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How a vigil remembers those lost to addiction and offers a message of hope
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J's Place Recovery holds a Hall Recovers event Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, at the American Legion Post 7's historic Chattahoochee Pavilion. The event features speakers, awareness and a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the loved ones lost due to substance abuse. - photo by Scott Rogers

Will Allison said that in October 2016,  he felt he had spent the last dozen years destroying his life. 

He recounted waking up in a Northeast Georgia Medical Center hospital bed after using drugs with a friend. 

“I was used to him (overdosing), and he was used to me (overdosing),” Allison said, after both men were given Narcan, an opioid recovery antidote drug. 

Feeling like he had nothing, Allison said he had spent months wanting to die every time he put drugs in his body. 

But in that hospital bed, he said he felt a sense of calm wash over him that gave him a sense of freedom. He has stayed clean since that day and now works for the Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Recovery Center. 

The light of roughly 150 candles illuminated the gazebo behind Gainesville’s American Legion post Monday night on Riverside Drive, each flame representing a loved one lost to addiction and substance use. 

As each name was called, a family member, friend or volunteer came forth from the crowd, bringing back a lit candle to strengthen the burgeoning light. 

“These lives were taken from us,” said Art Gallegos, Jr., a Gainesville minister. 

The candlelight vigil capped off a night of speakers for “Hall Recovers,” an event sponsored by the center to focus on addiction and recovery. 

The center, referred to as J’s Place, was named after a Gainesville man who died in 2012 one month before his 22nd birthday. 

His father, Jeff Gay, spoke for the first time publicly Monday night about the family’s struggle with addiction. 

Jeffrey Gay Jr. got into trouble during his senior year of high school, his father said. His son was put into a drug rehab program for the rest of his senior year before going to college, Jeff Gay said. 

“For a year, he was gone and he was out of sight, out of mind. But he wasn’t clean and he sure wasn’t sober,” Gay said. 

Jeff Gay shared his gratitude for those in the recovery community who supported him and his family while also educating him on the disease of addiction. 

“I just hope and pray that if anybody gets anything out of this tonight, that it’s not the end of the world if you know somebody in your family or that’s a friend that’s a substance abuser or … addict,” Gay said. “It’s just how you support them and how you love them.” 

Deb Esposito, an emergency department recovery coach, told part of the story of her six-year recovery. Working in the Northeast Georgia Health System’s hospitals in Gainesville, Braselton and Winder, she said she aims to support those people potentially seeking recovery to do so without a fear of judgment. 

“Just to see the sigh of relief on their face when I say that is worth everything,” Esposito said.

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