WORTON — Be comfortable in your own skin.
It’s not easy, but it can spare you and your loved ones a load of heartache. It also might save your life.
That’s what a man who identified himself only as “Shiloh” said in an unscripted appearance Saturday afternoon at the Purple Jamboree.
The event, which offered family-friendly activities and picnic fare at no cost, was sponsored by the Kent Goes Purple opioid awareness campaign.
Stepping out of the audience from under the pavilion at Worton Park, Shiloh spoke without notes for about 20 minutes. He said he has now been sober for 13 years, what he once thought was not possible as he was on a path of destruction.
His story is too familiar. Loss of job, family and friends as alcohol and drug use spiraled out of control. Stints in rehab followed by relapse. Criminal activity to support his addiction.
It was a disturbing and disheartening account of his life between the ages of 18 to 22, when it seemed there would not be a good outcome.
But if there is breath, there is hope. Shiloh is living testament to that.
He checked into the A.F. Whitsitt Center in Chestertown in August 2006, signing up for a 28-day treatment program for the second time in five months.
This time it took, introducing him to what he described as “a different way of living.”
“I have been living on that journey ever since,” said Shiloh, whose path has included trade school and certification as a welder.
He has lived in a recovery house and is now actively engaged in 12-step fellowships. He also developed a relationship with God.
“Now is not the time to try to save face due to fear of being exposed. It’s time to start asking for help,” Shiloh told the Jamboree audience. “I understand today that my life has been spared.”
He said he grew up in Cecil County and was raised by a hardworking single parent who provided a loving home.
At about the age of 12, in the grips of adolescent angst, he became a follower. He wanted to be liked by the “cool kids,” who were drinking and drugging. He said he didn’t understand at the time that “fitting in” would lead him down the wrong path, which included being court ordered to a residential program in Chestertown for juvenile delinquents.
On Saturday, to the youth in the audience, Shiloh said: “Be a leader. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to fit in. Don’t worry about being judged.”
He urged them to take a stand against drugs and alcohol. “Stand up and speak out against it,” he said.
The aim of the inaugural Purple Jamboree was to bring families together and the community together to combat the opioid epidemic. Organizers estimated the crowd at about 200.
In addition to fun, food and games, Karen Somerville sang and was accompanied by keyboardist Gerry Werner. The Kent County Health Department offered educational handouts and free Narcan training, and the Kent County Sheriff’s Office brought the Hope Trailer model bedroom that shows hiding places where drugs and paraphernalia may be stashed.
“Like each of our other Kent Goes Purple events, those who came out to Worton Park had a great time and hopefully took away something meaningful from the experience. A lot of time and effort went into its planning and execution, from the food booth to the educational messaging signs,” said Andy Meehan of the Chestertown Rotary Club, one of the principle sponsors of Kent Goes Purple.
“The Purple Jamboree was intended to provide an opportunity for folks of all ages and walks of life in the community to come together for some fun activities while increasing awareness about substance abuse prevention and recovery. From that standpoint it was a great success and could not have been possible without the financial and like-kind support of our sponsors and the help of our volunteers,” said Meehan, who is a member of the Kent Goes Purple Executive Committee.
In 2017, Talbot was the first county on the Mid-Shore to “go purple.” Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline and Dorchester followed in 2018.
In Kent County, throughout the month of September, office buildings, businesses and private residences are lit up in purple and folks are wearing purple T-shirts and wristbands. Purple is the official color representing overdose awareness.
In 2019, Kent has had 55 overdoses — the most recent occurring Friday night, according to Sheriff John Price.
County Health Officer William Webb said there have been seven fatal overdoses this year, in Kent, all of them involving fentanyl or fentanyl analogs.