Alicia loved her family and her friends, and everyone loved her. She always had a smile for everyone. She was beautiful inside and out, had a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone, including taking up for anyone she felt was being bullied or not treated fairly. She couldn't and wouldn't tolerate it no matter the consequences. Alicia had a passion to help others! She loved all kinds of animals as a little girl; I remember her bringing frogs and snakes into the house to show me. I, of course, would react with a shriek and she would look at me like I was crazy and laugh at me, lol.
Alicia was fascinated with the medical field and healthy living in general. She wanted to be a nurse or health coach, focusing on healing the mind and body with whole foods versus medicine. When she graduated from high school, Alicia went into the Navy and was planning to go through the Nursing program. I remember her Naval graduation. She was so very proud of herself and her accomplishment. She was so happy, and she looked great! During her first assignment, Alicia was stationed at Lemoore Naval Air Base in California where she excelled. She was the team leader working with the F/A-18 fighter jets. It was hard work, but she enjoyed it and her fellow service members.
Alicia later transferred to Jacksonville, Florida, hoping she would have easier access to the Nursing program. During her time in Jacksonville, she was deployed to Italy, Djibouti and Japan. It was upon Alicia’s return to the states from Djibouti, that she underwent two surgeries. The first was to correct her vision and the second surgery to remove her tonsils. Alicia was prescribed opioids after the eye surgery in 2010, and it was then that her addiction began. She later wrote the following in her journal while in treatment: “I would get a prescription every few months so if I was given a urinalysis test, I would pass.” The prescription provided an excuse when her urinalysis tests came back positive. A military career that began with promotions, overseas deployments and awards faltered and fell apart leaving Alicia with a general discharge, no benefits and nowhere to turn for help.
In August of 2014, one of Alicia’s Navy friends called to tell me that Alicia was addicted to heroin and down to a skeletal 85 pounds. He was very concerned about her. When Alicia found out he had called me, she disappeared for three weeks. Prior to her friend’s call, I had no clue that any of this was going on; I didn't even know she was out of the service at this time. Alicia did not want me to know anything about her addiction -- she was extremely embarrassed. Her first arrest for heroin possession came in October 2014, only six months after she left the service. There was a second arrest for heroin possession in the fall of 2015, and Alicia remained in jail until her court hearing which resulted in a four-month sentence to addiction treatment administered by the judge.
During treatment, part of her recovery work was to write a journal in which she wrote: “I want to rebuild my relationship with my mom. I will call her more often and share pictures of myself and what I’m doing so she can help with my recovery. I want to go back to Missouri. I want to go back to school. I want to be comfortable with myself. I want to be able to talk in front of people and not be afraid I sound stupid.”
I wanted to visit Alicia, but she insisted that I wait until she was on her feet, had a job and her own place, so I agreed to wait until the summer of 2016. Four days after her release, Alicia died of a heroin overdose. I was devastated. I lost my baby girl and will forever have a huge hole in my heart. It is extremely upsetting that the Navy did nothing to find out the reason for the drastic changes in Alicia's attendance and performance so they could provide some help, whether that be medical, treatment or counseling. If you have a good employee and all of a sudden things start going downhill, it should be a red flag indicating something is wrong and you need to try to find out what the issue is and provide some help.
We must join forces and fight the war on addiction together! It is my mission to do whatever I can to help bring awareness to the stigma surrounding addiction and substance use. It is imperative that the tools and resources are readily and easily available to anyone in need of assistance! We have lost far too many loved ones already and continue to lose more every single day.