by Val Niehaus – Download Full Issue – March 15, 2015
Did you know that for every 15 minutes that passes in our day, a life is lost due to addiction? Think about that for a second. This means that by the time you read this article or maybe this entire issue, there will be one to two lives within this nation that are lost because of a disease called addiction.
According to dictionary.com, this is the definition of addiction: “The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.” Heroin deaths in Milwaukee County increased by 72 percent in 2014 compared to 2013 according to the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office. Heroin is not the only drug of issue when it comes to addictions as there is a rise in abuse of prescription drugs including sedatives (valium), and stimulants (cocaine). In addition, Wisconsin is known for their sports teams and what comes with that? Alcohol.
As Rise Together group member said, “Drinking is in our culture; it’s a part of what makes Wisconsin.” One last significant is: In this nation, an estimated 20 million Americans aged 12 or older used an illegal drug in the past 30 days. (Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health)
With that introduction about the statistics of how BIG a problem addiction is within this country even within this state of Wisconsin, let’s gets to the real meat of this article. And if while reading this article you don’t feel something, or at least make you think about what your family member or child might be doing when you’re not there, you may want to make an attempt to hear this group of recovery advocates speak in person before it’s too late.
The group being written about is Rise Together. This Wisconsin based group has a real personal understanding of what it’s like to live in this state. They know the people and the culture in this state.
They are somewhat new to this scene as they only started this group of advocates in 2013. However, since that time, they have been asked to make presentations over 140 times. They have appeared in front of over 25,000 people, with approximately 18,000 of them being students. They have agreed to be a part of over 100 media interviews, and by doing so, have created awareness through both traditional and social media with an estimated reach of over 18 million impressions in less than 15 months. They have helped save numerous lives by offering strong peer-support. In summation, Rise Together is simply AMAZING!
The group visited both Crandon and Wabeno School Districts, and also the FCP community on Feb. 12-13.
During their time at the school districts, they spoke to middle and high school students. Their presentation to the FCP community was aimed more at what parents can do with their children if they think there is an issue of concern.
PTT was only able to make it to the Crandon Middle School student presentation, but it was apparent this group had a profound effect on those in attendance. Rise Together has a strong message that’s very personal and that gives them credibility.
The group was co-founded by Anthony Alvarado and Douglas Derby, both of which are in long-term recovery. It is also made up of addicts, family/ friends of addicts, advocates, and professionals within the community.
It is really difficult to convey in writing the stories they told. To really feel what these people have been though in their lives and appreciate where they are now, it’s necessary to hear them speak and feel their emotions as they detail their histories. This is just a summary of what each one faced in his/her lifetime. PTT and the students heard from these four people one at a time and many could relate to the stories they told.
Douglas Darby got up to say that though he wasn’t the jock or the honor student who excelled at sports or academics, he felt he excelled at getting “high”. He quotes, “I knew I could do drugs better than the rest of them…going ‘pro’ in addiction was the goal.” He spoke of his background growing up in Seattle with his father, who also had an addiction problem. This fact led to Darby’s mother moving her family back to Wisconsin. Darby promised that when this move happened, he would never turn out like his father. Well, as time goes on, life grabs hold of us and a person can become blind to what is really happening. Darby ended up facing some serious prison time due to his addiction after robbing a drugstore for prescription drugs. Luckily, someone was watching out for him, and through the grace of a “onemore- chance” judge, Darby was able to serve a shorter sentence. This awakened him to the reality of what had happened in his past and where it had taken him. He is now the cofounder of the Rise Together organization. Darby is an inspirational speaker to the youth who listened attentively as he shared his story and offered advice based on his personal history. Needless to say, his story is much more complex and detailed than this brief summary can show. It truly is necessary to hear him speak in person to fully appreciate where he once was and where he is now.
Another presenter was a special woman who came to the stage with a story that no one in that audience will ever forget. While introducing this woman, Darby said, “Out of all of our stories you will hear, this is the one that you NEED to listen to and to give total respect to this lady who is speaking.” Her name is Bridgette Henschel, a recovery coach and administrative assistant for Rise Together. She’s also the mother of a young lady by the name of Amalia. Before Henschel started talking about Amalia’s story, she paused, held up a small engraved box and said, “Amalia is here with me because I know that she wants to be here to show you kids what drugs can do to you.” As she did this, the entire crowd fell silent; tears were rolling down the cheeks of some of the youth. You see, Henschel had lost her sweet baby girl to a heroin overdose, which is any parent’s worst nightmare. Being the strong woman and mother Henschel is, and hoping it would make a difference to someone else’s child, she told Amalia’s story to everyone as only one who has experienced such tragedy can do. Again, to hear Amalia’s story, you must hear this strong and brave mother speak of her daughter as only a mother could.
Following that emotional and heartbreaking story of a mother losing a daughter after trying a specific drug just once, Rise Together had the crowd’s attention. It was now Anthony Alvarado’s turn.
Alvarado began his sharing by stating that his story was a bit different compared to Darby’s and Henschel’s as he went on to say, “My dad was the first one to shoot me up and my mom was the first one I did a line of coke with.” Whoa! This powerful story was indeed a bit different than the others but still hit home with many different people in the audience. Anthony didn’t go into depth about all of the troubles that drugs took him through – suffice it to say they were significant. He tackled his story by focusing on how he realized what he was doing to himself, and most importantly, to his own children.
He began by asking the audience, “How many of you know someone who does drugs?” Hands went up. “Are drugs a problem in your community?” Hands would go up a bit more this time. “Drugs a problem in your school?” Hands would go up with at least three quarters of the audience raising their hand. Then came the question that silenced the room and touched home with people: “Who knows someone who has died from an overdose?” Instead of hands being raised, he asked those people to stand. Almost the entire auditorium rose to their feet.
Alvarado explained how addiction can take hold of you, a family member or a friend and pull you to the ground so bad that all you want to do is just lay in the dirt and not get back up. He explained how people who have an addiction can’t see how it blinds them; they can’t see what they are doing to the people around them. He went on to say how everything he had known was gone. He was living in his truck and had no family left because he had burned that bridge. His friends were few and far between – if they were really his friends at all. The relationship with his partner was down the gutter, and he was concerned about who could take his children to watch them as he would go out to get high.
Despite all of this, he emphasized that no matter what happens, you can get through it. He saw addiction at home; he saw things children should not see. “Fear allows you to stay in that horrible place,” said Alvarado. At 24-years-old, he said that love was one of the most powerful things that helped him. His son was three-years-old at the time. And through his son’s love and kindness, he was able to save Alvarado’s life. He said, “At my deepest and darkest time in life, my son came up, sat on my lap, picked up my head and said, ‘Dad I love you—don’t die.’” That love from a three-year-old boy – who had no idea what drugs were much less what they do to you – still loved the man sitting there on the couch who had no other hope. This awakened something within Alvarado, allowing him to go on and tell his story. To not be afraid to talk about what addiction can do to a person, a family, or a community.
To hear more of Alvarado’s story or to talk with him if his story sounds like yours, you can find this group online at www.weallrisetogether.org. This site will also list dates where the Rise Together group will be appearing next so that you have the opportunity to hear them in person. And maybe one day, if you or someone you know needs help, you have a place to turn.
The last to speak was the newest member of the team, Nadine Machkovech, a recovery coach and Rise Together street team coordinator for Wisconsin. She found recovery long before most people do. She actually found it before she was legally allowed to walk into a bar!
Machkovech grew up with a pretty normal life and was interested in sports and friends just like any high school student. She had siblings and came from a divorced home, which is also not especially unusual in this day and age. Despite this relatively normal life, she felt there was something missing. It was this feeling that led her to the road of alcohol. She said, “It would fill that hole that I felt.”
Things weren’t good at home or her sister was doing better things than she was, or school just felt like too much pressure— there was always a reason. She would turn to drinking to numb that feeling of maybe not “fitting in” or thinking she wasn’t worth the time. Her sister gave her the opportunity to get out of her hometown and to get clean and sober. After becoming clean with her sister’s help, Machkovech ended up losing one of her best friends to a heroin overdose. That’s when it really hit her and she felt, “Why was he taken and not me?” She then realized that she had a purpose in life and a chance to go out and be a part of something bigger than addiction. Machkovech then met Alvarado and Darby and immediately became involved in the Rise organization. She wanted to be part of helping people her age or younger realize that this is a problem for young people and that we all need to stand up and fight against it!
As mentioned before, this group is based in Wisconsin so they know what it’s like to live in the state of “beer, brats and sports teams.” As one member said, “It is in our culture here in Wisconsin to drink and party.” But that mindset can lead to a dangerous path of addiction and even death. Rise Together is a group focused on education about addiction and recovery and is anxious to share its personal histories with others who want and need help. They are a group of people who have “been there, done that” and are not a group who will sit and judge a person based on their habits or addictions. They are here to help in any way possible and are extremely easy to talk with.
If you have further interest in the group, their stories, their methods, or the subject of addiction, please consider looking at their website. There are also many links and recruiting information if you would like to become part of their team as a street team member.
They are also in a coalition with Wisconsin United We C.A.N., a non-profit organization that supports, educates, and advocates for families living with addiction. As they said at the end of their presentation, “Together we rise. Alone we fall!”