At New Paltz’s Recovery Fest, former addicts celebrate the clean life

Patrick Duffy and Carl Welden, both recovered, pose for the camera at the New Paltz Recovery Fest last Saturday afternoon. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

The sun shining down from a clear blue sky illuminated Hasbrouck Park in New Paltz like a flaming metaphor last Saturday afternoon, as people gathered for the first annual Recovery Fest. The beauty of the day could easily be compared to the beauty of a life when recovering from addiction, a life manifested through a series of small victories.

Not everyone who is in recovery is willing to use their full names, but it wasn’t difficult finding people who would share part of that journey. Some of them took up a microphone and talked about their own struggles loudly enough for anyone in the park to hear, while others preferred one-on-one conversations.

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“One day, you may be able to have a car payment,” said Cassandra from the stage, recognizing that anyone in addiction might not be able to imagine such a day.

Tim, who is 14 months in recovery, said it’s difficult for someone who has never wrestled with addiction to grasp why someone won’t just stop using the drug or drugs which are destroying their lives. He compared the experience to that of a crab infected by the Sacculina parasite, which effectively takes over its body and forces the animal to instead care for the parasite’s young. Someone addicted to a drug like heroin, Tim said, is no more in control of his or her actions than that infected crab.

“Relapse begins with a thought,” Tim said, and support is often needed to keep that thought from manifesting.

Recovery Fest is perhaps one of the brightest spots that arose from last year’s town budget, which due largely to contractual and health-care costs brought with it a stunning eight percent property tax increase. It also included money to hire Phoenix Kawamoto, executive director of the Greater New Paltz Community Partnership, when the grant funding her position ran out. Kawamoto used that new status as a town worker to push for this town-sponsored event.

Kawamoto shared some of her own story to set the stage for the event. She’s now in long-term recovery, having stopped using in April, 1985; at that time, she said, she “couldn’t fathom 90 days” without drugs. “This is what recovery looks like,” she said. One of the purposes of Recovery Fest is to celebrate the small victories which add up to the long-term success into which she and others have transformed their lives. “That’s no easy feat when you’re walking with addiction,” she said, and community support makes a difference.

The path to recovery can begin with a decision, or a night in jail, or an intervention, or in many different ways. Kawamoto said that one common thread that makes starting that journey challenging is the idea of being “inherently defective” and not worth saving. “Today is a celebration of healing,” she declared.

“It’s everything I expected it to be,” said Derrick Glover, who praised the speakers, music and food alike. Through this and other events like it, he said, “we can support each other and the community.”

While some local political candidates were present, the only active campaigning was done by congressional candidate Gareth Rhodes. He framed the $800 billion in Medicaid cuts voted for by John Faso as “an attack on the community,” making it more difficult for those in addiction and their loved ones to get needed help to break that cycle, he said when asked his position on addiction and recovery.

New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez, who is running for reelection, did take the stage with his daughter. He read a proclamation passed at the prior town council meeting, affirming that September is National Recovery Month in New Paltz. One in six Americans are in addiction, he read, and recognizing it as a chronic disease rather than a personal failing is a better way to support the “overall health of our region.”

Interspersed with personal accounts of triumph were a series of bands which entertained a crowd that varied in size during the day. Many appear to have been drawn in by the smell of grilled meat and veggie burgers, being handed out free by town youth program director Jim Tinger and a team of helpers from the New Paltz Youth Program. Kawamoto demonstrated her commitment to the festival’s success by throwing herself entirely into the kickball game which was part of the day’s events.

Asked if there is any advice he would give someone still walking with addiction, Tim said of recovery, “Try it. You might like it.”

Jim Tinger, Director of the New Paltz Youth Program, mans the barbecue at the New Paltz Recovery Festival last Saturday afternoon.

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