On Saturday, about 250 people filled the Baptist Bible Temple’s property. These individuals came together in an effort to raise awareness of the opioid crisis in Fayette County, to remember loved ones who have been lost to overdoses, and to share messages of hope.
The event was organized by Chad Gentry and Cody Bowen. Gentry grew up in Washington Court House and is now a drug and alcohol abuse counselor in Portsmouth. Bowen is a recovering addict, and the event marked the one-year anniversary of his sobriety. The use of the property was provided by co-pastor of the Bible Baptist Temple, Andrew Johnson.
Gentry stood on stage, surveyed the crowd and said, “What started as a dream became a reality real quick.” He said many people helped to make the event a possibility.
The event featured a silent auction, games and fun for the kids, a dunk tank, and more. Most importantly, several recovering addicts stood up on stage and shared their stories. They spoke of their struggles with addiction and shared messages of hope.
Bowen said, “I battled drug addiction for over 10 years. I destroyed a lot of lives. I hurt a lot of people who cared about me.” But, he said, “recovery was very, very scary.”
Part of that fear was a fear of being stigmatized by the community. “You’ve gotta worry about what people are gonna think about you, what people are gonna say about you,” he said. But, he said, it’s important to “speak up, talk about it, let your voice be heard.” “People are dying,” he said, and he called for the community to “come together and let’s help each other out. Let’s educate, inform and get treatment. We can fix this. Together we can fix this.”
Fayette County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Andy Bivens, as well as other first responders, were present at the event. He looked out at the crowd from the stage and said, “Congratulations. Congratulations on what you’ve done.” He said it was great to see so many individuals in recovery and looking so healthy. He also stressed that “with each drug that we’re dealing with now we’re seeing it become more and more lethal. The hardest thing in the world to do is to walk up to some parent’s house and knock on the door and tell them their child is dead, or to look into the face of some little child and tell them their mom or dad is not coming home.” He said this to murmurs of agreement from the crowd, many of whom had been on the receiving end of such news, having lost their children or their parents or their other loved ones to overdoses.
Several recovering addicts who shared their stories on Saturday said that they had to leave home in order to get sober. One such individual was Skylar Williams, a native of Washington Court House, who used for 13 or 14 years before finally getting on a plane for California one day where he found sobriety in a treatment center.
“Today I live a life that’s beyond my wildest dreams,” he said, adding, “I wake up and I’m not sick, I’m not in withdrawal.” While using, Williams said he was “living at an animalistic level” and “I was laying around and I was dying.” He said his approach comes down to doing “the next right thing.”
“I have a good life today,” he said, and he hopes others who are struggling with addiction will someday be able to say the same thing.
Adam Faulkner, also of Fayette County, said he started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana when he was in high school, saying, “It was all for fun at first.” Over time, however, his drinking and drug use escalated. “It was a progressive thing,” he explained. Eventually, Faulkner went to Arizona for treatment. He has now been sober for more than 500 days. He said, “I don’t wanna abuse the privilege of being a free man, of having the opportunity to look my family in the eye, to share this message of hope.” To those in the crowd who are struggling with addiction, he warned, “This thing takes people’s lives, you never know when it will be your last shot.”
In addition to the locals who shared their stories, there were some speakers who had traveled from out of state to be at the event. One was Rich Walters of Parkersburg, West Va. Walters said he abused drugs for 21 years before finally getting sober. Today, he is the national marketing director at the Boca Recovery Center.
He said, “If you’re waiting for your federal government to step up and swoop in… you’re gonna be waiting until the day you die.” He believes it will take grassroots, community-based efforts to make a difference. He encouraged the crowd to “put shoes on your prayers,” and take action to “rise up out of the ashes and bring your community up out of this mess.”
“All of you are capable of turning your community around,” he added, saying, “You’ve gotta say enough is enough.” Walters hopes his story of recovery will show others that recovery is possible. He has been sober for over four years when, in the past, “it was a tall order for me to go over four hours without putting a needle in my arm.”
The last speaker at the event was Tim Ryan. Ryan is the author of the book “From Dope to Hope,” founder of the A Man in Recovery Foundation, and a well-known public speaker. He is also a recovering addict who spent time in prison and lost his own son to an overdose. He knows first-hand the challenges that addicts face and he also knows that recovery is possible.
He said, “You’ve got to learn to walk through that fear and hopelessness and come out the other side.” He also said, “Don’t ever give up on anybody. If they got a heartbeat they got hope.” He looked out into the crowd and called on those struggling with addiction to “put your d**n hand up and ask for help.”
They listened. Within 20 minutes of Ryan’s speech, all five treatment scholarships had been claimed. These scholarships, with a combined value of over $100,000, will cover the expense of substance abuse treatment for their recipients. Most of these recipients were put on planes that night or the next day and sent to treatment.
Reach Megan Neary at 614-440-9124 or @MeganNeary2