Opioid addiction. Trauma survivor. Senior substance use. Teens in recovery.

Just about everyone, or every family, has a story.

As Pastor of the Wilton Presbyterian Church, Rev. Shannon White has helped worshipers navigate the joys of life as well as its sorrows. She knows that, sadly, no family is immune from having addiction touch their lives in some way. It’s part of the reason it was so important to her to create an event that would bring the tremendous available resources about fighting addiction and promoting recovery awareness to people in Wilton and surrounding towns.

White has spearheaded a committee of people who have organized this Saturday’s Day of Recovery and Wellness, a day-long event that offers a multitude of programs for people who are “sober curious, in recovery or those who love them” as the tag line explains.

“Every family is touched by addiction at some level, whether it’s in their immediate family or extended family. So, this is an opportunity to bring all sectors of the community together and have a day to, number one, to see that people aren’t alone. Number two, to learn and to be encouraged and to celebrate recovery,” says White, who explains that there will be programs and talks geared for people who are in recovery from addiction, while others will be specifically for people dealing with somebody addicted in their family system. So too are there sessions for people that are thinking, ‘I might have an issue, I don’t know. Is this something that I want to try?’

Not only was this important to White because of the work she does leading her church. Recovery means something very personal to her.

“I’m in longterm recovery myself and I’m willing to say that. Part of this is to end the stigma about addiction, people just don’t want to talk about it. So I came to town and the first sermon I preached, I said at that point I was 20 years sober. And people started coming to me and saying, ‘I drink too much.’ And I’m like, ‘I’ll take you to a meeting.’”

White says the subject of recovery has been a very important part of her ministry and the ministry at Wilton Presbyterian. The congregation plays host to multiple AA meetings, as do other churches, including the Wilton Baptist Church. But she wanted to be able to identify more resources to more people, to helping connect them to the wider orbit of the community.

“This was an opportunity for me to say, ‘Okay, we have a great facility along with St Matt’s at WEPCO, and we can host this.’ You know, it was almost like it was an obligation that I had to do that, because I span both worlds, of the spiritual community, the helping profession and the recovery community. So it was time to do it. It’s time,” she says.

White adds that there will be thousands of dollars worth of information provided free to people who attend. “I got a grant from the National Presbyterian Church to cover some of the costs of this, but we’ve also had some general benefactors, and then people from these organizations are giving their information away for free too. So it’s an extraordinary opportunity for people to come and take advantage of pioneers in the field right in our own backyard.”

Removing the stigma from the subject matter has been very motivational to her. She acknowledges that many people will be hesitant to take part out of fear of being seen by others they know in the community. “It will take courage for some people to walk in the doors. But the good news is, everybody else there is there for the same reason,” she reminds. “That’s the ironic part of walking in to an AA meeting. People that are like, ‘I don’t want people to see me.’ But then they go in and they see somebody they know and they’re like, ‘Well, they’re there for the same reason.’”

The reality is that addiction is a disease, and White reiterates that people who use and abuse substances need treatment just like anybody else with any other health issue. “So there really should not be stigma around it, because you know, I got the gene from my father.There was nothing I could do about it. This is an effort to just kind of put a face on recovery and end the stigma.”

White took a sabbatical last year as part of her focus on creating this programming, but she’s also quick to add that she’s working with a team of people volunteering their time and energy to make it happen.

“I’ve just been overwhelmed by the generosity of people who’ve wanted to help make this happen. As in anything you get back more than what you give. All of us really want to put a face on recovery and help end some of the stigma, so that people won’t be afraid to get help. When I was putting together the planning committee, I knew I needed people from the recovery professional community. So Mountainside stepped in, Liberation Programs, and The Lighthouse. Then I knew I needed another clergy person–Pastor Caroline Smith has like 10 AA meetings at her church, the Baptist Church, and so she came on. Then one of my congregants is a connector with Wilton Youth Council, and Donna Savage is the band contact.

Among the participants are CMC: Foundation for Change; Triangle Center; Westport Fresh Start; Silver Hill Hospital; Maxwell Institute; Caron Treatment Centers; Pivot Ministries; Aware Recovery; Shana’s House; High Watch Recovery Center; Turnbridge; National Alliance on Mental Illness; MCCA; BlueSky Behavioral Health; Wilton Youth Council; Wilton Clergy; and more. Sponsors helping to make the day possible include Liberation Programs, Inc.; Mountainside Treatment Center; Mitchell’s; The Lighthouse; GOOD Morning Wilton; Wilton Baptist Church; and Wilton Presbyterian Church.

The Day of Recovery website provides a full schedule of the many events, including speakers, breakout sessions, a film festival that runs from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., live music, a Narcan demonstration by the Wilton Police, and much more. Some of the things include:

  • A teen speaker that will lead a Smart Recovery meeting just for teens.
  • Members of the community willing to share their personal stories:  “We’re going to have a 20-something kid who went to prep school and then went to UVM on an ice hockey scholarship, had an injury, and got hooked on opioids. He said he had a perfect childhood. Now he runs Westport Fresh Start, which will be represented here, but he’s going to speak,” says White.
  • A professional speaker to talk about what happens when substances go into the teen brain.
  • Wilton psychiatrist, Dr. Francis Hamilton, will talk about aging and substance use.  “He’ll talk about how our bodies metabolize alcohol differently as we age, and how other medications, when they’re commingled substances, can really be a problem and can mask other things,” says White.
  • The co-founder of the renowned Foundation for Motivation to Change will lead a two-and-a-half-hour session just for families. “If you have somebody who’s addicted in your family, the modality is not to necessarily do an intervention, but instead it’s like, ‘What is the specific things that need to be done to get that person some help in a compassionate and caring way?’” White says.
  • High Watch Recovery, from Kent,  will lead a session called “Is it Helping or Enabling?”
  • A Tibetan sound healer from Mountainside Treatment Center (which has a facility in Wilton).
  • Social worker Linda Ross, a member of the Wilton Presbyterian congregation, will lead a session on trauma. “She’s going to say, ‘What are the signals of trauma and how does it interplay with addiction?’ She works a lot with firefighters, and worked a lot with folks after Sandy Hook. There’s also a firefighter who’s going to share his story about trauma,” says White.
  • An open AA meeting “…for people just to come, and if they’ve never been to one, kind of overhear what goes on in an AA meeting. Somebody else is going to run an Al-Anon meeting. And then there’s a Smart Recovery meeting which is basically a path to recovery that doesn’t include spirituality,” says White.
  • An all-day film festival:  Showings include Angst, an award-winning independent documentary from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness); Ben is Back, The Anonymous People, and a documentary on opioid use.
  • The chaplain from Silver Hill Hospital will moderate a panel on spirituality at 7 p.m.. featuring panelists from different faiths, including “a Buddhist, a strong follower of Jesus, a progressive Christian, a Jewish person, and a spiritual-but-not-religious person. And they’ll all talk about how recovery works for them using spiritual tools.”
  • “We want to celebrate too, so there’ll be some bands in the afternoon that are coming. The Treeshakers are coming with [Wilton residents] Adrienne Reedy and Matt Greene. The a capella group from the high school’s coming. School of Rock is going to be here. And then we have a strings ensemble from the high school.”
  • The Lighthouse, a sober living community for men in New Canaan, will offer a talk on recovery coaches and sober living houses.
  • Shana’s House, a sober living house for young women in Westport, will have a booth and provide volunteers for the event.
  • A Narcan demonstration by the Wilton Police.

Several organizations will have booths set up in the parish hall all day long, providing information on different forms of addiction (from substance to gambling), and therapists will also be available for anyone needing more individualized conversation. White says that there will also be food trucks and other refreshments available.

(She also notes that her fellow Wilton clergy members will be preaching on addiction and recovery in their respective houses of worship over the weekend, in support of the event.)

The community is invited to attend, and while pre-registration online is definitely encouraged, people are welcome to stop by and check things out.

Above all, White knows that the message will resonate, and bring positive change to the community here at home. “We all believe that if one person is helped, we’ve done our job. And the whole message is of hope, you know? I mean, that’s what I bring… here I’m [sober] 20-plus years and life has never been better. There’s lots of hope.”