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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.
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