I Will Never Let My Daughter Be Forgotten

Heroin stole my daughter and I will never let my girl be forgotten. Through her story I hope to help others.

When you have children, you never dream that you will outlive them. Addiction stole my daughter and changed my life forever. My first born, my person, my baby girl, is gone forever.

Shalynn Brooke Conner was a beautiful young lady whose smile could light up a room. Growing up, she loved life and couldn’t wait to see what the world had in store for her in the future! Shalynn had a zest for life that showed in everything she did. At a young age she began singing at church, local events and talent shows. Her love for music carried through to school where she sang in concerts and participated in marching band playing the clarinet. Shalynn always loved high school where she participated in many activities such as the school play, cheerleading and Spanish Club. She was even chosen Homecoming Queen which was possibly one of the best days of her short life. She was accepted into her college of choice and was planning to move to school in the fall of 2013.

Shalynn was a daughter that any parent would be proud of! She was a one of a kind, fun-loving kid who loved her family, as she would say… to the moon and back! Although she enjoyed hanging out with her friends, many weekends she could be found staying at her Grandma Long’s house or spending time at home with her mom, step-father and her brother. She was independent, knew what she wanted in life and had dreams of getting married and having a beautiful family.

All of those plans changed when she started hanging out with a different group of people just a few short months before her high school graduation. By the time she graduated in 2013, she was already experimenting with marijuana. Within months her drug use had escalated and she withdrew from college. This was the beginning of a four year addiction that she struggled with every day. There were times during these four years that we didn’t know where she was. I remember driving the streets of neighboring towns looking for her car or just asking people if they had seen her. I would find her and sometimes she would go to treatment, come home, be clean for a few months, but then she would take off again. It just seemed to be a vicious cycle that she couldn’t escape. Finally on Dec. 22, 2016 she called me and asked me to come get her. This was the call I had been praying for! I drove 45 minutes to get her and when she walked out the door, I didn’t even recognize her. She had been abused by her boyfriend and was in withdraws from heroin. She had bruises on her, weighed about 100 pounds and hadn’t eaten in days. But thankfully at that time she was adamant that she wanted to get clean.

Shalynn didn’t want to be an “addict”, she wanted to walk away from her addiction and go back to the life that she loved so much before drugs. She worked hard every day to beat the chains of addiction. Shalynn completed 6 months inpatient treatment and came home to start a new life. She wanted to share her story and hopefully discourage others from trying drugs in the first place. Unfortunately, the grip of addiction wouldn’t let her go and she relapsed.

On the evening of Oct. 13, 2017, Shalynn came home from work like any other evening. We visited, she mentioned she wasn’t feeling good but insisted on going over to a friend’s house. It was harvest season and she had extreme allergies so I believed her when she said it was just her allergies acting up. She hugged me, told me she loved me and was out the door. Less than 2 hours later she woke me up to tell me she was home. She told me again that she didn’t feel well and just wanted to go to bed. She hugged me and said “night Mama, I love you!” Little did I know that it would be the last time I would hear her voice.

I had no idea that she had relapsed until I walked into her room on the morning of Oct. 14, 2017 and found her unresponsive. She had passed away sometime in the middle of the night from an accidental heroin overdose. She was only 22 years old. Just like that my sweet girl was gone.

Today I work to educate others about addiction and overdose through a non-profit started after Shalynn passed. Through Shalynn’s Hope, Inc. it is my hope to reach as many people as I can to help prevent any other families from having to go through the pain of losing someone to addiction. I will never let my Shalynn be forgotten and through sharing her story, I know she is leading me to help others. I love you baby girl, forever and always my angel.

Forever Shalynn’s Mom
Stacy Welch

Chris Was My Son, My Baby. He Was So Much More Than His Disease.

We moved to NJ when Chris was in the 5th grade. Prior to this he was diagnosed with ADHD and had started taking Ritalin. In elementary school Chris was in the gifted and talented program and he was so far ahead in math he was kept inside during recess to be taught math lessons one-to-one. Our family are members of the Catholic Church, where I was a youth group leader for 11 years. Chris was involved in multiple youth groups and attended the diocesan “Summer in the City” retreats to do community service. In high school he was inducted into the national honor society, and graduated HS with Honors. He went on to Rutgers University and graduated with his BS degree in Administration of Justice with minors in Sociology and Geography. He was awarded certification in Criminology. While attending Rutgers he worked in the County Prosecutor’s office, which is ironic as he would later serve time in state prison. In college Chris became addicted to caffeine, cigarettes, and then alcohol. He just seemed prewired or genetically predisposed to addiction. Most teens and college kids will try alcohol or drugs and never become addicted but about ‪1/10‬ have that genetic predisposition to a substance use disorder. His biological father’s side, being of Native American (Cherokee) decent, was riddled with people living with substance use disorders and addiction. We have the Nature/Nurture story of addiction. My husband’s family and my family don’t seem to have this genetic make up. My husband adopted Chris at age 6 when we were married. Chris did well in college even though addiction started to rear its ugly head with regard to alcohol. I questioned if his drinking was normal college age shenanigans or something more. After college Chris was employed by the State Government, and as a bachelor bought a single family home. He was extremely smart, and was a successful individual. He had taken the LSAT exam and had aspirations of becoming a lawyer or criminologist.

In 2009 he stepped off of an uneven curb falling and breaking all three bones his left ankle (trimalleolar fracture). The tendon also needed to be reconnected as it had been ripped off of the bone when he fell. He spent a long time in the hospital and the surgeon told us that he had put more hardware in Chris’ ankle than he had ever put into an ankle repair before. Chris had to stay with us in our home while he healed. He was out of work for months on disability. He went from wheelchair, to walker, to cane, to opiate pill dependent, and then to opiate pill addict. He became addicted to his prescribed Percocet almost immediately, although I was unaware of its grip for a long time. He had three surgeries when all was said and done. When the doctors quit prescribing his pain killers without tapering down, he found them on the streets of Trenton where he worked. They cost $1 per milligram and as his tolerance kept increasing, he needed more and more milligrams just to feel well. Feeling well, meaning helping with the continued pain in the ankle as well as feeling well from the pain of opiate wIthdrawal. Withdrawal, if you have ever seen it let alone lived it, is the worst pain imaginable. It’s an indescribable feeling of pain that convinces you that you are dying. Pain like no other. The pills physically changed his brain making it very difficult, if not impossible, to make good decisions regarding using and/or needing these drugs. One of the symptoms of this disorder, is to seek and use the drug no matter how dire or detrimental the consequence of using it might be. The consequence of losing your loved ones, your children, your job, your home, of going to jail, and even of the possibility of losing your own life are not deterrents. This symptom often causes those afflicted to do things that are criminal and out of character to obtain the drug. Many end up with criminal charges for possession, DUI, stealing, robbery, and the like. The individual often ends up in jail or prison.

My son became tolerant to higher and higher milligrams of the pills. He needed 60-80 milligram pills multiple times a day. He would sign his entire paycheck over to the dealer waiting for him outside his office in Trenton on payday. He was later introduced to heroin. It packed a bigger punch for, get this, only $10 in comparison to $80 a pill. He thought, with some convincing by the dealer, that this was his way out of a growing negative financial situation. He was behind on his mortgage and his other bills. In his mind he said, “Yes, sure sell me heroin and teach me how to inject it.” Remember when in full fledged addiction that positive decision making skill is compromised, and to him this less expensive option seemed to make perfect sense. It took some time before I realized that Chris had a problem. It wasn’t until he didn’t show up for my sister’s funeral (they were extremely close) that I knew something was very very wrong. I helped him get into treatment which he reluctantly agreed to. Chris went to an inpatient rehab facility in Florida but relapsed not long after completing the program. He would try to stop using on his own, but the severe withdrawal symptoms made him feel as if he was actually dying and he would relapse. Later he said to me, “mom, if you were dying and you knew the anecdote to cure you was just down the street on the corner for $10 wouldn’t you get it and use it?!” My son ended up receiving a three year sentence to prison due to making a poor decision while under the influence. He spent three years in State prison for being with two other “friends” who went into an abandoned house to steal copper piping to sell to obtain drugs. He was outside being “the lookout”. The house was not abandoned. Before he was even found guilty of his crime he was fired from his State Government job. He was released from prison and he had a criminal record. He was now a felon. No white collar job, in his field of study would ever hire him. After he spent 3-4 months in prison he was released on the NJ ISP program. This is a drug court program that has many rules to follow. Every aspect of his recovery and life was closely monitored. The program has a high success rate and I truly believed this would be how Chris would finally get well. He got a job selling popcorn at the movie theater but was “let go” when they ran his background check. A very discouraging scenario for a successful college graduate, who had worked hard to get well and get back onto the right track. He was trying to do the right things. He finally found a job delivering pizza for 5 dollars an hour. He happily did this job and battled, yes battled, the constant cravings for the drugs. He was in recovery for two and a half years. He did relapse in the beginning of the program when he lost the movie theater job, but did well after the ISP program placed him on medicine assisted treatment. My hopes were high. He was doing all the right things. He was determined and he wanted nothing more than to be well. After 2 1/2 years he accepted a better higher paying job at a warehouse and left the pizzeria. He was very excited until he found out that a third shift highly physical job would be extremely grueling. He could hardly walk due to pain after the long 12 hour shifts of physical work. His body got stronger and he adapted to the hard physical work. He confided in me that he was really starting to enjoy the job. He was feeling more physically fit and more able to do the work. Just a day or so later he was called in to the bosses office and was let go. The boss said that the job was not a good fit. He was still within the first 90 days on the job. He was crushed, he was broken, he was jobless, he was depressed, and yep, he went out to relieve his pain like he so comfortably did years ago. Sadly, he relapsed. It only took one time and he was right back into the grips of the drug. Relapse, I learned is normal when recovering from this disease. Relapses would become further and further apart as his brain would heal and he would learn the coping skills needed for long term recovery. Chris fought so hard, he would always get back up and start again, over, and over, and over again. Rehabs, detox, counseling, acupuncture, 12 step programs, etc., he had been to them all. He was the strongest person I have ever known.

During this period without a job he went to trade school to learn to drive fork lifts. He graduated and was certified to drive 9 different types of fork lift equipment. He was extremely proud. He then found the perfect job doing computer work/logistics at a local cold freezer warehouse. A blue collar job that utilized his white collar skills. He was happy. He loved this job. His knowledge and talents were being utilized. He said “Mom, I finally feel like I have an identity again.” He was a man with purpose. I was so proud. You know, these poor individuals become their disease. They are thought of as nothing more than that stereotypical junkie, an addict, a loser, a person with no willpower, a person that should “just stop”, a person that “chooses” the drug over more important things, and unfortunately, in their own mind someone who is worthless. So worthless, so horrid, and so unworthy of love that even their own families disown them through “tough love” or what they refer to as “detaching with love”. With no one to turn to, and no one who cares, guess what many turn to to escape? Drugs. But my son had an identity again, he was useful, he was needed, he was smart, and he was well liked at his new job.

He was just about at the 3 month anniversary of his hire when he would be eligible for health benefits, life insurance, and 401k. Unfortunately, on payday December 17, 2016 (for reasons unknown) Chris came in from work and relapsed. I heard him collapse upstairs above where I was sitting. I ran upstairs and found him in a ball against the wall in his room. I pulled him onto his back and he was black/blue. I called 911, administered CPR and two doses of injectable Narcan right through his blue jeans and into his thigh. He was non responsive. He was in cardiac arrest with no pulse, and he was not breathing. I was hysterical. Police and EMTs arrived and gave more Narcan. No response. Paramedics arrived and after about 37 minutes from when I made that call they were able to restore his heartbeat. He was in a vegetative state in ICU for 6 days. He tested clean for drugs in the ER and again in the ICU. Unfortunately, he was pronounced brain dead on 12/23/16 two days before Christmas. His liver and two kidneys became a Christmas miracle and they/he saved three people’s lives on Christmas Day. He was only 35.

Neither myself, my family, or my son were bad people. I was a good mom, I did everything I could. I did nothing less than any mom would do if their child had lung cancer, liver disease, or another disease caused by an addiction. He died knowing that I loved him and that I tried to save him to the very end. So often this is a terminal illness, but it shouldn’t be. People with substance use disorder can and do recover, but many things need to change to provide all people with that opportunity. Due to the stigma surrounding this disorder the many people in recovery stay silent. It is sad because those success stories could be encouraging to others. Upon autopsy the medical examiner determined my son’s cause of death to be “adverse reaction to fentanyl”. Fentanyl isn’t tested for in most urine drug screenings. So that is why he tested drug free in the ER and in ICU. According to his girlfriend he had purchased what he thought was heroin.

Chris was so much more than his disease. He was so much more than a number or a statistic. Addiction was just one facet of who he was. One small facet of the jewel we called Chris. He should not be, or have been, defined by his disease. This is an epidemic of unbelievable proportion. This is a public health issue more than it is a public safety issue. Yes, our children commit crimes and need to be held accountable for those actions. They also need to be treated for their substance use disorder, not only to keep the public safe, but more importantly to keep them safe from disease and themselves. They ARE worth saving. They are good people with a horrible debilitating affliction.

My son was strong. He always said, “I can tell you one thing for certain, there isn’t a drug addict out there that wants, or chooses to be an addict.” “If the devil has anything to do with anything, it is this drug”. He helped many others get off drugs and couldn’t understand how he could help everyone else, but couldn’t help himself. He wanted to be well more than anything in this world, and God knows he tried. He worked hard at it. He wrote an email to a local top Dr. and addiction specialist, literally begging him to take his case even if just for an initial consult with diagnosis’s. This doctor, by law, was unable to take on any new patients. His practice was full. That email was dated 5 months prior to Chris’ death. My son would get angry at people that would say, “yes it becomes a non choice overtime, but you had a choice that first time you used”. He said, “I never made that first choice. I just came home from the hospital and followed the discharge instructions”. Addiction and the dangerous outcomes of using the Percocet were never discussed with him. He was never asked if he or anyone in his family had a predisposition to becoming addicted to substances. There was no medical help from the prescribing doctors to teach/help him wean off the drugs as his leg healed. There was no place to turn for help when the drugs were no longer needed for the injury and your body had become dependent and/or addicted. When the pills were no longer prescribed, he became extremely sick, so he turned to the streets to self medicate.

I wish there were a special place for those who break the law due to the symptoms of addiction. Places that are secure (for public safety) but with all the amenities of home, of community, with education, expert treatment, with help in job placement, with tons of love, respect, and medicine assisted treatment. Jail and punishment does not cure addiction, and treatment for addiction needs to be advocated. Abstinence based 12 step programs should not be the only answer. People with substance use disorders need to be treated individually. What works for one may not necessarily work for another. We need person centered care to treat addiction. Access to that care should be available to all when it is needed. Too many die, too many people don’t “get it”, they just don’t understand addiction. The stigma has to go. We need to speak out and educate others. My son was 1 of approximately 65,000 who lost their life to an accidental overdose in 2016. I have cried every day for the past 2 years. I think of my grief, the grief of my family, my extended family, my son’s friends and the people who knew and loved him… and I multiply that times 65,000. Then add another 150,000 or so since his death. That is a lot of hurt in this world. If just choosing to stop was all it took to be well the world would not be in the midst of this epidemic.

Chris was my baby, he was my son. I remember when he was in the 5th grade. We were all watching the news coverage on CNN. We saw that about 15,000 Iraqi’s and “only” about 300 Americans had been killed in Operation Dessert Storm. As the 300 names of the deceased scrolled across the screen, Chris cocked his head and looked at me. He said, “They act like it’s nothin’ but a thing, but everybody is somebody to somebody else.” No one should lose their identity to one facet of who they are. No one should be defined by their disease, disorder, disability, ethnicity, skin color, age, by who they love, or by any one facet that makes them the beautiful person God created. Every life matters. “Everybody is somebody to somebody else”. Chris was SOMEBODY. He was a big guy with a big personality. He was successful, a great friend, someone who was excellent with children, and someone who would come to your rescue at the drop of a dime. There are many sides and facets to each of us, that when put together, make us beautiful and brilliant. Chris did the best he could to beat his disease. He was one of the strongest people I have ever known. If “love and try” could have saved him he’d be here today. He said, “No one in their “right mind” would “choose” this life. No one. No one wanted to become addicted, and those that are, are fighting a constant battle”. Please join me in continuing to fight in memory of those that have lost the battle, and for those still waging the war. Together we can help those suffering, and we can “Stop the Stigma” by starting the conversation and by listening to the stories. “Everybody is somebody” and everyone has a story. How each person developed their substance use doesn’t matter. Everyone is somebody and everyone deserves access to medical treatment for whatever ails them.

Chris died on 12/23/16. He saved lives with his organs on Christmas Day. Since Christmas will forever be “Chris” “Miss” for me; I will conclude by saying. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with each of us.”

With much love and empathy,
Chris’ Ma

Brenda Stephens Deckman

A Heroin Overdose Took Our Beautiful Boy And Our Family Is Forever Changed

Putting your grief into words is indescribable. Our family’s life was forever changed by an unspeakable tragedy when we lost our beautiful boy, our 21 year old son Cody, to a heroin overdose. This monster stole his dreams, our dreams, and the wreckage left behind is un-navigable. There is no healing, no moving on, your life is now work that you must think about attending each and every day.

What does addiction look like? Surely not my gifted, gregarious, smart, compassionate son? Cody was the athlete that everyone wanted to be. Cody was talented, and smart. He had a beautiful girlfriend a family and friends that loved him beyond words. He loved his little brother, his dog, and He was one of the most caring, compassionate people on this planet. I truly believe that his caring, loving soul was too good for this world. He died in our home, in his bedroom.

What most people did not know about Cody is that he suffered from severe anxiety and depression. Like so many, his decent into addiction began with prescription drugs resulting from several sports injuries. After his one and only stint in treatment, he was clean and we had our boy back. Then, at a job he loved…..the worst scenario for someone in recovery, a horrible near death accident. Seven surgeries and daily doses of the strongest opioids available, for nearly 12 months. He struggled with the pain and tried to manage the medication. He knew he was in trouble, I knew he was in trouble.

The day my boy left us, I walked out of my body and never went back. I remember hovering over my body, seeing myself sitting on the floor, seeing those around me talking-but not hearing a word. I thought to myself, “thank god, I’ve died too.” Then, I remembered my other son, my only other child, he would be getting out of school, I had to get to him before he saw all the commotion at our home. Just then, as if he knew, he called. “Mom, I’m done with practice, can you bring me a sub.” I told him he needed to come home. He said “why, is it my brother?” Before I could get a word out, the phone went dead. I will never forget the look on his face as he ran from his car to sit beside me, he took my hand, cried, and I knew at that moment, he was no longer 16, he was thrown into a nightmare that will haunt him forever.

I am now unrecognizable to myself and those who knew the ‘old me’. My soul is so intertwined with my sweet boy’s soul, I can’t get my feet on the ground. I still can’t imagine my life without him.

After 3 months in bed and a family intervention, I knew I had to be Cody’s voice. I refuse to let my beautiful boy become just a statistic. I became an advocate in our state. Meeting with our lawmakers, creating a foundation in his name to help those who cannot afford the gift of recovery. And most importantly, educate anyone and everyone who is convinced this could never happen to them.

I am a bereaved mother, forever broken, struggling to find meaning in all this pain. I’m angry, frustrated, and most days, hopeless. Addiction is so cruel. The guilt consumes me. I want to tell him “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you.” Until I see my Cody again, I will continue to live between life and death.

I Hate Heroin. Lord: Save My Son, Because I Can’t.

I Hate Heroin.

You go to bed thinking about it, you wake up thinking about it…all day long in the back of your head you are thinking about…I don’t use heroin, in fact I’ve never used any drugs but my son is an addict. Sometimes in the middle of the night when he is out on the streets I jolt awake because I hear him screaming “Mom, help me.” I wake up with my heart pounding with a cold sweat on my body just knowing that my son just died and I couldn’t help him. It sounds like he was outside my bedroom window yelling. I get out of bed and go to his Facebook pleading with his friends to tell me if they have seen him recently and if he was okay…because he no longer has that $200 phone it was sold for that last hit, gram, push (I have no idea how you describe it) of heroin. I have even at certain times threatened his drug friends that I was coming for them. I had to blame someone..right?

He is on his sixth, seventh or eighth rehab…I can’t remember but each time I think this is “the one.” If I could keep him in Phase One of rehab the rest of his life, I would because he excels at it…it’s when he gets five minutes to himself in the next phase that it falls apart.

Driving through town with all of those silly signs “kids before addicts” I have to wonder if I am in Alice in Wonderland and fell down the rabbit hole. In 2013 61% of the drug addicts were kids…who do they think they are saving the kids from? Themselves?

My son overdosed in a “trap house” once, they surely were not calling 911, they dumped him on the street in a puddle and a passerby called 911. He was DOA but they got him breathing again but he was in a coma and on a respirator for a week…he went to his first rehab when they discharged him. I was in seventh heaven…finally (I had been trying for several months to get him in a program) he will be saved; I truly was clueless to the power of heroin.

One thing I have learned through all of cannot save someone from themselves. If only I had a magic wand. I have also decided after many “family weeks” in rehab that I really don’t believe in co-dependency although no one in the rehab world will agree with me. I believe as a mother we do what we can live with when they die. I don’t give him money, I will take him to dinner and I will buy him insulin…yes on top of being a heroin addict he is Type 1 diabetic (since he was 16 years old, he is now 22).

I have either gone or sent my 28-year old daughter as she lives in Puyallup where he hangs out to many trap houses to deliver insulin to him so doesn’t die…I decided if he was going to die it wasn’t going to be from lack of insulin. Yes, I have left messages for the police about drug houses but they are so overwhelmed with drug houses they don’t even return the call.

There are no guarantees in life…just love them while they are here. Things could be worse, he could be a rapist, murderer, pedophile, pregnant, he isn’t missing (most of the time), he isn’t on death row nor does he blame me for his issues…. he is simply a drug addict. My prayer is that he never harms another soul in his walk with drugs. If you met my son when he is sober you would like him, the little kids adore him. He is sweet, kind and loving with a great sense of humor.

This last go round (a month ago) he called and said I need a detox but it’s in Olympia I have no way of getting there, I went and picked him up and drove him there. He was so sick I wasn’t sure he would be alive when we got there. Once they are addicted they don’t use to get high…they use to not be sick. All I could say to him was “God has a plan for you because your ass should be dead by now you better start listening to what he is telling you”.

The real heroes in this world to me are not the police, firemen or soldiers (although they are awesome) it is the Matt’s, Levi’s, John’s, Sean’s and Mike’s who have lived through this addiction and do everything they can to help gather him (and many others) back in and try to help them. I can call anyone of them day or night and they drop everything to try to help my son. I have known about ten boys to die from this…these guys have buried many more friends yet they don’t quit trying..they are true heroes. Perhaps my son will be one of them someday.

No one wakes up and decides to be a junkie and as hard as it is too watch it..imagine what it is like to live it. There are many days that I pray “Lord you know how this is going to end….if he is going to die from it please take him sooner rather than later as I can’t keep doing this”.

If you have not read the poem “Mr. And Mrs. Heroin” google it…it ends with “just come take my hand and I will lead you to hell”…

Yes…I hate heroin…
……please Lord save him because I can’t…

Blessings to all who are struggling with this as I know there are many but not very many who will share it. Interestingly enough this started soon after my older son killed himself…the aftermath of suicide perhaps?

– Carri Litowitz

We Took Our Golden Girl Off Life Support After Heroin Put Her In A Coma

I would like to introduce you to my kind, empathetic, smart, artistically talented, beautiful daughter Brenna.  I would like to – but instead I will share her story and introduce you to her living spirit as her body left this world on December 10, 2014.

Growing up Brenna did all the “normal” things – girl scouts, ballet lessons ….  She was a good student and was accepted to every college she applied to.  All of that was before – before she got fallen on during a cheerleading practice – before the doctor prescribed pain medication for the 2 fractured disks that resulted from this accident.  So much I didn’t know.

Brenna quickly fell into active addiction and she hated being there.  She used to cry and say things like “I feel like I’ve wasted my life” and “I can’t believe I’ve done this to myself”.  So much I didn’t know – but I was starting to learn.  I found a rehab that was mostly covered by our insurance but she wouldn’t go – instead she chose to go into a methadone treatment program.  She participated in the program for 25 months – and it did keep her off heroin – but, it didn’t provide any counseling and it didn’t provide a “new” community for her.  For 2 years she secluded herself – living back at home and refusing to go anywhere without an immediate family member (all of this at 22 & 23). She struggled with the idea of replacing one drug with another and successfully weaned off the methadone.  However, without the counseling, without the community it didn’t take long for her to relapse.  She cried when she told me. By this time I was just a little smarter.

We found a treatment center out of state that would then locate a sober living facility for her once she completed the program.  Off she went looking at me and saying “You have no idea how badly I want this”.  On the morning of December 8, I got the phone call – she was in “extremely critical condition” in an Atlanta hospital.  On the 10th we found out that she had only 2 small portions of her brain with any remaining functioning and one of those allowed her to feel pain.  We had her removed from life support.

I miss my daughter desperately every day but do feel that she is here with me.  I believe that she led me to The McShin Foundation, a RCO based in Richmond, VA.  Here I found a community in recovery helping and supporting others striving to find their own recovery.  I learned that recovery truly is possible when you have a “village” to make it so.  Brenna has given me a community that understands.  She has given me a way to honor her and her time here with me by working with this community.  I feel her with me every day – but never more so than when I’m with my McShin family.  While I am heartbroken that I didn’t know that such places existed when searching for help for her, I am so grateful that she led me there.

‘Pain Management’ Led Me To Heroin

To start off my name is Rebecca but most people call me Becca.

I am 27 years old and am a mother of 2 beautiful little boys. My story starts out 3 years ago. I was diagnosed with a brain deformity called chiari malformation of the brain type one. It caused a lot of headaches and pain in my extremities.

First it started out with pain management but that just wasn’t enough. I tried smoking weed and that didn’t help. It was then that a “friend” of mine introduced me to heroin. I instantly fell in love. At the time, I only had my oldest son Malachi and the demon stopped the pain long enough to function and care for him.

It wasn’t until I got tired of it that I reached out for help. I reached out because I was spending over $600 dollars in one day for my high and I knew if I didn’t stop – I would die. I didn’t go to a rehab center, instead I went to meetings where I met my real friends.

By this time, I had my youngest Micah. My friends staged an intervention and I’m forever grateful that they did. Since then, my life has improved and I’m the mom I want to be, the daughter I’ve always wanted to be, and the sister I wanted be.

Now I help my family who also suffers from addiction. And I help family members who just don’t understand what it’s like to suffer from addiction.

It’s similar to Russian roulette only with a needle, pills, and pipes.

I will have 2 years sober on September 27th. I wouldn’t have made it this far without the help of my real friends, my family, and my higher power. I hope whomever is reading this and is suffering from addiction gets help or reaches out because it is worth it.

One Bad Night Stole My Beautiful Jenny Rose. Heroin Poisoned Our Family.

I’m the mother of Jenny Rose. A young, beautiful girl who lost her life to heroin overdose.

Jenny Rose’s addiction effected our relationship as a mother and daughter. It effected my marriage with countless arguments and sleepless nights. We, as parents, have now fallen victim to heroin. It took the life of our only child.

Jenny Rose died from an accidental heroin overdose on May 9th 2014. It was a Friday and she was celebrating her 20th birthday with “friends.” That’s right – Jenny died on her birthday. We were waiting for Jenny to stop home, like she said she’d do – but instead she went to get drugs with her 2 friends and went to a KFC bathroom where she would take her last breath.

Since Jenny had been clean for over 60 days (30 days at rehab, 30 days at a halfway house in Florida), the amount of heroin she used in that bathroom at KFC was too much for her body. When she overdosed, her “friends” ran out from the bathroom – leaving my daughter unconscious and unresponsive. My daughter died from that overdose.

Jenny unfortunately came back home near West Chester, Pennsylvania too soon from her treatment. And she came home from treatment only because her lawyer wanted her to close her court case.

We, her parents, were telling the lawyer, “don’t bring her home yet, she’s not ready.” Something is seriously wrong with our current system – it doesn’t take care of nor care about people struggling with addiction.

Today, my family lives day-by-day. But our dreams, our future as a family has been completely destroyed. So many people tried to help Jenny, but in the end she wasn’t ready to cut her treatment short – and it killed her.

Our lives will never be the same. I hate this disease and heroin is the devil.

Alcohol and Heroin Were My Kiss of Death. Recovery Brought Me Back To Life.

It all began in the 1960’s – living on Long Island in an upscale town called Great Neck.

Great Neck was a very competitive town where you were never “good enough” or rich enough or smart enough. From a divorced working class family, my world collided when I was raped and almost murdered, shame I kept buried for years, and a boyfriend who had too much of everything.

At 16, I was getting front row seats at the Copacobana, given jewelry, new cars, I was 16 going on 25. Then his father, uncle, and friend were killed. It was a classic mob style hit and the love of my life began using heroin.

I knew I had lost him, he changed. At 16, with no support at home, my boyfriend on heroin, and the money drying up, I wanted to please him. I also had my dark secret about the rape. I was mad at God, had no family support and my father who had temporary custody was dying. Heroin looked like a nice solution.

Within 90 days, life as I knew it changed.

I went from Great Neck to the abandoned lots in East NY in 1972. I went from martinis to cheap wine. I stood in long lines at methadone clinics and took any pill that came my way. I forgot the pretty, bright girl that once was and was reduced to a mill crate, in a lot in war torn dangerous east NY. And to me it felt like heaven. I

I was trapped when I met the new love of my life. A handsome Spanish guy right out of prison and it was he and I against the world. He taught me the streets. I found it exciting but I was wearing out. After over 40 attempted detoxes (yes, I said 40), I was hooked on methadone, hydromorphone, valium, and alcohol.

And then it happened. I got that call. My husband had overdosed. My goal from then on was to party until I was 30 and then commit suicide. My world as I knew it was over.

Alone, beat up, addicted. I had a spiritual intervention that made me know God is real. He is present and His promises are true. I got a feeling that was stronger than any drug I had ever done, a warmth and glow went through me and a calm a sense of safety that almost knocked me over. I said, “God if you just get me off drugs I will do anything.”

I found a basement apartment. Someone gave me a mattress, old TV, a bible, a coffee pot, and I was going to trust that voice. I stayed in that basement with a bible and God said all you have to do is breath I will do the rest. I had seizures, I lost 40 pounds kicking methadone cold.

Having grand mail seizures in the shower, I called a therapist. I checked into a detox. I didn’t get it the first time, though. I came out and picked up more pills and alcohol –  and that was the kiss of death. I tried to commit suicide feeling like I let God down. He wasn’t done with me yet but I had so much more work to do.

I was found placed in a locked unit. I felt so distant from reality and never thought I could live one day at a time without a drink or drug. My counselor said follow the simple steps of 12 step recovery. I prayed, I listened and hours turned into days, days turned into years. This June 20th, I will have 34 years clean and sober.

Life has not been easy. I have had and continue to have challenges, relationships, health, poor choices but GOD is good. I would never go back on my word. I am here until He decides to take me home.

Recovery showed me how to laugh, care, feel again. I will never see homelessness again and make a judgement, I have lost many friends to suicide. We are never “fixed” but we can and do recover. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done but I am happy. We can’t keep it unless we give it away. If I can do it anyone can. It begins with willingness and faith.

Thank you for the opportunity to share. Today we have a choice! God is good through it all. His love is indeed unconditional. He is the greatest love of all.

My Victory Over Heroin

Hi my name is Kayla Whitehead.

I can say I have found victory over heroin addiction! My addiction with opiates started when I was 13 and spiraled out of control when I picked up the needle at 15.

I went to rehab after rehab and cycled through many jails here in Oregon but on February 13, 2013, I finally got clean through my last incarceration. I spent 6 months in county jail and had enough and committed myself to my recovery.

On November 4 2014, I gave birth to my son Layne. He weighed 1.13 ounces and is truly my miracle child. Addiction has affected not only me but my son. At 6 months old, we lost his father to an overdose leaving me devastated and now a single mom.

Today I serve my community. I became a certified recovery mentor and sponsor women and serve an awesome God. I am no longer the face of addiction but the face of recovery!

I was once homeless – now I have a home. I get to wake up to my son and be whom God intended me to be and share my story with others in hope that it saves someone else.

Recovery is possible!

Denying Addiction Plays Russian Roulette With Families of Sufferers, Too.

22 million people live with substance use disorder. 45 million people are impacted by addiction. I am 1 of the 45 million people affected by this disease.

The disease of addiction is no one’s fault, but everyone’s problem. Alcoholism was declared a disease in 1956. 61 years later, some still need to be convinced of this scientific fact. Looking at the numbers in the middle of this PLAGUE we now find ourselves in, we don’t have 61 years for people to catch up. Christ, we don’t have 61 hours.

Heroin sucks. It really, really does. It sucks not just in the “man, that sucks” way but also in the literal way. It sucks the happiness out of homes. It sucks the trust out of relationships. It sucks the dreams from a peaceful night’s sleep. It sucks the literal life out of those who use and those who watch those who use.

People still roll their eyes when I call addiction a disease. Yet, when I call it a FAMILY disease, I am not met with the same adversity. Something in the person breaks and they recognize, even but for a moment, that I am sick, physically and mentally ill, over what I watch unfold every day.

Maybe they can see it in my eyes. My very tired, dry, bloodshot eyes. Maybe they can feel it in my frail shoulder blades when they hug me and have no idea what to say other than “have you eaten today?” Maybe they can understand it when they hear me crying in the middle of the night even though I turned the shower and the sink on to kill the noise of my pain.

Yes, MY pain.

All because of a bag of powder that skulked into my life through the bloodstream of someone I love more than I can ever explain on paper.

Alicia Cook

I am never in denial. I know this drug. I know the statistics. I know the situation is dire. I know overdoses are killing more of us annually than automobile accidents. Killing someone every 16 minutes. I know that one bag costs less than a meal at McDonalds. I know what Fentanyl, Suboxone, Vivitrol, and Narcan are. I know why dealers stamp their wax folds. I know the third day of withdrawal is the worst. I know it costs $250 for a 45-minute session with a specialist who will just tell me everything I already know. “They need to want to save themselves.”

It is poison. Each bag, a bullet. Each snort or injection, the spin of the cylinder. This is our generation’s Russian Roulette.

I am sad a lot of the time. A home where addiction is present is oftentimes a painful place to live. It is hard to watch someone you care about spiral out of control and become someone you have to squint at to recognize. Memories will flood your mind, as you scramble to latch on to one – just one — happy reminiscence. It is difficult to see so clearly what their disease makes them so blind to: their own potential, their own worth, their own mortality.

I am angry a lot of the time. I used to feel guilty saying that. I’ve learned it’s okay for me to say, even out loud, “I am the collateral damage in this. I didn’t ask for this.” I used to walk on eggshells and talk and act very deliberately. I was afraid that something I would say would push them to use, or even worse, give up on themselves. “You’re dope sick? Well, I’m heart sick.”

I am happy a lot of the time. Which is a really odd thing for me to say, right? Since I am also sad, angry, helpless, and confused most of the time, too. If I learned anything from this, it is families are resilient. I am resilient. After a sleepless night of praying the phone won’t ring, or praying it will, the sun will rise and another day of my life will begin. Dishes need to be washed, laundry needs to get done, birthdays need to be celebrated. Yes, some days I am mailing it in – the fears that come along with addiction are all consuming – but some days I do smile and mean it. “I have good days, and bad days, but never normal days.”

To anyone going through this with a loved one — I want you to know — happy times can and will come again once you accept that you cannot “fix” your loved one. You simply (it’s never simple) can’t; but being helpless doesn’t mean you help less. You can love them. You can support them. You can do everything in your power…everything but save them. I know as soon as I accepted this, I was able to let bits of joy enter my life again. This light didn’t kill the darkness, but it brought with it moments of happiness and laughter nonetheless.

I used to hear “you can’t let it get to you like this,” or “just cut them out.” Just cut them out — as if they were nothing more than a one-dimensional character on a poorly written crime drama. I am met with sympathy now, but more so, sadly, I am met with complete and utter understanding from people who can directly identify with my situation. As more and more families are affected by addiction, I hear less and less from the peanut galleries in both my real life and the comment sections of my articles. Perhaps they are too busy still thinking it could never happen to them. Or, more realistically, they are terrified it can.

91 Americans die from drugs every day. I do believe we will outrun the epidemic, beat it to the finish line. We can do this. We have no other choice, because the other choice is heartbreaking. I can’t keep losing people I love. I can’t beat this alone. Each and every voice matters.