Lights of Hope: Sharing Without Shame About Addiction

By John Lavitt 09/16/15

This week's nationwide event recognized the Gloucester Police Department's efforts to help opioid addicts rather than punish them.

Lights Of Hope
via Author

"I am so rejuvenated after my event last night. I also wanted to shout out to all the moms out there that organized an event, participated in an event or just lit a candle in their heart or in their home. It is so empowering knowing we took this world by storm and no longer hid under the cloak of shame and guilt because of the addict in our life. I am going to forge on and bust through the walls of silence."

- Holly Graves Newton on Facebook

On September 13, 2015, The Addict’s Mom (TAM) held its annual nationwide event, Lights of Hope, to remember the victims of the disease of addiction, including addicts lost in the ongoing opioid epidemic and their families. Lights of Hope also honored those who have instilled hope in their families and their communities by finding a path of sustainable recovery. A particular impact this year was an effort to illuminate the Gloucester response to addiction. 

At each Lights of Hope event across the country, three candles were lit: A red candle symbolized those battling with addiction, a white candle for those in recovery, and a black candle to represent those lost to the disease. The members of The Addict’s Mom lit the candles to symbolically represent a new illumination of the problem, helping those affected by addiction to come out of the shadows. The TAM slogans of "Sharing Without Shame" and "Stop the Silence" focus on removing the stigma and changing the national conversation about the disease of addiction. 

With events held in every state, Lights of Hope helped to move the national debate in the direction of a solution. Such a proactive take on the issue proved reassuring to mothers facing the daily despair of watching their children sink into the depths of addiction. In Columbia, South Carolina, Kelly Jordan told The Fix after the vigil, “My adult son is addicted to crystal meth and currently incarcerated. With big love and support shown at our Lights of Hope event, I certainly left with more hope than what I arrived with.” 

The Massachusetts TAM Chapter partnered with the Gloucester Police Department for this year’s "Lights Of Hope” event, in order to recognize the department’s tremendous effort, through the Angel Program and the PAARI initiative, to combat the epidemic of addiction in Massachusetts. Started by Chief Leonard Campanello of Gloucester, and Boston-based entrepreneur John Rosenthal, the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative supports local police departments as they work with opioid addicts. Rather than arrest their way out of the problem of drug abuse and addiction, PAARI is trying to change the context of the national conversation.

As the founder of The Addict’s Mom, Barbara Theodosiou has been fighting this battle for over eight years since she learned that two of her four children were addicts. Starting The Addict’s Mom as a small Facebook group, today TAM has more than 50,000 members worldwide and federal nonprofit status. The community of TAM made the decision to support the Angel Program on a national level. Barbara detailed to The Fix why TAM chose to take this step:

“In April of this year, I lost my son Daniel to the horrors of this disease. Despite everything I learned as the founder of The Addict’s Mom, I could not prevent the fatal progression of his addiction. This is why the Lights of Hope event is so important. This is why the country needs to hear the sad and determined cries of the mothers of TAM. We need to shed light on a solution. I believe what PAARI and Chief Campanello are accomplishing in Gloucester is a great place to start.”

In Gloucester, Chief Campanello trail blazed the Angel Program that is spreading across the country. A revolutionary movement and the first step in the PAARI initiative, the goal of the Angel Program is to:

  • Remove the stigma of addiction and change the tone of law enforcement by embracing the reality of substance abuse disorder as a disease.
  • Give opioid drug users the option of walking into the station, turning over their drugs, and asking for help. They are offered detox and access to treatment without any legal action.
  • Help distribute life-saving opioid blocking drugs like nasal naloxone to prevent and treat overdoses.
  • Provide resources to other police departments and communities that want to help fight the addiction epidemic.

During the Lights of Hope events across the country, information about the Gloucester solution and PAARI were given to police departments and politicians. In a conversation with The Fix, Chief Campanello explained why he chose to team up with The Addict’s Mom to spread the message nationwide:

“The Addict’s Mom is a remarkable group with a strong voice that aligns with the position we have taken here in Gloucester. Lights of Hope is being done on such a large scale that it will draw widespread attention to our message that addiction is not a crime, but a disease. We realized early on that the Angel Program was not going to be just limited to Gloucester, and The Addict’s Mom is helping to raise awareness about our response to this problem. We are not fighting a crime, but a public health crisis.”

Knowing he would need entrepreneurial capacity to make his vision in Gloucester a nationwide proposition, Chief Campanello teamed with John Rosenthal to create PAARI. As the president of Boston-based Meredith Management and one of the developers of Fenway Center in Boston, Rosenthal has a history of proven business success. As an impassioned activist, Rosenthal used his business acumen to become the founder of two nonprofits that have made a significant impact, Friends of Boston Homeless and Stop Handgun Violence. When addiction hit close to home and Chief Campanello asked for his help, Rosenthal knew he had to become part of the solution. Rosenthal told The Fix:

“I really don’t know a family anywhere that doesn’t have a family member addicted to alcohol or drugs. We have a completely failed war on drugs and a failed treatment system for addressing this illness. What I am hoping to do with PAARI is help sustain the Gloucester initiative while replicating it across the country by changing the conversation about addiction. By seeing it as a chronic illness, we will remove the stigma and foster much more successful results. As a businessperson, this made a lot of sense to me.” 

Lights of Hope tried to raise awareness about a solution to a problem that has seemed unsolvable for countless years. Even mothers who have lost their children were able to find hope in the proactive community action. In Bristol, Virginia, event organizer Rhonda Coffey lost her son to addiction in July of 2015. "If I can make a difference in one person's life, if I can bring support to one mom, to one brother, one sister, one dad who has been living in isolation, living in loneliness because their child or their loved one is addicted, if I can help them find resources, find treatment, find support, then that's what my mission is," Coffey explained in an interview with WCYB.

In Colorado, the Lights of Hope gathering of 125 wrote down more than 50 names of those lost to addiction. The names were read after the moment of silence. Some of those in recovery held a white candle to celebrate their own sobriety while red or black candles were held respectively for loved ones still out there or lost to the disease of addiction. As co-organizer Trish Byrne told The Fix, “As we move forward, it is my hope that we all can work together as a force to educate our communities and help those who have been suffering in silence too long.”

In honor of September as National Recovery Month, several more Lights of Hope events are planned. Information about these events can be found on the TAM community page on Facebook. On September 27, in South Florida, there will be a special Lights of Hope event organized and led by Barbara Theodosiou. Barbara will memorialize the loss of her son Daniel Montalbano at the Calvary Chapel Church in Davie.

Yet, Barbara wants all of TAM and the rest of the country to know that each event represents so much more than her loss or the terrible losses suffered by countless other families. Rather, as she told The Fix with passion in her voice, “The Lights of Hope events are battling the stigma of addiction across the country and celebrating the Gloucester response to the horrors of this disease. The Addict’s Mom will continue to illuminate not only the problem, but also a real solution. I hope the police chiefs and the politicians are listening.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.