PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A group of over 60 folks and their families gathered at the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club on Saturday to celebrate their successes in recovery from drug addiction and reflect on the support they continue to receive from those closest to them.
The annual Recovery Rocks gathering was one of many events in Aroostook County held throughout September to commemorate National Recovery Month, which recognizes people who have worked toward their goals of living a drug-free life. Life By Design, Aroostook Mental Health Center, Recovery Aroostook and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs Health Clinic partnered for the event and held a free picnic and barbecue lunch before inviting people to share their personal stories on recovery.
One of those speakers was Ronni Bossie, of Fort Fairfield, who 20 years ago was homeless as a result of his drug addiction. After reaching out to addiction recovery agencies in Maine, he eventually gained sobriety and now works as a substance abuse counselor and is the chair of Recovery Aroostook, a Caribou-based addiction awareness organization.
Bossie said that he decided to speak at Recovery Rocks in order to share two things: that drug addiction can affect anyone regardless of where they’re from or how they were raised and that there is help out there even if someone does not know where to turn at first.
“The greatest thing that recovery has given me is the freedom to choose my own path in life,” Bossie said to the large and supportive crowd that filled the Fish and Game Club lodge. “I’ve chosen to surround myself with people who want to help others rather than judge them.”
Nichole Curtis, who is originally from Portage but now lives in Portland, also spoke on Saturday, stating that she has been sober for six years. During her worst days as an addict, she said, she betrayed the people closest to her, even stealing pain medication from a critically ill aunt. She “hated the person she had become” and, while living in Presque Isle, began her journey into recovery with help from counselors at Life By Design.
Curtis now works as a university registrar. Although she previously volunteered at substance abuse treatment facilities and even ran her own sobriety house for women, she decided to step back from such work in order to take more time for her own recovery. She said that throughout that process she has discovered how to truly take care of herself again.
“I’ve heard people say that recovering from addiction is like putting on a new pair of glasses and realizing that you can really see for the first time,” Curtis said. “For the past six years I’ve been able to experience life in a way that I never could before.”
Despite stories like those of Bossie and Curtis, opioid addiction continues to be a widespread issue throughout the country and in the state of Maine. A recent report from Maine Public stated that the number of deaths from opioid overdoses in Maine between January and June of this year reached 180, a slight decrease from last year’s 186 overdoses for the same period. In 2017 alone, there were 418 reported overdose deaths in the state, an increase from 378 deaths in 2016.
To combat public perceptions of addiction and spread hope for those in recovery, Life By Design has begun the Facebook page Recovery Rocks. Similar to the Kindness Rocks movement, Recovery Rocks asks folks to paint and include a positive message on rocks and hide them in different areas of their community for others to find. People typically post a photo of themselves with their found rock and then hide the rock elsewhere.
Many people who attended Recovery Rocks on Saturday took time to paint their own rocks. With more public outreach, those who have survived addiction hope to pass on the message that treatment, recovery and a better life is possible.
“I saw a friend today who I used to do drugs with and he told me that because of my recovery he became more willing to take that step for himself,” Curtis said. “I want people to know that recovery is possible and that no matter how bad they feel about themselves they are worth it.”