Marc Frank Lewis
In 1995 I had my third child, a girl, Victoria, we fell madly in love with her as soon as she was born, as I did with each of my children. I had been married to my second husband four years and this was our first child together. My two older children Marc and Claudia (then 14 and 12) thought of my husband as their dad. He was great with them, very involved with their activities, came to school functions, we were involved in our church, he encouraged and attended their sports and music lessons. I really thought, life can’t be any better than this, until I found a marijuana joint in my son’s backpack.
It was mind-numbing and disappointing and immediately I asked myself, “Where did I go wrong?” We sat down together, all of us and discussed it. I was honest with my son about my own experimentation with pot as a teenager. And since I had personally seen the effect of drug addiction on my brother and what it did to our family, I shared that too. My brother went from experimenting with drugs to drug and alcohol abuse. This lead to him contracting AIDS and paying the ultimate price -- his life. He died at age 32.
Marc was very creative. He won awards for his artwork starting from fourth grade when his uncle (also an artist) bought him an airbrush and compressor. Wow, the work he created.
Once when he was 12, we were at a yard sale and he wanted this old broken electric guitar so badly that I let him buy it for a dollar. Over the next three years he brought life back to that guitar and taught himself how to play.
He was a natural talent at any type of sport he tried. He played soccer from about 4 years old as well as baseball, basketball and football. He could put together and take apart a bicycle or skateboard in about five minutes. All his friends used to bring their bikes to him to fix and modify.
He was definitely an outdoors kind of person, We would spend hours at the beach riding waves, body surfing and building forts, yet he was just as content to be hiking, camping and fishing at the campgrounds.
He had a deep love and devotion to his family, many aunts, uncles and cousins. As the oldest grandchild on my side of the family, he took that responsibility seriously. He was charismatic and fun to talk to. He had an easy laugh and a beautiful smile.
Unfortunately, like so many other stories, Marc’s use soon became abuse and addiction. It is torture to watch your child go from this admirable person to someone you wouldn't want your kid hanging out with! So many people told me “Don't worry, Marc is a good kid, he’s just being a teenager, you're going to laugh about this one day.” Yet my response was, “Yes, Marc is a good kid -- a good kid with a drug problem.” After all, don't they all start off that way?
First I took him for counseling, then we went to family counseling and ultimately Marc went to Daytop Village, an adolescent facility. It was then that I became a member of Daytop Family Association, where I found people who understood what WE as a FAMILY were going through. My son and I and his siblings recovered together. I remain in touch and active with my Daytop Family to this day.
His last year of life was a struggle, and he did see the hope and promise of recovery. After he completed Daytop Village, he moved to New Jersey to live with his biological dad with whom he had reconnected. He had a good job and made friends easily.
We spoke on the phone several times a week and emailed daily, him updating me about his job and me updating him on his siblings. By 2000, Marc’s sister Claudia was 16, Victoria was 5 and James was 3, so there was always some story or accomplishment to share.
Marc came for a visit April 29 and 30, 2000. We all had a great time. We cooked, ate, played, joked around, reminisced, sang and Marc played guitar. I will always remain incredibly grateful for that weekend.
Then, Tuesday May 2, 2000, I was given the news that Marc had overdosed. Our lives were forever changed.
After losing Marc, I decided I wanted do everything I could to help others who have been touched by this horrible disease.
I speak frequently about my experience. I have joined every group, coalition and organization aimed to educate and provide help to parents and teens. I have advocated alongside other families who have been impacted by the current medicine abuse epidemic (www.medicineabuseproject.org). I am a proud family member of Families In Support of Treatment as well as Long Island Recovery Association. In addition, I started a support group for families and friends who have a loved one struggling with substance use disorder.
I want to help other families understand these seven things:
Parents need to start talking with their children about drugs and alcohol at an early age -- and continue having the discussions with them. It is not a one-and-done issue. This issue evolves with your child and their environment.
Listen to them, don’t just talk to them.
Not everyone who drinks or smokes pot will suffer from the disease of addiction. But everyone who suffers from addiction started with drinking or smoking pot or both.
Do not feel ashamed. You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it. Take care of yourself.
Seek help, don’t be afraid to talk with people about what you are going through. You will be amazed at how many people have a loved one who is also suffering. Find a support group or call the Partnership toll-free helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE.
It is not just the person suffering who needs support, but all who love him or her are impacted by the disease and the destruction and chaos it causes.
The insurance companies, doctors, politicians and society at large cannot keep believing that it is the person’s “choice” to continue to use. We need to educate ourselves and our communities about the disease so that we are better equipped to help others understand this.
Marc’s death has changed all of our lives but with love, understanding and time it has given us strength.
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