At Voices for Recovery event, tales of addiction, pain - and hope

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NORTH ADAMS — North Adams paramedic Stephen Murray has responded to more than 100 overdose calls in his five-year career. Until Saturday, those people he has revived have been some of the few in his life who have heard him speak about his own opiate addiction and recovery.

"I see overdose reversal as an opportunity. Maybe this is rock bottom, maybe waking up and seeing me over you, sweating, is the wake-up call you need to say, 'Enough is enough,' " Murray said at the annual Voices for Recovery event.

"For many people in my life, this will be the first time they've ever heard me talk about recovery. The shame, the guilt and the stigma around addiction is so pervasive that I've been ashamed to speak up about my story."

Donning his uniform, Murray was one of five speakers Saturday who shared their stories of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. More than 60 people — that's only 20 more than the number of fatal overdoses in Berkshire County last year, according the Massachusetts Department of Public Health — marched from Colegrove Park through downtown North Adams to raise awareness about addiction. The event was hosted by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

Murray, whose four children and wife sat in the front row of a crowd gathered at the park, said that he plans to share his story more. He hopes that people struggling with addiction could know that the "scars of addiction" one day can be a distant memory, like they are for him today.

"Many of my colleagues are burnt out by the constant barrage of substance-related calls, and I understand how they feel because I'm tired, too," he said, before choking back tears. "But I'm tired of seeing people my age die. I'm tired of seeing parents bury their children. I'm tired of seeing kids lose their parents."

Brooke Bridges, a former child actress who lives in the Berkshires, also shared her story.

As a child, Bridges, who played Claire Sawyer, Future Lawyer on "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" from 2004 to 2007, always questioned whether she was good enough. She coped with what she now knows to be anxiety by using drugs, drinking and through self-harm, she said.

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"Just because my life looked glamorous and I was on TV, and I was on a popular Nickelodeon show, did not mean that I had to be happy, for one, and it didn't mean that I was happy, for two," she said. "I had to really embrace that in my healing or it would have gone nowhere."

After several failed attempts at therapy, Bridges discovered group therapy and found success. But when she moved to Berkshire County, her circle of support and the negative coping mechanisms previously in place were no longer.

"I came here and I wasn't drinking, I wasn't smoking, I had no friends, I had no furniture, so I just crashed and burned," she said.

One day, she was sitting in her empty apartment, prepared to commit suicide, when she realized she didn't really want to die, she said. Instead, she checked herself into residential treatment and learned healthy tools to cope with her emotions.

After what Bridges referred to as the best two weeks in her life, she considered moving back to Los Angeles to try and help people by sharing her story there. Instead, she stayed in the Berkshires and has become a speaker with Minding Your Mind, an organization aimed at ending the stigma around mental health issues.

"I realized that it's more important here because it's a small town and I see the pain and I know the pain I went through," Bridges said.

"Also, being able to be in this space, in the Berkshires," she later said, "I'm not sure if you've noticed, but it is stunningly gorgeous here where we live."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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