By Marilyn Neagley
During my recent birthday celebration, I was asked, “What was the high point of this past year?” I paused to think. Several friends and relatives murmured, “I know what she’s going to say.” That surprised me because I didn’t yet have a clue. There were so many possible responses. I then told them that being present for the birth of our most recent grandchild topped the list. It had been a great honor, in an archetypal sense, to participate as my daughter brought a new life into this world.
The people in my birthday circle were surprised. They’d expected me to mention the evenings I’d spent with those who are struggling with oxycodone addiction. Hmm. They knew me quite well. That too had been an extraordinary experience.
Following many weeks of planning, several of us had shown up on a hot summer night. We arrived at a recovery center to offer workshops in writing, photography, and mindfulness. The workshops had been organized by a local pediatrician and a Vermont filmmaker. The idea was that through various art forms, personal stories could be told. Hopefully the stories would lead to healing and, if heard, might actually prevent other from going down the road of addiction.
Twenty-seven addicts, preferably called patients, appeared. Pizza and a stipend had been offered but, more importantly, their trusted pediatrician had invited them and that made a difference. This rural doctor had been stunned when, months earlier, a young man whom he’d known since birth, had come to him for help. “Doc, you’ve gotta help me. I’m addicted to oxy.” Soon one 157 patients with an average age of 15 were under the doctor’s care, provided in the form of medical treatment. He also offered books, found jobs, urged schooling and often simply listened with kindness and respect.
After weeks of preparing for the first gathering, a writer in our group suggested that everyone respond to the question, “Who am I?” It seemed terribly risky to jump in so quickly, before building a little trust. But everyone wrote and many wanted to share their thoughts with the group. Stories began to flow.
One woman had lost her daughter due to an overdose. Another patient had overdosed and now had a speech impairment. A third person had lived in a car for months, had lied, stolen, and spent time in jail. All of them owned their mistakes. They wanted to be seen and heard. They wanted the world to know that they are healing and changing for the better. More than anything, they hoped their stories would prevent others from experiencing such loss. Some of the stories had happy endings. Some did not. Not unlike a birth, it is profoundly heartening when the human spirit can emerge from such pain with vibrant hope.
The aforementioned stories of loss and hope will be told as “The Hungry Heart,” a 93-minute documentary on prescription drug addiction and recovery, directed by Bess O’Brien. The film premieres Friday, Sept. 27 at 7 pm at the Flynn Main Stage. Tickets are $15 and $30 and proceeds will benefit Turning Point of Chittenden County and Kingdom County Productions tour of the movie. Tickets may be purchased at www.flynntix.org.
Marilyn Webb Neagley is a consultant and author who works to achieve greater wellness, resilience, and mindfulness in public schools.