The power of human connection was the recurring theme of the annual overdose- and suicide-awareness candlelight vigil Thursday night in Keene’s Central Square.
“We’ve lost people to an overdose, we’ve lost people to suicide, and the connection happening before those moments, before those losses, can in some cases make a difference,” said organizer Jessica White of the group ELM Recovery Connect, formerly Keene Hates Heroin.
The overdose awareness vigil has been held for five years, but White said this was the first time the gathering specifically included suicide as part of its focus.
The reason for the intertwining, White said, was because the issues stem from one another. More than 90 percent of people who died of suicide suffer from depression, have a substance use disorder, or both, the Addiction Center’s website states.
“[There is] an overlap between substance misuse and mental health, and they are prevalent,” White said. “It made sense to be inclusive of both this year.”
In 2018, 16 suicide-related deaths were reported in Cheshire County, according to data from the N.H. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. That same year, 471 fatal overdoses were confirmed statewide.
The Keene event was one of six vigils planned in the state Thursday, collectively called 10,000 Candles for New Hampshire through the promotion of Derry-based RecoverYdia.
About 50 community members gathered in Central Square to symbolically join those across the state, sharing stories of mourning, loss and recovery.
Ryan Gagne, CEO of Live Free Structured Sober Living LLC, which has locations in Keene and Manchester, spoke of his long road to recovery, starting when he was just a child.
“When I was 10 years old, I took a drink of alcohol, and it did something for me internally that nothing had ever been able to do before,” he said. “I was probably willing to give up anything in my life in order to hold on to that.”
It wasn’t until nearly 10 years of cocaine, heroin and alcohol addiction and attempting suicide that Gagne said he entered treatment.
Slowly, he started to gain his family back, build more connections and get control of his life again.
“Active addiction, suicide, those things directly affect a family, but so does recovery,” Gagne said. “The recovery process is just as powerful as active addiction, if not more powerful.”
James Holloway, who is in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, echoed this, saying how he has found his purpose through recovery.
“It’s given me the ability to be a good husband to my wife, I’ve had full custody of my kids for a year and a half ... That’s a gift,” he said, “to be able to be the father I used to think I was in active addiction, but actually be that guy today.”
White, who is in recovery herself, said these connections are what the vigil is about, and why she started it five years ago.
“I don’t care what got you standing in front of me and you saying you need help,” she said. “In that moment, I am looking at a human, and they need another human to respond to them. That’s what nights like this are all about.”
Those seeking recovery resources in Cheshire County can visit the The Doorway at 640 Marlboro Road in Keene (the Curran Building on Route 101) Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or seek support through the state’s 24/7 hotline by calling 211.
To access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-8255. For The Samaritans’ hotline, call 603-357-5505 or 1-866-457-2910.