by Kathleen Ryan, special to The Laconia Daily Sun
LACONIA — When four residents from a local drug rehab facility show up early on a Saturday morning to help the Belknap Range Trail Tenders (BRATTS) rebuild hiking trails on Belknap Mountain, it's understandable that another volunteer assumes they must be serving court-ordered community service.
At first glance, Chris, Dan, A.J., and Alex (they asked that their last names not be used in this article) look like they could be facing trouble. They wear bandanas and ink and urban style Timberland boots, they spit chew, they give off conflicting vibes of hyper-awareness and distractibility. It's not until you look more closely, into their eyes and smiles, that you see hope and the optimism that trouble is now behind them.
The four men are residents at the Riverbank House in Laconia, a long-term residential addiction rehabilitation program that practices cutting edge philosophy in the field of drug and alcohol recovery. "Pursue constructive passions" is one of its mottos, and Riverbank provides residents with a full schedule of activities designed to address the long term effects caused by active addiction while retraining the brain to find motivation and reward without drugs or alcohol.
For Riverbank residents, pre-dawn hikes to watch the sunrise make memories that can and do compete against old memories of a heroin high. Riverbank keeps the men so active that thoughts of drug use don't have time to spiral into cravings.
The Center for Disease Control and the National Institute for Health now classify addiction as a complex, chronic, life threatening disease of the brain that no amount of willpower or moral character can "cure." By the time people seek help for addiction, drugs have hijacked and altered the brain, impairing both its communication system and reward circuitry. Chronic use of addictive drugs causes lasting neurological disruptions that impair judgment, memory, cognitive function, impulse control, the regulation of emotion, motivation, and the ability to defer gratification. Boredom is an excruciating symptom in early recovery, irritability is unrelenting, and changes to the brain make it almost impossible for those in early remission to feel pleasure or satisfaction. These impairments persist long after drug use is stopped.
Even in remission, active addiction leaves the brain well trained to crave, seek, and demand instant reward.
When a drug addicted person seeks help, enters rehab, abstains from drugs, and cooperates with the rehab's philosophy, the person is taking huge strides toward wellness. But when a drug addicted person in remission actually takes what has been learned in rehab and voluntarily applies it to the real world, the person is making a monumental contribution toward sustained recovery. Because Riverbank House teaches that real rewards can be achieved without drugs or alcohol, A..J, Chris, Dan, and Alex showed up to volunteer with the Belknap Range Trail Tenders.
At 26, Chris is the oldest of the four friends. He thinks before he speaks, a trait that suggests maturity. He began experimenting with drugs at age 12, and illegal prescription opioid use inevitably led to intravenous heroin use at the cost of hundreds of dollars a week. "You can shoot a lot of $50 bags in a day," he explains.
Chris volunteered with BRATTS because he is learning to take what he calls 'right action.' "I want to be involved in the community," he says. "I want the experience of being a part of something bigger than myself."
Dan, the baby of the bunch at 21, has an encyclopedic obsession with shuttered mental institutions in Massachusetts. He knows their histories, the grounds, the number of structures at each property, and the best photographic angles within the empty buildings; logically, he also knows the schedule and patrol routes of security at each abandoned institution. There is an innocence to Dan's enthusiasm, as if he truly believes — and believes you should believe — that just for fun everyone should tour abandoned buildings haunted by tragic histories.
Dan's a sparkler: he twinkles with mischief and boyish charm and instant likeability. Heroin cost him thousands of dollars a week. Riverbank is his eleventh rehab or treatment program.
The Riverbank House practices daily meditation, and Dan can draw a connection between the benefits of that meditation and the acute awareness brought on by quarrying boulders with BRATTS. "I had hiked before, but a trail always just happened to me. I never thought about how it was built," Dan says. "Today will change every step I take on a mountain."
Alex, 22, is the quiet, seemingly shy one. Unlike his three friends, Alex used cocaine, not heroin. In a different class than opiates, cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that makes most users chatty and energized. Early in their recovery, former cocaine users often struggle with shyness, lethargy, and anxiety. When cocaine addiction is in early remission, the brain screams for new experiences while simultaneously arguing, why bother? By just showing up to volunteer with BRATTS Alex is taking positive action toward progressive recovery.
A.J., 25, is the firecracker of the four. Smaller, leaner, and more kinetic than his friends, A.J. talks politics, world events, finance, and his disdain for recovery platitudes (although he admits they serve a purpose). Riverbank is his seventh attempt at recovery from heroin and alcohol. Curious, observant, and completely lacking a filter between his brain and mouth, A.J. is a blurter. But he practices a healthy measure of self-acceptance about his blurting, repeatedly catching and correcting himself. When he swears in front of Hal Graham, the president of BRATTS, he immediately apologizes with such sincerity and effort that the apology itself includes another swear.
Because the four live together at the Riverbank House and have bonded so closely, they finish each other's sentences, speak over each other, or speak in unison. When they share their stories about early recovery, a theme emerges. They talk constantly about Randy (Bartlett), the director of Riverbank. They thread him through every story, but they don't talk about what he's taught them or what he's done for them. They talk about how he has treated them — about how kind and open and accepting and understanding he has been toward their individual circumstances. They talk about the respect he has afforded them, and it is clear they value Randy as a role model rather than resenting him as an authority figure. They seem thirsty for role models, for concrete examples of how to live, how to act, how to interact, as if heroin and cocaine and alcohol have left huge gaps in their understanding of life.
After seven hours working on a BRATTS crew they feel positive, relaxed, and what they call "accomplished-tired."
"I feel really good about myself," Alex says. "I feel like if I can do those seven hours, I can do anything."
With no prior experience in trail reconstruction, as they quarried boulders they could not conceptualize the final outcome and that made them increasingly nervous.
"It started to look like people were just rolling rocks down to the trail," Dan says.
"There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the plan," Chris adds.
Aj agrees. "We wanted to ask, 'What's our end game?'"
But then they start talking about Graham, the founder and president of the Trail Tenders. Hal is 75 years old.
"I was afraid I couldn't keep up with him," Chris says, a little shocked.
"Yeah, I mean, we worked hard, but we took a few breaks. We never saw Hal sit down once," Dan says.
"Nothing seemed to be coming together," Chris says. "People kept rolling rocks, and the four of us kept watching Hal. He didn't seem concerned at all. He was totally calm."
Alex agrees. "Hal was totally calm. He was completely confident that the project would succeed, and it did."
The men are quiet for a moment. Then Chris, speaking for the group, says, "It was just the coolest thing to witness. Someone working that hard for free, rather than for money. Someone working that hard without any stress. He was teaching us to recognize real passion."
The Riverbank House motto "pursue constructive passions" expresses a recovery philosophy. The four friends seem to have the "pursue" part down: they take action to pursue sustained recovery. By their willingness to volunteer in the community, they seem to have a grasp on "constructive." But there aren't a lot of passions in the life of an active addict. There is only the drug.
When Alex, A.J., Chris, and Dan entered the Riverbank House, passion was just a vague concept, one of gaps that drugs had left in their understanding of life. Their gaps can't be filled by someone telling them how to fill gaps. They need concrete examples, and they look everywhere for role models who will demonstrate what the four of them do not yet understand. Because they watched Hal, they now have a concrete grasp of the passion in "pursue constructive passions."
Saturday, because four young men in recovery saw a role model in Hal Graham, more than just a trail underwent reconstruction on Belknap Mountain.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
GILFORD — Selectmen decided last night they would continue discussions about Potter Hill Road and Cat Path at their August 13 meeting.
Residents on both roads have complained on and off for years about unwanted traffic and speeding and selectmen, working with police and public works have struggled to develop acceptable solutions for both.
As to Potter Hill Road, DPW Operations Manager Mia Gagliardi told selectmen a Massachusetts company will be coming shortly to paint both ends of the road with "SLOW" and "25 MPH" speed warnings.
Police Chief Anthony Bean Burpee said that police are still conducting directed patrols on Potter Hill Road and he knows of two speeding tickets that have been issued recently — including one that showed a speed of between 50 and 55 mph, which is more than twice the posted speed.
Bean Burpee said the recorded speed of 55 mph was not the norm. He also noted that the two tickets that were issued were issued to local residents.
Cat Path, according to Selectman Gus Benevides, is a little more complicated.
He said despite the signs and the publicity, people continue to use Cat Path as a shortcut between Rte. 11-A and Rte. 11-B He also said drivers unfamiliar with Gilford are directed to Cat Path by Global Positioning Sensors and Internet maps and the town is powerless to do any thing about it.
Suggestions about making it one way have gotten some traction however residents said they were reluctant to travel all the way around to get to their homes.
Selectman John O'Brien said he would like a "No Right Turn" sign placed on Cherry Valley Road heading into Gilford Village but Town Administrator Scott Dunn reminded him that the N.H. Department of Transportation won't allow the sign.
Selectmen asked for Gagliardi and Bean Burpee to prepare for the August meeting by putting together some data and possible solutions.
Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 12:57
LACONIA — This summer's pleasures will be all the sweeter for city resident Charles "Chuck" Farquharson, who says his life could very well have ended in December of last year had it not been for the actions of a long chain of people. He is grateful to the emergency responders from Laconia Fire Department, as well as the medical staff at both Lakes Region General Hospital and Concord Hospital. However, he believes he owes his life, first and foremost, to the two employees at the CVS on Union Avenue who first rushed to his aid.
Farquharson, 52, who has lived on Winter Street since 2006, doesn't even remember walking to the pharmacy on Dec. 15 of last year. However, shift supervisor Renee McVey and pharmacist Kristin Silveria remember that day well. It was the day after a 1-foot snowstorm and the day of their staff holiday party, so Renee was wearing reindeer antlers for the occasion. The store was quiet at about 11:30 a.m., she remembers, when Farquharson walked through the door and continued in the direction of the pharmacy. Surveillance video, viewed afterward, showed that he only made it about 15 feet, at which point he grabbed his chest and fell forward, smashing his face on the floor. He had suffered a heart attack.
The cashier watched him fall and called out to McVey, who was in the back office at the time. There was something in the cashier's voice that made her look to the video monitor, where she saw a man laying prone in the entrance. She immediately called 9-1-1 and ran to his side. Also rushing to Farquharson's side was Silveria, who has known how to perform CPR since she was 11 but had never had the opportunity to use the skill outside of training sessions. McVey had also never found herself in such a situation, though looking back, she said she never hesitated in her reaction. "It doesn't feel like something I wouldn't normally do. It's just natural, instinct. Something happened, you need to take care of it."
While one woman spoke with the emergency dispatcher, the other attended to Farquharson. After ascertaining that he was unconscious, they flipped him over and recognized him as one of their regular customers. "He comes in all the time, he's a happy-go-lucky guy and it's nice to see him with that big smile on his face," said McVey. On that day, though, his face was bloodied from his fall and his breathing coarse. As Silveria placed her fingers on his neck, she felt his pulse fade away. Though they feared the worst, they began chest compressions and continued until paramedics arrived.
Farquharson was in the store for about 15 minutes in total that day. Fire Department personnel continued working on him in the ambulance for about five minutes, McVey and Silveria said, before taking him to LRGH. He spent three weeks in a medically-induced coma before waking up at Concord Hospital. Today, Farquharson continues to struggle with health challenges but is grateful to be alive. Had he stayed home that day and had his heart attack in his apartment, or had he collapsed on the sidewalk outside of the store, or if the store employees hadn't done everything they could to save his life, he might not be alive today.
"Life is short, people take a lot for granted," he said.
Farquharson is most appreciative of the opportunity to spend time with his family, which includes an adult son, many nieces and nephews and a three-year-old grand niece. "I spoil her rotten." McVey and Silveria, said Farquharson, "They gave me that extra time."
Silveria responded, "You're alive, that's enough for me."
CAPTION for CVS Farquharson in AA:
Charles Farquharson (at center) had a heart attack in the Laconia CVS in December. He believes the immediate reaction by pharmacist Kristin Silveria (left) and shift supervisor Renee McVey (right) helped to save his life. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)
Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 12:50
CIRCUIT COURT — The local man accused of disorderly conduct for his actions at a Gilford School Board meeting has asked for a continuance in his trial that is scheduled for Monday at 1 p.m. in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.
William Baer, through his attorney Mark Sisti, said in his motion filed yesterday that Gilford Police Prosecutor Eric Bredbury agreed to the continuance that was requested because Sisti is scheduled to appear in a different court in a different jurisdiction on that day.
As of yesterday, 4th Circuit Court Presiding Judge Jim Carroll has not ruled on the motion.
Baer faces three Class B misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct — each of which offers a different theory of the alleged crime.
Baer is accused of verbally interrupting a speaker at a contentious Gilford School Board meeting where he and some other parents objected to the assigned reading of the novel "Nineteen Minutes" by N.H. author Jodi Picoult.
Baer specifically said he was offended by particularly sexually graphic passages in the book but what he really wanted to see was a change in the school policy that required parents to "opt in" if a teacher chooses to assign a specific book in a class. At a subsequent meeting, the School Board adopted the requested policy.
At the meeting, Baer requested School Board Chair Sue Allen read the passage aloud but she refused. A short time later Baer objected to a statement made by the next speaker, Joe Wernig, calling it "absurd". When Allen insisted that Baer had already had his opportunity to speak — each person was limited to two minutes — and now it was someone else's turn, Baer kept talking.
When Gilford Lt. Jim Leach went over to Baer and asked him to leave the room, Baer said, "why don't you have me arrested, that's a real civics lesson." It was unclear if Leach was acting on his own authority or whether Allen has asked him to remove Baer.
After a brief exchange, Leach escorted Baer from the room, handcuffed him, and took him to the Gilford Police Station in the back of a cruiser. Baer was released on personal recognizance bail.
Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 12:39
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- Volunteers clean-up Winnipesaukee River bank
- Bronze plaque finally recognizes Belmont Library's historical status
- Center section of Union Ave. goes back under the knife
- Manchester man accused of downtown Laconia mugging
- Mental health first aid training to be offered to the general public