SILER CITY — Ashley Walters knows the experience of addiction all too well. Growing up, her mother was a frequent methamphetamine user. Walters had to largely raise her sister on her own, with her mother in and out of prison for drug possession and usage.
“As the years went by, I watched my loving mom turn into a person I barely recognized,” Walters said. “There were many times when I was treated more like a live-in nanny than her child.”
From SWAT Team raids at her house when Walters was just 12 years old, to picking up multiple jobs in high school to make ends meet, Walters said the pain of her mother’s addiction was felt by everyone around her.
Walters shared her story as the child of a recovering addict at the 3rd annual Chatham County Recovery Celebration, hosted by Chatham Drug Free, in downtown Siler City on Saturday. The event highlighted the process of recovering from addiction and provided community resources such as recovery homes and public health recommendations for those still struggling.
Nowadays, Walters has repaired her once broken relationship with her mom, Barbara Berry. She described Berry as her best friend and a wonderful grandmother. Berry went to drug rehabilitation in 2017 and is approaching the mark of five years sober later this month.
“I cannot say enough good things about my mom,” Walters said. “We talk every single day and she is the biggest blessing to us. She has transitioned into the most caring and selfless person I know.”
Berry was there Saturday; her eyes welled up with tears hearing the pain her addiction caused. But she says they were also tears of joy. After 24 years of active addiction, she said sobriety is something she never thought was possible. She said listening to her daughter’s words cut deep, but was also a powerful reminder of how far she had come.
“Some of the things she said I can’t remember, and it really hurt to hear,” Berry said. “But it is also a good reminder so that I don’t go back to that place again. I’m not that same person anymore.”
In the past five years, Berry has started attending recovery programs and working in Chatham County Family Treatment Court as a peer support specialist to help others struggling with addiction. She said that work is important because it helps the people in her community who once fed her addiction get the help they need.
“I’m from Chatham County and unfortunately I probably used with half the county because I sold drugs to everybody,” Berry said. “But I’ve also stayed on a good relationship with them. A lot of people still trust me and I’m able to reach out and show them what recovery is about. They kind of look up to me knowing how bad I used to be on drugs.”
That trust has allowed Berry to spread a positive message to those in Chatham who continue to struggle. She believes that nobody is ever too far gone to seek help, because there are always people to love and support you along the way. Berry said she is living proof of that message — she says her life is better every day in recovery and she has more reasons to get out of bed in the morning.
‘Addiction happens every day’
Renita Foxx, court programs director for Chatham County, said programs like the recovery celebration event are important in Chatham County because of the high prevalence of addiction in the community.
“Our community needs this because addiction happens every day,” Foxx said. “But just as addiction happens every day, we need people in the community to know that recovery happens every day.”
Despite Saturday’s rain, a dozen sponsors brought out information and resources to the recovery celebration. Foxx said that kind of community support is part of why these events are so vital — people need to know these resources are out there. By uplifting, encouraging and informing the community, Foxx said Chatham County is taking active steps to remove the stigmas of addiction.
Foxx said the idea of this day-long recovery celebration came through a collaboration between Chatham Drug Free, the Chatham County Public Health Department, Chatham County Sheriff’s Office and other community sponsors.
“This collaboration came about as a way to honor and encourage those in recovery,” said George Greger-Holt, coordinator of Chatham Drug Free. “We wanted to provide a space to show there is living proof that things get better. It’s been really gratifying.”
The community sponsors have been meeting monthly to discuss the prevalence of addiction in the county since 2017. Foxx said the impetus for the meetings was a local rise in overdose deaths among young adults.
“When it hits people that are coming out of high school, it catches your attention,” Foxx said.
Recovery can happen in a variety of ways, but usually, it requires three main steps: prevention, intervention and treatment. Greger-Holt said events like Saturday’s recovery celebration help bolster that continuum in the community and ensure those who are struggling are aware of the resources available to them.
An indiscriminate disease
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to addiction, according to Foxx. She said statistics about the disease are often inaccurate because they only reflect people locked up for drug offenses, rather than the real number of people struggling.
“There is not a person that addiction has not touched,” Foxx said. “Addiction doesn’t discriminate — not against socioeconomic status or otherwise. It affects everyone.”
Looking around the Chatham Drug Recovery Celebration, people of all different backgrounds were represented, something Foxx said was important to realizing the pain of addiction and the long struggle of recovery.
There are also myths about addiction that the event hoped to combat. Speakers at the event like Walters represented all different stages of recovery and treatment. Greger-Holt said combating the stigmas around addiction helps the community realize how prevalent it is. Ending those stigmas, he believes, is how Chatham can get to place where people see addiction as a disease rather than a choice.
“This is not just about addiction, it’s about mental health,” Foxx said. “People are waking around every day in pain and if we don’t address those stigmas, we’re going to end up losing more and more of our community.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there are local resources to help. Those seeking treatment can call the Vaya Health Access to Care Line at 800-849-6127 or visit the Chatham Health Alliance/Chatham County Public Health Department Substance Use Resource Page at , Mental Health Resource Page at , Chatham Drug Free On-Line Resources and Programs page at and SAMHSA Treatment Locator at .