People held hands as they lined the sidewalk of the Monroe Street Bridge on a rainy Saturday morning and stood in silence for a few moments. But then cheers erupted: it was time to celebrate.
In its third year, Hands Across the Falls drew a large crowd, despite cold weather, to celebrate addiction recovery and to remember those who didn’t make it.
“People know to come here and celebrate their recovery,” said Lee Williams, executive director of Community-Minded Enterprises, a nonprofit that sponsored the event and provides resources to marginalized communities.
Hands Across the Falls is a way to unite the community of people who have been touched by addiction, Williams said.
“I think that people look at those that they may see on the street, who are really suffering with addiction, and think that it’s only about people who are suffering on the street,” Williams said. “And really, it hits all socioeconomic levels, every race, all genders. It’s across the board something that is felt by everyone in the community.”
After two minutes of silence for attendees to think about their recovery journey, three women turned to each other in a teary group hug.
Emily Wildung, Tiffany Russell and Tonya Lust are all staying at an Oxford House in Spokane. Oxford Houses are drug-free homes run by those who live in them.
“I’m an addict. I’m in recovery for the first time in 15 years. I lost a lot of friends,” Wildung said. “And this was just a big moment for us.”
The women took the time to gain strength from the community that showed up to support them but also to remember friends lost to addiction.
“I just lost a friend a couple days ago to addiction. We’ve all lost friends to addiction,” Russell said. “So it’s just important that we come out to support, because we’re the lucky ones.”
The other two women nodded their heads in agreement.
“That could have been us,” Lust said. “I’ve lost a lot of friends – even on this bridge.”
The group came together at their Oxford House and have encouraged each other to stay strong despite the stigmas that come with addiction.
“They just think we’re a bunch of junkies that have nothing to live for,” Wildung said. “I think this shows the community that we all matter, we do matter regardless, if we’re high or not.”
The booths that lined West Bridge Avenue were full of resources and smiling faces, something that the group said encouraged them.
“People need to learn that there are people that care,” Lust said.
One of those people who deeply care about encouraging those in recovery is Christine McMackin, the manager of the Recovery Café Spokane.
“The point of this is to show that we can recover,” McMackin said. “I think it puts faces on what people in recovery are like.”
Recovery Café Spokane is part of Community-Minded Enterprises and serves as a place for those who have 24-hours sober or more under their belt to connect with like-minded people and find resources to help them on their recovery journey.
“It’s always good to remind people that once we were people that our parents and family members were ashamed of,” McMackin said. “But we aren’t those people anymore. We come back, and we come back stronger.”
Spending time together as people who have lost someone to addiction is important for Jason Kappen, a counselor in the opiate treatment program at the Spokane County Health District.
While Kappen has devoted his life to helping those with addiction, he admits that there is always more to learn.
“Learning about all the other resources that we can turn our clients to, that’s nice,” he said.
Keandra Hobbs has used those resources for the nearly three years she has been sober. She brought her 6-year-old son to celebrate with her on Saturday.
“It means that he gets to see what my recovery means to me and that I can show him just don’t get into drugs,” Hobbs said.
While fighting addiction isn’t easy on the individual or their friends and family, McMackin believes community support can give them hope.
“The disease of addiction is probably always going to be out there,” McMackin said. “But we’re always going to keep fighting.”
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, to correct the first name of the executive director of Community-Minded Enterprises.
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