.

“This was one of my intentions,” she said. “I wanted it to be available for educational purposes because there is not a lot of education on coming out of addiction and the recovery process.”

“Grace” will be shown at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport on June 7 in an event hosted by the Northport-East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force. All proceeds will benefit Youth Directions and Alternatives, a nonprofit organization serving communities throughout Huntington by developing services and sober programs for youth in the communities.

Following the film premiere, there will be a question and answer session with Vitali and the director of the Huntington Drug and Alcohol Task Force Barry Zaks, where they will also discuss ways in which the community can work to address the issue of addiction.

The event was created for high school students, as there is some inappropriate language. Tickets for the event can be purchased at www.engemantheater.com/event/grace-premiere.

To learn more about “Grace” visit: www.grace-the-movie.com

To learn more about Marisa Vitali visit: www.marisavitali.com