I used to tell my son, “If you could see yourself through my eyes, then you would know how truly precious you are.”
My son Tony lost his battle with substance use disorder and is now one of the #129aDay who lose their lives to this disease. My son is not defined by his disease; he was so much more than that. He was a loving son, brother, nephew, grandson, cousin, and friend. He cared more for others than he did himself. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to help his friends and family.
At the age of seven, we noticed that Tony was exhibiting some “red flag” behaviors. He would take the Kool-Aid and ice tea mix and hide it in his room so he could eat it. When we asked him why, he would tell us, “Eating it makes me feel better.” This was an odd thing for a seven year old to say, but in hindsight, that was the start of his self-medicating.
As the years went on Tony suffered from terrible mood swings and bouts of anger. We took him to see a child psychiatrist when he was 12 because he was frequently depressed, angry, and suffering from terrible insomnia. Tony was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder; therefore, he was put on antidepressant medications and a mood stabilizer. At 13, we put him in an intensive outpatient program for a week. By this time Tony was frustrated with the medications and their side effects and began engaging in self injurious behavior. We thought that he was taking his medication but discovered that he would hide his pills under the carpet in his room. Instead of complying with taking his meds, he opted to self-medicate with marijuana, and then alcohol.
By 20 years old, Tony had a full-blown addiction to alcohol. While trying to detox at home, he suffered grand mal seizures and was hospitalized for a week. Tony was hallucinating and delusional for the first several days of this hospitalization. In February of 2009 he made his first phone call to get on the waiting list at a treatment facility in Rock Creek, Ohio. He was told the wait could be up to two weeks, but the next day they had a bed for him. After completing the 28 day program, Tony was back on his medications and had a great outlook on life. He was committed to going to AA meetings and living a sober life. This lasted for about two years.
After having dental surgery, Tony was prescribed Percocet and started to backslide. It became apparent that he was using the pain medication more than was prescribed. His path to intravenous heroin started with abusing prescription opioids and Xanax. Tony’s life started spiraling out of control from his heroin use.
On July 2, 2014, after a self-injurious incident and having a 72 hour psychiatric hold put on him, Tony once again made the call to get on the waiting list for treatment. The next day he entered his second treatment program, but this time for his opioid addiction. Tony completed another 28 day program, and afterwards opted to go into sober living - to be away from the triggers in his hometown. After six weeks of living there, Tony was kicked out. He decided it would be best to stay in that town and moved into his own apartment. Two weeks later Tony lost his job and was in a full-blown alcohol and intravenous heroin relapse.
One day, Tony sent me a text message saying that he needed to go back to treatment. On October 13, 2014, Tony left for his third and final rehab in Florida. This time he was in treatment for 40 days and returned home November 13th. 48 hours later on November 15th, Tony was dead from an overdose from heroin laced with fentanyl. He was 25 years old.
The loss of my son has been the most devastating event in my life. I watched my son suffer for years with his mental illness and the disease of addiction. He fought with everything he had to combat his demons. Tony’s life and struggles were not in vain. To honor him I advocate to stop the stigma of addiction. I support other families who have a loved one in active addiction and those who have lost a loved one to this disease. I am an administrator for the Facebook group The Addicts Parents United and their sub group TAP Survivors of Loss. My son’s voice may have been silenced, but mine is stronger than ever.
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