People gather at St. John’s Church in Bangor for the second annual healing service on Thursday evening. The interfaith service is held to remember those lost to drugs and to remind people that recovery is possible. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Erin Ehlin is from a very small Maine town where there weren’t opportunities to be part of a recovery community. But she found one in a former furniture store in Brewer, at the Bangor Area Recovery Network.

Ehlen, 41, of Bangor introduced herself Thursday at the Second Annual Healing Service at St. John Catholic Church on York Street in Bangor as a drug addict and an alcoholic.

“The BARN has saved my life many times. My sister was not so lucky,” Ehlen said. “Recovery overcomes the shame, the guilt, the pain and all that comes with addiction.”

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Her sister, Melissa Ehlen, died of a heroin overdose in 2017, she said after the service.

“I’ve been in recovery since May 7, 2018, and just passed my one year anniversary,” Ehlin said. “I wanted to be here to let people know if I can do it, they can do it. I didn’t know about the BARN or the recovery community in Bangor.”

She said that she wanted to offer hope for people struggling with substance use disorder. That and remembering people such as Melissa Ehlin was the reason for the healing service, organizers said. This year’s service drew about a quarter of the crowd as last year’s, which included about 500 people.

This year, the program began with an informational session before the service in the church fellowship hall that included a demonstration of how to use the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Information on treatment available in Greater Bangor and how recovery works in the brain also was presented.

“Substance use disorder is a chronic disease and it responds to treatment in ways similar to how the body responds to other chronic diseases,” Dr. Noah Nesin, vice president of medical affairs at Penobscot Community Health Care, said.

Gordon Smith, the state’s director of Opioid Response, which is a new position in Gov. Janet Mills’ administration, said the governor agrees with Nesin’s view.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

“[Mills] has decided to treat substance use disorder the same as other diseases, like diabetes,” he said. “The governor made a very strong commitment to put resources into prevention, treatment and harm reduction. With your help, we can make quite an improvement in this situation.”

Kayla Kalel, 29, of Bangor spoke to the group with her mother, Tammy Kalel, 53 of Orrington, by her side and her 10-month old daughter in the audience.

“I grew up in a really amazing home, a Christian home,” she said. Substance use disorder does not discriminate.”

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

During the time when her addiction was active, Tammy Kalel would quote a Bible verse to her daughter — “The Lord will restore to you the years the locusts ate” — from Joel 2:25.

“Our family is so grateful that Kayla’s life was spared and we don’t take that for granted,” the elder Kalel said. “We want to empower folks with hope. For our family, that means we are getting lost time back and rebuilding family relationships. We witness every day how great recovery can be.”

Members of the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Native American faiths participated in the service.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Dwayne Tomah, the language keeper for the Passamaquoddy tribe, sang a gathering and healing song as the service began. It had not been sung for 129 years, the tribal elder said.

The event ended with a Gaelic blessing:

“Deep peace of the running wave to you.

“Deep peace of the flowing air to you.

“Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

“Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

“Deep peace of the gentle night to you.

“Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.”

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik