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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Tells Recovery Breakfast ‘life Gets Better’

September 26, 2018

LOWELL -- Boston Mayor Marty Walsh began his Tuesday remarks at a Lowell House breakfast by recounting a weekend in 1995 when he went out “blackout drinking” three days in a row.

His “guts were devastated” as he sat in his apartment, miserable and unsure what to do. He thought, briefly, about self-harm. At the time, he did not recognize his alcoholism, but after decades of sobriety, Walsh openly discusses it.

The mayor was invited to Lowell to give remarks at Lowell House’s annual event celebrating recovery, something he stressed is possible for everyone grappling with addiction. His own journey, Walsh said, is proof.

“For the people in this room that are in recovery or early recovery: you can do whatever you want, but you’ve just got to work at this program a day at a time,” Walsh said. “Life gets better.”

Soon after the depths of that night 23 years ago, Walsh’s boss recommended he seek treatment, and he did. Recovery was a challenging process -- in his speech Tuesday, he recalled attending multiple support-group meetings in a row on Saturday night, trying to keep himself busy until bars closed so that he could not give in and go for a drink.

About two years after he got sober, Walsh decided to run for an open state representative seat. He won and held the position for 17 years, and in 2014, he became Boston’s mayor.

Walsh spoke to hundreds of substance-abuse experts, political leaders and community members at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center Tuesday. The event was the fourth annual breakfast hosted by Lowell House -- which offers various forms of therapy, residential treatment and outpatient programs to help those with addiction -- to celebrate recovery.

“We’re not going to talk about the deaths, we’re not going to talk about the opioid crisis today,” said Bill Garr, Lowell House’s CEO. “We want to salute the men and women who achieve the miracle of recovery and make that miracle a lifetime reality and the people who are helping achieve that lifetime reality.”

Two such people, Dan Rondreau and Lauren Spector, both shared their own personal experiences after going through Lowell House programs.

“I’ve had a lot of hard times in recovery,” Spector said. “It’s definitely not an easy thing to do, but it’s the better choice.”

The event also highlighted Michael Botticelli, a former state health official who served as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy during the Obama administration.

Botticelli now works as CEO of the Grayken Center at Boston Medical Center, and he himself has grappled with addiction.

“If you listen to the news media coverage, you would think nobody gets better and that all we are focusing on is the mortality associated,” Botticelli said. “We need to pay attention to that, but we also need to inspire people that there’s hope out there.”

Substance-abuse disorders have been thrust into the spotlight in recent years by a spike in overdose deaths, many of them from heroin and other opioids. Confirmed opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts grew from 379 in 2000 to 1,685 in 2015, according to state Department of Public Health data. In recent years, the growing presence of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid often mixed into heroin, has contributed to the problem.

Speakers at Tuesday’s event stressed the importance of a wide-reaching response involving both local actors and more significant government action. Walsh praised Lowell House and called for it to be supported long-term.

He also touted a new wraparound program in Boston modeled on halfway houses and vowed to reopen the Long Island Bridge -- whose closure at Walsh’s orders in 2014 over safety concerns forced hundreds of homeless individuals and those in treatment to be relocated -- where Walsh plans to install long-term recovery beds.

“We’re not going to end (addiction) today,” Walsh said. “But what we can do today is make it better and make sure the sick and suffering person that walks through the front door has an opportunity to get into recovery and change their life, because you can never know when somebody walks through the front door looking for help what that person is going to do in their life.”

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.

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