The best way to destigmatize addiction is to talk openly about it, says Jessica Williams, manager of the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk.

With alcohol sales and overdose deaths on the rise both locally and nationally, help and understanding is needed more than ever.

“I personally have found it very freeing to sort of ‘come out of the closet’ about my own history of addiction on social media, and while not everyone is in a position to do that, it’s a great way to combat stigma and,” Williams says, “not to mention feeling more authentic and free.”

“What good is it for people who are struggling to feel ashamed? Much better for them to see attractive, positive images of people who have been through it themselves and a community that’s willing to help in many different ways,” she says.

Celebrating recovery from addiction, the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk usually draws 2,500 people Downtown, while showcasing more than 60 local organizations dedicated to health, harm reduction and support services.

For its fifth annual event on Sept. 19, participants will forge their own paths then come together online.

With large gatherings prohibited due to COVID-19, individuals and small groups of walkers will choose their own routes and post stories, photos and videos online using the hashtag #MyRoadPGH. There will also be short (about one mile) designated pathways through the North Shore, Swissvale and Sharpsburg.

There is no fee to register, but only a limited number of complimentary event T-shirts are available.

Organizers developed interactive social media elements such as profile picture frames and digital stickers so folks can endorse the walk’s message. Donations go directly to the event itself, allowing it to grow year after year.

Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk.

At 7 p.m. on the day of the event, the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk website and social media channels will stream a virtual program with advice from advocates Stacie Brown and Bethany Hallam, music from Jim Donovan & Sun King Warriors and an awards presentation led by City Councilman Bruce Kraus.

Dozens of local organizations plan to join the livestream to share resources and information supporting health and recovery.

Even after the program, the site will remain a place for people to connect with each other.

“This seems like a hard time for most of us, whether you’re in recovery or not,” Williams says. “Lots of recovery support meetings have moved online, which is a big adjustment, and for some people, it just doesn’t resonate in the same way. For someone who is trying to connect to a recovery community for the first time, it can be difficult, but not impossible, to get to know people in a digital environment.”