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Masks decorated by Marines in the Consolidated Substance Abuse Counseling Center’s intensive outpatient treatment program in March are displayed during a Family Advocacy Program open house Apr. 7. Participants used the masks to express the feelings they use alcohol to cover or hide from the world. April is national Alcohol Awareness Month.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

CSACC Masks for Alcohol Awareness Month

14 Apr 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

Alcohol is a mask that those with a substance abuse problem use to cover difficult feelings or past traumas, said Jacqueline Williams, program director for the Consolidated Substance Abuse Counseling Center (CSACC) aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico.

In early March, Marines participating in CSACC’s intensive outpatient treatment program completed an exercise in which they created an actual mask decorated to express the feelings they use alcohol to hide. The masks were on display for the first time during an Apr. 7 open house in the Family Advocacy Program office in Little Hall.

“It took a lot of courage for these Marines to tell the world ‘this is what alcohol is covering for me,’” Williams said. “Hopefully, it helps to contain the trauma.”

April is national Alcohol Awareness Month. The Apr. 7 open house showcased the masks in addition to T-shirts decorated by survivors of domestic and child abuse.

Williams said this is the first time she has led the mask exercise. She got the idea from a young female alcoholic she worked with early in her career. The woman shared with her the 1966 poem Please Hear What I’m Not Saying by Charles Finn, the first verse of which reads: “Don’t be fooled by the face I wear/for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,/masks that I’m afraid to take off,/and none of them is me.”

“The work for substance abusers is to try to find out who they truly are behind all that other stuff,” Williams said.

For the exercise at the outpatient program, Williams read the poem to the participants. Then she asked them to take their metaphoric masks off and find a way to express the hidden emotions on the physical masks.

“They chose to use words, paint, feathers or construction paper to identify what they were feeling,” Williams said.

One mask had the words “angry” and “embarrassed” written on it, along with a drawing of tear drops and the question “How did this happen?” Another was divided in half, with the words “combat Marine” and a drawing of a camouflage pattern on one side and a broken heart and the questions “Why did my father leave me?” and “Did she love me or did it mean nothing?” on the other side.

Another had a hologram picture of a resting cat that morphs into a pouncing cat pasted over the eye holes to represent the calm aspect of the Marine’s personality and the aggressive side he keeps hidden.

Williams pointed out one mask painted in shades of brown and red, which she said was done by a Marine who kept telling her he didn’t want to participate in the exercise.

“He kept saying that over and over and eventually that anger and discomfort came out in the colors he chose for the mask, emphasizing fire,” Williams said. “He was able to let his subconscious out.”

After they created their masks, the Marines had an opportunity to share what they meant with the larger group. Williams said that the participants found the exercise helpful in processing some of the emotions they were using alcohol to hide.

“Some of them told me, ‘I’m taking my mask home with me,’” Williams said.

The rest were returned to their creators after the open house or hung in the CSACC classroom.

— Writer:

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