A day of support for recovering addicts in Santa Fe

September 24, 2018

One woman said she was born an alcoholic. Another had followed the lead of family members, she said, getting hooked on drugs and alcohol early in life. A third couldn’t remember why she started drinking back in her 20s.

While their stories differed, the women’s accounts had the same ending: acknowledging an addiction and seeking help. Now in recovery, the women shared their stories during a celebration Saturday to encourage others struggling with a substance use disorder to seek treatment.

Recovery Santa Fe, a nonprofit that advocates for people in addiction recovery, hosted its fifth annual Rally for Recovery at Railyard Park, attracting dozens of people. Many of them shared their experiences.

One was Chris Wendel, who cofounded Recovery Santa Fe with Tom Starke in 2014. Saturday’s rally, she said, was intended “to show the face and hear the voice of recovery.”

Wendel said she can’t remember the date of her first drink, but she can remember the last: July 1, 1985. By then, she was also using various drugs, including amphetamines and marijuana. She became a functional addict, she said, holding down an array of jobs.

Underneath, she said, “I was a mess.”

She and others at Saturday’s rally said addiction is a family illness, often spreading from generation to generation and affecting millions. In a news release on the rally, Recovery Santa Fe says as many as 10,000 people in the city are in recovery from substance use disorder.

Many addicts struggle in the shadows. Some die.

City Councilor Signe Lindell, who identified herself as a recovering alcoholic, paid homage to those in the community whose deaths in the last five years, since the first Rally for Recovery, were related to addiction. She asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence in their memory.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Lindell said.

She became sober with the help of a 12-step program, she said, and the realization — that hit her in June 1995 as she drove over a bridge across the Rio Grande — that “I wanted my life to be better.”

Addiction of any kind, she said, is a disease. “And it deserves understanding and compassion.”

Recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics say the number of alcoholic liver deaths was 21,028 in the nation in 2017. The number of alcohol-induced deaths that year, not including accidents and homicides, was 33,171.

Drug overdose data from those organizations is even more sobering, with 63,632 Americans dying from overdoses in 2016, a significant increase from the previous year.

Equally troubling, according to a 2016 surgeon general report, is that while 1 in 7 people in the U.S. is expected to develop a substance use disorder, only 1 in 10 with the disorder will seek treatment.

One woman at the rally, an Albuquerque native who has been sober for more than a decade, said she came from a family of alcoholics and that her first drink as a young woman “made me feel comfortable with myself.”

Karen, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said she began to start each day with a drink and end each day with a lot more. In between, she managed to hold jobs, though the quality of her work declined. She worked in a law office, she said, before her addiction led her to take work as a cashier in a retail store.

The quality of her life also declined. She began spending more and more time in seclusion at home, a bottle always within reach.

She felt buried in her shame, Karen said, until she decided it was time to get help.

Karen now lives in an Oxford House, one of 18 facilities in New Mexico that offer housing for recovering addicts, allowing them to self-regulate their behavior. Oxford House residents must stay sober, pay rent and either hold down a job or serve as a volunteer in the community.

The program is like “being in an AA meeting 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Karen said.

Danah Nielsen, outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Oxford House New Mexico, said Saturday’s rally was a celebration of success.

“All of us here are in recovery,” she said. “It shows that recovery is possible.”

On the web

• To learn more about Recovery Santa Fe, an advocacy and support organization for people with substance use disorder, visit recoverysantafe.org.

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