Hiding in Plain Sight: From Broadway to the Bottle and Starting Over Sober

Dancer. Choreographer. Teaching Artist. Personal Trainer. This “all things related to movement” daisy chain of identities is something that I wear with pride.

The clever flower metaphor, to be sure, also integrates some of the things that have created my foundation that I would classify as fertilizer: shame and fear.

Let me back up, down towards stage left, and start here: I’m Johari, and I have been dancing my whole life.

My plan when I came to New York City was to dance, with dreams of “FAME! I’m gonna going to live forever!” (to date myself just a bit). I can hear the song in my head and can sing it. I grew up with the TV show, went to a performing arts school, and performed in every major theatre in NYC.

Being an expert mover, I had the ability to hide and dodge things. Or so I thought.

There was the time after a rehearsal when I went out with friends for $2 margarita night, added in some Jameson shots, and, after sliding under a bar, ending up on my neighbors stoop making a mess. I remember waking up on my couch with a note for my roommate on me saying “Jo got a little sick.” I remember downing an entire bottle of Nyquil and performing, in a gallery, a piece on themes of bondage and Roman Catholicism. I have no idea, how I got through it, but I did know that NyQuil was a great substitute for other substances when the drug store was more accessible. You could also find me, then, grocery shopping while high or drunk, walking up and down the aisles taking swigs in plain sight.

You see, hiding in plain sight like that, I figured, was always the best place to hide. As a seasoned performer, I got so good at role-playing, camouflaging and artfully dodging things that  I hid who I was as “the child who loves to dance and move” and used it to wear a thousand masks instead. Soon, those layers became suffocating enough for me to have to seek out help.

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I chose recovery in a room where a bunch of different “me’s” that are black, white, gay, straight, old, young, transgender, mother, father share their experiences openly and start to take off those masks in favor of dealing with who they really are, and moving through life that way, no matter how painfully naked it feels, at times.

In sobriety, I’m learning how to support and love “the woman who loves to dance and move.” I’m letting go of the need to be seen. It’s more about connecting with others.  

Since entering recovery, I have a new life as an artist and personal trainer because I have a greater ability to help others in recovery from a myriad of illnesses and challenges. I understand that change is hard from a deep and visceral place.  I used to be on automatic pilot and just “do do do” whether I was in pain or not. I did not care about my feelings. Numbness got things done. Now that my feelings are returning I see that others have them too. Because I’m being more truthful about myself, I’m less fearful and showing up as myself everywhere I go. I had no idea how liberating that would be.    

So, I also started teaching fitness in rehab centers. Participants are coming off of drugs and alcohol. Because who I’ve been, I can meet people with empathy and compassion. Regarding the task master mentality- although I got cash and prizes, I created a lot of destruction in my life and to those around me.  

My film, Recovery, is one of the first pieces that I’ve made where I’m showing up unmasked. I can actually breathe. It’s one of the first pieces I’ve done where I’m not trying to prove something. I hope that it creates a feeling of connectivity with anyone coming back from a setback.

I’m sharing this now because I have a new start. Two years ago, I lost a friend to an overdose. Ever since her funeral, I made a promise to be a lighthouse of hope for women in recovery, and for women who may be starting over for any number of reasons at a time they may consider “late in life.”

Movement and dance to heal lives. I wasn’t thinking about that before. I wasn’t thinking about much besides myself. Now, I care about people and how they feel beyond what the physical body is able to do.

Movement is the primary focus of my work, but I also have a message: we are more than our bodies, and we have the strength to brave enough to live within them without anything that alters who we truly are.

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