A Year of Sunrises

There’s no getting around it, 2020 was a challenging year. It was especially hard on people with Substance Use Disorders. Structural racism, stigma, and health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 collided in 2020, and the emerging statistics present a grim narrative.

And yet, we are resilient. We know that each new day is both a gift and an opportunity. As the sun rises above the horizon every morning, so too does another chance to take a step forward, regardless of where we traveled the day before. Recovery is a process unique to each of us, but we share the promise of renewal.

I never fully appreciated the beauty in a sunrise until I entered into recovery. Now I cherish the moment when that glorious burst of pink and gold and light breaks open a new day. A source of joy and inspiration for me in 2020, even in its darkest moments, was the daily sunrise photo that my friend and colleague Gary Branchaud posted on social media.

In his recovery, Gary has also rescued 224 dogs, all of whom have found homes.

A person in long-term recovery and a member of the Red Lake Nation, Gary is the co-founder of Sober Squad, a recovery movement that he and Colin Cash started on the Mille Lacs reservation that has now spread throughout Minnesota and beyond. Every morning Gary posts a photo of the sun rising above Lake Mille Lacs, sometimes adding an inspirational quote and always including the admonition to “Make it a great day and REMEMBER to hug those close to you.”

Being near the lake at sunrise is part of Gary’s recovery journey and cultural healing. “Our medicine is really strong just before the sun rises,” he told me. “About three years ago I started sitting by the water and waiting. When the sun rises you can hear it, like a snap.” Every day at that moment he says a simple prayer that the sun will shine on everyone. “It helps me be grateful,” he said, “and it reminds me that I am only human.” The rare time Gary doesn’t post a sunrise photo from Mille Lacs is when he’s out of town. “I still say a prayer for everyone, though,” he added.

Here is (almost) every sunrise from 2020, each captured and honored with a prayer for us all by Gary. Miigwech, Gary, from me and so many others, for sharing the gift of sunrises with us in 2020. As we begin 2021, the recovery community is stronger than ever in its resolve to lift up and support all who are affected by Substance Use Disorders.  We will move forward, with gratitude, one sunrise at a time.

– Wendy Jones, Executive Director, Minnesota Recovery Connection