Image a jumbo jet full of passengers falling out of the sky every day, killing everyone. airplane-flying-5958526

That is how many people we are losing DAILY to the heroin and opioid addiction health crisis – 350 people are dying daily across our nation.

In 2013, Maryland alone lost 464 people to heroin-related overdose deaths .

That is why I am getting involved as an ambassador for UNITE to Face Addiction (UNITE) UNITE Card Log 7.5.15and decided to send an email to the Maryland (MD) Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force (TF) to tell them about the big recovery movement led by UNITE that will rally in DC on Sunday, October 4, 2015. As a wonderful surprise, I got a call from Richard Tabuteau from the MD Lt. Governor’s (Boyd K. Rutherford’s) office inviting me to testify at the PG and Montgomery County Heroin and Opioid TF Summit on July 2, 2015.

This is the first time I have told my story outside of 12 step rooms. I have always felt protected by our anonymity principle, but at the same time felt a lot of shame about addiction and never celebrated my long term recovery in public. Because of this crisis and my calling/passion to teach others to use art for healing  and recovery, I asked for the courage to put down my shame.  Here is my –


Barb's garden 7.5.15

Thank you for the opportunity to join you today. My name is Robin Gilliam, a native Marylander.  I have been recovering from drug addiction since February 6, 1991.

Today, because of 12 step recovery, I am the author of the novel, Gift of Desperation, a recovery story of hope and inspiration; art and healing. Today, I am, also a CPA, a project management professional (PMP), and I develop  and write accounting standards for the United States government.

But my recovery goes beyond the 12 steps, as I also used art to heal from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) associated with domestic violence that ended in rape by my ex-husband.

Creating abstract collages helped me to process my trauma and get out the related anger, fear, depression, and anxiety.

I then used my two decades of art work and 12 step experiences to write and self-publish, Gift of Desperation. A gift of desperation is when an addict is so desperate that it is a springboard to make positive changes and recover. My novel explores this through my main character, Claire Sebastian, and what it takes to hit such a deep dark place and what she is willing to do to recover.

My goal and vision is for Claire to become a role model for recovery. If Claire can survive the traumas that she has experienced and recover, then so can I, and so can you.

I believe that  trauma is at the root of a lot of addictions. I believe that as addicts we do not know how to express ourselves and instead we use substances from the outside to deal with life, and numb out. When in actuality we are self-destructing, and now, dying at an alarming rate.

I believe that we need to cultivate creative expressive programs, like art, dance, and music, from elementary school through high school, college, and in our recovery organizations as a preventative tool to provide our youth and those in recovery with positive outlets for emotions.

We are only as sick as our secrets. I should know, for the secret of rape kept me locked into my addiction for years.

During my recovery journey, I also got caught up in the opioid crisis, when my husband had an accident and was prescribed Percocet and was NOT told how to get off of them.  As a result, he suffered for many years from rebound pain, severe withdrawal symptoms which landed us in the emergency room a number of times , and almost died. Today he is living a recovery lifestyle.

I believe that doctors should be educated in the addictive qualities of opioids and understand how to properly prescribe them, how to educate their patients, and help wean them off safely.

Addiction is a chronic disease that is cunning, baffling, and powerful. Did you know that as we recover our disease is marching along keeping up at a steady pace? That temptations and thoughts can pop up daily.

For example, about 9 months ago, I found  a bag of pot on the street that lit up my mind like a Christmas tree–after 24 years in recovery! It was scary, but because using is not an option anymore, I was prepared and picked up the many tools of recovery that I have learned over the years – the Big Book, the first three steps, the telephone, the pen and paper, my sponsor…

Therefore, to manage  my thoughts on a daily basis, I need to make recovery my number one priority and be very vigilant and continue to develop my spiritual condition to keep a quiet and calm mind in order to prevent me from taking that first hit.

Because one is too many and a thousand are never enough.

Since recovery is my first priority and helping others is essential, I signed up to be an ambassador for UNITE to Face Addiction. This is so I can spread the word in Maryland that we will come together and UNITE on Sunday, Oct 4th, 2015, in DC to let our nation know that addiction is a disease that is preventable and treatable, that far too many of those affected are incarcerated or die, and that people can and do get better and can become productive members of society.

Thank you for this opportunity. Again, my name is Robin Gilliam, and I am proud to say that I am a person in long term recovery and I look forward to joining this effort by providing communication support as a writer and developing art for healing as a tool for recovery.

Progress Instead of Perfection

Now that I have a title for my Art for Healing Workshop—Nurture Your Garden— I can start to work on creating examples and the accompanying workbook. This task seems overwhelming especially if I worry about trying to make it perfect.

That reminds me of making my first quilt—a Harley Davidson T-shirt quilt—where I had no idea what I was doing and learned that perfection does not exist. The only thing that made my quilt was slow and steady progress. So, off I headed to the internet for a pattern and to Capital Vac and Sew in Annapolis, MD, who delivered my Pfaff sewing machine with one to one instructions. Did I mention that I didn’t even own a sewing machine when I started this project?

harley t-shirt quilt

Here are some of the mistakes I made that were actually great lessons learned.

  • I cut my T-shirt into 15″ squares BEFORE I ironed on the support interface that makes sewing t-shirt material easier. After ironing, the squares shrunk and I had to recut them all to 14″. Lesson learned? You guessed it, only cut the sleeves and neck band off, then iron on interface before cutting into blocks.
  • My seams did not match up when I added my sashing and cornerstones to my blocks. Some quilters might have taken everything apart to get the seams “perfect” but I was so proud to just finish my first quilt top that I left it alone.  A little secret – my husband didn’t even notice and still enjoys the quilt to this day. Lesson learned? With each quilt, my seams got more “perfect”  because I asked questions from AQG members who had good seam alignment and then I practiced what they did.

As I worked on my quilt over a period of many months, and many trips to Capital Vac and Sew for lessons, I learned that there is a lot more to quilting than just sewing: I had to plan the quilt, determine the accompanying fabric colors, textures and patterns to enhance my T-shirt blocks, cut fabric into specific shapes and sizes, sew the pieces back together into rows, and then into a top that was then added to batting and a back that I needed to quilt. Oh, let’s not forget the binding to finish it off, and a label to identify it for the historian who finds it in 100 years.

I will use these lessons and apply them to developing my Art for Healing workshop, taking it slow and steady to complete first things first.  First, I need to create my Nurture Your Garden collage and then some step by step examples for you to follow. Once I have done that, then I can write up instructions and start putting your workbook together.

Stay tuned for the next blog on my progress!

Robin M. Gilliam
Author of the  novel, Gift of Desperation, a provocative story of art and healing, recovery, and hope and inspiration.


garden 5.22.15

Thanks to everyone who took the time to answer my question about which title you liked best for my up and coming art for healing workshop.

The choices were:

a) Nurture Your Garden, b) Grow Your Garden, or c) Feed Your Garden.

While it was unanimous for “Nurture,” I did get one question about why include the word “garden.” Here is the reason:

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is one of my favorite books because the garden symbolizes life and rebirth of the self, as shown through the love and nurturing of Mary Lenox, the main character, and her friend Dikon Sowerby.

Mary was a trauma survivor. She was abandoned by her mother, who was more interested in attending fancy parties, and was instead raised by nannies who spoiled her to keep her quiet. Mary’s experience with trauma escaladed when her parents were killed in an earthquake and she was sent far away to live in a dark mansion with her depressed, absentee uncle, Archibald Craven, and her invalid, cry-baby cousin, Colin.

While Mary’s basic needs were met, no one was there to nurture her soul or heal her heart. Then she found the secret garden and made friends with the neighbor boy, Dickon, who taught her how to nurture and tend  the garden to bring it back to life.

As the garden started to come back to life, sprouting beautiful plants and flowers, so did Mary. She started to laugh, play, and gain color in her cheeks. She became less contrite and shared the garden with Colin, where he learned to walk and gain confidence.  As the garden healed, so did Mary’s family.

It was through this story that I came to believe that a garden is symbolic of the self. As a trauma survivor, my heart and soul were overgrown and smothered by the weeds of domestic violence and rape. It wasn’t until I started to create abstract collages that I was able to express myself and begin to release the vines of anger, shame, guilt, pain, and self-destructive behaviors.

Through the creative process, I continue to nurture my garden, heal myself, and pursue my dream of helping other trauma survivors to heal through the creative process.

You  are also a garden, which together we can nurture through art to weed out the trauma and help you discover and grow into your true self.

Art gets IT out!

Robin has 25+ years of using art to heal from PTSD. Read her novel, Gift of Desperation, to learn more about her artwork which is woven throughout the story.

Developing Workshops

I am developing an art and healing workshop for November 2015. I have been creating art for over 40 years and have always found comfort in making something out of nothing. In fact, I used art to create my way out of my own PTSD; collecting found objects on the beach, at flea markets, and off the street and putting them together in abstract collages. The process of creating helped me to find myself, to heal, and begin to feel whole.



However, while art and healing are my passion, developing and offering a workshop are a new adventure for me.

Here is what I have learned so far:

1.  Define your mission to stay on purpose:

My mission is to use art to help others to heal; especially to help trauma survivors to grow out of their trauma and into themselves using creative expression tools.

2.   Don’t do it alone – find positive partners to collaborate with; people who get and support your mission:

I am working with Rev. Santa Molina-Marshall, LICSW, who has spent her career helping others to heal and is partnering with me to develop a workshop that will serve your creative healing needs. She will conduct short meditations to set our intentions to begin and end the creative process.

3.  Know your audience – who is to benefit from your workshop?

As a survivor of trauma (domestic violence that ended in rape and 24+ years in recovery from addiction—a self-destructive side effect of the PTSD) I want to help other trauma survivors to heal using creative expression tools in order to grow through and past their trauma. You do not need to be an artist, just someone who wants to heal.

4.   Pay attention to details:

Passion is powerful and fuels the fire, but attention to detail gets the job done in a positive, efficient, and effective way.

                       Here are some questions to get you started:
a.  How many people do you want to join our workshop? 20 for me.
b.  How are you going to find them and market to them? I am going to reach out to readers of my novel, Gift of Desperation, and blog; social media – public and group posts, personal texts and emails…
c.  How much time to do you need? I would like at least 3 hours to give participants time to finish creating and take home their completed artwork ready to hang on the wall.
d.  Where are you going to hold your workshop? I have feelers out in the community with churches, libraries, and counseling and healing services that have workspaces for rent.

5.  Always Follow Thru and Confirm:

One of my main business philosophies is to always follow through; it develops trust and credibility with partners and customers. If I don’t have an answer right away, I will still respond to acknowledge that I received your request and let you know when I can get back to you. Then, I use my cell phone alarm to remind me to find and deliver the answer.

6.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help:

In fact, I can use your help. I have three potential titles for my workshop.  Which one do you like and why?

a.  Nurture Your Garden
b.  Grow Your Garden
c.  Feed Your Garden

Thanks, Robin!


Networking is about meeting and interacting with people to build success in businesses and communities. Anyone I meet can be an opportunity to collaborate with to pay it forward to help someone else. And, networking can happen in the strangest of places. I went to a Blessing of the Bikes a couple weeks ago and met Ric Metzgar a new Maryland Delegate from District 6 I went with my husband to get our Harley’s blessed for this riding season and was blessed with a new partner in paying it forward.


I told Ric about my book, Gift of Desperation, and how I sent it to Maryland Governor Hogan as a recommended tool for the new Heroin Task Force because it depicts what addiction looks like from Claire Sebastian’s point of view – my main character – who is trying to understand it and recover from it. Claire’s story is not technical nor theoretical, like a text book, but realistic in the struggles one has when they discover their truth and decide to recover and heal. He is currently reading it.

Ric, in turn, introduced me to Anna Renault, who is a multiple survivor of cancer and author who is also passionate about helping others to heal and recover. Anna and I are now connected and plan to work together to continue to help our communities heal.

I then asked Ric to send out a FB message about the 5th Annual Boutique Sale, a fundraiser to support the Light of Truth Center – a home for recovering women in Baltimore. He did, helping to spread the word about a good cause.

Speaking of Baltimore, our city is burning and in trouble from riots. Delegate Metzgar reached out to the faith community to help network a message of community, hope, and healing. They in turn are reaching out to their communities to come together to stop the destruction and work together to heal and rebuild Baltimore.

Who can you network with today to pay it forward and help someone else heal and be successful?

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Humility versus Humiliation

While humility and humiliation sound a lot alike, they are not synonyms. Humiliation is when someone does something mean TO you, on purpose to take you down, embarrass you, and/or make you hurt. It is usually a way for the offender to make him/herself feel better.


“Serenity”© by Robin Gilliam

On April 14, 2014, Joel Osteen wrote on his FB page: ‘When you humble yourself and say “God I can’t do this on my own. I need your help. I need your favor. I need your mercy.” He’ll help you accomplish what you could not accomplish on your own.’

What Joel is talking about is humility and that it is okay to recognize our limitations and ask for help by using the power of prayer.

30 years ago I suffered a terrible trauma that was humiliating and caused me shame and guilt that led to self-destruction. Over the years, I learned to accept that it wasn’t my fault and ask God to help me. I was given courage to use my artwork to create my way out of PTSD.

Today, I ask for God’s help for the courage to tell you my whole story through presentations and workshops to teach you how to use creative expression tools to help you step out of the trauma and into your true self.

To read more about my story, please see my About Robin page and let me know what you do creatively to deal with past trauma and humiliation that are not your fault.



Last week I was blessed to watch my dad, Jay Fred Cohen, 81, perform three numbers in the Memorable Musical Moments, put on by the Fabulous 50+ Players (listed below*), sponsored by the Howard County Arts Council at the Bain Center, in Columbia, MD.

As an artist, I enjoy music and its power of creative expression. I love how music lifts me up when I feel down, gets me up to sing and dance when I feel joy, and calms me down when I feel anxious.


I also listen to music when I create artwork/quilts and write. Writing my novel, Gift of Desperation, was difficult at times, because I had to dig deep into dark places to help the reader understand what desperation looks like.

I listened to Nora Jones’ album Come Away with Me, for its calming qualities and Stevie Nicks’ album, Trouble in Shangri-La, for her haunting lyricsTheir creativity inspired my creativity. I also included theme songs, like I can’t Get No Satisfaction, by the Rolling Stones, to help my readers understand my main character, Claire Sebastian. And Rihanna’s song, SOS, helped me to develop a scene where Claire needed to be rescued.

I appreciate the breadth and depth it takes for writers to create songs and the performers who bring the songs to life to entertain and inspire us. What a blessing that our counties and states sponsor art councils to support our creativity.

*Howard County Fabulous 50+ Players: Phyllis Stanley-Music Director & Keyboardist, Tom Kowalski & Paula Rehr-Sound Technicians, Ed Kaplan- Emcee, Ann Sophocleus, Audrey Sanders, Chuck Knauf, Doug Williams, Dr. Tom Berry, Jackie Dunphy, Jay Fred Cohen, Patrycia Pickett, and Shirley Bishop


While most gifts are given to us by someone else, the gift of desperation is a present we give to ourselves. It is a gift of awareness that doing the same thing over and over again is self-destructive and not working anymore.  It is a gift of acceptance that  there is hope and we are worth it. And, it is a gift of courage to take that action – that next right step-  toward self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-preservation.


I wrote my first novel, Gift of Desperation, to explore how my main character, Claire Sebastian, spins into a deep hole of desperation and what it takes for her to realize that enough is enough. Claire is a symbol of hope, a hero of inspiration, and a role model that shows us that making a positive change is possible.

Get your Gift of Desperation in soft back or as an Ebook at or  or



Have you ever heard of the book The Artists Way by Julia Cameron? It is a 12 week workbook on how to find and get your creative juices going. My favorite tool is the Artist Date. Per Julia, “The Artist Date is a once weekly, solo expedition to explore something that interests you…they feed our creative well of images and inspiration.”

Well, I no longer use them exactly as intended – solo and weekly – but I can feel when the well is running dry and I need to let my artist out to play. One of my favorite Artist Dates is antiquing. There is something all absorbing about looking at stuff people have collected, remembering when telephones had dials, and discovering odd finds. So off my husband, Dirk, and I went to the antique capital in PA and to work our way down the many shops with hundreds of vendors.


Sometimes I have a plan and sometimes not. This time, I was looking for vintage quilt blocks, some Fire King and Pyrex bowls to replace the one’s I broke (oops), and I also wanted a wood corner cabinet to complete my studio facelift.

The wood corner cabinet was easy. I had rescued one off the street a few years ago and Dirk was using it in the garage to hold motorcycle parts and such. He nicely cleaned it off and brought it upstairs to its new home. Perfect fit!

Now on to antiquing – I am excited to report that I found a number of bowls, and 20 antique quilt blocks that I am going to use to create vintage quilt ornaments with inspirational sayings to sell at my book signings and on Etsy.

In addition to my love for antiquing, I also have a passion for art and healing and that is what I am developing my business around. Now you might say – how do vintage quilt ornaments support that mission? My hope is that you will be inspired by them to create a quilt or something else. I know that for me, while I am quilting, I am focused on the creative process which gives me some much needed peace and quiet despite the worldly stresses swarming around me.

Is there anything that you love to do? I would love to hear about your latest artist date and how it got your creativity flowing. Send in a comment to share with the group about your latest creative adventure.