International Overdose Awareness Day
August 9, 2019
International Overdose Awareness Day is globally recognized on the last day in August each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose, reduce the stigma of a drug-related death, and acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.
In that spirit, we present to you our August guest blog. Our guest bloggers are Abbie Stenberg and Joseph Rivera. Abbie took part in the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) & S.A.F.E Project 2018 Collegiate Recovery Leadership Academy, which Ammon Foundation was the Founding Sponsor. Joe is an Ammon Recovery Scholar (scholarship recipient), currently attending Bergen Community College.
We invite you to read their stories in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day and help #TeamAmmon spread the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable.
Abigail Stenberg – The Day I Died
It’s strange to think that, at 28 years old, this is the second time I have written something called “The Day I Died.” The first one told the story of my funeral, which took place in a residential treatment program for adolescent girls with substance use disorder. I lay on the ground with my eyes closed, hearing the staff and residents of the treatment program give my eulogy.
This exercise was meant to be a “rebirth.” One in which I did not use drugs, run away from home, or put myself in risky situations. I vividly recall “awakening” from this exercise overwhelmed. I felt different, but not in a good way. Hearing people talk about me in the past tense was strange. I felt like a ghost.
After ten months of treatment, I returned to my school with the intention of doing the right thing. This was immediately overshadowed by my desperate longing to fit in, and by the temptation all around me. I had spent all the time in treatment trying to “fix myself” or be “fixed” by the staff. I spent no time preparing for what it would be like when I got home. I had not built a community of support that I needed.
I returned to using drugs and began a downward spiral towards certain death. In April of my senior year I began taking illicit opioids. I took them with no regard for the consequences. Before I knew it, I was graduating from high school while getting a fast education in withdrawals. By the time I was 19, I was dependent on heroin.
I used intravenously, sold it to support my habit, and felt totally isolated from the people who loved me. The next few years were a blur. I frequently sought help – and received it – only to reenage in use. It was a cycle that I thought would be the death of me. It nearly was.
In 2012, I was thinner than I’d ever been, poor dental hygiene led to lost and cracked teeth, and behind my eyes I was only a shadow of the outgoing girl I’d once been. There had been little to laugh about, less to take pride in, and very few people left in my life. It was as if I had really died all those years ago, and my ghost had gone on living. September 2012 I experienced three drug overdoses in a matter of four weeks. Naloxone saved my life. Recovery has given me an opportunity for me to become truly alive.
Healing was not a linear process. After seeking long-term treatment, moving into a recovery house, and getting involved in the recovery community, I began to thrive. There was a brand new version of me who felt joy, loved fully, and lived life with an appreciation that only someone who has conquered death can live.
The last six years of my life have been nothing short of miraculous. I have my family back in my life. I have dedicated my life to helping educate people about substance use disorder, stigma, overdose prevention and intervention. I work for an organization that uses storytelling and art to help people express themselves. I am getting married in September. None of this would have been possible if my life had not been saved by Naloxone. The message I have for people is this: where there’s life, there’s hope.
Joseph Rivera – A Little Empathy Goes a Long Way
My name is Joseph Rivera. I am a person in long term recovery and have the privilege of working at Eva’s Village Passaic County Opioid Overdose Reversal Program (OORP).
Being a Recovery Specialist at Eva’s Village is the first job I have ever had where I leave feeling that I contributed to the world in some way. As part of my day-to-day responsibilities, every morning I check in with three emergency rooms at different hospitals throughout Passaic County. Our program is established to help all people who suffer from addiction – not just those suffering from opiate addiction. Grant funding has enabled us to do so.
As a Recovery Specialist, I come across so many people struggling with addiction. I want to tell you the story of one such man… Naloxone was administered and saved a man’s life. When I saw him at the emergency room, he was surrounded by scared family members. I listened to him, we talked about options and we made some phone calls. He agreed to enter residential treatment that following Monday, and he went! We agreed to stay in touch, and he gave me permission to contact his mother as he did not have a phone. This young man did very well, completing treatment, returning home and eventually finding a job. After receiving his first paycheck, he made a terrible mistake… He boarded an Uber to Paterson with the mission of finding and doing drugs. Just one more time. He was revived again with Naloxone and the ambulance brought him to the emergency room, where I was on call. A few hours before the end of my workday, I went to see him again. I pulled the curtain back to block out the madness of the emergency room, and he immediately said, “I just want to tell you right now I have no intention of going into another treatment facility.” He mistakenly thought I was there to force treatment or a certain type of recovery on him – in reality, I was there just to talk to him and let him know I was not mad at him. I understood what he has been through, and I was happy he was still alive. It isn’t often someone in our situation gets another chance at life. I told him I empathize with his pain and suffering, and I wanted to do everything I could to help him. He shared with me he lost so much during active addiction and also his father was ill, and he felt like a burden to his family. I assured him he was not. He was going through a tough time and needed help, and my job was to help him. I had been in that hospital bed once surrounded by my own family, and right then I realized that a little empathy goes a long way.
One of the hardest parts of my job is watching the people we are trying to help continue to do the things that got them sick. Sadly, I have lost contact with the aforementioned young man. Yet, I feel confident I helped him and his family in that moment. Someone came along and helped me once and I want to keep doing the same. Being a Recovery Specialist had made me realize the importance of helping foster the potential for recovery in others, even if their recovery isn’t immediate or look like mine. I am so honored to be a part of their recovery journey, and will be waiting for him or anyone else who needs help when they want it.
This job has afforded me so many opportunities and helped me realize my own potential. My first experience in this field was working in a recovery center where I did office work, held groups with my fellow peers, cleaned bathrooms and mopped floors. I am grateful as it created the foundation for what enables me to work in the OORP program of Passaic County today. Today, I am studying psychology at William Paterson University and my goal is to get my Masters in Social Work. Thanks to recovery, I believe I can do it.
The Ammon Foundation believes that when individuals are holistically and strategically supported to build purposeful lives, the likelihood of them maintaining their recovery substantially increases. We provide this support via our Ammon Recovery Scholars Program. Our program goals include: removing financial barriers through financial scholarships; providing strategic support for recipients through offering personal, professional and academic support; and creating a supportive peer community committed to combating the stigma associated with addiction by promoting that recovery is possible. We are committed to giving away at least $100,000 in scholarships annually and are looking to fund education as a stepping stone to stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. To find out more about our programs, or to apply for an educational scholarship, please click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.