SEASIDE HEIGHTS – After a year’s absence, walkers donning bright, uplifting yellow shirts returned to the borough boardwalk for the 8th Annual Celebration of Hope Walk.
The annual two-mile walk on the Seaside Heights boardwalk is a fundraising effort to benefit HOPE Sheds Light, a non-profit agency that helps those with addiction and also aids their families.
The walk showcased resources for family members and friends impacted by substance use disorder, and included several speakers who shared their story of addiction and regaining their hope to live.
A Tree of HOPE was also present along with various vendors, a raffle and banners featuring the faces and names of those who have passed and had struggled with addiction.
Last year’s fundraiser went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic but this year’s walk, much like the one in 2019, experienced sunny skies and mild temperatures making for a perfect walk day.
One of the speakers who shared his personal story was Todd. His last name was kept private. He spoke prior to the walk about seeing a professional counselor. He asked if he were bi-polar and was told, “you’re not bi-polar you are an alcoholic.”
“I said ‘no’ and she said ‘yeah’ so to prove her wrong I cut down on my drinking but I increased my marijuana smoking. Let me tell you something, if you replace drinking with marijuana that’s like going to McDonald’s and ordering a Big Mac with large fries and having a diet Coke. It didn’t work,” Todd said.
He added, “she was right. I was wrong. I’m Todd and I’m an alcoholic. For most of my adult life I was a funeral director which required me to work weekends. I would go to bars by myself because I had to get my party time in. I felt my day off was wasted if I didn’t get wasted.”
It was his dog Karma that led him to want to change his life and to recognize that he needed help. “I loved this dog more than myself. Never having kids, she was my hairy mute little daughter. A few years later I moved to Toms River to be closer to my mother and start a new life. I was drinking every day with physical and mental consequences. At this point my dog is my only source of happiness.
“Then one day I found out my dog had cancer. All I did was cry, hold her and drink. A few nights later I was in my kitchen drunk looking at my countertop completely littered with empty beer bottles and I thought, you just found out your dog has cancer and this is how your living?
“That moment was my personal rock bottom. The only way my girl could get the best personal care that she deserved is that I had to be at 100%. Six days later I quit drinking, I joined AA and Hope Sheds Light. That first day sober I was enraged at alcohol. It was like an old friend who had betrayed and hurt me because that was exactly what it was,” he said.
“I had to give my girl back to God but because all the work I put into my recovery, I was able to say goodbye with a healthy mind. That day, I had the serenity to accept what I could not change. I accepted that my greatest hardship of losing my dog led a pathway to my greatest peace, sobriety. I quit drinking for my dog but I stayed sober for me.”
More than 2,000 people walked during the event, according to HSL Recovery Center Manager Heather Price. Donations can still be made to HOPE Sheds Light by visiting their website at hsl.charityweb.net/hopeshedslight/walk/