Eye on KELOLAND: Breaking the stigma on addiction


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Often times, it’s a photographer’s job is to capture and preserve pivotal moments in life, but one KELOLAND photographer is using her role to break something: The stigma on addiction.

The path for Omar Charo hasn’t always been easy to walk.

“So, I was into using, dealing drugs, and drinking every day,” Charo said.

That led to major issues throughout his life.

“I lost my job, lost my apartment, I was on felony probation, and I had 13 bucks left; I went to the gas station and bought two 40’s and sat there in the dark sitting against my wall with an empty apartment not knowing where I was going to go,” Charo said.

Eventually, that led him to jail; A real low point on his journey.

“I think one of the biggest things then too was seeing my child through the glass at the jail, on my fourth DUI, you know, my wife, at the time, bringing my daughter there to talk to me – and I can still picture that, seeing her,” Charo said.

It was moments like that when he realized: “Something needed to change,” Charo said.

“I moved away from a lot of friends – that we were using meth and stuff like that – and that was the last time I even used a lot of that stuff. But then, it was just more of… breaking that routine,” Charo said.

Now, Charo has been walking the path of sobriety for 12 years. That led him to professional photographer Dez Murray, who is also looking to break something: The stigma on addiction.

“That’s just one moment in somebody’s life, right? Even people that are still actively using, their worst day is still just one day of their life, right? Like, it’s a disease, they’ve been diagnosed with it, certainly it brings them to some certain lows, but that’s not the entirety of their whole life,” Murray said.

“We always just see, ‘So-and-so got arrested for this, or how bad the drug epidemic is in South Dakota or the U.S., but there’s never the… I don’t want to say praises but as much of the positive side of people that came out of it, you know: the other end of it,” Charo said.

She’s aiming to capture positive moments with her new photo series titled ‘Breaking Stigma.’

“If you ever look at, like, art that has to deal with addiction, it’s always broken, it’s always needles in arms, it’s broken on the streets, it’s the worst mug shot,” Murray said.

The goal of this series is to have people change their perspective on how they see addiction. Since last November, she’s asked recovering addicts to sit down and get their picture taken. Charo was one of the first.

“It was just nice to, kind of, see some other new faces that are on the same side that I’m at as well; the other ones that were coming in. Meeting them in person, it wasn’t very long but at least meeting some of the other people that were in it and stuff, knowing that you’re not the only one doing it and stuff like that,” Charo said.

“Really, all we want to do is we want to come alongside those in our communities that struggled… and show how beautiful they are,” Murray said.

You can be 40 years sober or 40 days sober, Murray says there’s no length of sobriety required to get involved.

“The only thing we ask is: What do you hope people will know about addiction by participating in this project,” Murray said.

After the shoot, she edits the photos then posts them to her official Facebook page with a quote they live by.

“Live life on life’s terms. That’s the one I live my life by right now… things are going to happen and you can’t predict the future but you can influence it,” Charo said.

Portraits are also given to the individuals allowing them to reflect on how far they’ve come.

Max Hofer: And on your picture, when you first saw it, what was your reaction?
Omar Charo: That was me… that was me. I just like the fact that it had me smiling.

Omar Charo has been sober for 12 years.

Murray hopes her project eventually grows to cover more angles on the subject.

“The next step was asking those who were impacted by addiction, so, like, family members: husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, children,” Murray said.

Showing that there’s a bigger picture beyond one frame of someone’s life. When looking back on his own, Charo can still remember what life was like before his recovery.

“I always needed alcohol or another substance in me to have a buzz in my head to make me feel like I wasn’t shy, to be a little more open,” Charo said.

Now, 12 years sober, he can’t picture himself being any other way.

“I started noticing how un-shy I actually was, and now, if you get to know me, I never shut up. Like, I’m the total opposite of what I thought I needed,” Charo said

If you’d like to see more of Murray’s work you can check out her Breaking Stigma photo gallery. You can also visit her Facebook page if you or anyone has an interest in getting involved.

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