Today I was able to participate in the Shatterproof 5k in Boston to rise up against addiction. The event was special in every single way. I began volunteering with Shatterproof as an ambassador a month after my dad passed away. I wanted to find a nonprofit that I could learn from, meet others who have gone through what I have, and most importantly that I believed in their cause. Shatterproof name says it all, it’s tagline even more. Stronger than addiction. Although my dad passed from the disease, he was stronger than addiction. After 9 months of volunteering with the wonderful Erin Barfield, Community Engagement Manager, I was at the big event with the love of my life beside me.
We arrived at 8am. It was a true fall day, the air was crisp but the sky was blue. The fog was beginning to break and there were about 50 people in the open fields next to the Franklin Park Zoo. Most people had on an orange t-shirt that said “Shatterproof Volunteer”. As we got our t-shirts and race bibs, more and more people began flowing in. A lot of people had custom shirts made with their loved ones names on it. Shirts had sayings on them too like, “Above the Stigma,” and “Recovery,” and one that I loved, “Boston Medical Center vs. Addiction.”
We were all their for someone and everyone had a smile on their face and a look of compassion for one another. We wanted to hear others stories just as much as we wanted to share ours. The beautiful thing is that everyone did so without guilt, embarrassment or judgement. Shatterproof created a community of people who were compassionate, caring, and supportive.
As the sun began to break behind the fog music began playing. At first it was upbeat and energizing music. People across the field broke out in dance, especially the little kids. I noticed a beautiful long red haired woman radiating with a big white smile dancing who looked oddly familiar to a fellow ambassador, but I knew it wasn’t her. I thought, “maybe they’re related.”
As the event was a half an hour away from race time a familiar but slower song began to play.
When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
I was choked up with a knot in my throat as the words made so much sense to why all of us were here and what this race meant to us. A woman behind me crying made it harder not to cry. I then noticed we weren’t the only two who were moved by the song.
The CEO and founder of Shatterproof, Gary Mendell (LinkedIn), spoke about his son. It was familiar the way he described the last visit his son had at his house. He told his dad he wanted to be better and he was really trying but that it was really hard. All he wanted to do was make his dad proud. “Even more tragic it wasn’t just addiction that took my sons life, it was the feeling of shame he felt everyday when he opened his eyes.”
Gary Mendell felt his sons pain the same way I felt my dads pain. In my dads last phone call you can hear the pain and shame in his voice. He told me, he wish he hadn’t been a failure to me. What I wanted my dad to know and what I want everyone who is struggling to know is that he is not a failure because he had a disease. You are not a failure because of the disease you have and we all want you to not only hear that but feel it in your hearts. That day with all 1,800 people standing in front of the Shatterproof stage, we could all feel it. I wish my dad could’ve been there to see how far we’ve come. I wish Gary Mendell’s son could be there too, and all the other children, parents, grandparents, and friends who lost a love one to addiction.
Brendan Little shared his incredible story as well. At the age of 11 he struggled with addiction and by the time he was 15, he was in a recovery program. Now Brendan is Policy Director at Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services. He spoke on Mayor @marty_walsh‘s and told the story of when they were trying to get permits for addiction services in a Greater Boston town. The staff member said something along the lines of “We don’t want those people in this part of town.” To which he responded, “Those people you’re talking about are me and mayor Walsh, so you might want to reconsider.” As hurtful as that statement could be, that comeback was a grand slam out the park.
Michael Botticelli gave a compelling speech on addiction and health care, a topic that was brought to my attention as a big issue in the last two years of my dads life. You can read more about my experience with my dad on health care policies for addiction here. Botticelli gave me hope with his passion and desire for change as well as his examples of walking the walk.
Remember that girl I saw dancing and having a great time that I thought looked like my fellow ambassador? Dr. Mallika Marshall began introducing a woman, a Shatterproof Ambassador, that had struggled with addiction and now is sober. When I looked to my right there she was. I met her the first time at a tabling event at the International Overdose Awareness event hosted by Heroin is Killing my Town. I didn’t know she had struggled herself with addiction.
As she spoke about her story, she shared how lonely and scary it was to struggle and how in order to forget the pain and embarrassment it fueled the addiction more. Then she said bravely she knew if she didn’t stop, she would die and she was ready for help. She looked up towards the crowd of 1800 people and then down towards the front, she said “I was so relieved that I had my friends and family there.” She was looking at the woman that I saw dancing earlier. I noticed she was with others too, both older and younger. Her family looked at her so proudly and suddenly I was overcome with emotions.
It was so beautiful to see her speak proudly about her sobriety. She ended her speech with a message to those who were struggling. “Look around you,” she said. “Addiction is so lonely even when people are around. But today 1,800 people are here as a community. Together.” I once again felt so proud to be a Shatterproof ambassador and to have the privilege to meet her and hear her story.
It truly was a beautiful day. Thank you so much to the people that donated to Shatterproof. The donations are going to amazing work being done for the opioid epidemic. Rynnie Cotter, Misti Cain, Hayden Voss, Richard Knox, Ryan Hana, Alex Ciullo, Eric Leone, Ryan Cook, and Nick. Thank you.
Join My Shatterproof Team Next Year, 2019.
Next year I want to get a big team together and make it bigger and better than this year. If you’d like to join my team, Rising Hope, in honor of your loved one email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a walk/run so even if you’re not a runner you can participate. I’d love for you to be apart of this wonderful event with me. If you’re reading from out of state, there are races all over the nation. Find out more here.