On the fourth floor of the Liberation House on Main Street in Stamford at 9:30 a.m. Monday, six Darien High School students sit around one of the round tables in the cafeteria. They don't say much and keep looking toward the door closest to them.
Just through the doorway and past a set of stairs and elevator, a graduation ceremony is taking place. It's a ceremony of joy, but the atmosphere would change to one of pleas and lessons told, after some of the residents of the Liberation House took a quick cigarette break.
As the students, who were on a field trip hosted by the Darien Depot, file into the room and take a seat on the far wall, the residents of the Liberation House join them. At first, there are 10 men, then 20, then 30.
Eventually, more than 40 men sit with the students and share their stories of how drug abuse affected their lives and lead them to the Liberation House.
"I believe stories are powerful," Barry Halpin, a prevention specialist at the Liberation House, said. "I am big on the value of stories."
Afterward, DHS senior Kerry O'Brien said she was amazed at how open the Liberation House men and the women from the Families in Recovery Program were about their stories.
One by one some of the men and women tell their stories, like the 25-year-old man, who loves to draw, said he should be at an art school in Boston. But after a move to Connecticut in high school, he started to act out and, suddenly, the student once in the talented and gifted programs was smoking marijuana and working his way toward pharmaceuticals.
He eventually was kicked out of school.
"All that intelligence and stuff I had?" he said. "That ship sailed."
A 22-year-old man from Puerto Rico stood in the middle of the circle to tell his story about being abandoned by his mother and being in and out of the legal system 15 times.
"My life was completely destroyed until I came to Liberation," he said.
Through the Liberation House programs, residents are encouraged to share their feelings and experiences to work toward leading a sober life. Four- to six-month residential programs are available for 65 men to learn sober coping skills. They receive counseling, outpatient treatment and connections to community resources and support groups.
"Drugs tore my life up," said a 31-year-old woman, who could have been a high school track star had she not started using drugs. Her family had a track record of drug abuse. "I should have known better."
The woman, who abused Xanax, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol, acknowledged that when she is drug free, she needs to move away from Stamford to avoid the pressure to relapse.
The stories continue, with similar themes: A good upbringing or a troubled childhood and a moment that lead to drugs.
"Rich people, poor people, cool people, lame people," said a man who had everything changed for him when he was in high school and felt like an outcast. "It doesn't matter who you are, drugs want your soul. I tried the drugs for you. It doesn't work. It's stupid."
After two hours, the students return to the cafeteria for a quick lunch. While eating their chicken sandwiches, the students talk about what they had just heard.
"I was interested in the 23-year-old," senior Madison Bolotin said of a man who didn't tell his specific story but warned against the likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases through drug use. "He is so close in age to us. It's inspiring to hear him say, `I never thought it would happen to me,' and young enough to get his life back on track."
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