If you’re ever booking an event on campus and in the market for a closed-off, intimate space, the Lower Level of the John A. Barone Campus Center would not be it. With three separate entrances, two stairwells and a wrap around upper decking, there’s no possibility of privacy. But, as cheers and congratulations echoed throughout the Lower Level as singer-songwriter, Daphne Willis, revealed to us that she would be three years sober this Sunday, I discovered this wasn’t an event to be placed in the shadows somewhere where privacy was possible. The Collegiate Recovery Program and Counseling & Psychological Services asked Willis to perform “An Evening of Hope and Resilience,” on Thursday, March 7, to remove the stigma from struggling with addiction and bringing all that were together to celebrate and heal together using music.
Willis, with her shaved head, brightly colored geometric jacket and just general down to earth attitude, healed and recovered from a decade of struggling with a cocaine and alcohol addiction through music and family. She decided, one morning, that it was up to her to get better, even if she was only getting healthier to make sure she was around to take care of those who cared most for her. Her songs reflect her story all on their own, though it did help with understanding when she stepped back and engaged with the crowd, telling us the story behind each.
She began the performance with, “I’m Enough,” singing and strumming her guitar with the audience’s heads and feet moving along to the beat she created on stage, listening and feeling the lyrics. A beautiful song, but it isn’t until after the last note was played that she reveals to us the meaning behind the song – a pattern seen throughout the evening. “I’m Enough” is a song focused on self-worth, as Willis hadn’t truly discovered how much she personally struggled with self-worth until she started formulating the lyrics to this song, and discovered how much material she had inside touching on the message of worthiness. She wrote the song because she believed self-worth is not usually explored by artists, but it remains the base of so many issues. She often felt like she wasn’t worthy enough to take steps towards her recovery. However, it was writing this song, and then performing it in front of so many young faces, that she began to discover that everyone is enough to deserve healthiness.
She uses other songs, “Forgiveness” and “Somebody’s Someone” to work through her turbulent and often damaging relationship with her brother, stating that her favorite therapy exercise was writing letters that she would never send about how much she struggled dealing with his issues. Often she had to establish boundaries between him during the times he was homeless or estranged from the rest of the family. It was only after she had put all the letters and thoughts into songs and played it for him when he was in prison, that their relationship truly started to heal. Through him and her songs she discovered that addiction or any kind of mental illness didn’t pick its victims by affluence or education; it affected all. Even her brother, who came from a happy, loving family, struggled with that which was inside is head.
The night ended with the last string strummed, and the seemingly safe collective space that was created just below that large stag head on the wall. As Daphne Willis was able to show us, though there is vulnerability in songwriting, and bravery in standing up on a stage in front of a crowd full of people and sharing her sometimes dark past, she does it to make it easier for others to come forward and share their story. So we can all be better together.