PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — In 2014, Paige Berounsky was a senior at Portsmouth High School, using heroin every day.
Her middle-class parents had done everything right, she said. They lived in a nice home in Greenland, Berounsky danced each day after school, and played sports. But she began drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana at age 12. From there, it just took off.
She eventually made her way to a recovery program in Effingham. Today, her sober date is Aug. 24, 2016, and she has a beautiful baby girl, named Kennedy, who is 10 months old.
Berounsky was one of 10 faces, depicting children, brothers, sisters, neighbors and coworkers, facing the grips of addiction, as featured in a new photography exhibit titled “Faces of Hope,” revealed Tuesday at 3S Artspace, presented by the Triangle Club in Dover. Gov. Chris Sununu was a special guest at the sold out event.
When asked how she feels about her life today, Berounsky, 22, said, “I love it. I have meaningful relationships with my family now.” She works at an eye doctor’s office in Portsmouth, and said when her daughter is old enough to ask about her mother’s addiction, she’ll be “honest.”
In Berounsky’s portrait, she held little Kennedy, wearing a bow on her head.
The Triangle Club, established in 1984 and often referred to as “Dover’s second emergency room,” currently holds more than 60 recovery meetings weekly, and was the first in New Hampshire to hold Heroin Anonymous meetings. Two-hundred to 250 people pass through their doors each day.
The idea for the exhibit was born when the Triangle Club approached local photographer and Portsmouth High School guidance counselor Michael Winters about taking photos of the 10 subjects, many of whom pursue their recovery at the Triangle Club.
“It was kind of a no-brainer for me to do this,” Winters said. “Anything I could do to help, I was more than happy to do. I’ve seen the effects of addiction over the years, and on students, too.”
Sandra Jalbert, chair of the Triangle Club’s board of directors, said the exhibit was meant to inspire change and dispel stigmas around those with substance abuse disorders. Jalbert said the subjects, who are all local, were “willing to stand up and expose themselves,” whereas over the years, addiction has been swept under the rug and typically kept anonymous.
Under each photograph, quotes reads, “I pray a lot,” “I believe we can recover,” and “I am 930 days sober and I love my life.”
Jess Dorr, of Portsmouth, said she would use “pretty much anything I could get my hands on.” Her little sister died of a heroin overdose two years ago, having just turned 25. Dorr didn’t even know she was using.
Dorr’s message to people addicted to drugs, alcohol or both was, “There is hope, there is hope. And we don’t have to do it alone.”
“I’m so happy to be able to do it, I’m honored,” Dorr said of being featured in the exhibit.
Sununu said he was particularly drawn to speaking Tuesday because, “what I really love about what we’re doing tonight is the stories … it’s the stories. It’s getting out and really engaging with individuals.”
Sununu shared his own story he tells often, of a woman he met during a parade in northern New Hampshire, who told him she would rather continue to stay addicted to fentanyl than drive 150 miles to Manchester for rehab, and possibly lose her children and job as a result. That woman inspired his “hub and spoke” statewide recovery model, he said.
New Hampshire is set to spend $55 million over the next four years creating substance misuse infrastructure, Sununu said. And addiction does not only concern Sununu as a governor, he said, but as a dad.
“I know that it does not discern,” he said.
Sununu celebrated the photo subjects, and said while the state has in fact lowered both overdose and death rates, “we’ve got a long way to go.” He encouraged people to “tell someone they have worth. Lift them up.”
“We were one of the first ones into this crisis, and we will be the first ones out,” he said.
Other speakers at Tuesday’s event included Merrill Black, Dr. Amy Fitzpatrick and Nancy Jean Hill.