Today We Live. An Interview With Jamie Tworkowski, Founder Of “To Write Love On Her Arms”

November 7, 2011 by Chris Grosso

MISSION STATEMENT

To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.  TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

VISION:

The vision is that we actually believe these things…

You were created to love and be loved.  You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known. You need to know that your story is important and that you’re part of a bigger story.  You need to know that your life matters.

We live in a difficult world, a broken world.  My friend Byron is very smart – he says that life is hard for most people most of the time.  We believe that everyone can relate to pain, that all of us live with questions, and all of us get stuck in moments.  You need to know that you’re not alone in the places you feel stuck. 

We all wake to the human condition.  We wake to mystery and beauty but also to tragedy and loss.  Millions of people live with problems of pain.  Millions of homes are filled with questions – moments and seasons and cycles that come as thieves and aim to stay.  We know that pain is very real.  It is our privilege to suggest that hope is real, and that help is real. 

You need to know that rescue is possible, that freedom is possible, that God is still in the business of redemption.  We’re seeing it happen.  We’re seeing lives change as people get the help they need.  People sitting across from a counselor for the first time.  People stepping into treatment.  In desperate moments, people calling a suicide hotline.  We know that the first step to recovery is the hardest to take.  We want to say here that it’s worth it, that your life is worth fighting for, that it’s possible to change. 

Beyond treatment, we believe that community is essential, that people need other people, that we were never meant to do life alone. 

The vision is that community and hope and help would replace secrets and silence.  

The vision is people putting down guns and blades and bottles. 

The vision is that we can reduce the suicide rate in America and around the world.

The vision is that we would learn what it means to love our friends, and that we would love ourselves enough to get the help we need.

The vision is better endings.  The vision is the restoration of broken families and broken relationships.  The vision is people finding life, finding freedom, finding love.  The vision is graduation, a Super Bowl, a wedding, a child, a sunrise.  The vision is people becoming incredible parents, people breaking cycles, making change.  

The vision is the possibility that your best days are ahead.  

The vision is the possibility that we’re more loved than we’ll ever know.  

The vision is hope, and hope is real.

You are not alone, and this is not the end of your story.

*NOTE- The following email was conducted via email. Chris Grosso 11/7/11 

The Jamie Tworkowski Interview

TIS: So what began as a story titled “To Write Love On Her Arms” in 2006 in the effort to help a friend who struggled with addition has turned in worldwide movement helping countless people who struggle with addiction, depression, suicide and self-injury. Can you sort of walk me through the evolution of TWLOHA since its inception for those who aren’t familiar? 

JT: That story was posted as a blog on MySpace in March 2006, and then we started selling t-shirts to help pay for our friend’s treatment. Jon Foreman from Switchfoot wore the shirt on stage at a concert in South Florida and messages began to come in from people saying they could relate to the story, people in need of help, people wanting to help friends and family, etc. Then Deon from Anberlin started wearing the shirt on stage every night. After that, it was Paramore and Underoath, The Rocket Summer, Thrice, Bayside and many more. The messages kept coming, from all over the world. In August of ’06, I left my job at Hurley (as their Florida sales rep) and jumped into TWLOHA full-time. If you fast forward from then to now, we’re a non-profit organization with a small staff and volunteer interns and we’ve responded to close to 200,000 messages and emails since 2006. Those messages have come in from people all over the world and we’ve also been able to give nearly $1,000,000 to treatment and recovery. Perhaps more than anything, we are in a unique position to be creative in bringing a message of hope, help, honesty and community to people around the world. It happens online as well as in person at venues such as Vans Warped Tour in America and Soundwave Festival in Australia, as well as our own events on college campuses. 

TIS: In your vision statement you mention that “God is still in the business of redemption”. While I couldn’t agree more, “God” is still a very loaded word which conjures many negative feelings for some. How do you find the general people who contact you react to that idea at first and what advice would you offer them in working through old paradigms? 

JT: I agree with what you said about “God” being a word that means different things to different people. It’s a slippery slope because we don’t call TWLOHA a “religious” or “christian” organization, but then that word (God) shows up in the vision. I’m sure there are folks who have a problem with that sentence and I would say, like a lot of the sentences on our site, it’s there to encourage people to wrestle with it. Ultimately, if you’re going to talk about something as deep as depression or as heavy as suicide, you’re going to run into life’s biggest questions. And if you’re talking about life’s biggest questions, you’re probably going to run into God. The word as well as maybe, well, God. There are hundreds of sentences on our website, thousands including the blogs going back to the beginning. I would encourage people to really dig in. I would like to think the heart of the matter is that we’re trying to encourage folks to stay alive and to get the help they need and deserve. TWLOHA is not meant to be a one-stop shop where we try to secretly push Jesus on people. I think we spend a lot more time trying to tell people their questions matter and their pain matters vs throwing answers at them. 

Does God care about your questions and your pain? That’s a tough question for some people. But it’s an interesting question, a significant question. 

Should people care about your questions and your pain? We think the answer is yes and maybe that’s a great place to start.

 

TIS: A lot of people in pop culture have been very supportive of TWLOHA. Can you tell me about some of the people you’ve worked with and the various ways they’ve contributed to your organization? 

JT: Lots of bands and artists – some of which I mentioned above. In recent years, we’ve added to that list: Evanescence, Christina Perri, Mat Kearney, Matt Wertz. We’ve got Dashboard Confessional headlining HEAVY AND LIGHT for us in January at House of Blues Orlando. David Bazan is playing as well so those are two new names that we’re thrilled to add to the list. 

In terms of celebrities, Joaquin Phoenix appeared in a video for us, along with Miley Cyrus who has been very supportive over the last couple years. Sophia Bush has been huge, mostly by helping to spread the word on twitter. She made a video in a key moment a few weeks ago, to ask her fans to vote to help us win a million dollars. Brittany Snow would be another. She has a heart for what we do as it connects to the work she does with her “Love is Louder” campaign.

The common thread, whether it’s a celebrity or a band or a kid at school is people using whatever influence they have to talk about things that matter to them.

TIS: You also stress the importance of community as a component in recovery, in conjunction with treatment. Can you elaborate on that for me? 

JT: We believe that people need other people. We believe everyone needs and deserves friends. A support system. Honest conversations inside honest relationships. We need people who know us and love us. Part of that, maybe a big part, is people who we allow to meet us in our questions and our pain – in the parts we aren’t proud of, aren’t sure about. We need to know we’re not alone in those places.

TIS: What is on the horizon for TWLOHA? 

JT: Lots of speaking events this month on college campuses across America. Trying to win a million dollars next month, which would certainly change what next year would look like for us. And then also getting ready for HEAVY AND LIGHT Saturday, January 7 at House of Blues Orlando. That’s the biggest night of the year for us. It’s music, stories and resources all under one roof. For me personally, it’s my favorite thing that we do. And part of the hope for winning the million is that it would allow us to take HEAVY AND LIGHT on the road.

TIS: How can people help TWLOHA? 

JT: Check out the MOVE section of TWLOHA.com – that section exists to  let people know how they can get involved. It could be as small as buying a t-shirt or as big as moving to Florida to join our team.

TIS: If you were to offer words of hope to someone who was hearing about TWLOHA for the first time, what would you say? 

JT: You’re not alone. Your pain matters. Your story matters. You deserve other people who know you and walk with you through the hard stuff. We know it can be scary to ask for help but we believe it’s worth it. We aren’t meant to live life alone.

 

VISIT TO WRITE LOVE ON HER ARMS HERE!

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Chris Grosso is a public speaker, writer, recovering addict, spiritual director, and author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster) and Everything Mind: What I've Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening and the Mind-Blowing Truth of it All (Sounds True). He writes for ORIGIN Magazine, Huffington Post, and Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine, and has spoken and performed at Wanderlust Festival, Yoga Journal Conference, Sedona World Wisdom Days, Kripalu, Celebrate Your Life and more. Chris is passionate about his work with people who are in the process of healing or struggling with addictions of all kinds. He speaks and leads groups in detoxes, yoga studios, rehabs, youth centers, 12-step meetings, hospitals, conferences, and festivals worldwide. He is a member of the advisory board for Drugs over Dinner.