I was blessed with two loving, charismatic sons who were both considered "mama's boys" by their friends and family. There wasn't anything about being a mother that I didn't like...until my youngest, Brian, starting abusing drugs shortly after high school. At that point, being a mother meant I had to witness one of the greatest loves of my life struggledaily with the grips of a disease that slowlyconsumedhis life.Brian's illness became a roller coaster ride of helplessness, anger, despair and hope that continueduntil his death onMarch 19, 2010. My Brian waspopular, funny, flirtatiousand foolishly over-confident when it came to drugs. He knew specifics about prescription drugs that I expected only a pharmacist would know and made a point of educating himself about everything from Heroin to Xanax. This false bravado...thisartificial sense of control is how heroin manipulates our loved ones.Brian thought he was in charge - smarter than everyone else...smarter than his friends who had recently died from drug overdoses. He used to say, "Mom, I'm not that stupid. People overdose because they take too much after they've been off it for awhile. Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere." But I worried. Brian considered himself a "working addict" - able to hold down part-time jobs and functionat a seemingly normal level. To the outsider, he was still charming, polite, and motivated but to me, he was often withdrawn, tired, and depressed. When I noticed items missing from the house, I'd question him. He was always so sincere when he feigned innocence.When the bank called about forged checks, he pretended he knew nothing about them.I knew what was happening - yet was unable to stop it. My perfect child was in the grips of something I couldn't understand. As a family, we constantly tried to talk with Bri...logically, emotionally - sometimes with anger and sometimes with fear...but always with an overwhelming desire to help him find his way back to us.At times, Brian would break down and start a path toward recovery - giving a 110%...but soon enough, the desire/need for the drug would outweigh his recovery goals. In July of 2009 Brian was arrested for heroin possession.As a parent, I struggled with the decision to bond him out or leavehim in jail. I knew he would have to go through withdrawal on a concrete floor, asking for me - wondering whereI was.He called the next day and I told him I wasn't able to bond him out and after a few phone conversations, Brian accepted the consequences of his choice and tried to make the best of it.I left him in jail for 2 1/2 months. We visited Bri every Wednesday evening for 20 minutes - it was something Brian and I always looked forward to. We laughed, he shared "jail stories"...and then he and I held our hands up to the glass when we said goodbye. I had my son back even thoughI couldn't hold him. Brian was back home mid-September. I picked him up on a warm, sunny day that was filled with hope and renewed trust. This feeling lasted through most of the holiday season until...things started missing again and those familiar doubts resurfaced. By March, Brian was struggling through his continued recovery and had unfortunately, made contact with some of his old "friends." On March 18th, he borrowed his girlfriend's car with the pretense of visiting an acquaintance but instead, went to Chicago and traded some Valium for Heroin. The last time I spoke with my son was that evening around 11 pm. He seemed tired and I told him he needed to get some sleep because he had an early court appearance the next morning. He said, “Mom, it's only 11, I don't usually go to bed until 2”. On Friday morning, March 19, 2010, I walked down the hall and into the family room. I noticed the TV cable was on…but the screen was blue. I thought that was odd because I remember turning the TV off a few hours earlier. I glanced toward the couch and was surprised to see Brian lying on his back…sleeping…his tall frame stretched out on the cushions. I stood in the center of the room for what seemed like an eternity – staring at his pale, lifeless face…glancing quickly at his still chest – looking for that familiar rise and fall of his lungs. I knew instantly my Brian was gone. Brian went to sleep that evening around 12:30 a.m. and never woke up. He wasn't even aware he was dying when he closed his eyes. Heroin deaths are slow and can often take several hours, causing severe brain damage and ultimately, death. The Coroner said Brian died around 3:30 am. Not surprisingly, the amount of heroin in his system was not overly much – but the combination of heroin with other “safe” drugs – like Tylenol PM – caused his respiration to slow so much that he eventually just stopped breathing. Imagine, for a moment, Brian's state of mind that night... he had taken heroin before, he knew what he was doing, he wasn't stupid, he was only going to take a little bit, he was going to get up for his court appearance at 7 a.m., he was going to spend the day with his girlfriend and then visit his brother...he wasn't going to die . Then look at the reality – my happy, loving, funny, handsome son is dead. That was not part of his plan. Unfortunately, drug abuse changes brain chemistry and alters a person's ability to exert self control and sound judgment. I realize Brian made the initial decision to try opiates. Our children are repeatedly bombarded by outside influences that often glamorize “party” drugs and regardless of their personal values, our kids are often very vulnerable to these influences. I don't know why Brian chose to abuse pills or who he was with or what the circumstances were...I only know that he was brought up in a home that didn't shy away from discussing the dangers of drugs. We made sure to monitor his friends and involve him in sports, the fine arts, and vocational studies. As a teacher, I stressed to both my boys the value of education – despite their career paths. Sadly, Brian's choice to experiment with drugs ended tragically for all of us who loved him. There is a stigma associated with drug addiction and alcoholism which is a carryover from the 1930's. Regrettably, those views have helped shape society's response to drug addiction even today. People addicted to drugs were/are thought to be morally flawed or lacking willpower. This is not the case. Since I knowa lotabout opiates – let me offer some information...A hit of heroin costs a little more than a pack of cigarettes. It's cheap and VERY affordable to our middle class children. Heroin is usually the “last” drug – most start off trying/abusing pain killers like Vicodin or Oxycontin and eventually attempt heroin. The drug plague has maimed/killed more Americans than all our wars, natural disasters, and traffic accidents combined (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Nearly 1 in 10 high school seniors have or will abuse drugs between the ages of 18 – 21. That means (in a graduating class of 1000 students) 100 kids will make the wrong choice – regardless of their upbringing. For 22 years Brian considered me his best friend – the one he could confide in – the one he hated hurting – the one he knew would always have his back. Not once was I ashamed to be Brian's mom. I am proud of the loving young man he grew to be and I was blessed to have him with me for 22 years. Getting through the rest of my life without him is unimaginable. Lastly, no parent raises their child to be a drug addict. No child grows up wishing to be a drug addict. No brother hopes to be an only child. My life will forever be defined by a single date - there will always be a "before" and "after" Brian's death. It is my hope that at least ONE person will heed the warning of Brian's death and walk away from the offering of drugs. There isn't a “friendship” or an event that is worth your future or your life. Brian was given an enormous amount of support, love and professional guidance but heroin still won. It nearly always wins. Brian had a wonderful future ahead of him and was very optimistic and enthusiastic about his life. He always used to tell us, "live with no regrets Mom...no regrets." I'm certain there are regrets now.
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