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The annual Voices for Recovery Walk marches down Main Street for a rally at City Hall on Saturday.
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Voices for Recovery Raising Awareness of Addiction

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Stephen Murray speaks at Saturday's Voices for Recovery event.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Stephen Murray is tired. In the past five years, the paramedic has responded to more than 100 overdoses.
 
"Many of my colleagues are burnt out by the constant barrage of substance-related calls," he said. "And I understand how they feel because I'm tired. ...
 
"I'm tired of seeing people my age die.
I'm tired of seeing parents bury their children.
I'm tired of seeing kids who lose their parents."
 
But Murray, a former addict himself, sees overdose reversals as an opportunity.
 
"Maybe this is rock bottom, maybe waking up and seeing me standing above you sweating as the wake up call you need to get to say enough's enough," he said.
 
A shift supervisor for Northern Berkshire EMS recalled his own rock bottom 2,944 days ago when he entered a facility in Connecticut weighing only 152 pounds and with sunken eyes. He'd been fighting alone for years as his life spiraled out of control with drugs. It's a dark moment he sometimes shares in the back of the ambulance with others who are dealing with addiction, hoping that they will overcome the shame and stigma to realize they need help.
 
"I get it, that I've been there, and that I'm not judging you," he said. "I've spent eight years quietly recovering and rebuilding my life. It's not been easy. And I've struggled."
 
Looking out at the gathering of supporters and organizations at the annual Voices of Recovery event at Colegrove Park on Saturday, Murray said he'd been afraid to speak out for a long time.
 
"But it ends today. It ends with each of us. We do not have to be anonymous, we do not have to feel ashamed. We have to let others know that we exist and that recovery is possible," he said. "It takes a resilient village. And you can see that here today how many different agencies and people are involved in this to solve a crisis like the one that we're in."
 
The recovery movement's goal is to overcome the shame and stigma that accompanies substance abuse and encourage those suffering from addiction to know help is available. 
 
The event started out as a vigil to remember those lost to addiction and celebrate survivors. In the past six years, it's grown to highlight organizations that provide support, speakers offering words of encouragement and a walk and standout to raise awareness of recovery efforts. 
 
This year was hosted by the new Beacon Community Recovery Center, a peer-counseling program that operates out The Green at 85 Main St. on Tuesday evenings and Wednesdays. The theme of the event was "Together We Are Stronger" and it emphasized the need to share resources and build networks across the community and across the country to support the many paths to recovery. 
 
Five speakers shared their story under a bright sun at Colegrove Park: Murray, for the first time, the Rev. Deacon Lisa Kirby of North Carolina; Alex, who has been attending the Beacon center; Brooke Bridges, an actor turned wellness coach; and Gary Pratt, who told how he started "Smash the Stigma" after a friend died from a fentanyl overdose.
 
"He didn't have a support network in his life, he didn't have a group of people that he could rely on," Pratt said. "So he returned to active use, and it killed him."
 
Pratt told of his struggles with heroin and how labeling is one of the harshest things that people do to themselves.
 
"We internalize stigma as addicts, as people in recovery," he said. "Society stigmatizes people with this disorder every single day. And they've been doing it for as long as there has been treatment for substance use disorder. There's been stigma attached to it. And it literally kills people."
 
Kirby, former president of the National Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, said she's been sober since Dec. 10, 1985, taking it one day at a time through the 12-step process. She didn't drink every day but had trouble stopping once she did. 
 
"But if you don't think it's the first drink that gets you drunk, remember that if you get run over by a train, it is not the caboose that kills you," she said. "Recovery is a journey. It requires both courage and surrender. It takes a loss of self sufficiency and a willingness to follow a different, not always easy path."
 
For Alex, it was the struggle to deal not only with addiction and frequent relapses but with his mental health needs. It was once he found fun — there can be fun in recovery, he said — that his habits began to change and the people he looked up to began to change. 
 
"If you can't do it for a day, do it for an hour, because if you can't do it for an hour, do it for a minute, if you can't do it for a minute, take it take it a second at a time," he said. "And if that fails, you have us believing in you. The us is the fellowship, the RCC during open hours, and the peers you will have made connections with because the opposite of addiction is connection."
 
Bridges started drinking in her early teens and spiraled into drugs, self harming and suicidal thoughts. Now she is a wellness coach and speaks about mental health and substance abuse with young people through the Minding Your Mind program. 
 
"I just wanted to share a little snippet because there were times where I was in the deepest, darkest depths that I never, ever thought I could get out of," she said. "And having solidarity with other people is really what brought me out of it. So having a community talking, sharing, being able to trust the person that's sitting across from us enough to get it off my chest and not push it back. To believe that's what it's about: community. Love, kindness, the Earth, spirituality. I've never been happier."
 
The Rev. Mary Curns of All Saints Episcopal offered words of hope and the Rev. David Anderson of First Baptist Church lead a panel with Murray, Pratt and Alex. State Rep. John Barrett III and state Sen. Adam Hinds spoke a little on the efforts being made at the state level, including getting funding for the programs in the House of Correction and recovery centers, and access to Narcan for public safety departments. 
 
"We're closer to it than you think," said Barrett, referring to the overdose wakes and funerals he and Hinds have attended. "The speakers and up here today, and those in prior years. It rings a bell with us in so many ways. And it should ring a bell with this community."
 
Both agreed, however, that more needed to be done — and Pratt earlier had a suggestion for gaining more money for recovery beds from Beacon Hill.
 
"Anybody we see the 'Shawshank Redemption,' and their trying to get the money for the library, do that," he said. In the movie, the protoganist Andy writes letter after letter to the legislature to money for books for the prison library. "Then we get more beds, right? Two letters a week. Seriously, that's what it's going to take to change it. 
 
"Because if we sit here and we don't speak about it, nothing will change."
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McCann Scores High on MCAS Tests

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

The McCann School Committee reviews MCAS results. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — McCann Technical High students once again scored highly on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests and the vocational high school is classified as "not requiring assistance or intervention."
 
"It has been another solid year and we are doing the same things we have always done and our kids are performing at the same level and they are getting a chance to shine," Principal Justin Kratz told the
School Committee on Thursday. "We are in good shape."
 
Kratz said the test was different this year and has been "reshuffled." He said it is harder to directly compare results to the previous test and that rather it pits local scores against the state average.  
 
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