If it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, just imagine what 10,000 candles could do.
Two New Hampshire recovery advocates are organizing statewide vigils on Aug. 29 to remember and honor those lost to the state’s drug epidemic and to suicide, calling the event 10,000 Candles for New Hampshire. But T.J. Murphy and Matt Conway say what they really want to do is to build connections among people as a bulwark against the forces that lead to such troubles in the first place.
Murphy and Conway are the co-founders of RecoverYdia, an organization that showcases video narratives of people who have found recovery from challenges in their lives. “The opposite of addiction is connection; the opposite of suicide is connection,” Murphy said. “And when people have meaningful human interactions, there are better mental health outcomes.”
“Humans evolved to live in tribes. But in this modern culture, tribes are falling apart,” he said.
Nearly three dozen speakers have been lined up to share stories of hope and human connection at 10,000 Candles events in six New Hampshire communities: Concord, Derry, Dover, Keene, Manchester and Nashua.
First responders, mental health advocates, and people in recovery from substance use disorders and post-traumatic stress will be among the speakers; there will be music, and resource tables available.
Conway said a recent study found that young people today represent “the loneliest generation on record.”
“People are lacking meaningful connections in their lives,” he said. “That could be human connections; it could also be connection to various values in their life; it could be connections with nature.”
“Some of the underlying conditions that helped create the problem are things like fear and stigma, isolation, anxiety and depression,” Murphy said. “If people can alleviate some of those underlying conditions by being together, then our hope is that that provides New Hampshire with a better outcome.”
When people share their stories of struggle and recovery, Conway said, “Not only are they helping themselves heal and it’s cathartic for them, but it’s also allowing other people to recognize: I’m not alone; other people feel the same way that I do.”
Both men are New Hampshire natives. Conway, a graduate of Pinkerton Academy and Plymouth State University, has an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University. He spent 16 years in the tech industry and was working in sales when he had a sort of epiphany. “I was climbing the corporate ladder until I recognized I was on the wrong building,” he said. “It was time for a change.”
Around the same time, Murphy, who grew up in Manchester and attended West High School and Keene State College, had returned to New Hampshire after years on the West Coast working as a musician. He got involved in Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, starting a choir for individuals in recovery.
Last year, Conway saw a front-page story about the choir in the New Hampshire Sunday News and recognized Murphy; they’d known each other years ago. They met at a local restaurant to catch up and by the end of the meal, they were business partners.
RecoverYdia (a combination of recovery and media) is “fiscally sponsored” by a New York-based nonprofit that supports arts organizations, Murphy and Conway said. Their vision is to create a “repository” of positive narratives about recovery that will inspire others, especially young people.
For now, they’re relying on the gig economy to support themselves; they’re both ride-sharing drivers. But they’re hoping to get grant funding to support their real passion.
The Aug. 29 vigils are attracting interest from thousands of people on social media. The event in Keene starts at 6:30 p.m. in Central Square; in Derry, the vigil begins at 7 p.m. in MacGregor Park. Vigils start at 8 p.m. in Manchester’s Derryfield Park; on the State House lawn in Concord; at Henry Law Park in Dover; and in Nashua’s Greeley Park.
Conway said he hopes people will come to these places “looking for a way for them to grieve collectively.”
“There are a lot of people who are in a lot of pain in this state,” he said. “You can’t find anybody who hasn’t been touched by suicide or addiction in the state of New Hampshire in some way. Everybody’s affected by this.”
But, he said, “There is hope that we can walk out of this addiction crisis and this mental health crisis together, by reaching out a hand to the person next to you and connecting with people and just opening our hearts to people a little more. And recognizing that everyone is struggling with something and we need to be a little more compassionate as a society.”
What they really want, they said, is for the connections forged in candlelight to continue into future days. “If there’s a transmission line open between human beings, then there’s hope,” Murphy said.
Conway has an invitation for New Hampshire: “Come as one; stand as a community.”