Coming Out of the Black Hole

In doing further research in support of the upcoming publication of our memoir, I have found many new groups, websites, and blogs about the opioid epidemic. It is very encouraging. And I was thinking back to 2005 when we first discovered that our son was using Black Tar Heroin. We were in an absolute black hole of information––there was nothing to be found on the internet or in our community, even though it had been a decade since this new way of producing and marketing heroin had hit the streets of the west coast. Eventually we discovered Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street, a1999 documentary directed by Steven Okazaki. Filmed from 1995-98 in San Francisco.

As our son went through weeks of withdrawals without any medication, we finally found an outpatient recovery program for teenagers and their families in our town. (We had found inpatient programs that were in the $75-100K range, but that was beyond our resources.) Just a few weeks before we found out about our sons’ use, there had been a drug bust at his high school with many students who were using opioids sent away for rehab. What is sad and frustrating, still, is that no one––not school officials or the nurse or parents––no one let the rest of the school community know. No one shared information and I don’t think we have to wonder why.

The shame and stigma associated with having kids who use dangerous drugs is something that is still very much a taboo for many people. I continue to hear about young people who “died suddenly” but with no explanation of how. Sadly, we have learned from experience that 20-somethings do not die suddenly for no reason.

This makes the growing number of parents who are coming forward and sharing their stories worth celebrating––along with the many new organizations for helping families handle the complexities of addiction, detox, rehab, and recovery. All the awareness and action brings me hope to think that there will be fewer kids getting addicted in the first place and fewer families planning memorial services.

Here are just a few websites worth visiting and passing on, especially to anyone who has children starting with middle school age and up. It is never too soon for parents and their kids to be informed.

CRAFT PROGRAM: Community Reinforcement and Family Training  https://alliesinrecovery.net/about-craft/

Denial is a common theme among those suffering from addiction. If someone is regularly abusing alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit substances, denial might have them convinced that there is no problem or that any problems are only the perceptions of their loved ones.  50% of people suffering from substance use disorder, and who admit they have a problem, are resistant to getting help. CRAFT was designed with these individuals in mind. Rather than target the person with addiction directly, CRAFT works with the concerned significant others so that they can assist the person to admit they have a problem and then seek help. It also helps show friends and family how to better communicate with their addicted loved ones.

Family Resource Center

http://www.familyresourcectr.org/
“Empowering families to understand and address a child’s substance use.”
Offers a variety of age-specific resources such as videos, articles, manuals, etc. to help understand what addiction is, who is susceptible, and the other long-term consequences associated with adolescent substance use. It can give you the resources you need to support your child before, during and after substance misuse begins.

https://humanizingaddiction.com/
“…a website that will introduce addiction to those not impacted in order to help prevent it from capturing a loved one and to bring awareness that the unthinkable is real. A place to share our love for ones that struggle to hopefully inspire others still fighting to come out from behind closed doors and to scream from the rooftops that our gracefully broken are the faces of those not aware that it can happen to them. A source that offers a private look into the day in a life of those captured by addiction. A site with personal journals of those that struggle against addiction each day.”

http://thealarmgroup.org/
“ALARM: A Living Amends Resource Media – The Voice of the Voiceless
To amend means to make a change.  We believe the epidemic proportion of the drug problem in the United States requires change, so we decided to act on creating the change we want to see. We’ve seen the raw results of this plague and couldn’t sit on the sidelines. It seemed like everyone we talked to knew or was related to someone who had died of an overdose or complications of opioid drug use.
We started interviewing and filming families who have lost loved ones to prescription opioids and heroin.”
YouTube link for short summary video of interviews:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=131&v=HBkG0FxeMDU

A Different Death

Yesterday, my husband John, and I, along with family and friends, celebrated my father’s life of 92 years with a beautiful memorial service. He was buried with military honors for his service during WWII. In the week since his death, friends have asked me how I was feeling about his death – knowing that this death is the now the fifth death in my immediate family since 2001. First my younger brother at 40 from AIDS, then my sister at 56 from breast/brain cancer, then my son at 25 from a heroin overdose, then my other brother at 51 by suicide – and now my father.

This death, of a great-grandfather, is different than the previous four in so many ways. Not only do we expect grand-parents to pass away before their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, but we know by the 10th decade of life, the day to meet our maker is fast approaching. For my father, he was doing quite well mentally, but his health was declining rapidly this year. By August, we knew his days were numbered – and so did he. The dying know they are dying, and for my father, it made him sad. He loved life and he loved his family. And even though he had a strong Christian faith and confidence in waking up in a new and unimaginable existence with his loved ones who went before him, he still had a very natural trepidation of the process of dying.

His last two weeks were marked by no appetite and finally no ability to even drink – his body was done with this life. With John holding his hand, he took his last breath and his spirit left the room – and left this earth. How did I feel? Sad because we will no longer enjoy his presence, and his death marks the end of an era of the large Italian family dinners and parties. But I was also relieved that he was no longer suffering in a body that was giving out.

The unexpected death of our son from a heroin overdose was different in every way imaginable. I look back now and wonder how John and I made it – how we didn’t end up institutionalized under heavy medication. I remember in the first few months feeling that my mind was on the verge of splitting in two – my heart was already broken – but it is our minds that hold us together. The love and support from our close friends and family surely were part of that glue. But the real potion that caused us to not tip over the edge was the mercy and grace of God. Without Him, we wouldn’t have had the courage to go on or the strength to look ahead with hope of an eternity with our son and with our other family members.

For those of you with friends who have lost a child to a drug overdose, please remember that a sudden, unexpected, preventable death is different from all other losses. These deaths are not natural, the lives were not completed, the parents and family can not just move on. They need your love and support – and prayers.