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MOUNT VERNON — Sharing stories of loss and coming together to inspire hope and strength, the Knox County community gathered in solidarity Friday evening to honor International Overdose Awareness Day.
Riverside Recovery hosted a small ceremony on Public Square in Mount Vernon, which included a visualization of loss and hope. Shoes were placed on both sides of the statue. On one side, the shoes were tied with balloons, which honored someone in recovery from an addiction. On the other side, shoes were placed with photographs, honoring the memories of those who have lost their struggle with addiction.
“This is a day to recognize those who have been lost to drug overdoses,” said Riverside Recovery executive director Amy Smart. “When we can put a face with those that we have lost, it makes it more personal. We put out shoes for those that we have lost. Just knowing that they were somebody’s mother or somebody’s father, brother or sister. Just to know that they were a person we can recognize that and put a face with a name. That they’re not just a drug addict, they were somebody’s child.”
Smart herself is a recovered addict, she told the News, and has lost approximately 17 people in her life to drug overdoses. Smart spent five years at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville due to drug related crimes. She explained that being able to get up and give hope to those struggling with addiction is the most important part of her work.
“To be able to get up every day and do this, to give hope to the ones that there wasn’t much hope; and to give hope to the ones who many people in this town would have said, ‘they don’t have a chance.’ We’ve been able to give them that chance, and that’s important,” Smart said.
Gatherers at the ceremony shared poems, journal entries, stories of hope, loss of loved ones and the strength they have together, as well as many tears in a showing of solidarity.
A poignant and emotional moment came from Nichole Beck, who wrote and read her own eulogy at the ceremony.
“So please don’t dwell on her bumpy past,” Beck read from her eulogy. “Just remember her smile and the sound of her laugh. She was tough as a nail and without fear, and remember my friend she will always be near.”
Beck explained that writing her own eulogy was an exercise to make her more aware of her impact on those around her.
“We’re all unique,” she said. “It defines who you are, not going out of this world, but who you were when you came in.”
Previously stuck in a loop of rehab and jail visits, Beck said that Riverside Recovery helped break the cycle.
“Riverside, they help you with anything and everything,” Beck said. “They help you with those barriers that keep you stuck in your addiction. They don’t throw you back out to the wolves like everybody else does. I think it’s vital to share our story. It’s a different day and age. I have an 18-year-old who is in surgery at Grant Medical, he got his jaw broken in three spots, he’s in active addiction. So, I’m trying to stay strong and keep the support.”
Riverside additionally held a candle-light vigil at the ceremony to honor those that have lost their battle with addiction.
At Ariel-Foundation Park, also Friday evening, a new support group, Grievers of Overdose, held another ceremony to honor International Overdose Awareness Day. Their vigil included prayer, poetry and family members of those that have been lost to overdose.
John and Cyndi Wyatt told the story of their son, Casey, who passed away from a drug overdose. Their emotional testimony included a photo of Casey.
“When I see this picture, it reminds me of the love he had for us and we had for him,” Cyndi said. “He was fun-loving, smart, our first born.”
Casey, Cyndi explained, had been clean for a year before he started using drugs again.
“We did have a year of clean and sober time, and that’s what I want to remember the most. Those wonderful days just before his passing, he came back into our lives, it was better than it had ever been. We miss him a lot,” she said in her emotional testimony.
The family encouraged gatherers to continue to spread the word that addiction is everywhere and everyone can be affected by it. Reach out and help as many people as you can, Cyndi said.
Christopher O’Hara, another Mount Vernon resident who lost his addiction battle, was represented at the ceremony by his family, with father, Robert, telling his story.
“I think the more light you shed on something like that, the more help you’re going to give to people,” Robert said. “Once I start sharing, people start sharing their own family stories and as far as I know everybody’s got them.”
Robert even carries a large plastic phone case with a photo of Chris to start conversations about him and the struggles of addiction.
Chris was big into physical fitness and cross-fit, Robert told the News. His legacy lives on through a scholarship through the United Way, with Women United, called the Chris-Fit scholarship, which encourages members of MERIT court to obtain gym memberships and maintain physical fitness.
“Grief is love with no place to go,” read co-organizer of the event Melissa Body. “And so with our grief, the only thing to do is to give our love a place to go.”
The goal of these events are to break the stigma of addiction, co-organizers Kathy Wantland and Donna Whipple explained to the News. They explained that many grievers feel shame and guilt, but coming together in solidarity sheds light on how prevalent this issue is, not just in Mount Vernon and Knox County, but around the world.
Riverside Recovery is hosting a Recovery event Sept. 8 at Riverside Park from 3-8 p.m. with food, activities and special guest speaker former Ohio State football player Maurice Clarett, who has also struggled with addiction. For more information about Riverside Recovery’s services and treatment centers, call 740-326-9255.
Grievers of Overdose hosts a support group on the third Thursday of every month from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Hospice of Knox County. For more information, call Wantland at 740-397-5188.