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August 31 was National Overdose Awareness Day. I was requested to speak at the Stamford Government Center and tell my story in recovery. Although I was there to shed some light and awareness of recovery and appreciated the opportunity to speak, my heart ached because I thought of how many people were remembering their loved one today.
As I sat in a row of chairs alongside Connecticut Politicians, including the Governor, I clenched The Bracelet and a newly added bracelet to my wrist; a thin, hot pink colored rubber bracelet in memory of a young woman who passed away because of an overdose. Her name is Danyell and she was a beautiful, sweet, compassionate woman. Her monkey unfortunately helped end her precious life, and he now continues to haunt her family and loved ones. I have gotten to know her mother, Joanne. My heart aches for Joanne and many other mothers that I have met, who have also lost their child to this awful disease. As my time to speak was approaching, I felt my nerves come on. I looked down at the bracelets that I was clenching and all I could picture was Danyell’s beautiful face and Joanne’s tears.
“Don’t worry guys, I’ll be your voice today,” I thought to myself, as I pictured all of the people that have lost their lives from an overdose.
I took a deep breath and approached the podium. I had a speech typed out, ready to be recited. As I stood in front of the microphone and observed the crowd, I picked up the vibe of the room immediately. I could feel many people were disconnected, almost bored and tired of hearing about the opioid epidemic. The politicians who spoke before me did well, however, one powerful politician used a word when he was describing people in active addiction, that makes my body cringe; Junkie. Well, the crowd and I had one thing in common; we were tired. I, however, am tired of hearing people with power fuel stigma. I am tired of seeing society ignore some of the valuable knowledge of addiction. I am mostly tired of seeing mothers bury their children and society finding a way to still blame them. I wanted to captivate their attention. I was tired of recovery seem “boring” and “impossible”. So, I decided to change the vibe completely.
I normally introduce myself with my name, age, town I live in, and that I am a person in recovery from a heroin addiction, in a monotone voice. This time had to be different.
“I’M A PERSON IN RECOVERY FROM A HEROIN ADDICTION!!!!” I enthusiastically announced. The crowd clapped! I then continued my sentence by explaining how I normally would start off a speech and how this time I wanted to shed light on this sad day. I also wanted to break one of the stigmas of addiction by showing how wonderful and happy recovery can be. After all, how can one show that this is a joyous thing without any enthusiasm in their voice?
Every time I got caught up on my words, I looked down at my wrist with Danyell’s pink bracelet, and suddenly words would flow from my mouth. I gave recommendations on how to respectfully and properly handle this epidemic. Some key highlights of my speech were lines such as; “Let’s be a part of the solution by supporting the people in recovery, finding out what works for them and getting on their level! Someone got on my level and asked, what can I do to help you in your recovery today? Had it not been for that person, I would not be standing here today.” I talked about how important it is to have bed availability, Recovery High School’s, and Alternative Peer Support Groups.
I also wanted to highlight in my speech how important it is to break the stigma of addiction. After this politician used the word “junkie” in his speech, I wanted to say how using those words and not learning the respectful language is fueling the problem, not the solution.
“For someone to take the courage to say, ‘I’m sick, I need help, I messed up, help me’…should not be rejected and humiliated when they walk into treatment center, hospital, and police station.” I stated, as I looked directly into police officers eyes.
“Calling someone a ‘junkie’ is putting you in the category of the problem. I am not a ‘junkie’; I am my mother’s daughter.” I said, as I turned my head toward the politician who stated that name. I wanted people to understand that I am a human, a daughter, a sister. Addiction can happen to anyone.
At the conclusion of the press conference, people approached me. Mother’s hugged me and reporters asked for more comments. I was deeply appreciative of the hugs, praise, and encouragement, however, my heart still ached. I hated what this day represented. I couldn’t stop thinking of the people who are hosting candlelight vigils. I couldn’t stop picturing the mothers that I have met that have lost their children. The people in recovery and the families that continue to fight for their loved ones are my true inspiration and we share a bond not many can fully grasp or have compassion for.
To the ones that are remembering their loved one’s passing yesterday, I will continue to be a voice for you. My heart ached with you yesterday and every day. I will continue to be a voice for the addicts still suffering and for the ones who no longer have a voice.
Rest in peace to the people I know personally and the ones I’ve never met. I’m so sorry that this terrible disease took your precious life, and I wish you all were here standing with me. I hold you near and dear to my heart every single day.
And to the addict still suffering … I’m here for you. I understand you. I will listen to you. And I will help you, love you, and support you.
I was too emotional before to put my emotions and feelings in writing. For some reason, today I feel more confident. Although we have spoke in person about this post, I want to make sure that I re surface this. These feelings that this post evokes is more than empathy. I feel as if you did this for me.. You used your voice as strength and helped parents, friends, families and supporters, feel comfortable in speaking about something so painful. You really have a wonderful spirit and I know the work that you do comes from your heart. You’re saving and touching lives Ally, you’re very special.
Thank you for this again!
That was amazing Ally. I know you are an awesome person, and I wish I was there that day as a witness to your testimony.
You are amazing!! 🙂
TurningPointCT.org was developed by young people in Connecticut who are in recovery from mental health and substance use issues. We know what it’s like to feel alone, stressed, worried, sad, and angry. We’ve lived through the ups and downs of self-harm, drugs and alcohol, and the struggle to find help.
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