Mayor reflects on son’s struggle with addiction

BUCKHANNON — Opportunity House executive director Matt Kerner regularly appears at Buckhannon City Council meetings to discuss addiction-related issues and brief council members on upcoming events dedicated to providing support for people in recovery.

But on the heels of a heart-wrenching statement delivered by Mayor David McCauley about his son Connor’s struggle with addiction and drug-related arrest earlier this week, the presence of Kerner — who has been living in recovery for more than a decade — seemed especially relevant and particularly poignant at Thursday’s Buckhannon City Council meeting.

Kerner came to the meeting to announce the date and time of the second annual Hope and Help Assembly, which will kick off at noon on Sunday, Sept. 23 in Jawbone Park. The gathering is intended to highlight the stories of individuals living in long-term recovery, as well as celebrate those who have recently committed to living a sober life. A second purpose, as Kerner has emphasized on several occasions, is to chip away at the stigma surrounding addiction, which he sees as a major barrier to people seeking treatment and successfully recovering.

Kerner thanked McCauley for his statement, which he delivered at the beginning of the meeting, recognizing the courage it takes to openly discuss how addiction plagues not only the addicted person, but also that person’s family and friends, robbing them of peace of mind.

McCauley began his statement Thursday by acknowledging that Connor’s arrest earlier in the week was like “the elephant in the room.” Saying that he hopes this run-in with the law is a wake-up call for his son, the mayor also described what it’s like to live with someone who is addicted, someone who isn’t always in control over their own decisions ­— someone who will make decisions that don’t align with their personal qualities or previously held values in order to feed their addiction.

“On the one hand, I’ve been lied to, stolen from, manipulated, schemed against, played by one of the closest people in my life,” McCauley said. “On the other hand, it seems like yesterday that Connor was my little buddy who I reared alone ­— tagging along going to wherever I was going, reading books together every night before bed, playing baseball [and] basketball, learning about music [and] movies …and all of those things that we all try to nurture our kids with.”

The statement, which has since been shared hundreds of times on social media, provides a glimpse into mind of a person who loves someone struggling with addiction. McCauley said one thing he’s lost over the course of his son’s addiction is “peace of mind.”

“The ability to sleep well at night is a luxury you’re not entitled to when you have an addict in your midst,” McCauley read. “You’re always apprehensive about leaving your home, especially overnight, because you know coming back, something you treasure will be gone. You’re always waiting for the phone call — THAT phone call, that your son has overdosed and he’s been found, but he’s gone.

“These feelings are always there, gnawing at you, an incurable omnipresent affliction,” he continued, acknowledging the cognitive dissonance that stems from also knowing what his son is capable of when not stuck in the throes of addiction.

“There’s this bright, talented, charming guy, a guy who can play any musical instrument well, who can quote famous philosophers and authors, who knows more about music [and] movies and books than his ole man who introduced him to such things will ever know,” McCauley said, also mentioning how Connor excelled at athletics, particularly on the basketball court.”

But McCauley ended the statement saying that the arrest only further motivates him to do what he can as a city official to combat addiction to opioids, to methamphetamine, to alcohol and other controlled substances. He said he doesn’t feel shame but simply a profound sense of grief.

“Some well intending folks have mentioned to me already that they’re sorry for the shame, humiliation, embarrassment that I must be feeling about this situation,” McCauley continued. “I can only tell you from the deepest place in my heart that of all of the possible human emotions [and] sensations, I could not care less about feelings for myself. I don’t care about how I’m judged by others about this ordeal. I am simply profoundly sad for Connor.

“As I’ve observed on a number of occasions during my time as mayor, this drug epidemic is an equal opportunity plague — it knows no boundaries insofar as race, or gender, or religion, or socio-economic status, or age or orientation.  If you don’t have a family member or friend confronted with addiction, count yourself fortunate as you are blessed.”

Kerner thanked the mayor for his bravery in sharing such a personal statement.

“While I’m here, I’d also like to thank the mayor for his courage in talking about how this has affected his family,” he said. “That is something that we’ve been trying to encourage for years because really, the stigma and people not wanting to talk about it is one of the biggest barriers to treatment and recovery, and traditionally people have been impacted by shame and guilt and not wanted to admit someone in their family has been dealing with this, and the more we can knock this stigma down, it will directly impact how many lives we save. Thank you for having the courage to talk about that.”

Kerner said the second annual HAHA event will feature music, food and two prominent speakers — Emily Birkhead, the executive director of the West Virginia chapter of the National Alliance of Recovery Residences and Cindi Corbin with Hampshire County Pathways Inc., which coordinates recovery programs in Hampshire County.

“I think we’re going to try to make it a little lighter than last year,” Kerner commented. “Last year, we focused on the people we’ve lost to addiction, and I think this year, we want to celebrate more about the people we have in recovery.”

Kerner noted Upshur County is “pretty well-known” throughout the Mountain State for having a strong network of recovery services, including peer support recovery and 12-step meetings; he also noted there are 25 million people in the U.S. currently living in long-term recovery.


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