On a cool and breezy Friday evening, members of the community held flickering candles in their cupped palms to honor the many lives lost to addiction.
All of those at the candlelight vigil in Owen Park were there for two reasons — to remember loved ones and friends who died from chemical overdoses, and to support and cherish those who are still struggling with the powerful disease.
The event was originally organized by Dolores Borza, who scheduled the event for International Overdose Awareness Day (every year on August 31). Borza said she has the community to thank for their immense dedication to a bright cause.
“We have gotten a lot of help from different businesses and members in the local community,” Borza said.
Along with various donations, many folks got there early to help set up a board with pictures of people who have died.
Support organizations such as Learn to Cope, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) set up tables with information pertaining to drug addiction and overdoses.
Learn to Cope is a network that provides peer support and hope for parents and family members coping with a loved one addicted to opiates or other drugs.
Christine Todd, a member of Break the Silence MV and Learn to Cope, said people need to step out of the darkness and bring awareness to this issue. “There are other people brave enough to come out and share their stories,” Todd said. “You are not alone.”
She also stressed that if parents and family members can’t take care of themselves and try to focus on their own physical and mental health, they will not be able to provide adequate care to a loved one who is struggling with addiction.
Todd suggested people become well versed in Narcan administration, and not be afraid to ask for help if you know someone fighting addiction. “Try to save a life when you have the opportunity,” Todd said. “Many people go through several rehabs and several overdoses before they seek help.”
She encouraged anyone who is addicted or knows someone who is addicted to go to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital community room every Wednesday and receive free Narcan training and Narcan kits. “This is almost an eight-month-old chapter; we hope to see you there on Wednesday,” Todd said.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a nationwide grassroots advocacy group, representing people affected by mental illness in the U.S. According to Cecilia Brennan, a member of NAMI, mental illness and drug addiction are often closely correlated. She said if someone is struggling with a mental illness like severe depression or even schizophrenia, they are much more prone to using opioids and other drugs.
Having an addiction or a mental illness can feel very lonely, and often it feels like no one is there for much-needed support, but Brennan assured people there are support systems in the community whose sole intention is to help those who are lost or feeling dejected.
Society needs to come together in moments of hardship, not cast aspersions and make judgments, she said. “Sometimes you feel like there is no one who can help, but we have each other,” Brennan said.
Another member of Break the Silence MV and Learn to Cope, Marit Bezahler, said the stigma surrounding drug addiction is so great that it often paints an addict to be apart from society, as opposed to being a part of society. She said addicts need to be treated with the same care and tenderness as someone suffering through a dissimilar disease. “When someone has cancer, you have a whole team of doctors who are all trying to find ways to help,” Bezahler said. “People bring flowers and casseroles.”
She said people who overdose receive nowhere near the same sympathy, and deserve to be viewed for what they are: good people who are fighting an uphill battle.
She expressed her frustration in the lack of seriousness about treating these individuals, whose diseases are hugely debilitating and hard to overcome. “There is nowhere near enough resources for people who are addicted to have the help they need,” Bezahler said.
As dusk fell, the Rev. Chip Seadale of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church delivered a prayer in recognition of the solemn occasion. “Today, we come here to do something very hard. We say goodbye to a lot of good people,” Seadale said to the hushed crowd. “We must honor and remember the names of those lost, and pray for those suffering from addiction to find their way out of that dark tunnel.”
Seadale spread a message of acceptance and compassion when he said, “Nobody is born into this world alone. And we ask the rest of the world not to judge or criticize.”
He said as long as the community stays together in unison, there is no trial too great. “Together, we can do this,” he said. “Don’t ever let us give in or give up. The only thing that saves us is us.”