“We don't want them to end up a name on a list:” Vigil to acknowledge Overdose Awareness Day in Pittsfield tonight
Today is Overdose Awareness Day, and a Pittsfield, Massachusetts recovery center is preparing to hold its annual memorial vigil downtown this evening.
Since 2018, Living in Recovery has offered support and community to those who struggle with substance use in Berkshire County. Every year, the group acknowledges Overdose Awareness Day with a gathering in Park Square to stand in solidarity for a reading of the names of the dead. With the peer-driven model of the community recovery center, the gravity of the day is as profound for the event’s organizers as it is for its attendees.
“I lost a younger brother to overdose, and I've overdosed myself," said Kevin Guyette of the Living in Recovery team. “I didn't have any major trauma or anything to get involved. Like, I wasn't trying to cover anything up. But I grew up in a very small town, and boredom led to experimenting with every drug that there was, and then at some point, you get to the harder drugs and experiment becomes need. And I think I went to my first halfway house and rehab when I was like, 20-years-old.”
Guyette describes his younger brother as a smart kid.
“We weren't very close, in our early years until he got old enough to start hanging out and partying with," he told WAMC. "And then I got to know him pretty well. He was a smart kid, and he was into science and everything, but he got caught up in drugs and alcohol, just like I did. And unfortunately, you know, it ended- It ended badly for him.”
In the depths of his struggle, not even Guyette’s own overdose was enough to stop using.
“I didn't go to the hospital or anything," he remembered. "I had gone to the bathroom and passed out. My friend had to pull me out of the toilet and punch me in the chest a bunch of times. So that was scary to come to and then everybody's looking at you like, oh my god, you almost died, or whatever. But also, at the time, not scary enough to make me stop or anything- Just to show you, I guess, how powerful the addiction can be. It didn't really mean anything to me personally at the moment, you know what I mean? It wasn't until months later in my second rehab or whatever, then I was like, oh my God, you know, this could have been over. So, at the time, it didn't- It was almost meaningless. If you survive, then you survive. You get to get high again. Which is sad, but that's the truth of it.”
“I started drinking around 14, 15," said Ariel Errichetto. "Around 17, 18, I started using cocaine. About 19, I started using Percocet, which, after about a little over a year or two, I became addicted to it, and it became expensive.”
Errichetto is a Peer Support Coordinator for Living in Recovery.
“So, like a lot of people, I switched over to heroin, which, unfortunately, now is not really heroin, it's fentanyl," she continued. "So, it's very dangerous. And with that, I just, I really went downhill.”
Errichetto made an attempt at sobriety that was interrupted by her partner being sent to jail.
“I started smoking crack, I got a DUI, and it all just all went downhill," she told WAMC. "I found myself in this really terrible- I guess you could call it a trap house. It felt like a movie in there. I can't even believe that I actually stayed in that house when I think about it. Nasty mattresses, dog feces all over the floor, there's people ODing like every day, which was terrifying. When someone ODs in a house like that, they don't call an ambulance. There's lots of NARCAN in the house, they’ll NARCAN them, but then they wake up and they're kind of like, okay, you’ve got to go.”
After finding herself living in a park, Errichetto realized it was time to find help. A local peer-led recovery group for women was crucial to her journey.
“They are just amazing women to be around, to be around other women who are in recovery, who have children, who know what I've been through," she said. "And I can tell them a story and tell them how this is triggering this and me and they're like, yeah, I totally get it. And it's awesome to have that kind of support and friendship, I guess, with them. I don't think I've really had that with anyone, you know, in a really long time, to have that connection with someone. That group is really amazing. We meet every Wednesday here at Living in Recovery at four. And we can bring our kids, they have childcare, so you don't have to feel like oh, I can't go because I have my kid and stuff like that. So it's just, it's amazing, it really is.”
It wasn’t easy.
“The first year or two of recovery is really hard," said Errichetto. "You feel like you're not getting the rewards that you were told you would get in recovery. Like, you're told, oh, you're gonna be happy, it's so much better, your life's gonna be grand, and it doesn't happen right away. It takes hard work. And it's definitely the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, was, you know, not just get clean, but stay clean, and strive to be happy, and strive to get somewhere, to get to a point in my life where I can say, I'm content, and I'm happy, and I don't sit here- When I get angry, I don't think about using anymore, you know? So, it's just- It's really great.”
For Guyette, the meaning of Overdose Awareness Day is simple.
“We're not going to forget these people who have died from overdose," he told WAMC. "We're here to remember them. That's what this day is about, and that nobody else has to go through that. If we can pull together, we can make something happen, we can do something good. And like I said, we'll never be able to end it, I don't think. I think that the goal should be to end it, but realistically, it's not going to happen that way. But anything that we can do to make that number lower. What was the number last year? 48?”
“This year is 48,” said Living in Recovery Program Director Julie MacDonald.
“This year is 48,” Guyette continued. “So, if we can get that number of overdoses in this area down to 40, or 44, or even 46, that’s- How many people does that affect? How many loved ones, how many brothers and sisters and loved ones did you save by that?”
“I lost a really close cousin of mine in March of 2022," she said. "He overdosed. He was by himself. He was completely alone. They found him, his pockets were emptied. So, someone found him and decided to empty his pockets and not call anyone. So, it means remembering those people, remembering that they had lives, they had families, they had people that loved them, and we're not going to forget them, and we're going to let everyone else know who's using that we are here for them and we don't want them to end up a name on a list or a number and a year. We want them to know that we're here, and we just care about them,”
Living in Recovery’s Overdose Awareness Day memorial vigil in Pittsfield starts at 6:30 tonight in the Common before continuing to Park Square.