After witnessing death and devastation in Iraq, it took Dan Solla almost a decade to start on his road to recovery, a path his friends and fellow combat veterans know all too well.
“I’ve lost many friends, personally. The effects of combat trauma lead a lot of veterans to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs,” Solla said.
Solla, of Flowery Branch, manages the PTSD Foundation of America’s North Georgia chapter and is one of the scheduled speakers for “Hall Recovers,” a night promoting awareness of substance abuse issues.
The Aug. 31 event is sponsored by the Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Recovery Center, or J’s Place, on Juanita Avenue in Gainesville, which is named for a Gainesville 21-year-old man who died of an opioid overdose.
Avery Nix, the marketing and business development coordinator with Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents in Dahlonega, described Gay as a “beautiful soul.”
Nix said he believes Hall County has experienced a lot of trauma, losing community members to substance use.
"When Jeffrey passed away, that was one that really struck home for a lot of people because he was so loved and connected in the community,” Nix said. “Fast forward from 2012 to now, we've had some people survive ... from overdoses, but then there's a lot of people who haven't made it.”
The Monday night event will feature a candlelight vigil to remember those who have died from substance abuse. There will also be a slate of speakers, including judges and family members affected by substance abuse.
Overdoses have increased at Northeast Georgia Health System in the first six months of 2020 compared to the same span in 2019, officials reported.
"We've lost a lot. We're not going to be silent about it,” said Jordan Hussey, executive director at J’s Place. “We're hurting and we need some healing. And it's time to start talking about some solutions and some options to get people well."
Solla said he is resolute in making sure people know what recovery options are available, especially for those in the veteran community.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York happened during Solla’s senior year of high school. Growing up in an Army family, he enlisted in the Army infantry months afterward.
Two weeks after his 18th birthday, Solla was on a bus to Fort Benning in Columbus and spent his next birthday in Baghdad.
“Looking back as a 35-year-old man that I am now, I look at 19-year-olds and see children,” Solla said. “As I look at myself, I was a child in a situation that even most adults couldn’t understand how to deal with.”
He continued his military service until 2006 and returned to Tennessee, Solla said. The Flowery Branch man said he spent many years self-medicating and suffering in silence, “trying to really medicate the pains of trauma.”
It took about 10 years of really suffering with addiction before I was ready and had suffered enough to decide I wanted to change.Dan Solla
In 2015, Solla said he felt his life crumbling around him.
“It took about 10 years of really suffering with addiction before I was ready and had suffered enough to decide I wanted to change,” he said.
Solla said he will also share the story of a fellow veteran who started in treatment at the same time as Solla. Solla said he watched the man progressing through treatment but faltering, ending up in a hotel room “drinking himself to death.”
“For the longest time, I blamed others and thought that I could have done more myself to try and save him while he was in that hotel room, and we knew where he was,” Solla said. “He was just down the street. But in the end, what I had to come to grips with is there’s some things that are on a higher level, whether you call it God’s plan or the universe’s plan or whatever.”
What: Vigil for those who died due to substance abuse, event focused on recovery options
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Aug. 31
Where: American Legion, 2343 Riverside Drive, Gainesville