Community joins together to celebrate hope for substance abuse recovery

FORT KENT, Maine — Despite chilly weather that included intermittent rain on Saturday afternoon, approximately 80 members of the public joined under the Lions’ Pavilion at Riverside Park in Fort Kent at Recovery Celebration 2019, an event meant to provide hope for those suffering from substance abuse.

“September is National Recovery Month and we are here to celebrate that recovery happens and is real,” said organizer Shawn Graham, program coordinator for Behavioral and Social Science Programs and assistant professor at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. “It’s important to have open community conversations about addiction and recovery and to reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse. Historically, these conversations have always been held in back rooms, but we’re hoping to educate people and turn down some of that stigma.”  

Several people spoke at the event to share their road to recovery, including Barbara Sylvain of Fort Kent who said she is an alcoholic, addict and has bipolar disorder.

Sylvain described how she was a creative and high-achieving young lady who had ambitious plans for her future until she consumed a beer for the first time when she was a junior in high school.

“Nothing in my life had been so powerful as that beer when it hit me; nothing had the power of that beverage,” Sylvain said. “It was an instant addiction.” 

The addiction consumed her life for many years, and also resulted in a suicide attempt. Ultimately, Sylvain was able to find help through mental health professionals, the 12 step program Alcoholics Anonymous, and the support of others who suffer from addiction.

“It takes a whole community to bring up an alcoholic,” she said. 

Representatives of multiple local organizations offering substance abuse treatment provided educational information at the event, which was open to all members of the public.

“Most people are affected by substance abuse and addiction whether indirectly or directly,” Graham said. “If someone is thinking about it or wants to learn more about it they can find information [at the Recovery Celebration].”

Doug Levesque, a licensed mental health and substance abuse clinician at Fish River Rural Health, said he appreciated that local providers donated their time to participate in the event. 

“As a provider and person in recovery myself, I believe that education, intervention and prevention are what we should be doing,” Levesque said. 

“Substance abuse still is a very secret issue that families suffer with internally and substance abuse has a huge stigma,” Levesque added. “People afflicted with addiction are dehumanized, but people need to realize that every person suffering addiction is someone’s son, daughter, wife or husband. We’ve got to treat people with compassion.”

Guests at Recovery Celebration 2019 enjoyed a free lunch of hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecued ribs, a variety of picnic salads, and potato chips as well as refreshments such as fruit punch, bottled water and coffee. Cake was served for dessert. 

The event was sponsored by the UMFK Behavioral Science Club, Fish River Rural Health, Life By Design, AMHC, Northern Maine Medical Center, Fort Kent Community High School’s Natural Helpers Club and Paradis Shop and Save. Local acoustic musicians The River Ukes donated their time to perform at the event. 

“I have been in the field for 25 years and it is meaningful for me to see all of these area organizations coming together in a collaborative effort,” Graham said. 

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