Recovery advocate Dylan Lundgren, above, talks about the need to make connections. Right, Stephen Murray says he has become involved with harm reduction as an alternative path for substance abusers.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Dylan Lundgren said he seemed to have it all age 17: an athlete, a scholar, a girlfriend. Anyone looking at him would think he really fit in.
"Well, you wouldn't see the suicidal thoughts, or you wouldn't see the inability to feel connected to other people. The inability to give voice to what was going on in here," he said, touching his chest and head. "So just because we look good on the outside, doesn't mean we feel good on the inside."
Lundgren turned to drugs and alcohol thinking it was a solution to the turmoil.
"Just because we look good on the outside doesn't mean we feel good on the inside and the process of recovery started for me when I got around people who were having that conversation," he told the annual Voices for Recovery gathering on Saturday.
Now an addiction recovery advocate, Lundgren has been in recovery since 2004. He asked if anyone knew someone who was dealing with addiction, someone who had overdosed, someone who had killed themselves. Hands went up around the gathering.
"I personally am sick of all the division. And the beautiful thing about recovery is you can take a lot of that out of the picture and bring us to a place of common ground," he said. "The spirit of collaboration. That's really the spirit of recovery. It is really what brings us here today."
The annual Voice of Recovery event has for eight years given survivors of drug and alcohol abuse a place to tell their story as a way to motivate others to take the difficult road to recovery. This was the first gathering since 2019; last year's event was somewhat curtailed because of the pandemic.
What started as a vigil to mourn losses to substance abuse has turned into a celebration of those who have overcome it. Held at Colegrove Park, the afternoon event featured a line of booths offering information on the many programs available for direct and indirect support of those in recovery and their families, as well as speakers and music. There also was a trivia game in memory of John Drummond, who had been peer mentor at the Beacon Community Recovery Center.
"It's celebrating individuals in our community who are recovering from substance abuse and and celebrating their journey that they've gone through," said Lindsey Rosa, a program support associate with Northern Berkshire Community Coalition who's also stepped in to help Executive Director Amber Besaw keep the recovery center going.
The recovery journey sometimes bring different perspectives. Two years ago, Stephen Murray spoke about his struggle with addiction and the impact substance abuse had on the community as an emergency medical technician. He entered recovery with the focus on abstinence but his experiences have changed his perception.
"I'm pretty involved in the harm reduction world," he said. "Two years ago, I stood before you here like in the same spot, my EMS uniform and for the first time ever I disclosed that I was a person in recovery. I've learned a lot in the last two years.
"There are things I said in that speech that I wouldn't say today. My views have evolved about my journey, how it differs from other people around me. I have had so many privileges, not afforded to other people. I don't think that I would be here today without those privileges, and that understanding is the focus of my work."
He recalled how when entered group treatment a decade ago, he was told the people to his right and left might end up in jail or dead; instead both ended up dead. He thought that was a commentary on how difficult it is to recover.
"What I've learned over the last 10 years, is that the problem is with our treatment industry itself," Murray said. "There was never any discussion about relapse beyond the view it were bad thing, and to encourage us that once we were through relapsing to go back to another meeting and start over."
No one talked about safety plans, about safer use to prevent overdoses, or the high risk of fatal overdoses after prolonged abstinance or release from treatment.
"We're an alternative to an abstinence-based recovery. Harm reduction is a philosophy that leaves judgment, shame and stigma at the door and replaces it with radical love and acceptance that was developed by people who use drugs for people who use drugs to help make their youth safer," Murray said. "You don't have to be in treatment to use these principles, or follow any specific leaders. On the first day that someone uses, they can engage in harm reduction strategies to make that use safer."
He said following harm-reduction principles can allow honest conversations and set realistic expectations. Murray compared it to getting a flat tire on a trip: you don't magically go back to the start, you fix the tire and move on.
"You need to be there for each other, not just when someone is recovering the way you want them to but when they're going through bumps in their journey," he said.
Alex Kostopoulas read a poem he wrote about Drummond and moderator Rebecca Dodge read a poem by Barbara Reeves, a volunteer at the recovery center. The Rev. Mary Curns of All Saints Episcopal Church closed the speaking portion.
"We need to speak the truth and be truthful of our own journeys and our own struggles, because people who are going through it just as Alex and Dylan and Steven said, you don't know what's going on inside people," she said. "We need each other. So reach out and touch someone with kindness and love."
The Beacon Recovery Community Center is hosting Zoom meetings four afternoons a week that are open to anyone; it is also open for drop-in hours again on Wednesdays at the Green, 85 Main St. (Terra Nova Church).
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North Adams Urgent Care Center Ready to Open in November
The center will offer a variety of services for urgent, non-life-threatening illnesses, including labs, vaccinations, X-rays and pharmacy.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Southwestern Vermont Health Care and ClearChoiceMD Urgent Care are teaming up to bring convenient care options to the Northern Berkshire community. The organizations have formed a joint venture to build and operate an urgent care center under the identity of SVHC Urgent Care powered by ClearChoiceMD.
The new center located in the Stevens Plaza next to Stop & Shop was approved by the Planning Board in December 2020.
This is the first urgent care center to serve North Adams and the surrounding communities. Up until now, people with urgent medical needs had to seek care in the emergency room or drive 20 miles to the nearest urgent care clinic. The partnership between ClearChoiceMD and SVHC will meet a need in this community.
"Partnering with ClearChoiceMD was an easy decision for us," stated Stephen Majetich, chief financial officer of Southwestern Vermont Health Care. "Not only are our missions aligned — to provide our communities accessible, affordable, compassionate, exceptional patient care; they are also the Northeast's leader in developing physician-led urgent care centers focused on patient-centered care."
Community Fridge Program organizers Sarah Defusco and Isabel Twanmo met with the trustees Wednesday to see if the library would be interested in hosting a refrigerator from which community members could take food from.
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