The tears come at the end.
That moment when the names are read one by one with a brief pause, a simple beat signifying a life lost. Each for the loss of a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, a friend, a person, a piece of this bit of shared life that in our humanity we can’t help but be moved from observers to fellow mourners.
The weight of the stigma of addiction is finally lifted for those named. But for many who gathered in Ferdinand’s 18th Street Park for the third annual Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil, the stigma of addiction is still bearing down on their lives.
Sometimes that stigma keeps them from seeking help.
“A lot of people just think we choose to do it,” said Josh Graves. “But when you have that emptiness…like for me, when I first drank, it was I had been looking for. It made me funny and it made me feel like people wanted to be around me. It made me feel like somebody.
“But it got worse and worse and worse and then it was a habit,” he added.
Graves helped create Safe Haven Recovery Engagement Center in Paoli. He told the crowd when he got out of treatment resources aimed towards recovery were sparse. There was a single support meeting on Tuesday evenings. “That was about all we had,” he said.
When a friend lost her brother to a heroin overdose, they decided it was time to do something.
“I’ve seen the sickness it (addiction) caused in my family and my friends,” Graves said.
Through Graves and the efforts of others impacted by addiction in his community, the recovery center celebrated its first year of providing a place for meetings, classes, and many more resources for Paoli and the surrounding area earlier this year.
Bringing the center to Paoli is helping create a shift in thinking about addiction. It is helping others see people who struggling with addiction as individuals rather than seeing them as addicts. It is helping to remove that stigma while helping those afflicted get help.
Jim McFaul and his wife, Jill, carry the weight of that stigma as survivors. Their son Ross died from an overdose on April 3, 2013 at the age of 24. “It try to remember all the good times,” McFaul told the crowd of about 50 Thursday evening. “It’s funny how there are triggers out there. You hear a song. You see something on TV. Hear about one of his favorite bands. You deal with those triggers and you try to smile through those triggers.”
“Love your children,” McFaul said. “Hug them as much as you can. It can happen to anybody at any time. It’s devastating. It’s heartbreaking.”
Addiction can impact anyone. Even those who grew up in good homes.
Halie Anderson was the guest speaker at the vigil. The 39-year-old Perry County native has been sober for nearly 19 months. “The hardest thing I ever did was tell my father who held his mother in his arms at 21 years old and watched her die of alcoholism that I am an alcoholic,” she told the attendees.
He, of course, lamented that he had passed his mother’s alcoholism onto his daughter. “He cried his eyes out,” Anderson said.
“They did nothing wrong and they did everything right when they raised me,” she said. “And I am still an alcoholic and that has nothing to do with their parenting.”
Since beginning her recovery, Anderson has turned her battle with addiction into a platform to bring awareness to the issue. She is the 2020 Pure International Indiana finalist for her age group. Pure International Pageant is an international pageant based on contestants making a difference.
The fact that she can wear the crown as Miss Indiana as a recovering alcoholic bears witness to the weight that is being lifted from the stigma addiction carries.
“Five years ago, the word alcoholism would not be allowed at a pageant. The word addiction was an ugly word and today, they cannot wait to hear what I have to say,” Anderson said. “They’re excited about my platform. They cannot believe they have a woman standing up who is saying that she is an alcoholic in recovery.”
These days, her parents celebrate her recovery. “I tell everyone in my program that if there were a flag out there for you sober daughter, they would fly it in their front yard with my name and my sobriety date on it,” she said. “It’s because we are erasing the stigma. We are bridging the gap and removing the negativity that is associated with it. There’s hope.”
Thursday evening’s vigil hosted by the Dubois County Substance Abuse Council helps to bridge that gap and bring humanity to a disease that is impacting more and more people in our communities.
“Addiction and overdose serious problems that have touched us all, either directly or indirectly,” said Jenna Bieker, the Substance Abuse Council Coordinator. “We know from local data that use has gone up during this unusual year, so it’s more important than ever to shed light on these issues.”
It’s important so people afflicted by addiction seek help from a community that accepts them.