Recovering addict Torrie Licht, 19, of Vancouver uses a counter to track the number of people filing onto the I-5 Bridge during Hands Across the Bridge on Monday.
EMILY GILLESPIE/The Columbian Shane Clark, 45, and Ken Jennings, 44, both of Vancouver hold up photos of their mug shots, each taken more than 10 years ago while they were doing methamphetamine. Clark is eight years clean and Jennings celebrated 10 years clean this year.
I’m alive. I have my family. I made it another day.
These are some of the things that Torrie Licht writes in her gratitude list when she can’t sleep at 3 a.m. — an hour that as little as seven months ago would have been spent partying.
But the list helps. She wakes up in the morning, reads her gratitude list and adds another day to her clean record.
Five months sober, Licht was one of thousands of drug addicts who joined hands on the Interstate 5 Bridge on Monday to cheer on their recovery from a life of addiction. In its 12th year, the Hands Across the Bridge event celebrates the change those in recovery have made while also marking the beginning of National Recovery Month.
Licht, 19, began using when she was 13. She started with pot and then discovered alcohol. From there, she dabbled with psychedelics such as mushrooms and acid before a two-year binge on methamphetamine.
“At first it was fun. I justified my addiction in high school by being ‘the party girl,’ ” she said. “Then I ran out of excuses for why I was using.”
She started treatment to make her parents happy. But in one of the family sessions, she was forced to see what the last six years had cost her.
“I saw that I had destroyed my parent’s lives when I was using,” she said. “You lose who you are. You lose your soul.”
Recovery, she said, is a strengthening journey. It’s hard but she said she can’t turn back to her old ways.
At 19, she lives in the Oxford House in Vancouver, the namesake for the Oxfest that follows the Hands Across the Bridge event. She was on the planning committee for Oxfest, which featured live music, food booths and recovery resources in Esther Short Park. She also volunteers with Vancouver youth leadership nonprofit Lord’s Gym, which is a 180 from the manipulative, back-stabbing person that she says she was while on drugs.
As she attended the event for the first time, Licht said it is reassuring being among so many other people she can relate to.
“It’s so empowering,” she said. “These are the most kind-hearted and truest people I’ve ever met. I wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”
The sense of support that eventgoers gave each other was summed up in the day’s pinnacle event, when recovering addicts from Oregon met those from Washington on the Interstate 5 Bridge about noon.
Everyone who attended had a story and a motivator for becoming free of drugs.
For Anna Hancock, the motivator was her children, the four that she has and the one on the way.
Hancock, 29, also started using at age 13.
Her first three children were taken away from her — their fathers had won custody because of her addiction to methamphetamine. It wasn’t until her 2-year-old son Dolan was taken away — this time in the custody of a stranger — that she decided to make a change.
Because Dolan’s father is in prison, Child Protective Services stepped in.
Hancock went to Family Treatment Court and found the support and therapy she needed to get clean.
Now, glancing down at the timekeeper on her phone, she has made it 116 days without taking any drugs.
“It’s hard but it’s worth it,” she said.
With a giddy smile, Hancock looks like she’s going to burst when she shares some good news: “And my son’s coming home in a month.”
Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; email@example.com.