Shatterproof Boston 5k Rise Up Against Addiction

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.

The Event

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
For you

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 Speakers

Then came the incredible speeches by Darshak Sanghavi (@darshaksanghavi), Michael Botticelli (@MBotticelliBMC), Brendan Little (@blittle86), Dr. Mallika Marshall (@MallikaMarshall) and many more.

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 leanna@risinghope.co. 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.

 

 

 

 

The Eyes of Honesty: Saying Sorry For Addiction

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Last year I wrote a blog post about my dads eyes when he was high and how the eyes never did seem to lie to me, even when he did. Now I want to share the truth that my dad give to me and still continues to give to me. Let me take you back to a time I remember vividly from when I was 16 and first opening up to my dad about my feelings.

My dad was never afraid to say sorry when he was sober and I think that is what made my heart grow two sizes when I was going through all of this. I knew he was in agony emotionally. How can you not be? Your life is crumbling below your feet and you want to hold on but you can’t and in your mind that’s your own fault and you begin to eternalize that. So to be able to let the words, “sorry,” come out while looking into my eyes is bringing all those emotions to life. That is ownership. My dad was taking ownership in what he thought was the shattering of my life. Truthfully, it didn’t ruin my life, it gave my life meaning. Especially on this day.

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My dad came into my room, my sanctuary that kept me protected from the life I had outside of those pink walls,  and sat on my bed next to me. He held my hands in his and shaking he looked up into my eyes.

“I’m so sorry” he spoke with what I can imagine felt like a spiked rock in his throat.

I can’t find the words to describe the way he looked at me. But it was something like a life or death thing. Like if he could run around the whole planet to show how sorry he was, he would’ve. It was as if every bad thing he had ever done, had been put into his words and he was trying to get rid of all of them with his eyes. What I guess I’m trying to say is it was the most sincere sorry I’ll ever hear in my life. And it puts the phrase, “Apologies don’t mean anything if you keep doing what you’re sorry for” to shame. Because that apology meant everything to me.

It wasn’t about if he would relapse again because I knew it wasn’t an empty promise at all. It was a sorry from the heart begging to be set free but knowing it wasn’t that simple.

When my dad said this to me, I began tearing up. I could tell he was choking up and the thought of my dad, the toughest Russian I know, crying made me crumble inside.

I’m not sure what I said right then but I’m sure it was along the lines of what I still say to this day. I love you, you’re my best friend and nothing will ever change that.

One of my favorite things about my dad is the interest he takes in my life to the minuscule detail. It never has bothered me because I find it really cute that a tough burly man loves the dainty details of a teenage girl. When I had my first boyfriend, he’d not only ask if I was treated well. He’d ask what we talk about, how happy I am and what makes me smile most. Once when I went on vacation and came back he was like Leanna did he give you a kiss when you came back? He better have missed you! I was like, dad! NO! But he was like C’mon, Leanna. And I bashfully said yes. It was embarrassing but it was sweet that he asked.

As my dad and I were sitting on the bed, I told him I kept a journal and wrote about my feelings when he was high. He asked to read them. My heart sank as I walked over to my Windows XP, and opened my Xanga account (what would be today’s Tumblr). It was my private account that I kept my day to day musings of a 13 year old living with the stress of other kids being mean, liking boys, worrying about being liked, and dealing with addiction.

There were posts about real suicidal thoughts in there and I mustered up the courage to talk about them to the man that created me. If you’re curious exactly what they said, I wrote a post about them a bit here.

I read them and it was no longer a spiked rock in our throats it was full on sobs. We cried together and absorbed our pain and in all that pain we found strength. We grew together even more than before.

After we both found tranquility in our comfort, my dad asked me, “Leanna, please print these out for me? I want to have them.”

I printed them out and my dad came to me a few days later. He read them at his Alanon meeting and told me the whole room went silent, “So silent you could hear a pin drop”. He said he could feel the way the words resonated with the group. My truths, my deepest feelings that I wrote for myself, were used in resonation and that is when I decided that I’d use my words and my feelings and my dads love to heal the world.

On a sober mind, my dad is honest, gentle, and caring. He is the most sincere man I know. My dad gave me the truth of my meaning that day. That we were put into this situation to help others with genuine honesty.

Yesterday my dad texted me “Sometimes I wonder what if but than I would not have the most perfect daughter in the whole wide world. I love you my BabySo.”

It hasn’t been an easy few months for my dad and I, but there isn’t a day that I give up hope. I don’t rely on change, but I cheer him on. I’ll always hold on to his sorry and sobriety. Because I know it’s still in his heart, fighting to come out.

 

The Blessing of Life: Being Born Sick

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After I watched the very emotional clip of the Jimmy Kimmel Show about his son’s heart condition I realized the necessity to reflect on the blessing of my life more often. If you haven’t watched it please do. As I listened to him explain how his son was born completely fine and suddenly was surrounded by nurses and doctors only to find out there was a hole in his heart, it completely made me feel a sense of gratitude for being human. It’s not something we take for granted necessarily, but rather something we don’t really assess until something bad happens. We as humans have to have so much for us working in order for us to be healthy. There are so many things that could go wrong and so many parts of our bodies that we can’t even comprehend and somehow they all come together and make us a human.

As I took a moment to appreciate every single part of my being I thought it’d be an important time to share that with you all. I’m not trying to make a statement that we should always be conscious of our being because life truly is busy but instead, I’d like to invite you to in this moment think of how crazy it is that we are living, breathing, and sustaining life. We get stressed out, have anxiety, and have all gotten our feelings hurt before. We can teach ourselves to turn off that social part of our brain when we need to that tells us to respond to the pressures of society such as fitting in, having a good job, or making a lot of money. Instead, we train ourselves to remember that we are human. We are living. And we are lucky for just that. There are so many things happening inside of our body to make that happen and for us to not at least once remember that in good health is a devastatingly tragic regret we may have if one day our health does fail us.

When I was born, I had a tumor attached to my aorta. At under 4 lbs, I was sent to Boston Children’s Hospital all the way from Oregon. With a touch of two fingers on my tiny stomach, Dr. Murray Feingold immediately knew what was wrong and called for immediate surgery. With the tumor so close to a major artery it was never fully taken out but at nearly 25 years old, I am a very happy, healthy, and very very lucky patient. It’s nothing to be sorry about, I was quite too young to remember, of course. I can’t imagine what my parents were going through. I imagine it was toughest for them.

IMG_9197.JPGI have a scar that runs across my whole stomach and one year that never fully developed. I’m so lucky to look in the mirror and be reminded that I have a functioning body and that it needs to be appreciated. After watching this video, it was an extra reminder. Every Christmas I spend my day at Boston Children’s Hospital because as an important holiday for family, I want to be a spirit among those that have to spend that day in a place that reminds me that we aren’t all so lucky to be safe at home with our loved ones knowing they are healthy.

I have recently been thinking of how we never grew up learning much about our health. And our body. And the importance of being a human and how that works. Before we learn to tell time and understand that we run on a 24 hour day, shouldn’t we know what happens in our bodies in each second of every minute? It’s quite a lot, starting with a heartbeat. Isn’t important that from the day we are beginning our education we understand how precious each breath is?

As I digress I want to come back and just feel so aware that I don’t want to take my health for granted. Sometimes a job or a life situation makes us forget that our health determines every single other part of our life. Even if you hate your legs or don’t like the hair you were born with, at least have the self-love that you’re breathing and reading this, and sometimes that’s enough to be thankful for.

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In the amazing words of Jimmy Kimmel, “no parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life.” I’m not quite sure how my parents were ever able to fly me out across the coast and get me to see the best doctor in the country without any money at all, really. I guess that’s a testament to their ceaseless, relentless love for me. I’m ending my night feeling covered in love and very thankful for my body.

Please email me on my website if you feel worried about your health or someone else’s or if you just want to talk. I’d love to hear your story.