Hope Takes Center Stage

Playwright and Performer Maggie Moe Recasts the Story of Addiction and Recovery
Maggie M - Web Copy
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Addiction doesn't discriminate, and I want to destigmatize this disease.

Maggie Moe

Maggie Moe was a precocious, fun-loving little girl who wrote and starred in her own productions. Her creativity won her awards and launched her through life, first earning her bachelor's degree in musical theatre from Ithaca College, then arriving at Second City in Chicago—a powerhouse of creative talent and entertainment. Next up, a master's degree from the prestigious NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Besides the Lyme disease she was diagnosed with at 12—and the resulting medical hubbub—her life revealed no dark omens. No dark secrets. "Everything was normal and according to plan," until her sophomore year in high school. Then the opioid addiction reared its head, gobbled everything up and turned her thoughts against her.

Likening the disease to "an all-powerful dragon that manipulates everything," Moe experienced immediate loss: where once she was bubbling with creative inspiration, she could now only hear doubt, disquiet and silence. "The tap went completely dry," she says. "There were years I couldn't write anything. I didn't feel like myself at all. I just felt like a failure."

That Warm, Familiar Feeling

While receiving treatment at the Betty Ford Center in 2016, Moe recalls attending an AA meeting—her second ever—and stashing a piece of hopeful advice: "Keep going until you get a miracle."

Moe had until then forgotten about the power of hope, or lost sight of it. Addiction convinced her to believe the worst about herself, and most media representations focus on pain and suffering—not the eternal light of recovery.

"When all you hear are negative stories, headlines and statistics, you start to think it's a death sentence. You think it's the end of the story." Moe paused to reflect: "Until we have a hero's story where the addicted person succeeds, it's going to be a dark ailment that people don't talk about."

Conversational laughter then betrayed a deeper disappointment, as she added: "I'm sick of every addiction story ending with death."

New Stories and Modern Heroics

Wanting to write happier stories that make space for recovery, Moe returned to the stage—this time, teaming up with fellow writer and musician Joshua Vranas to retell the story and recast the lead role.

"I wanted to tell a story about the girl who has everything." Moe pointed to herself and smiled, adding, "Addiction doesn't discriminate, and I want to destigmatize this disease."

And so, in their new musical My Pet Dragon, protagonist Georgia is fun, smart and athletic. She has good friends and family. Yes, she's threatened by a monster, a dragon that won't leave her alone, but she's kind and hopeful and trying to grow.

"There will be lots of rebuilding for Georgia, and it gets dark because that's real. But when the addictive dragon reappears at the end, she's able to resist its temptations because recovery is always possible."

Audience members have been approaching Moe to thank her after the show. They open up and tell her how much it reminded them of someone they know and love. They share a piece of their lives with her after hearing, perhaps for the first time, that they're not the monster and they're not to blame.

"Every recovery story that gets published is important," Moe reminds us. "Because of stigma, and because people think it's impossible, every recovery story has merit. And if you can be rigorously honest about your story, you're going to help someone."

Moe pointed back to the audience: "You never know who's going through it right now, this disease. If they happen to be listening. . . this could be the beginning of their own story. You never know what seeds you're planting with your words, or what gardens might grow from there."

One thing is certain: when it comes to the hope of recovery, Moe is teaching people to believe.

Hear More of Maggie's Story

Listen in on Maggie's conversation with William C. Moyers, host of the Let's Talk Addiction & Recovery podcast series.

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