MILTON, Wis. — Jenny Hallett was in awe as she looked around the crowded room.
Surrounding the Milton woman were dozens of people who shared her passion to find solutions for those struggling with addiction.
Hallett called herself “one of the lucky ones” invited to attend the first Mobilize Recovery gathering in Las Vegas last month.
The purpose was to bring together, train and inspire hundreds of carefully selected people from across the country who can work together to end America’s addiction crisis.
Ryan Hampton, a nationally renowned recovery advocate, organized the historic event, a project of the Facebook Community Leadership Program.
Hampton is author of “American Fix” and is in recovery from opioid addiction. He has inspired people to recover out loud through his #VoicesProject.
People shared ideas and let each other know what has worked in their communities to get those struggling with addiction into long-term recovery — and to help sustain that recovery for a lifetime.
Attendees heard speakers from national organizations, including Recovery Advocacy Project, Partnership for Drug Free Kids and Young People in Recovery.
“We learned how to use these established resources as tools to help us in our own advocacy work,” Hallett said.
Hallett made it her life’s mission to help others struggling with addiction after her 26-year-old daughter, Brittany Rose Hallett, died Nov. 5, 2014, from alcohol dependency.
She described her daughter as intelligent and loving.
“Most people believe that because alcohol is legal it is safe, but it took her down with a vengeance when she was in college,” Hallett said.
The image of law enforcement, paramedics and the coroner walking down the sidewalk away from her home the night of Brittany Rose’s death remains a vivid memory.
“It was in that precise instant that I wanted to shout from the mountain tops to warn the public about all that I had learned about addiction,” Hallett said.
She was among more than 1,000 who applied to attend the conference. More than 150 were identified as emerging leaders around the country based on their work to combat addiction and support recovery.
“Jenny is passionate about sharing her daughter’s story and making an impact,” Hampton said. “She talked about ending the broad spectrum of addiction, especially alcohol addiction, not just opioids. We agreed it was important to have her in the discussion. Alcohol is still the No. 1 offender in the country, but it does not make the headlines.”
Hallett asks that, when people talk about the opioid crisis, they also mention the dangers of alcohol and other drugs.
“Addiction is addiction, no matter the substance of choice,” she told the Janesville Gazette.
Hampton is based in Las Vegas and organized Mobilize Recovery after receiving a community-leadership fellowship with Facebook.
“We are providing training for leaders like Jenny so she can build a coalition in her community to tackle some of the problems in her backyard,” he said.
He called the people at the gathering “some of the most engaged and inspiring I have ever been around in my life.”
“I am excited to see what happens when we empower new, emerging people to take action,” Hampton said. “One or two engaged people can make a seismic change in their communities.”
As a result of the Mobilize Recovery meeting, Hallett:
- Asks people in Rock County and surrounding areas to join with her to be powerful advocates to prevent and treat addiction for people of all ages.
“I want individuals, and I want people that are part of the prevention, treatment and recovery industry to help me,” she said. “... Once I gather the names of people who want to help, we can begin to come together to create our plan.”
- Wants to change or create laws to get funding for affordable long-term treatment and for long-term sustainable recovery options.
“It is extremely hard to get long-term affordable treatment like is available for other diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, which can be caused by choices people made,” Hallett said. “People struggling with addiction literally die on waiting lists for beds in facilities that could have saved their lives. Insurance has red tape making it hard to get immediate and affordable long-term treatment for this chronic brain disease.”
She added: “People sit in jail for alcohol and drug related crimes but are usually denied getting any counseling or treatment that could actually get them into recovery to end their cycle of incarcerations ...”
Hallett advocates for affordable treatment before, during and after incarceration.
- Wants to get to know her legislators better so she can help educate them “about what it’s really like for the addicted and for their millions of loved ones.”
- Wants to create a local directory of contacts and organizations to help people with addiction and their families.
- Wants to get out the word about Mobilize Recovery, which provides a baseline of training and community connection with other advocates around the country.
“Pretty much everyone knows someone who is addicted to alcohol or another drug,” Hallett said. “With one in 12 having a drinking problem in the United States, it is something that affects all of us.”
She said many people incorrectly see addiction as a moral failing.
“Not everyone will have their brain literally rewired by addiction, but far too many do,” Hallett said. “It’s an agonizing way to live.”
She witnessed it firsthand with her daughter, who cried in her room every night “because she knew she was probably going to die from drinking and yet the craving was so strong that it pulled her in anyway,” Hallett said. “... no one would choose to do that if it was easy to stop.”
People who have the brain disease of addiction crave their substance of choice “like it is needed to stay alive ... even when they know that it can likely kill them,” she added.
Hallett remembers her daughter being discouraged about the possibility of trying to remain sober because she said everything her friends usually wanted to do revolved around alcohol.
“She believed it would be too hard to sustain sobriety because alcohol is everywhere,” Hallett said. “That is why I support sustainable long-term recovery opportunities.”
Since her daughter’s death, Hallett has attended forums to learn from top addiction specialists. While in Washington, D.C., she met Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Jerome Adams in February.
“He listened to my story, and he showed me genuine compassion,” Hallett said. “His own brother struggles with drug addiction.”
Hallett said she spends a lot of time on social media in public and in closed groups talking with people still in active addiction and with their loved ones.
“I also talk with the general public in an effort to eliminate negative stigma,” she said. “If most people understood what I have learned about addiction, they would not be so quick to judge. The negative stigma out there really does kill because it deters people from coming forward to ask for help.”
Hallett is secretary of Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change, an organization that works to reduce substance use and promote mental wellness for the youth of Janesville and surrounding areas.
She encourages and educates the public every chance she gets.
She stays close to the addiction issue because she wants to save lives.
“I don’t want another parent to lose their child and to have to live with this agonizing grief...” Hallett said. “It is always at the surface of everything that I will ever do.”
Information from: The Janesville Gazette, http://www.gazetteextra.com