This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2019, with the specific times and dates for the next two events at the Edney Innovation Center.
Chattanooga residents stepped in front of a crowd Thursday night to share their journeys through addiction and remove the stigma around an issue killing thousands of Americans every year.
They talked about the cyclical nature of addiction, the peaks and valleys of recovery attempts and relapse. They emphasized the role of community, from 12-step groups to supportive loved ones, in helping them through the difficult days of working through their addiction.
Martha Law said those groups taught her how to have healthy relationships and how to love herself.
"It makes me speechless because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them," she said.
Law experimented with drugs in high school and began using them more heavily as she moved in and out of toxic relationships. In college, she attempted suicide. She had reached a point of "spiritual bankruptcy" of not wanting to live, Law said. She would wake up and tell herself she would not use that day, but when she did she would feel even worse.
When she began recovery, Law moved to Chattanooga, a city where she knew no one, and began going to as many support groups and volunteer events as she could, she said.
"I was willing to do anything to stay clean, and I knew I wasn't going to compromise that," Law said. "That was what I was doing. I was tired of hurting and I was tired of hurting people who loved me."
Once she was in active recovery, Law was able to keep a job for years. She met her wife. They are looking to begin a family soon. Law is also completing a master's degree in social work and helps other women in recovery groups.
Eddie Hensley said he has to prioritize maintaining his recovery. He began drinking as a pre-teen, then used cocaine. For more than a decade, he was an addict because he did not know how to go through life without running away or using drugs, he said.
"I can't let the job consume me," Hensley said. "I can't let the relationship consume me. I can't let any of that consume me because what worked in the beginning still works today. The things I do for my recovery still work today and they've given me a great life."
Once he admitted he struggled to face life sober, Hensley could become active in his recovery instead of moving between various jails and treatment centers, he said. Now he can be a father to his two daughters, Hensley said.
The Voices of Recovery event Thursday was the first of three similar events hosted by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department. Carleena Angwin, public health educator, said the events show recovery is possible and connect people across the recovery community.
The next two will be at the Edney Innovation Center, floor 5, from 6-8 p.m. on Feb. 27 and March 26.
"There are so many people out there who are struggling and if they can see somebody who's recovering, they can see there is a different life for themselves," Angwin said.
Hensley told the crowd of around 50 people that everyone in the room is connected.
"If you're in active addiction, if you're trying to get clean, if this is your first attempt, if it's your fifteenth attempt, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if I've got 25 years clean or two days clean, we're all the same. We have to do the same things to recover," he said.
Contact Wyatt Massey at email@example.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.