The following has been provided to The Aegis by the Harford County Health Department in conjunction with the countywide observance of Shine a Light for Recovery Month during September. Editor.
Audrey Hepburn once said “Nothing is impossible; the word itself says, ‘I’m possible!’”
Recovery is possible. Isn’t that the message that we’ve been listening to for the past few years? Our community is in crisis over the deaths and overdoses that are a direct result of substance use.
Substance abuse is nothing to take lightly. Sure, some people think that addiction is not a disease but a choice. A weakness, perhaps. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I shamefully admit, I was one of those people who didn’t understand the severity and depth to the term “addiction.”
I am probably one of the very few who have never personally been affected by opioid use. I have not lost a family member, a friend or a loved one due to drugs. Some would argue that years ago, I would have thought I was too good to know someone who was addicted. If you’re one of those people who think that you’re too good to be associated with someone who suffers from addiction, I’m sorry for you.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate like we do. It’s natural to develop a jaded sense of reality over time. Lived experience tells us to become hardened to a problem, yet, contradicts human nature of lived experience bringing us to our knees.
I consider myself a privileged woman who grew up in Harford County, attended private schools, attained a college degree and never really had to work too hard to excel. I am one of the lucky ones to make it out unscathed. So far.
Even though I have not been affected by opioid use, alcohol is a different story. My first experiences with those battling addiction wasn’t until I began working in a restaurant at age 15.
Night after night, I saw the same faces walk through the door headed straight for the bar. They were regulars and I loved them like friends. We laughed over drags off cigarettes — back when you could smoke in a bar — and they usually stayed well after closing.
Fast forward a few years when I received a phone call to inform me that one of my favorite bar regulars had died. His body had succumbed to the years of alcohol flowing freely in his system. I was heartbroken. The next year, another favorite died. The next year, one more.
Today, most of my beloved bar regulars have passed. I helped feed their addiction. I didn’t know they couldn’t say no and I didn’t know they were suffering. Never once did I think about their health because I was only concerned with the money I took home every night from their tips. After all, I was saving for a spanking new pair of UGGs. I was clueless. For my adored bar regulars, they were not so clueless. The struggle was real.
Naturally, my life experiences expanded and I was more exposed to those who suffered from substance use. I worked at a company that provided counseling to Department of Transportation employees who tested positive for substances. To say that job was eye opening is an understatement. I quickly learned what a hold addiction had on people. Yet again, my life experiences grew and I began working at the Harford County Health Department.
Three years ago, I was lucky enough to attend Harford County’s first Opioid Town Hall meeting at the college. Being pregnant at the time, already scared about what was ahead of me, I saw mothers stand and fight back tears while saying “heroin killed my child.” At that moment, a whole new fear was introduced into my already terrified mind. The stories of beautiful children who were good kids with promising futures, who were part of a loving family and an active member of society were dead. No one in that room thought they would endure the pain of losing someone to something so deadly.
To the mothers courageously sharing their story, that meeting was a safe place. There was no judgement, just compassion. Something that someone struggling with addiction is rarely greeted with. The stigma associated with a struggle as serious as addiction was something that the community was trying to transform that night.
At that time, I witnessed the power of community affected by the power of addiction. Sadly, this was only the beginning of the crisis in Harford County.
Sometimes it feels like our work is done but the staggering number of deaths posted on the board outside our Sheriff’s Office is a reminder that we need to work harder. That number doesn’t reflect how many lives were saved because of treatment and education. Or because of the love and compassion that we gave to those who needed us. Because no one is immune to being affected by drugs or alcohol.
To work in a community where there is an abundance of partnerships and passion to save the lives of our neighbors, friends and family is beyond rewarding — it’s humbling. From the Health Department, to the Sheriff’s Office, to the Town of Bel Air, to County Government, to the hospital, to the school system, to all the recovery programs…the list of partnerships is longer than you can imagine.
Day in and day out, our community is working around the clock to raise awareness, hoping to save the lives of someone who is struggling. Millions of dollars are being spent. Blood, sweat and tears are being poured into the belief that recovery is possible. Recovery IS possible. There are resources available to anyone who needs them.
For those who are in need of help, I have a message for you: YOU CAN DO IT. No one will judge you. No one will turn you away. You matter to us and to our community. We need you to stay here with us to help fight a fight that’s worth fighting for.
Molly Mraz is communications director and public information officer for the Harford County Health Department.