NORWAY — “It is OK to ask for help. Relapses can occur, but we can get ourselves back up and our recovery community will be waiting for us without judgment.”

Aaron Ryder, Intervention and Peer Support Specialist for The HILLS Recovery Center, will share his experiences with substance use disorder and recovery at the Western Maine Recovery Rally, which starts at 11 a.m. Sunday at 15 Tannery Street in Norway and marches to Moore Park in South Paris. Supplied photo

These are lessons that Aaron Ryder, intervention and peer support specialist at The HILLS Recovery Center, learned from his support system after he relapsed last year after maintaining sobriety for close to two years.

It can be common for a person with substance use disorder to conclude after a period in recovery that they may have gotten the upper hand on their disease. Some may encounter new traumas that overwhelm them, or find that they start experiencing new triggers they were not expecting.

Whatever the individual situation, relapsing with substances can wipe out sometimes years of hard work and determination dedicated to maintaining sobriety.

What accompanies relapse may undermine not just that person’s sense of achievement but also their belief they have the ability to recover.

This is where support from the community and peers becomes even more critical, whether one is contemplating, managing or even afraid of,  recovery. That message of support is the underlying reason that the Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative (WMARI) hosts its annual recovery rally in Oxford Hills.


Similar events are held in cities and towns across the country as part of National Recovery Month. Rallies took place in Portland and Bangor last weekend, one will be in Lewiston on Saturday, and WMARI’s will be Sunday during a march from The HILLS Recovery Center at 15 Tannery Street to Moore Park in South Paris.

Recovery does not stop, nor does the work of people like Ryder, who will soon celebrate 18-month anniversary of his recovery that began in 2022.

“I had almost two years of sobriety,” Ryder told the Advertiser Democrat. “I had stopped going to my support groups, stopped using the tools I had acquired to cope with my urges, and had stopped reaching out to the people in my support system.

“When I got back into my recovery, I was not treated with judgment or shame. I was welcomed back with open arms. We worked on the pathway of recovery that was going to work best for me. I was a volunteer at last year’s Western Maine Recovery Rally and the energy and compassion to help people and educate them about substance use disorders, I felt like this was where I was meant to be.  I wanted to help people understand that they are not alone in this.”

Ryder pursued that mission to help, becoming the first employee WMARI Director Kari Taylor hired as an SUD interventionalist at The HILLS, which opened early in 2023. He works one-on-one with people to chart their own paths to recovery.

He will also be a featured speaker at the Western Maine Recovery Rally on Sunday, joining others from all walks of life who will share their personal journeys through addiction and recovery, as well as local law enforcement and legislative representatives.


Following presentation stories, a family-friendly celebration will continue at Moore Park with lawn games and a kid’s zone. Trained recovery coaches will be on hand to provide educational resources.

The rain-or-shine rally will conclude at 3 p.m., with transportation available to take people back to their vehicles in Norway.

WMARI has also coordinated transportation to and from the River Valley region for those who need it.

The rally is free to the public and meant to support all affected by substance use disorder, including friends and loved ones looking for ways to help their family member or the community at large.

Participants are encouraged to register by RSVP on the Western Maine Recovery Rally’s Facebook page . Information about the rally may also be found on WMARI’s website.

“For me, when I relapsed, there was an internal feeling of shame that I had failed,” Ryder said. “I felt like I had lost everything that I had been working on. But I still had the tools. I still had my recovery family waiting for me.”

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