PLATTSBURGH — Michael Carpenter, co-founder of the MHAB Life Skills Campus, asked those present at Tuesday's International Overdose Awareness Day event to raise their hands if they were in recovery.
He then asked all the attendees to look around.
“Understand that all of those people could have just as easily been a statistic as the stories that you’re going to hear today," Carpenter said.
"You know, that’s why we push so much for this. There is hope. There is a chance. There is a way to change your life that that can happen, but it doesn’t happen for everybody and we need to never forget that.”
REFLECTED ON LIFE
Carpenter and others spoke prior to a candlelight vigil held at MHAB Life Skills Campus and All Ways to Recovery Center on Dormitory Drive Tuesday evening.
Rheannon Croy, assistant director of program services at the Alliance for Positive Health's Plattsburgh office, and Denis King, director of peer engagement and recovery services at Champlain Valley Family Center, shared their struggles with substance use and the moments that moved them to work toward recovery.
Croy said she was one of six kids raised in poverty in an abusive, unsafe, neglectful environment where everyone was doing drugs.
She started out smoking cigarettes, later using marijuana and dabbling in opiates, which she became addicted to when she was prescribed them for herniated discs.
Croy recalled feeling excited for her spine surgery because she knew doctors would give her drugs afterward. But when she awoke, she was paralyzed and couldn’t walk, and was in extreme pain that no safe amount of drugs could take away.
She was admitted and, during that time, reflected on her life, thinking about her son.
"I just ignored him and I just pushed him away and I was thinking, 'I’m never going to be able to make this up to him.' And I was thinking about dancing — I’m a dancer — and I was thinking, 'I’m never going to dance again.' And I was thinking about all of these beautiful mountains and I was thinking, 'I’m never going to hike a mountain again.'”
'ALL I EVER WANTED'
After going back and forth about whether to stop using, Croy began her journey of recovery on Aug. 7, 2010, at age 24. She got involved in a 12-step program, going to three meetings a day, where she found support and people who understood her.
Through the program, Croy said she got a family, and met her husband, Jared. She said their family of five has a beautiful life.
“We have a home that is safe and it’s clean and it’s happy and it’s full of love and that’s all I ever wanted. That’s all I ever wanted and getting sober has been the greatest journey of my life, it’s such a gift, but with that comes loss.”
Croy shared how most of the friends she got sober with either relapsed or died, including her friend Stockton.
“He was so young and he had so much life and he was such a good person and had so much potential and it’s awful that this drug and that this addiction does that to us and to people.”
FATHER, SON, BROTHER
King began drinking at age 11, becoming an alcoholic at 13. He drank on a daily basis for more than 30 years, the exceptions being 28-day programs or many hospital stays.
Then on May 7, 2011, after he was discharged from the hospital to wait for a bed to open up at St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center in Saranac Lake, he ran into a friend he hadn't seen in 30 years, and the pair went to a bar where King ordered his usual drink, a screwdriver.
“I put that drink in my hand and, as I was looking at the drink, I just began to cry and something came over me and ... later on I realized that was my God interfering with the plans I was going to do."
He drank the screwdriver, he said, because he's an alcoholic, but miraculously the compulsion to drink was lifted that day.
“Today I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a brother. I’m in a healthy relationship and I’m actually an employee and I show up to work when I say I’m going to and one thing that I am is I’m pretty reliable these days."
Carpenter, whose recovery date is May 17, 1990, wants the community to lead in eradicating the stigma of addiction. He said people are sick and need help, love, compassion, support and accountability.
"They need all of those things so that they can get to this place that I’m at and that Denis is at and that I know a lot of other people in this audience are.”
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