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By BILLY SINGLETON
Daily News Staff Writer
Steady rain on Saturday afternoon didn’t stop around 100 people from marching in support of respect for people struggling with addiction and mental illnesses.
The Stomp the Stigma Recovery March and Resource Rally began at noon at the Community Connections building south of downtown and made its way to The Plaza mall, where a dozen local recovery-related organizations distributed information, and people affected by drug abuse shared words of hope.
The event took place in recognition of National Recovery Month.
Splashing along the march’s 2-mile route, participants wore matching “Stomp the Stigma” T-shirts and held signs with messages like “We are not our addiction” and “You have the power.” Passers-by honked horns in support of the marchers, who, despite wet clothes and disintegrating paper signs, remained in high spirits.
Event co-organizer Christine Furey, also in high spirits, explained the event’s origins as she marched up Tongass Avenue.
“There’s a huge amount of stigma associated with addiction, naturally, because we do really bad things when we’re loaded,” Furey said. “I too am in recovery. My biggest fear in getting clean was that I would never be able to live down the things that I had done and who I had become. And I don’t ever want anyone else to have to feel that way. I want people to know that they don’t have to stay in that life, that there is a beautiful life on this side and that you just need to ask for help.”
Furey, who is from Ketchikan, said that she has been sober since 2013, following a 15-year methamphetamine addiction.
“I promise you that if I can come back, anyone can,” she said.
Furey said that one of the phrases she’s been using to describe the march is “We are recovery on fire.”
“And no rain is putting us out,” added Danielle Duckworth, who also co-organized the march alongside KAR House Program Manager Estelle Cowie and Lynn James.
Duckworth said that the event was initially envisioned only as a march, but that the plans began to incorporate a second phase as more organizations got involved.
Arriving at The Plaza mall, the line of marchers emptied inside, where Ketchikan’s abundance of social services was on display. Representatives from more than a dozen organizations manned tables, offering information and services for those affected by the issue.
VISTA’s prevention specialist, J.D. Martin, who ran the Women in Safe Homes booth, said that addiction and abuse are often connected. She said that WISH participated in order to encourage people struggling with a range of issues to seek help.
“It is really about letting people know that we’re not going to shame them for having these problems,” Martin said. “They can come and seek help regardless of where they are in their lives.”
Former KAR House Director Steve Parker said that the strong response was a sign that people are becoming more aware of these issues.
“If we’d done this when we first came, we’d have probably had a quarter of who’s here today,” Parker said. “I think there’s good progress being made.”
The Plaza also featured a stage, where speakers told their stories of recovery.
“We’re doing this to show everyone that there really is hope, there really is a way out and we really do recover,” Duckworth said.
Estelle Cowie described her own addiction and recovery and said that though she usually prefers to stay behind the scenes, she hopes her story will help others.
“I put myself out here in case you hear something that you might identify with,” Cowie said. “We have a wonderful recovery community here. We have different faces; we blend into the public and you may not even know that we’re here. But we are. And it is possible.”
Sean Maynard, a resident of the KAR House who said he has been sober for four months, talked about the effects of stigma.
“I started having this stigma attached to me, or what I thought was attached to me, that I am now a criminal, that I am now … a horrible person and nobody would want to take the time of day to talk to me,” Maynard said. “I didn’t believe that I was worth their time. I didn’t believe that I was worthy of their love, their caring.”
“I really appreciated the title ‘Stomp the Stigma,’ because as I was in my active addiction, as bad as I thought that people were judging me, I was probably judging myself five times worse,” he said.
Ketchikan Police Department school resource officer Darrell Nichols spoke as well.
Nichols said that he emerged from childhood abuse and exposure to drug use with a desire to make a positive difference. He has now been a police officer for 25 years.
“The bottom line is, there’s not a person in this room any better than any other person in this room,” he said.
Nichols emphasized the role community plays in recovery.
“We have to work together,” he said. “We have to take care of one another. … Ketchikan is an amazing community and it is a family. We can do this, but we have to work together.”
Christine Furey, John Hamilton, Tyson Duckworth, Drew Huntington and Chris Johnson spoke, as well.
Following the event, Danielle Duckworth said she was overwhelmed by the positive response.
“I’m overwhelmed with the support we’ve had,” she said. “... When we first started talking, I was like, if 20 or 25 show up, that’d be awesome. Way more than that showed up.”
Duckworth said she plans to host a follow-up event next year.
In the meantime, additional events planned for this year’s National Recovery Month include:
• A Lights of Hope candle lighting ceremony for people with loved ones suffering from addiction, which will take place from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 16 at True North Health and Wellness Family Clinic.
• Ketchikan Public Utilities’ new, full-length documentary, “Hooked”, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 28.