When Tragedy Hits Home, We MUST Do More

Addiction is a deadly epidemic affecting every community across our great nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more Americans die each year from drug overdoses than in car crashes. While Faces & Voices of Recovery leads the way in raising the profile of the recovery community by demonstrating and celebrating long-term recovery, we are also compelled to tell the stories of lost loved ones, to put a public face on addiction.

2015 has also been a year of change at Faces & Voices of Recovery. While the organization has made considerable strides in strengthening our structure and governance, we also suffered a terrible setback by the sudden death of our beloved friend and Director of Operations, Jerry L. Gillen.

Jerry died of an accidental drug overdose within days after our phenomenal annual awards gala, America Honors Recovery, in July. Although those close to him knew some of the details, none of us knew the official cause of his death until just recently after his family had been informed by the medical examiner: a lethal combination of heroin and methamphetamine.

I am sharing this with you, our members, with a very heavy heart. While we debated about whether we would share this sensitive information publicly, in the end, the importance of the work and our mission was the deciding factor. We must not allow the shame and stigma that has historically kept our friends and families shrouded in a cloak of secrecy to regain any traction. We are a recovery movement founded on the value of sharing our stories to help the public better understand addiction and recovery. We work hard to eliminate negative public perception and to reduce the discrimination that keeps people from seeking recovery or moving on to better lives once they achieve it. We are reminded how precious life and recovery are and of the reality of relapse in the chronic nature of addiction.

Jerry Gillen found a better life in recovery. We will remember him as a tireless recovery advocate, a compassionate friend and a dedicated, loyal and skilled professional. Jerry had a natural ability to make everyone feel welcome, whether on the phone or at a Faces & Voices event. He was an incredible event coordinator and a trusted colleague; he was a fast-talker and he had an uncanny sense of humor. Jerry made us all laugh; he loved his Potbelly milkshakes and his Dr. Pepper; his favorite source of self-care was shopping at DSW to buy more shoes! Jerry was deeply committed to the mission of Faces & Voices of Recovery; he was like family to so many of us who knew him well.

When tragedy hits home we MUST do more to make long-term recovery possible for even more individuals and families. We MUST continue to mobilize and organize to raise the profile of the organized recovery community and help more people find recovery by demonstrating that over 23 million Americans from all walks of life have found recovery. We MUST continue to promote widespread understanding that long-term recovery is a reality and a process that takes time and support.

Faces & Voices of Recovery is dedicating 2016 to Jerry Gillen as the “Year of Recovery.” It will be a year of celebration of our history and for all of our leaders, staff, board members and supporters who have touched Faces & Voices of Recovery over the years. It will be a year of new friendships and new faces emerging within the organization and within the recovery advocacy movement.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

Yours in recovery,