My new friends, Ryan Hampton and Garrett Hade asked if I would share my story. Honestly, I didn’t know which one to share. The one about losing my son Nick 20 years ago, or the one that encompasses the last 17?
I’ve chosen to tell a little of each. Nick Cristarella, age 22 died of an overdose of cough medicine with Hydrocodone. Nick was very much like the young men we hear about today who are struggling with addiction. Funny, talented, sincere, handsome and stalked by his disease from a very early age. Losing Nick was the worst pain I will ever feel in my life. There are no words to describe. I didn’t want to live in that pain; yet I didn’t want to die. Now, here’s where the two stories come together, because something Nick said changed my life.
After his fourth and last treatment, Nick decided he would live in a halfway house. I was relieved and surprised, but was also very comfortable with the decision. We had tried the coming home routine too many times without success. Too many old friends, too many triggers, not enough changed behaviors on anyone’s part!
One day, I asked Nick how he liked his halfway house and he said, “It’s okay, but there is no one here my age.” It had been over a year since Nick died and I had been going back to the last treatment center to tell our family’s story to clients and families. Although painful, it was also healing and I could tell that it was helpful to the clients and families. So, as they say, one thing led to another. As I was traveling to New York one day for my job, I wrote in my journal that:
“I think I’ll start a halfway house; I think I’ll call it Nick’s Place. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll do it.”
Wow. Was I crazy, stupid, naïve, or all of the above. Yep, all of the above but also in enormous emotional pain. But now I had a mission to focus on. I was going to open a not-for-profit house for young men 20-26 years of age where they could begin their recovery with their peers. Oh, I could tell you everything about setting up the home and what that entailed, but would rather share this: The idea worked. We developed relationships with treatment providers, built a good reputation, but most importantly our guys got a chance to live, grow, learn and be loved on their journey.
Again, I’m not going into describing our program, you can check us out at www.Nicksplace.org, Instead, what I want to share is that you don’t need to be a fancyschmancy, expensive house with every service under the sun. You can be great by focusing on the basics; Good food and teaching life management skills. Our guys pay their own way, hold down jobs, attend 12-step meetings and participate in life, the way it should be for young men their age.
My husband, Barry and I are so, so grateful for the chance to change and help save the lives of other people’s children. Each young man bears a resemblance to my Nick in some way. To have the chance to see our guys fall in love, marry, have children, be great sons, employers and friends is a gift that Nick’s life left behind.
I’ll close with this. We can no longer afford to wait on the Federal Government, the next focus group, the next summit or the next study. We, the people, who have been affected the most are going to be the ones who provide the necessary, life-saving solutions. Final Word: If you can, do it.