As Sam Perez (AB ’22) was finishing her journalism major at Grady College and her major in Spanish during the 2021-2022 year, she took capstone classes like Newsource and completed her NMI certificate. She worked as a Yarbrough Fellow and CNN intern. She was a member of Chi Omega and served as a Grady Ambassador. And, she wrote a book.
“Deviate from Denial,” an introspective look at personal stories of people who fight drug addiction and an inspirational account of what can be done to help, was published in September and was largely written while Perez was finishing her studies at UGA.
“Anytime I take something on, I have that initial thought, ‘oh no, what did I get myself into?,” admits Perez, who started work as a multi-media journalist at WLTX News 19 in Columbia, SC, in June. “But, once I commit, I am going to follow through. One thing I’ve learned, is that anything is possible.”
The idea of writing a book was inspired by a class assignment Perez had her junior year. She took Multiplatform Story Production, JOUR 4090, her junior year. Students were assigned to select two topics to write about throughout the semester and the subject of recovery from drug addiction was one focus she chose. She admitted there was a lot of information to cover on the subject and she barely scratched the surface.
Recovery from drug addiction is a subject Perez is passionate about, thanks to her parents, Rob and Diane, who operate restaurants in Lexington, Kentucky, called DV8 Kitchen. The restaurants provide employment opportunities to those recovering from drug addiction. Perez had a front row seat seeing the agony of drug use when her parents opened their first restaurant, but she also witnessed the sources of hope and optimism that employment opportunities provide.
“Drug addiction has so much stigma,” Perez said. “I think people see it as a choice, but it’s a really complex issue. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are a lot of factors involved, especially for those people who don’t have good role models to look up to and a good support system.”
Also, there is a whole other category of addiction dealing with the opioid epidemic that is misunderstood since many people become addicted based on prescribed medications.
The most salient themes of the book are the interviews Perez conducted with those who have suffered from drug addiction. In the section titled “Stories of Strength and Hope,” Perez tells the stories of Tara who spent years in and out of recovery and homelessness; the mother of Gene who died of a drug overdose after several recoveries…followed by relapses; and Emily, whose mother asked her to take drug tests in her place so future employers wouldn’t know she had a problem.
Perez said it was not hard to get people to agree to be interviewed for the book.
“There was a real drive and determination from them,” Perez said of the people she asked to share their stories. “I feel like when I told them I wanted to write it, they had a desire to make things happen. They were all super big on vulnerability and transparency and were super willing to tell their story. It shows a lot about the issue at hand. They want to find a community of others with shared experiences, which makes them so trusting and so vulnerable.”
Perez was driven to write the book for several reasons. She felt a need to start the conversation to help erase the stigma. She believes addiction is a subject that is not talked about enough, and that everyone is deserving of a second chance.
“Everyone is deserving of grace — everyone should show compassion and try to understand,” Perez said.
She also saw the incredible example her parents set forth in their community and wanted to provide hope and resources to others who needed it. The book includes chapters dedicated to the DV8 employment model, innovative programs that other communities are trying like needle exchanges and resources for recovery.
“I believe that everyone has some way they can help contribute to erasing the stigma,” Perez concludes. “Now that looks different for everyone, but I feel like my way to contribute to the conversation and to help is to share stories since that’s what I love doing and that’s what I’ve been trained to do.”
And, while she has no plans to follow up with another book anytime soon, Perez is focusing on her new job and continuing to practice those interview skills she learned in class at Grady College.
“There are just so many more stories to share.”
To view more interviews with Perez about her book, Deviate from Denial, please see the following: