For many, the opioid epidemic can feel like a void of despair ravaging the country, with no end in sight. But a group of rehabilitation and recovery activists, nonprofits and government agencies banded together in order to celebrate the hope that people can beat addiction.
The Quality of Life in Recovery Program, Madison County Mental Health Services and the Mental Health Recovery Boards of Madison, Greene and Clark Counties organized a “Success in Recovery Dinner” at St. John’s Lutheran Church on 380 Keny Blvd. in London, Wednesday evening.
“Tonight is about celebrating the success in recovery. We don’t hear a lot about successes in recovery, we hear a lot about problems in our communities and our state,” said Kathy Brinkman, one of the organizers. “And tonight is about getting together and showing what recovery looks like.”
The reception featured a number of people fighting to recover from addiction and how help from the community and organizations have impacted their lives for the better.
Stories of success
Three recovering addicts spoke at the reception, some young and some old.
Gary Thomas claims to be the eldest in Madison County.
“As you can see, I’m the senior member of this community,” he said. “I’m 60 years and I’m definitely an exception to the adage, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, because I have learned something new that will keep me in sobriety for the rest of my life.”
Thomas said he was fortunate to be alive and free, noting this issue can affect almost anyone. He said he went from a successful businessman with a college education to an addict.
“I truly believe some people are born with addictive genes,” he said. “When I had that first one in me, it was all downhill from there. I’ve slept in dumpsters in abandoned buildings, carried guns, slashed with knives and totaled cars without wearing a seatbelt without a scratch on me.”
Nathan Welch talked how addiction can hit society’s most vulnerable, those suffering from depression like himself. He lost his grandparents and uncle at a young age and his two brothers just recently in 2015.
It left him with a lack of hope and led him to cope by using.
“I hid my emotions, I didn’t want to deal with people,” he said. “That led me into a tough life I chose to live.”
He eventually overdosed and had a few stints in jail, which led him to finally decide to change and find help from Mental Health, which he said was “the best thing (he had) done in his life.”
“There’s more to staying sober than not using,” said Welch. “It’s about changing how I live my life and who I live it with.
“I realized I’m a product of my environment and whom I surround myself by.”
Ethan Decker, who has been one year and 15 days sober, also said the people he met in recovery and his new positive relationships have helped him go into what he called “the best year of my life.”
“Thanks to my recovery and my sobriety, I am able to wake up every single day happy again,” said Decker. “[I now enjoy] Going to work or in my free time, fishing with my true friends. My friends who have good intentions and only want to see the best in me.”
“Isn’t sobriety great?” Thomas asked the crowd to a round of applause and cheers.
Mea Culpa for Medics
A major portion of the function was recognizing the sacrifice and hardship of emergency medical workers in the county. Brinkman noted how many were beginning to feel fatigued from witnessing the horror of overdoses, sometimes seeing repeat victims.
They presented two representatives of Madison County EMS a token of gratitude, which featured a starfish as a reference to a popularly cited story by Loren Eisley called The Star Thrower or The Starfish Story where a young man is found by a passerby throwing beached starfish back into the ocean to prevent them from dying. The passerby tells the man the gesture is futile, where the young man retorts “I made a difference to those I did save.”
“Every life is worth it,” said Brinkman. “And maybe they have to go back a second or a third time, maybe a fourth, maybe a fifth, it’s still worth it.”
There were several people in attendance, grateful for the EMTs who’ve saved their lives, most of all Mitch S.
“My connection with the starfish story comes from me being grateful to the medics who’ve revived me over and over again,” he said. “Not only because I have a life to live again, but I can be a living example to others. I’ve been through all kinds of hell, jail, institutionalized and I got better before it got worse. So this starfish can make a difference.”
The EMTs had to leave in the middle of the event, but they later returned to a round of applause out of gratitude for all they do on a daily basis, as well as the award.
Kurt Gillespie, CEO of Mental Health Services closed the procession, on his views of recovery as returning to a proper state of health, physically mentally and socially.
“When I go to bed, my eyes are white and when I wake up in the morning my eyes aren’t red. My skin is pink not gray, I have four children who do not mind when I am around and let me be with my grandkids. I have people at church who hug me and tell me they love me, they are my angels,” he said. “You guys told us who your angels are. They come by way of a squad, they come by the court system, they come by way of therapists, they come by way of IOPs. They are your angels. Look at whomever you’re sitting with. They’re sitting with you for a reason.”
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.