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Joining hands helps break addiction chain

Once a year, the Portland metropolitan area addiction recovery community gets together to celebrate recovery in a big way, with a human chain reaching from Oregon to Washington.Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - More than 3,000 people joined hands across the Interstate 5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver last year to celebrate the journey to addiction recovery. This years event is set for Sept. 13.

On Sunday, Sept. 14, more than 3,000 people are expected to join hands for the 13th annual “Hands Across the Bridge” event.

Hands Across the Bridge is literally that: people holding hands, reaching across the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.

The event takes place at noon, and anyone touched by addiction in any way is invited to attend. A music festival benefiting the Oxford House organization of Oregon and Washington — a network of self-run, self-supported recovery houses — will follow the activity on the bridge at Ester Short Park in Vancouver.

Hands organizer Patty Katz of Beaverton said she and a friend, Louise Wedge, started the event as a symbol of their own addiction recovery journeys.

One year into her own recovery, Katz said the event is special.

“Standing on the bridge at daylight and giving thanks for not being ‘under the bridge’” — or under the grip of addiction — had deep meaning for her.

The first event happened at daybreak, with about 200 people on the I-5 bridge. The second year, there were 500 people. Last year, Katz said, it drew about 2,500.

James Williams of North Plains has been attending the event since 2003.

“I’m in long-term recovery with no drugs or drink for 12 plus years,” Williams said. His “clean date” is May of 2002.

“It took a lot of years for me to take responsibility for my own life,” Williams explained. “It took my mother passing away from cancer.”

When that happened in 2001, Williams said he promised his mother “on her deathbed” he would stop using.

Shortly thereafter, his daughter wrote him a letter, “saying she never wanted to see me again,” he explained. That’s what it took to make the change in his life to be clean and sober.

Williams is now the Washington County program manager for Bridges to Change, a program that helps incarcerated people affected by addiction transition successfully back into society through mentoring and other guidance.

“It’s come full circle for me,” Williams said, managing the program that helped him when he made the commitment to recovery. He is happy to be able to “give back what was freely given to me.”

Hands Across the Bridge is the signature event for what has become a much larger endeavor for Katz, the “Hands Across the Bridge Project,” a volunteer-run nonprofit that develops leadership in the substance recovery community by teaching individuals how to “advocate further for the rights of those seeking recovery, in recovery, or for the much needed recovery resources,” according to the project’s website.

Gaining a voice is empowering, Katz explained.

“This is so important for those who have been disenfranchised for so long,” she said. “It’s personal democracy.”

Williams said this event is important to members of the recovery community to remind each other and the wider community that “recovery is a journey, not a destination.”

“I’m still involved with the recovery community,” Williams added. “I still ask for help myself from time to time.”

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