By DANIEL KITTREDGE For roughly 10 years, Matt Reilly was "under the grips of a severe drug addiction," one that "grew at various stages from marijuana right through crack cocaine." "I lost everything - my family, friends, possessions," he said. "I lost
For roughly 10 years, Matt Reilly was “under the grips of a severe drug addiction,” one that “grew at various stages from marijuana right through crack cocaine.”
“I lost everything – my family, friends, possessions,” he said. “I lost myself. At the very end, I barely existed … But for some dear friends watching out for me while I was out there, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Reilly, who is in his first-term as the Ward 6 representative on the City Council, recalled his struggle with substance abuse last week during a Recovery Month event in City Hall’s Council Chambers. It was the first time, he said, that he had publicly disclosed his addiction.
“This is something I’ve kept private for a long time … I have an obligation to those who are still out there,” said Reilly, who was embraced by Mayor Ken Hopkins and received an ovation after concluding his remarks.
It was on March 25, 2010, Reilly said, that he entered a rehabilitation facility for the final time. The years since have brought an enormous turnaround in his life, both personally and professionally. Now, he said, he views his public position as an opportunity to share a message of hope with others.
“With the tools that you’re given through recovery, you’re capable of achieving greater things than you could have ever prior to your addiction,” he said, adding: “Today, I have a career that I love helping people everyday in all different situations, and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. And I’ve also been given this great gift, to be a community leader and have my ideas heard.”
He continued: “Even though maybe politically it shouldn’t be done, I have an obligation … to show others that you can recover. And not only recover – you can live a life beyond your wildest dreams.”
Others shared their stories of addiction and recovery, too.
Tara Canavan, who grew up in the city and graduated from Cranston High School West, told the audience “how drugs took a hold of my life and tore it apart.”
As a teenager, she said, she and her friends “did all the Cranston things – movies at the Park cinema, big hair in the ’80s, all that stuff.” It was also during those years that she began using alcohol and marijuana, and then cocaine.
Eventually, she began using crack cocaine. A young mother, she lost custody of her two girls, who her own mom stepped in to raise.
“I knew I wanted to do better, but I didn’t love myself … This gripped my life, and things fell apart really fast,” she said.
As time went on, Canavan said she “lived in hotels and abandoned houses and was in and out of jails and hospitals.” She spoke of how her sense of shame fueled her substance abuse, creating a cycle that was extremely difficult to escape.
“That’s the thing about addiction … we try to get clean, there’s just so much shame that we can’t bear, and we need something to take it away,” she said.
Canavan said it was being arrested, and then sentenced to a year in prison, that ultimately turned her life around more than a decade ago.
“I thank God daily for saving me, because so many I know didn’t make it out,” she said, adding: “Recovery has been a gift in my life. It’s given me so much … I came back to who I was meant to be.”
Like Reilly, Canavan also said she views sharing her story as part of an obligation to others going through similar struggles.
“I am living proof that recovery works. If I can do this, anyone can … If my story can help just one person, then I’ve served my purpose,” she said.
Megan Perry, who works for Anchor Recovery, said she has been in recovery for roughly five years.
“It’s been a long road,” she said, “but it’s been a rewarding road.”
Perry said mental illness and addiction run in her family, and she was warned as a child to stay away from drugs and alcohol. But when she first tried alcohol at age 13, she said, she found something that “took me out of myself” and helped numb her negative feelings. From that point on, she said, it was “game over.”
Perry, like Canavan, was fortunate to have her own mom step in to care for her children as she battled addiction. Now, as she continues in recovery, she had again become an active mother.
Perry spoke of her pride in her work at Anchor Recovery.
“I am the voice for the still struggling addict. There’s so much stigma, and there’s so many barriers … We advocate and we fight for other people who are struggling with drug addiction,” she said.
Since the start of the year, Perry said, the organization has distributed 5,640 doses of Narcan, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, to members of the community. More than 200 people have reported using those doses to save someone’s life.
“Two hundred people have an opportunity and another chance at recovery, just like I did,” she said. “We need to be there for each other … It’s not easy, but it’s possible, and it’s worth it.”
Last week’s event followed the recent City Council adoption of a resolution, sponsored by Reilly, recognizing September as Recovery Month in Cranston.
In addition to Hopkins, several other city officials were on hand, including council members Jessica Marino, Nicole Renzulli, Lammis Vargas and Aniece Germain.
Hopkins began the event by presenting a citation to representatives of Anchor Recovery for their “tireless work” in the community. Reilly also recognized Anchor Recovery, as well as the OneCranston Health Equity Zone, Cranston Substance Abuse Task Force, MAE Organization for the Homeless, Cranston Police and Fire departments and Cranston Public Schools, “for all they do, in their own way, to help people stay on a positive path free of drugs and alcohol.”
City Hall has been lit purple at night in recognition of Recovery Month, and various information and resources – including free doses of Narcan – were available at last week’s event. Reilly said he hopes the observance to become an annual tradition with additional components.