August 31, 2019
Overdose Awareness Day
This day I had the opportunity to share a testimonial story at Asheville's International Overdose Awareness Day event at Carrier Park. I thought I would share it here as well. I was nervous - it was the first time I have EVER gotten up in front of a crowd of people to speak, but I did think what I had to share was important - for me as well as for those who were listening. I only hope my story and the message I was trying to impart reached someone's heart and maybe gave them a little hope. These are the words I shared:
Memorial Teacup candles for loved ones lost
We gather here together today to honor and remember those we lost to overdose. And as I look out among you, and as I have interacted with so many of you today, my heart is heavy with the pain we carry in our hearts every day.
On October 28, 2017 my family's lives were forever changed when my 22-year-old son, Tom died needlessly from a fentanyl overdose. Tom struggled with substance use disorder for years, which started with prescription painkillers prescribed for him for chronic daily migraines. He was a young teenager, and even though his prescribed medicine was closely monitored, as I'm sure we are all aware of, those pills were everywhere - being sold and traded around like candy in high school. For Tom, the opiates took away his migraine pain, and also numbed him from the emotional pain of being an anxious teen. It didn't take long for Tom to become addicted.
Tom lived the next several years of his life (the time that should have been carefree and happy) in a terrible cycle of pain and anxiety, and constant worry about managing his ever increasing need for more and stronger doses. Then there were the inevitable and painful withdrawal symptoms when he would run out - which he often did. It is a very long and familiar story to many of you I am sure. There were years of struggling and worrying, trying to stop, and at the same time trying to manage the pain.
In the last year of Tom's life - he was feeling he had hit rock bottom. He was 22 years old, and had not been able to accomplish any of the goals he had set for his life. He finally knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to become a wildlife rehabilitator and work with animals. He knew the opiates were ruining his life and his chances for any type of future. But he felt unable to stop using them. He needed help. He tried to get into a rehab facility, but the red tape involved, and lack of bed space cost him months of waiting. He was on a waiting list for rehab when he died. He was frustrated, scared, lonely, and anxious dealing with such a heavy burden. He leaned on his friends for understanding. Unfortunately he went to the friends who were wrestling with the same demon of addiction to drugs. So, on that night of October 28, he took pure fentanyl - given to him by a friend - a friend who knew he was trying to get clean. Another friend tried reviving him - but NO ONE CALLED 911. No one had naloxone to give him. Eventually the friend put him in the back of a pick up truck and tried to drop him off at the hospital, but it was much too late too late by then.
Navigating the pain of his loss was, as I'm sure you can imagine, very hard on our whole family. But it may have been hardest on Tom's little brother, Chris. Chris had been dealing with severe depression for a while. Living with the ups and downs of Tom's illness had taken its toll on our family for years. I feel that Tom's frequent crises may have pushed Chris's needs to the side, and put a wedge between them as brothers. They were just trying to reclaim a relationship and get closer to one another when Tom died. Chris was 17 years old. Chris tried to overcome his depression, but it seemed like a few months after Tom died, he gave up trying. Less than six months after Tom died, his little brother and our only other child chose to take his own life.
I cannot even begin to describe the pain of losing BOTH of your only children. My beautiful boys were now gone. All of our dreams for their futures, of them finding their special someones, of their achievements in life, of our dreams of ever having grandchildren - gone. The pain of having nothing left but memories - pictures become more precious than gold. I still kiss their pictures goodnight EVERY NIGHT. That is the life for us who have lost our children.
But, I don't just want to tell you a sad story today. I want to give you hope - because, even though I thought my children's deaths would be the end of me...... I'm still here! We have passed through the darkest storm that anyone can ever imagine, and we (my husband, Adam and I) are STILL HERE! And I find that .....miraculous! And the only answer I have to explain it is LOVE. We were loved through it. Our family and friends reached out to us, held us up, cried with us, and I believe the LOVE OF GOD HIMSELF surrounded us. Slowly - ever so slowly - I have experienced the healing of my heart. It is still healing. It takes time - it takes a lot of time. But I have learned something remarkable in this journey of grief and it is this:
You can hold Joy in your heart, even when it is broken.
I have experienced joy in sharing my story and listening to your stories, and through all of the shared tears and hugs I feel love for ALL of my fellow mourners, and compassion for anyone struggling with this monster we call substance use disorder. Because now I really understand that these drugs change the brain and take over the person. I know what it's like to watch your loved one struggle. But they don't have to struggle alone. We can help. We can get involved. We can volunteer. We can make ourselves available when someone needs another person to talk to. For my husband and I, helping has taken the form of creating a nonprofit called We Live On to bring this message to our community.
We - all human beings - need HUMAN CONNECTION! That is what both of my sons struggled with. That is what we ALL struggle with in this modern, fast paced, impersonal world we live in. What Seek Healing is doing is building connections with people. That's what peer support groups thru RHA and Sunrise and other local organizations are doing. And people are healing. But there aren't enough facilities or professional organizations, or government funds out there to solve our biggest problem - and that is the need deep within us all to bond with others.
So, in the end, it's going to take ALL OF US - OUR COMMUNITIES - coming together, caring together, reaching out, volunteering our time AND money for this cause. Only by giving of OURSELVES, essentially LOVING each other enough to make a conscious choice to live a life connecting with each other in our communities can we make a difference. And in the process, we ourselves are HEALED. We CAN FIND THAT JOY again. To those who are hurting, and mourning the loss of your loved one - I HEAR YOU! I LOVE YOU, and IT'LL BE ALRIGHT.
After my speech, my friend Sonia Brooks sang a song she wrote titled "It'll Be Alright". It was beautiful, and very moving. You can listen by clicking on link below from You Tube. You can buy her CD on CD Baby. (CD Baby Store)
Listen to "It'll Be Alright" by Sonia Brooks
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