Eggleston speaks at Drug and Alcohol Recovery Week event
Commissioner Jeff Eggleston had a few things to say about recovery during the Department of Drug and Alcohol’s Recovery Week Kickoff event on Sept. 6 in Harrisburg.
With 13 consecutive years of sobriety under his belt at the end of this month, Eggleston said he had plenty of words to say about the importance of recovery in his life and how everyone struggling with addiction issues needs the support to make recovery work for them.
“I feel it is important, for those of us who’ve recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body,” he told the crowd that assembled in the rotunda of the Capitol Building in Harrisburg, “to share our experience and hope with others in the community to combat the stigma surrounding substance use disorder. People need to know it’s OK to seek help for a serious health problem.”
The sharing of personal addiction stories was part of the kickoff event, with speakers including law enforcement officers, clergy, and other county government officials from across the state.
“It truly is an honor any time a person is asked to share their journey in recovery on such a stage as this,” said Eggleston at the start of his speech. His story of addiction, Eggleston said, is one of “two separate, and completely distinct lives. The former is a life of sickness and confusion, the latter is one of growth and conviction.”
Giving people currently struggling with addiction the belief that change is possible, said Eggleston, was his goal. “At one time I believed that I would never stop drinking. I believed I was useless and hopeless and helpless and that no amount of support could lift me up. Yet today, I stand before you a leader in my community, unafraid, and not only able to help myself, but help others around me. How? Because I made a simple decision to change my direction. I have recovered, but trust me when I say, the man who stands here before you today is not the man who took his first step towards recovery over twelve years ago. At the time, I couldn’t have gone 12 hours without a drink, let alone twelve days.”
Eggleston went on to tell the crowd that “I regularly struggled with depression, had thoughts of suicide in my teens and twenties. I felt completely alone, like no one would…or ever could…understand me, and the only time I really felt comfortable in my own skin was when I was intoxicated. That worked for me for a few years in my youth…until it stopped working. It became a crutch, then it turned into a set of shackles I thought I’d never break free of. I slowly lost all of my friends, my family turned away from me, and worst of all I lost faith in myself to ever be a real person of substance. In 2004, after years of reckless and self-destructive behavior, I was arrested for DUI and was eventually incarcerated. Oddly, I spent several nights in the very jail I now manage as a Commissioner.”
Eggleston told the crowd that “I rarely these days discuss my earlier issues with alcohol. Not because I am ashamed, or because I’m in politics, but because my life in recovery is so much more interesting. If I had any idea it would be like this, I would have made the decision to take a different path much sooner.”
And while a current state of addiction may feel permanent, said Eggleston, he urged anyone currently struggling with substance use to not be fooled by the “illusion of permanence.” He invited those struggling with addiction to “step onto the path of recovery and we can walk it together,” reminding everyone that recovery does not happen in a vacuum and it can’t happen for an addict alone.
Recovery, stressed Eggleston, requires support.
“There’s no greater sign of strength,” Eggleston said, “than admitting you don’t have all the answers. Besides, I need you to make this decision. I need you to step on this path of recovery with me, because guess what? I know I can’t do it alone. On my own, left to my own devices, I will fail, but together we will all grow stronger and we will stay strong.”
The goal of the event, said acting DDAP secretary Jennifer Smith, was “to do two things: help people get into recovery and then support them on the lifelong journey that follows. Anyone with a drug or alcohol problem can call our toll-free statewide helpline at 1-800-662-HELP, to talk to a person and find immediate assistance to enter treatment. Since this hotline began last November, we have received more than 15,000 calls and have provided help to many individuals suffering from addiction.”
“The Wolf Administration stands with all who suffer from substance use disorder, including older Pennsylvanians,” said Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne. “To those who are currently in recovery, and to those who are just beginning their journey, we want you to know that you are not alone and that help is available.”
“Remember,” said Eggleston in closing, “this gift is for you. It’s for everyone, you just have to take the leap of faith. You just have to make that first step onto another path and a whole new and amazing world will open up for you. It did for me and if I can get it, you can too.”