PORT ANGELES — The more than 150 people who attended the fifth annual Overdose Awareness Day walk in Port Angeles over the weekend heard from speakers that there is hope for people who are struggling with addiction.
From the steps of the Clallam County Courthouse, Stormy Howell, treatment program manager at Klallam Counseling Services, told those participating in the walk Saturday that “there is hope, there is help and there is healing.”
“There is help and the organizers of today’s event have taken this into consideration,” Howell said, highlighting that officials from several treatment centers in Port Angeles were invited to provide information.
“There is no shame in seeking help; there is no weakness in seeking help. What you will find from those people here today is compassion, caring and understanding.”
Howell told the crowd that the Overdose Awareness Day walk, sponsored by Port Angeles Citizen Action Network (PA CAN), the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and Oxford House, is a part of the healing process for a county that has been disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic.
“Every single person here today providing support here and to our community and individual community members, this is part of the healing process,” Howell said. “Just talking about overdose today can help save a life.
“You being here today helping raise awareness, to gain education and to support the community, you could be saving a life today.”
After Howell spoke, tribal drummers sang a song of love from the Hoh Tribe for the crowd that had gathered.
The crowd then walked north on Lincoln Street to the City Pier, where organizers introduced officials from several treatment centers.
“In years past the first thing that we’ve done is have some speakers come up, but this year I want to do something a little bit differently,” said PA CAN board member Monica Farris. “We say there is hope and help out there, this year I want to put names and faces to the people who are out there willing to help, willing to go to any lengths to help someone change their life.”
She introduced officials from Reflections Counseling Services, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Specialty Services 2, Cedar Grove, Klallam Counseling, Peninsula Behavioral Health, North Olympic Healthcare Network and Oxford House.
Among the speakers the audience heard from was Jessica Elofson, who brought her daughter and mother with her to the stage as she spoke.
She told the crowd that when she was young — like many people — she wanted nothing to do with drugs and alcohol, but eventually began using both.
She got sober for quite some time, she told the crowd, but then began using drugs and alcohol again for 12 years.
“When this young lady was born,” Elofson said as she stood next to her daughter, “I was totally sober until she was 7 years old. At that point I decided it was OK for me to start drinking again.”
She didn’t think she was drinking heavily, she said, but she struggled to control her consumption.
“I couldn’t love myself,” she said. “How could I show my children I love them? How could I allow my mom to love me the way I wanted her to love me? I was so busy in that disease that I was pushing people away.”
She felt she was alone and that no one could help her, but it was with help from people like Howell and others who were introduced prior to her speaking that she was able to love herself again.
“I realized I have this family that really does care about me and love me and I could truly ask each one of you I feel is a part of my family to come up here and stand with me, because that’s what it takes for me,” Elofson said.
Elofson said she has family members who are at risk of overdose and who she has questioned whether she would ever see again, but that those in attendance Saturday provide hope, help and healing.
“Being able to stand here with my daughter and say I don’t drink and I don’t use drugs any more, she gets to watch me walk … with dignity and grace today,” Elofson said to a cheering crowd. “I want to thank my mom Pattie and my daughter Gillian for standing with me today. It’s important as a society, as a community, and as a family we can all come together and celebrate and be aware of the things that are happening.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].