As you now know, our son Justin passed away after a 12 year struggle with substance abuse. What is interesting to me as I look back to the high school years, is that I remember thinking that every family I knew was completely ‘normal’ and that my family was not. I felt so alone as we started our struggle with a child who was experimenting with drugs. I didn’t want to share with anyone this ‘ugly thing’ taking hold in my otherwise ‘normal’ home. It’s embarrassing and you feel that you will be judged as a terrible parent if this type of behavior is occurring under your roof. So, as in our case, we attempted to deal with it on our own, quietly.
How did it begin? Justin's senior year in high school was marked by many incidents, including getting arrested for truancy and possession of pot, as well as being detained at the Mexican border when illegal medications were found in his vehicle. Later on in his senior year, Justin was involved in a car accident when he was broadsided by another vehicle. This resulted in a back injury for which the doctor gave him a prescription for pain killers. Opiates. And Justin liked them very, very much.
So, we knew we were facing a big problem, but when you finally face up to a problem, then you have to take steps to try and fix it. My husband and I were unsure what to do but we felt that we needed to get Justin away from the ‘friends’ he was associating with and present him with new challenges. We agreed that he should attend his favorite out-of-state school, as he had wanted to do, and so the summer after graduation, we packed him up and moved him to college. We crossed our fingers and had high hopes for our son.
That proved to be the wrong thing to do for Justin as he was now addicted to the pain medication he was given after his accident and he also found pot very easy to come by at college. Within the first year there he was cited for public intoxication and was eventually jailed for possession. The addiction to the medication continued unabated with a score of doctors writing him multiple prescriptions.
The details of Justin’s next year or two are more than I have time or space to share. Suffice to say, what followed was rehab programs, sober living homes, two more colleges close to home, an attempt to hold down a job, and general mayhem for all of us close to him. Those years became a blur for our family.
The next major change came one day while Justin was back living in our home and trying to finish at El Camino. He had been acting very strange for a while and one day it was particularly bad. He was outside and I went into his closet in his bedroom. I found pieces of silver foil with black marks on them and a lighter. When Justin found out I had discovered these things, he went ballistic. I was scared. Both my husband and I had no idea what we had stumbled upon. I started making phone calls to clinics and rehab places describing what I had found. Looking for answers. Dreading what I might find out. And finally I got the answer.
Heroin. Black Tar Heroin.
A game changer like no other. A punch in the gut like no other. I thought my world had come to an end.
I think back to my son saying to me in high school, “It’s only pot Mom” and I wonder, how did we get so far off base? How could this have happened? What is the outcome going to be?
In the next blog, I will continue with my journey and hope you will follow me down this path.