By Rev. Dennis Paschke
It all started in the spring of 2017. I hung up the phone call where I learned from a city official that Orting just experienced 20 youth overdoses, 2 of them fatal all in the last few weeks. That day a reality, which had been brushed under the surface and buried for decades, was staring our community right in the face. No longer would it be possible to ignore, or discount, this truth.
The gravity of it all caused a flashback for me. My mind raced back to my first experience of visiting the memorial for the Vietnam War Veterans in our Nation’s capital. How my heart sunk as I looked down the face of the memorial. The magnitude of death it represented was inescapable. It was overwhelming. Name after name, one after another stacked in rows and all aligned and then tilted to slip into the dust. Sixty thousand lives taken. Sixty thousand visits to parents with the news no parent should ever have to bear. A day when their world came crashing down. The vivid reality of death claimed by this ten-year war left me without words as a looked on through a shower of tears. Once you embrace it for what it is, it is something you can’t un-see.
I pulled myself back into the present moment as the tears subsided. The Orting Valley was not unlike so many others plagued by the opioid crisis. Overwhelmed by the reality of the swath of death this epidemic is causing, most predominantly in our young adults. In 2016, the number of lives that were being swept into the ground by the opioid epidemic is more than the number of young lives lost in the ten-year Vietnam conflict and the rate of fatal deaths is growing exponentially!
The events of the Spring 2017 produced an outpouring of concern and a demand for action to provide hope for folks and families wrestling with addiction. Our city became the focus of a lot of press. Folks looked to Orting to see how we could and would respond. City Council meetings became chaos. Social media was ablaze with extra rage and incivility. Emotions ran high as anger, mourning, frustration, and a sense of hopelessness filled our City Council Chambers. Extra police were called on duty to protect and maintain order. Our County prosecutor was invited to help us do something. People poured in, from Orting and also from adjacent communities, it was standing room only and at its root all were demanding a different tomorrow.
Seeking answers to senseless loss
I’ll never forget my walk home from one of those intense City Council meetings. It was all around. I stumbled across yet another disposed syringe in the tall grass. The phone call that awakened us to the reality, the Council meetings and now yet another syringe, it was cathartic. Just how had we gotten in so far. How long did we keep our heads in the sand? How many other communities just like us were in the same boat? How long does it take for a community to get to the point where syringe safe disposal containers were standard issue for its citizens? How many lives would be lost before we would act? How long Lord will lives be lost, poured out into the ground by this epidemic! So many questions and voices crying out for a response!
At some point, I was directed to a message board for parents dealing with addicted sons and daughters in Washington.
The pain is real… I miss your face. The sound of your voice…the little girl I once knew. The silence…the unknown …where you are? Are you still alive? My heart is breaking… I feel trapped in this heartache…and so alone… it’s eating me up…the heaviness of did I not fight hard enough to save you…. now nothing for 10 months.
I can’t stop crying tonight. I haven’t allowed the floodgates to open. I have my grandson lying asleep beside me. And I’m just terrified and sad for the hardships 2 addict parents will bring him. I truly want to pack my bags.
This is my new granddaughter, _____, born yesterday afternoon. She was a few weeks early so is in the NICU. My AS (addicted son) was at the hospital but not in the room when she was born, didn’t visit her in the NICU yesterday and I’m not sure if he’s going today.
My son gets out of rehab tomorrow; he’s been there for three months. He thrived there, wish he could stay there forever life has been so peaceful and he’s always so happy when we went to see him. Hopefully the third times a charm has been a twenty-year battle.
My earth angel lost her son to this horrible disease on Saturday night, she and Kyle fought so hard! If you are in the area please come join us tonight.
I LOST MY SON TODAY …what do I do now…
Time for change
The problem of addiction has been acute in the Orting Valley for a long time and it has been an underserved community for far too long. After decades of losing lives to this epidemic the, community came together acknowledging it is time for change.
Addiction is like a contagion one expert wrote. It feeds and grows stronger inside on residual people’s pain, hurting and loneliness. Addiction is turning to something over and over knowing it only causes more pain. Yet absent of hope and belonging, the strength of the addiction grows stronger and stronger until even though everyone around you can see its devastation, the addict does not.
Months later on August 10, 2017, Pierce County was declared to be in a state of opioid crisis. On October 26, 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a National Health Emergency, stating, “Our citizens are dying. We must act boldly to stop it.”
We may have experienced death and despair in Orting, but it doesn’t have to end this way!
Enter Recovery Café
Recovery Café is a place of hope, healing and transformation for folks wrestling with addiction. Recovery Café Orting Valley was formed to do just that. A team of committed folks from within Orting community, rooted in Orting Methodist Church, was formed to bring hope and take a stand against addiction by bringing a Recovery Café into the city!
Recovery Café is a center of refuge and transformation for people wrestling with substance use disorders and mental health issues. Recovery Café is a community of belonging in which members are deeply known and loved. Our focus is on recovery; we are not a treatment center. Members contribute to the running of the Cafe and to the healing of peers as they build recovered lives they are excited about living through positive activities.
In 2017, Recovery Café Seattle members report that for 90% of members ‘Recovery Café helped them find recovery’; 97% of members reported that ‘Recovery Café helped them maintain recovery’; 95% of members reported that ‘Recovery Café helped them maintain sobriety’. By any measure this is remarkable! (Cf. 2017 Recovery Café Seattle Annual Report) Recovery Café Orting Valley will utilize the experience, skills and history of Recovery Café Seattle as our guide ensuring Recovery Café Orting Valley is rooted in that same history and experience, and the same success is achieved at Recovery Café Orting Valley.
Recovery Café Orting Valley practices radical hospitality by welcoming all members on their healing journey. Recovery Café Orting Valley guiding principles are: live prayerfully; respect for all; practice compassion; encourage growth; and forgive and give. By allowing one another to be deeply known and loved we are able to hold one another to loving accountability and embracing each other through forgiveness of others and ourselves.
The population of the Orting Valley includes the City of Orting and the unincorporated areas of Pierce County as well as Eatonville, Buckley, South Prairie, Kapowsin, McMillan. In addition, a recent ‘point-in-time’ study conducted by Pierce County identified at least 1628 otherwise unaccounted for individuals living along our riverbanks not in the published numbers. We hope to reach every one of those who long for freedom from addiction!
Far too often the church has failed to ‘get out of the boat.’ This is a time every one of us can do something. If you seek for your church to regain or maintain credibility in your community you serve – JOIN US!!! These are the least of these in our times!
What about you? How can you help?
We want to invite you to join us in bringing Recovery Cafe to Orting Valley! Addiction does not need to end in broken lives and families and communities! Please join us for this BBQ Dinner and Concert on July 15! You can purchase tickets online (link) $25 for the BBQ Dinner and Concert! Limited Table sponsorships are also available. If you have any questions, please email Dawn Paschke.
Rev. Dennis Paschke currently serves as pastor of Orting United Methodist Church in the community of Orting, Washington.