Kalamazoo festival paving the roads to wellness and recovery

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

The ninth annual Wellness and Recovery Festival will be providing resources, celebrating recovery, and cutting through the stigmas surrounding addiction at Bronson Park on Saturday, Sept. 16.

Addiction is a disease, and stigmas get in the way of recovery, event planner for the Recovery Institute of Southwest Michigan, Dominick Gladstone, says.

"Do you shame somebody if they have heart disease?" he asks. "But we shame people who are addicted." 

Dominick Gladstone, event planner with the Recovery Institute of Southwest MichiganGladstone has been an advocate for recovery, and in long-term recovery himself, for nearly 20 years. He's also a recovery coach.

Progress has been made in seeing addiction as a disease, not a moral failing or simple lack of willpower, he says. But like politics in general, "half the country is divided on any one issue."

There may be people who don’t understand addiction, but on the other side, "You've got a group of people who absolutely believe we need to help, we need to provide services, we need to provide events, we need to bring awareness to it. But more importantly, we need to do boots-on-the-ground work to help people get into treatment, to get into recovery." 

Some people don’t get a chance to see recovery, Gladstone points out. Fentanyl and opioids in general killed around 81,000 Americans in 2022, according to White House data.  

Harm reduction — such as making Narcan available to counter overdoses when they happen — is an important first step toward getting people into recovery, Gladstone says.  

Deadly street drugs seem to be getting the most media attention, but Gladstone points to the most socially acceptable drug that causes more harm.

"Alcohol is still killing more people than any other drug combined, and we don't talk about it as much because it's not a sexy topic in the news right now — opioids are," he says.

The CDC has found that excessive alcohol use causes more than 140,000 deaths each year. 

"I don't think alcohol is bad, I just can't have any," Gladstone adds. "If somebody's addicted, they can't have any, they can't have one drink."

One stigma towards alcohol and other addictions is that addiction is merely a lack of willpower. 

"You can have just one, right?" he might be asked at any social gathering where alcohol is served.
For the addict, it's not possible to just stop at just one, he says. "It's not understood, we still need education," that addiction is a disease. 

"'Just stop doing the drugs, get your life together, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.'... Comments like those are not helpful to those who have an addiction problem, which is a disease of a brain that craves more."

As a disease cure, recovery efforts are hard for some to understand, he adds. People need ongoing therapy, such as in 12-step program meetings. "It's like going to the gym. You don't stop going to the gym if you get out of shape," Gladstone says.

It might take multiple attempts before an addict stops using. Gladstone notes the feelings of people who aren't addicted, "We wasted enough resources on this person, it's obvious they don't get it.' To me, it's one more chance where they didn't die, and they have an opportunity to recover," he says. 

"That's why we keep giving out Narcan to stop overdoses, that's why we keep sending people to treatment centers over and over and over again." 

Robert Hawkins and The Recovery Gathering BandThe Wellness and Recovery Festival will bring over 60 booths to the park, with agencies providing resources for help. The COPE Network's Kalamazoo Harm Reduction will have Narcan available and will provide training on how to use the drug for overdose prevention. Synergy Health Center, Reach Sober Living, Gryphon Place, Disability Network Southwest Michigan, and Family Health Center. will be among the many organizations on hand.

Food trucks, including Sober Eats, a taco truck based in Grand Rapids run by recovery advocates, will be on hand. Starting at 3 pm, a recovery concert with music by Vincent Miller, Robert Hawkins, and the Recovery Gathering Band, will "celebrate the fact that we do recover. We do have our lives turned around," Gladstone says. 

The Kalamazoo Wellness and Recovery Festival will be at Bronson Park on Saturday, Sept. 16, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Read more articles by Mark Wedel.

Mark Wedel has been a freelance journalist in southwest Michigan since 1992, covering a bewildering variety of subjects. He also writes on his epic bike rides across the country. He's written a book on one ride, "Mule Skinner Blues." For more information, see www.markswedel.com.