By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“I’m not going to die like this.”
That is what Alexia Jones told herself, at the moments when she couldn’t see her way out of the depths to which drug addiction took her.
And indeed, she did not die. She has been in longterm recovery for 26 years, Jones said as the continuing Created Commons art/science celebration at Westcrest Park commemorated International Overdose Awareness Day.
Jones, the host of Tuesday night’s event, leads R2ISE, a Georgia-based organization that explores recovery through art.
She opened by proclaiming the night “a space and a place to remember,” a night about “those who didn’t make it” as well as “those who are out there trying to make it back home.” Here’s our full video of what happened onstage for more than an hour:
Here’s why this is a matter of life and death:
427 people have died from overdoses in King County already this year. If you think you know who they were, you are probably wrong. Think it’s only young people? They were all ages – more than half over 40. Think many were “homeless drug addicts”? Almost 90 percent were housed. Think many died by suicide? The vast majority – more than 400 of those 427 people – overdosed accidentally.
“Overdose is a wholly preventable cause of death,” declared Dr. Seema Clifasefi on the Westcrest stage. She is an associate professor at the University of Washington, where she co-directs the Harm Reduction Research & Treatment Center. To save lives, she said, know people for who they are, not who you think they should be. “You are not alone – you are loved – you are perfect exactly as you are.”
“Destigmatizing substance use” is her mission; she extolled programs that can help users stay safe – from the long-accepted provision of syringes to the long-controversial proposals for supervised consumption sites. Dr. Clifasefi said more than 100 are in operation around the world, but the U.S. is only now approaching its first one, with a pilot project recently approved in Rhode Island. She said fears that centers will be accompanied by crime and increased drug use are groundless, saying they instead reduce overdoses, reduce needle litter, and increase the number of users that decide to move toward recovery. Meeting people “exactly where they are” is the key for them to become safer and healthier, “on their own terms,” she said. She ended with a quote from the 13th century poet/mystic Rumi: “The universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you already are.”
There are many paths to recovery, agreed Jones, yielding the stage to people talking about theirs. Lisa spoke of trying detox five times, each time leaving on the fourth day, until the fifth time, when someone stayed with her all night as she made it to a milestone she hadn’t been able to reach before.
She works with youth now and is grateful to be able to save lives through harm reduction; if it had been available to her years ago, she observed, she probably would have gotten sober sooner. She echoed what had been said before, “from an addict’s perspective … I need you to see me, to walk with me, not to save me … hear my story.” She concluded with outstretched arms, expressing the joy of feeling the evening breeze, “to just be here.”
The message resounded in a line from one of the three songs that guitarist/singer Victor King performed next: “I can’t tell the sky to change.”
“Let’s focus on healing,” urged Jones, as she introduced another person who shared his story, Grover. After a moment of silence to remember friends – one of several such moments that dotted the evening – he spoke of his time living unhoused. At a shelter, he told his case manager that sobriety couldn’t be a requirement for him to get housing – and she got him into a DESC supportive-housing complex where he’s lived for six years. This followed a series of ups and downs – seven years of sobriety in young adulthood, time in jail for assault, continuing to “explore the process” of recovery. A vital lesson along the way: “Instead of feeding my inner critic all the time, I try to feed my inner advocate.”
In closing, Jones invited everyone to write a message of hope on a paper lantern, and then to hang it (unlit) on a nearby tree.
She had offered a message of hope in a line from a poem she read earlier in the evening, attributed to 16 African American women in recovery in 1995: “Hope is like the sun that rises on the horizon.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Created Commons, produced by the Vashon-based duo Lelavision, continues Friday night (September 3rd) with a 6 pm community drum circle – bring any kind of drum/percussion – and all day Saturday and Sunday, including free morning wellness classes at 10 am Saturday and Sunday. See the schedule here.