Beautiful and Full of Potential: This is what Addiction Looks Like

Beautiful and Full of Potential: This is what Addiction Looks Like

Just after midnight on November 11, 2016, our only child, our beautiful 22 year old daughter, Cassidy, died.  Her boyfriend found her face down in the bathroom, with a needle in her arm.  We thought it was a heroin overdose, but the medical examiner later confirmed the cause of death was fentanyl.

Cassidy had been clean for about 3 months at that time, and she and her boyfriend decided to buy some heroin that day (his pay day).  I’m sure she never dreamed it would be the last time. Earlier that day I got a call from Cassidy.  It came in the middle of an acting lesson with a student and I ignored the call, thinking to myself, “I can call her later”.  Cassidy and I were living 1500 miles apart (she in Birmingham and I in SLC). I hadn’t spoken to her on the phone in several weeks. In the back of mind, every time she called I would shore up for a crisis or drama of some kind.  If I’m being honest, that day I wasn’t ready for any drama.  So I put off calling her that day and before I went to bed I said to myself again, “I can call her tomorrow”  well . . . Tomorrow never came for Cassidy.

The life-changing call for me came in the early morning hours, from her father, my ex-husband.  The police had knocked on his door in Birmingham at 3:03am to inform him that his daughter was dead.  This is the news we had always feared, and in a strange way, had always prepared ourselves for.  It is the news that kicks you in the gut over and over and takes your breathe away.  The news that you wish were a nightmare from which you could eventually wake.  It was now our truth! Our only daughter had died of a drug overdose.

Cassidy tried heroin for the first time at age 15.  But starting much younger than that, she suffered from depression, anxiety and had already started to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol as a preteen.  At the first outward signs of emotional turmoil, we sought help for Cassidy.  She spent a week in an adolescent psych unit when she couldn’t stop cutting herself at age 12 and that was just the beginning.  Cassidy FELT everything to the extreme, more than most.  She was most likely the typical candidate for Substance Use Disorder, and once she used heroin it was all over.  It had gone from a chronic brain disorder to a terminal disease for her, in a matter of weeks.  We did everything we could to help her; multiple stays in rehab, therapists, yoga, a long-term residential treatment center that used Dialectical Behavior Therapy, psychiatrists,, yelling, punishing, listening, hugging, you name it.  And even though we suffered too, as her parents, and I know we made many mistakes along the way, we NEVER stopped loving her.

But Cassidy was so much more than her disease, she was our sunshine! She was the life of the party and everyone’s best friend. Her beautiful eyes could strike you blind, her belly laugh was contagious. She was compassionate and kind, hilarious and irreverent and could literally make you laugh until you cried. She was talented and beautiful, stunning really. She was charming and tortured and artistic and adventurous. She didn’t care what people thought of her, and she loved practical jokes. She loved show-tunes and trips to New York to see Broadway shows. She believed in magic and Harry Potter. She loved to snowboard and rock climb. She played the guitar and loved to sing. She went full throttle in everything she did. There was no half-way with Cassidy. She never stopped playing dress-up her whole life and never missed an opportunity to go to a Harry Potter Premiere in her Gryffindor robe carrying her wand. In retrospect, I think she always used make-believe as her escape from her inside pain, of course that was never enough.

When Cassidy was at her best and healthiest, she was the brightest and most beautiful star in the night sky. She has now become her own super nova. She always had a connection with and deep love of butterflies. We always waited for Cassidy to emerge from her cocoon and to truly reach her potential in life. Because we all knew she could achieve anything she ever dreamed of. Truth is, she has now, finally reached her potential, but it meant she truly had to leave behind her mortal covering behind.  Her soul is now free from suffering and she is flying high!

Cassidy’s story got a lot of attention after we openly and frankly shared her cause of death in her obituary.  We never dreamed of not telling the truth but we were astounded at the reaction.  It opened up a dialogue for others that were suffering.  I still get messages from strangers thanking me for being brave and telling our story so honestly.  Many have sought help themselves, along with parents that are now open about their own child’s struggles with SUD.  More than anything Cassidy’s dad and I want to help remove the stigma of addiction.  We want to put a face to it.  This gorgeous, blond haired, upper-middle class young woman with the world at her feet, is what a so-called “addict” looks like. It’s time we change the vocabulary.  These are daughters, sons, neighbors, grandchildren, friends, that happen to suffer from a Substance Use Disorder. Not unlike a cancer patient or someone that suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.  Let’s start finding solutions and proper treatments to end this epidemic that is killing a generation.