On Oct. 5, guest speakers gave emotional speeches for a substance abuse awareness panel in Keene State College’s Mabel Brown Room, detailing their experiences with substance use and how it changed their lives. Keene State’s sorority Delta Phi Epsilon hosted the event.

Sorority member and KSC junior Alexandra Sholtes said they’ve hosted the event for three years now. “It’s something we want to continue moving forward,” she said. Sholtes said this event is intended to educate people on the effects of substance abuse and where they can get help if needed. “Substance abuse is something that affects all of us in some way and our goal was to educate and bring that human aspect to the issue,” she said. Sholtes said she felt the event was a success. “I was touched and moved by the courageous people who spoke,” she said.

Coordinator of AOD (alcohol and other drugs) Prevention, Treatment and Education Services Michelle Morrow said the event was well-received by the audience, of which she was also part of. Morrow did help with getting two of the speakers and organizing the event, but she said she moved by the event. “I thought it was fantastic,” she said. Morrow said of the 85 plus people who went to the event, most of whom were students. She continued that everyone was immersed in the presentation.

“No one was on their phone and there were no side conversations,” she said. Morrow said she was especially taken aback by presenter and KSC sophomore Natassia Diffendale. “Her story was really powerful,” Morrow said.

Diffendale, who is in recovery for a number of addictions, explained how she started using when she was 12. “I came from a family riddled with substance use,” she said. Diffendale said the end of her addiction came when she was put into a medically induced coma after her heart failed due to withdrawals from drug addiction. She said it was scary asking for help because of the stigma associated with addicts.

“The fear of all that made it so I didn’t want to seek help. I was so afraid that people were going to label me differently, that I would lose my job, that no one would want to hang out with me, that no one would want anything to do with me,” said Diffendale. In a later interview, Diffendale said she’s been sober since May 8, 2014. “It me grateful I’ve been given another chance. If you knew my whole story and knew where I was when I was using to the person I am today, like if I can do it, anybody can do it,” she said.

Samantha Moore / Art Director

Samantha Moore / Art Director

Diffendale said she also has family who currently struggle with addiction. “[People in] my family are actively using or they’re in recovery. So I know both aspects of ‘Okay this is what I’ve personally faced,” and ‘This is what I face as a family member of somebody who struggles’,” she said.

Diffendale just lost her mother, however it was unknown if related to drugs.  She said that while she’s very sad about it, she feels good knowing she doesn’t have to numb the grief with drugs. “I got through my mom’s death, but I didn’t have to use. I didn’t have to go out and get drunk,” she said.

Diffendale said that she is looking to start a recovery group on campus. During her presentation, she said, “I can think of five students here who are in recovery.” She said she wants to help make a difference. She said, “I’m very passionate about recovery; I wouldn’t be a college student if I was still using.”  The first meeting will be held on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m. in the Office of Multicultural Student Support locate on the second floor in the Student Center.

Another presenter was Jon Kesty, a social worker who has devoted his life to helping those suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Kesty first told the story of a girl who lived in Concord, New Hampshire, who was a talented basketball player and model student. Kesty then revealed that this was his daughter who had died of a heroin overdose in 2012, making the point that anyone can be suffering from SUD, even those who don’t appear to be. Kesty explained that the American Society of Addiction Medicine recognizes SUD as a chronic disease. However, he said, “Less than one percent of doctors are trained in addiction medication.”

The second presenter to speak, Dean Malanga was described as a recovering addict. Malanga began his story remembering his youth, when he told himself that he would not drink alcohol until after high school. However, a few weeks into his freshman year of high school, Malanga had his first beer.

“I was that guy at the party who had to drink the most. I had to have the attention on me, but I always thought I had it under control in high school,” said Malanga. Malanga said he was a star hockey player during his college career, but went on to describe how his drinking and drug use escalated during that time as well.

“My whole mentality changed to: I wanted to go home to New Jersey and drink the way I wanted to drink and party the way I wanted to party with my friends; that’s what was most important to me at that time,” Malanga said about the summer after his sophomore year of college. Malanga eventually went to a new college in New York City where he said his drug use began to control his life, as he became addicted to percocet and heroin.

“Pretty soon, every decision you make is about getting your next high,” said Malanga. At one point, Malanga overdosed on heroin. It was then that he made the decision to get help and change his life. Now, over a year sober, Malanga has been working with Kesty to educate people about SUD.

Lastly, a few groups from KSC  and the town of Keene were present to reach out to those who needed help with SUD or know someone who is. These groups included the Counseling Center located on the third floor in the Elliot Center, Monadnock Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coalition and the local branch of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Dorothy England can be contacted at dengland@kscequinox.com 

Elliot Weld can be contacted at eweld@kscequinox.com