BOSTON >> Surrounded by people from around the state seeking to put drug addiction behind them, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh posed for photos on Boston Common Wednesday and shared his time-worn approach to staying sober.
"I'm in recovery 21 years — day at a time," Walsh said from the Parkman Bandstand to a crowd of a couple hundred gathered at a Recovery Day celebration. "Everything I have in my life is because I'm sober, because of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and because of the recovery community. It's a daily struggle as you all know."
The mayor is a high-profile recovering alcoholic leading the biggest city in Massachusetts at a time when the scourge of addictions to heroin, painkillers and fentanyl has claimed thousands of lives. Last year deaths from accidental overdoses occurred at a rate of four per day.
In the sunny Common on Wednesday morning, people proclaimed their success in keeping away from addictive substances at an event held by the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery, or MOAR.
Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat who talked about his history with alcoholism during his 2013 mayoral campaign, said the embarrassment he used to feel about his addiction no longer bothers him.
"I try not to let the stigma bother me. Obviously when you first get into the program you're kind of embarrassed and you don't want to really talk about it. After so many years of recovery, I don't care anymore who knows, who doesn't know, or what people think about me being in recovery," Walsh told reporters. "I just think it's important. For me, I know it's life-changing. I know I've seen so many cases where, yeah, people have gotten into recovery and changed their life. And I've seen cases where people haven't gotten into recovery and have died."
Granted speaking time on the big stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer, Walsh greeted the audience by saying, "My name is Marty Walsh, and I'm an alcoholic," crediting his family and the labor movement for getting him the help he needed.
The mayor, who posed for photos with audience members, praised other speakers at the event who told harrowing stories of how drug addiction brought them close to the edge.
"I've just been pulverized by this disease," said Richy Bruso, who is from Springfield and now lives in Dorchester. Bruso said before joining Teen Challenge, he was living under a bridge in Springfield.
"I had no hope. I had no joy in my life. I just thought my life was going to be consumed with drugs," Bruso told the crowd. He said, "I took a handful of Benzos while I was living under a bridge. I blacked out. I fell off a cliff, and I broke my teeth. I had hypothermia and my kidneys shut down. I was in the hospital for 13 days. I knew right then and there, being pulled out of the woods - cause I was in the woods behind the Basketball Hall of Fame - that the Lord had delivered me. I knew right then and there that my life was worth much more than I thought it was."
Keith LaPorta, who is from Somerville and has been in recovery for 20 months, described how his life had changed for the better.
"My family no longer runs from me," LaPorta said. Before the MOAR group set off on a march, LaPorta said, "The more we live in silence, the more people die."