As part of National Recovery Month, Western North Carolina’s first recovery rally honors those who are recovering from mental health, addiction and other life challenges. Richie Tannerhill, who conceived the idea earlier this year, has united many North Carolinians for the Saturday, Sept. 19, event taking place at Lake Junalaska, 30 minutes west of Asheville.
“We need to do this; we need to plan a rally around recovery,” says Tannerhill, who is a peer- and family-support specialist and trainer with Smoky Mountain LME/MCO, a public agency providing services in 23 counties for individuals with developmental disabilities, mental health and substance abuse issues. He’s also in long-term recovery.
“The goal [of the event] is to raise awareness about recovery — that people do get better and that recovery happens in the community and that the whole community is involved,” says Tannerhill.
Although the event is focused on mental health and addiction recovery, Charlyne Boyette, an Asheville resident and member of its planning committee, says it’s much more. “If you are a human being, you are in recovery from something, because life happens,” she says. Recovery can be from divorce, trauma or any situation “that presents challenges in human life that people often feel shame about,” Boyette says.
With all that in mind, the family-friendly rally includes a recovery walk around the lake and kids’ activities, such as a bouncy house, face painting and balloon artists, says Tannerhill. And local law enforcement officials will be cooking free hamburgers and hot dogs on a big grill towed behind a firetruck. Getting families involved is important because it “helps us combat stigma that people in recovery are dangerous,” says Tannerhill.
Both Boyette and Tannerhill spoke openly with Mountain Xpress about being in long-term recovery themselves.
Tannerhill remembers the exact day he got out of jail from a drug-related conviction — Nov. 14, 2007. “I had the clothes on my back, not a penny in my pocket and nowhere to go,” he says. “There was no support. No one expected me to make it. Now, almost eight years later of successful recovery, I’m a youth pastor in my local church, ball coach, husband, father and peer trainer at Smoky [Mountain]. Those are labels associated with recovery.”
Boyette was raised in an alcoholic home and has been in long-term recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, after overcoming these challenges, her “role and purpose in life is to be a messenger of hope, to see that spark that might motivate or inspire someone,” she says.
“I was a pastor and graduated from law school, and then I took a hit of cocaine and graduated from Swannanoa Correction Center for Women,” she says with a dash of dry humor. “Now my whole life has been redirected.”
Boyette volunteers at AHOPE day center in Asheville, writes grants for The Ministry of Hope in Black Mountain and participates in an apprenticeship program at Meridian Behavioral Health Services. “I do what I can to give back now,” she says, “helping people come out of shame.”
Recovery is all about expectations, support and community, says Tannerhill. “If people are expected to get well, then they do,” he says. “My tag line is: ‘Recovery is not the exception but [the] expectation.’”
Tannerhill adds, “We want to raise the profile for recovery and change the conversation from problems to solutions.”
One of the ways the rally is doing this is by honoring allies in the community. Bill Hollingsed, Waynesville chief of police, will receive a Recovery Champion Award for his department’s community education efforts, which have focused on reducing substance abuse, especially prescription drug abuse, in the area.
“We have a high rate of overdoses,” he says of Waynesville. “We made it a cause for the Police Department because we were responding repeatedly to overdose deaths, and a lot were very young kids, anywhere from 15 [to] 20 years of age. You can only zip up so many teenagers in black bags before you say, ‘This is not something we’re going to stand for.’”
That was four years ago. Since then, Hollingsed and his department have partnered with agencies around the state and country to work on lowering overdose rates. They have also written grants, worked with legislators on a number of bills in Raleigh and partnered with clergy, physicians, parents and schools.
“We’ve come to the realization that we can do law enforcement, and we can put people in jail, but we’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Hollingsed explains. Instead of responding repeatedly to a situation or individual and eventually coming back for an overdose event, “we would much rather be in on the prevention side of things,” he says.
The public usually only hears about the problems Hollingsed and his department face. But, says Tannerhill, “more than 23 million Americans are in successful sustained recovery from addiction. If we add the numbers for people in successful recovery from a mental health diagnosis, it doubles, so now we’re talking about 50 million Americans just in the United States.”
Unfortunately, their recovery may be accompanied by “negative stereotypes, shame [and] labels,” says Boyette.
“It is the negative thoughts and feelings that surround mental health and addiction,” Tannerhill adds. “For example: once an addict, always an addict — they’ll never get any better, are dangerous, a thief, or you can’t trust them.” Data show that people with these challenges are in fact 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime, he notes.
“We don’t hear the good stories,” Tannerhill says. “We want to make it so people can share their stories. By sharing our stories, [we help] reduce stigma as well as [open the door for people to] become a resource to our allies in the community.”
Inaugural Western Region Recovery Rally
Saturday, Sept. 19, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Open Air Gym, Lake Junaluska
800-893-6246, ext. 1157
10 a.m.: Speakers
11 a.m.: Walk
Noon: Free lunch, visit resource tables
1 p.m.: Recovery stories, presentation of Recovery Champion Awards