By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
On Saturday, April 21, more than 1,000 people gathered to rally against drug addiction at Bald Hill in Farmingville. It was a powerful demonstration of our human spirit!
The event was spearheaded by two parents, who buried their son, who died of a heroin overdose, two years ago. Instead of burying their heads in the sand, they decided to become proactive and raise people’s awareness to the painful affliction of addiction. They urged greater advocacy for more accessible residential treatment beds for those battling addiction.
The speakers were challenging and heart wrenching. Each one eloquently reminded us to be a voice for change — urging us to speak loudly about the stigma and shame that so many people live with because of addiction and its infection.
A mother wrote a piercing letter that was read about her son who overdosed and died last year. She spoke of the heartache she still endures a year later. N.L. was in his mid-20s. He was bright, handsome, very athletic and born into an extraordinary family. After an athletic injury and being prescribed opiates for pain, his nightmare began. His family’s nightmare began as well.
N.L. constantly struggled with long-term recovery and abstinence. His mother recounted that during one of the periods of abstinence, her son was working hard at recovery. One day he was at a local bagel store in his community waiting on line and saw the father of a friend. He went to shake his hand but the man turned his back and walked away! What was that about?
N.L.’s sister was also tortured on social media. What happened to reaching out and providing support and encouragement for those struggling with recovery?
The rally that Saturday morning did provide support. However, it was bittersweet. So many who attended have already buried their children, and many others were struggling with sons and daughters who are still out there and using.
Too often when we talk about addiction, we talk about the dark side of this painful health epidemic. The day ended on a note of hope. So often we focus on all those who’ve overdosed and died because of this horrific health crisis.
People do recover! A group of young men who live in a long-term nontraditional rehabilitation residence in our community formed a band known as the H.I.M.S. — Hope Inspired Men Sing. They closed the rally with a powerful rendition of “Go Light Your World” by Chris Rice.
“There is a candle in every soul. Some brightly burning, some dark and cold. There is a Spirit who brings a fire. Ignites a candle and makes His home. … Cause we are a family whose hearts are blazing. So let’s raise our candles and light up the sky. … Make us a beacon in darkest times. … Hold out your candle for all to see it. Take your candle, and go light your world!”
These extraordinary young men, ranging in age from 25 to 46, stood before this crowd as a reminder that people do get better. People can reclaim their lives, rejoin their families and contribute to making the world a better place.
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.