Friday, December 4, 2015

Heroin Took My Son's Life

    I have to talk about Gary, my son.  he died four months ago today.  His story is something I couldn't blog about while he was alive. The incidents of struggles in his life were too personal, I couldn't tell people his business, his problems. But now I feel it is imperative that his life and death not be in vain.
    I can't be silent about it. He died of a heroin overdose.  This Heroin problem and  drug abuse, including overmedication by doctors,  is a terrible plague that has to be faced.  Families with mental health issues should be able to get help, better treatments.

    I am feeling like the death of my child  is really hitting me hard. I am needing to talk about it, so  I have joined some online support groups, facebook pages, where I get encouragement, information, empathy, prayers, and links to action groups.
    I am finding out how big an epidemic this heroin addiction problem is.  So many kids are dying, sometimes from their first time using.  So many addicts are getting tainted batches of heroin cut with lethal poison, not that any of it was ever safe. Politicians are addressing the problem. Families are using their loves ones obituaries to speak out and help other parents or kids using heroin.
Heroin use and overdose deaths are on the uprise, doubled in the last 3 years.
   Here are signs, symptoms,treatments.
Heroin is one of the most destructive and painful addictions in the world.
 Learn more about signs, symptoms and treatments 
There are psychological and physical long-term effects of Heroin
Gary was a strong, kind person. He loved music, especially guitar.  He was quite an artist, but sometimes his work looked disturbed. My son didn't want to be different, he wanted acceptance. 
But he felt he never fit in, because he was mentally ill.  Some in my family have always resented me making that statement., but Gary realized he had problems.  I have learned from WebMD that 75% of addicts have some mental health issues, such as depression, ADHD, or bipolar disorder.   Many people use heroin to treat their anxiety, worries and other stressors.
    Gary was a beautiful child, smart, sensitive, kind.  But something went terribly wrong. He had sisters who loved him, and lots of doting aunts and  adoring grandparents.  Many cousins, and friends who cared, and loved him.   Early on at his school's recommendation, I tried to get help from mental health professionals, but never got a clear diagnosis. He struggled at school, in social situations, and didn't have a happy high school experience. He was the first "ED kid" who was college prep in his high school.  We didn't let him get pushed into alternative or vocational school, out of the academic programs, which they used to do with troubled kids.  But I deeply regret not taking him out of public school and putting him into a more protective environment, like a Christian school, or  the Quaker School nearby. Because maybe the smaller group, a stricter, more structured environment  would  have helped him.  I don't know if it would have made a difference. I just wish I could have another chance.   But I know that's silly, there are no do-overs. I am just sorry I couldn't make things right for him.  But  he did graduate high school, then served in the Navy for a couple years. I thought that would be the answer. He would fit in, get an education.   He started out fine, aced boot camp, was physically fit, strong, confident and  at his peak, full of promise.

     Then he went away, and began drinking with his sailor friends, but couldn't control it and fouled up, showing up late for classes. He soon got a less than honorable discharge.  I  always felt that the Navy just wanted to get rid of him, instead of treating his problem, to save money.
     But he got jobs, gritty ones.  Then he was probably still drinking and using drugs.  By now he was in his twenties, and having some mental health issues, requiring hospitalization.  One Christmas, I was visiting him in a mental health unit, and he told me he  had met someone special..  When he got discharged, he ran off with the girl he met in the hospital.  She had left her husband and 4 kids, because of her mental health problems.  They got pregnant, and I thought that would never work out. Months later they returned to our home state. He was determined to take care of his child, so he got a good job, then got an apartment before the baby was born.  That was 19 years ago, and I met his girl, with my brand new grandchild in her arms,  on their first day home from the hospital.  I  simply decided to love her, because Gary told me he loved her. She has often expressed appreciation for my welcoming her with open arms. I adored my grandbaby. They stayed together and had another child a couple years later, my first granddaughter.
 He made me a grandmother, the best thing that ever happened to me. Two precious grandchildren.

   Gary and his wife had lots of ups and downs, and I am not free to share the whole story about their lives, but they did manage to stay married for  almost 18 years. I think they enabled each other, and were codependent, but they did love each other.  Gary had lots of episodes - drinking binges, drug overdoses, DUI tickets, even did some time in jail.  I stood at his bedside at least 6 times after drug overdoses over the years, not knowing if he would live or die.   But each time, he pulled through and started over, promising not to use drugs again, really trying to stay clean.   He struggled for years, losing jobs, his driver's license. He almost lost his home, and finally lost custody of his children. It was hard for him to stay positive and feel hopeful, when he was hurting and felt like he couldn't get ahead, like no one understood. But he knew God loved him and always forgave him.
     Through it all he was kindhearted, and would do anything for you.  He helped his grandparents with their housework and yardwork, took in  homeless strangers, and really tried to be kind and loving to everyone.

     He told me I did not understand the power of addiction. I told him he was right.  But he could call me anytime and I would help him, God would help him.  There is help, but it's really hard to fight heroin.
     He called me a lot.  I let him talk through his anxieties, anger, worries. I loved when he called to tell me of his hopes and dreams, when he was feeling okay. . He wanted to go back to school to study heating and air conditioning.    When he was well, he wanted to better himself,  have a career or profession.   But much of the time, he was not well, and having what I called "disordered thinking".  I believe he used drugs to medicate himself.  To take away the pain. He endured many years of despair.  I always feared that I would one day lose him to drugs or suicide.
   The last few years, he was also dealing with a back injury and in a lot of pain.   He was facing surgery, and anxious about that. His doctors had prescribed strong pain killers, but they stopped being
effective, and the doctors wouldn't give him more.

When the heroin took his life, I believe he had been clean, and not used illegal drugs for some time.
 I'll never know why he did  use heroin that fatal time.
 I just wish he knew how much he was loved.
 I wish his life had been easier and people more understanding.
 I wish he believed life was worth fighting for.
He was so worried about me.  He called me almost every day after my breast cancer diagnosis to tell me he loved me, did not want me to die, wasn't ready to lose his mother.
 I told him,  "I really think I am going to live,  I am being healed."
  But, I was okay with my future with Jesus in heaven,  if I didn't make it.
 He was proud of me, and  how well I looked  and my attitude throughout my chemo , surgery and radiation treatments. I wanted to live,  I feel I have so much to live for.
    Gary helped me be stronger, he was one of the reasons I wanted to live!   He was such an encouragement to me.  We still had lots of plans! I wanted to learn to play the guitar and write songs together, he wanted to help me with paint jobs, and have me  come over for dinner.

 Then suddenly, he's gone.
  But I am so  glad I had those talks with him, because I know how he felt about faith in God,  eternity, and what happens when we die. That's why I am so certain he is with Jesus.   He's gone, but not forgotten.  Never will I be the same. But I am so glad I had my son for the time we had together. I believe he is with his Savior, at peace and no longer in pain.

    Parents, grandparents,  I hope you will make sure your  children know they are loved no matter what, and they can talk to you about anything. 
  Children (of all ages)  I hope you know that you must tell someone when you need help.
Do not use drugs  but find real answers to your problems, because drugs take your life and hurt many people.  Don't try drugs for a fun time,  because you could get a fatal dose, even if you had tried it before and it was okay or fun.

If you are hurting from the loss of a loved one to heroin, please leave me a comment, and I'll tell you of the groups that have helped me, so we can help each other with the terrible grief that never stops.

 Love, Linda