Bucks County, PA
I grew up in Levittown and teach in the same school district that I studied in as a child. I’m a health and physical education teacher for Neshaminy. I teach and head the curriculum for grades kindergarten through 12th. I’m a mother, with a child currently in recovery. My son, Chris, was a phenomenal athlete. He’s always been obsessed with baseball; his first word was “ball.” By the time he was 12, he was throwing in the mid-80’s (miles per hour). Chris was the first junior high student in the district to be placed on a high school team. The pitching coach for the Phillies took him on because he saw potential. Things started to change though and by the middle of his 10th grade year, he was always on the bench.
It continued getting stranger and by his junior year, he was ineligible to play due to failing so many classes. By his senior year, they didn’t even want him. He went from division one material, to no one wanting him on the high school team. It was disheartening to watch him lose that goal. When you have children, you imagine a world that they’re going to live in, and it’s hard to see that potential world crumble away.
We knew that he was having some kind of issue. We brought in counselors and psychologists to find out what was going on. The situation started becoming clear when a mother down the street informed me that our son had been taking opioid pills from her husband’s medicine cabinet. Chris had also been arrested for shoplifting. I asked Chris about what was going on, but he told me nothing.
Chris would later tell me that he was using Percocet at 16 and was using heroin by his senior year. He shot up in the bathroom of our high school across from the nurse’s office and was passed out for 45 minutes; no one knew he was in there. It’s crazy to me that my son could’ve died right across from where I teach. Despite these issues, he did well academically and his senior year graduated on the honor roll. Even with this success he was falling deeper into his addiction.
“When you have children, you imagine a world that they’re going to live in, and it’s hard to see that potential world crumble away.”
By the time Chris was 19, he had revealed to me that he had used opiates, but quit. I knew how strong opioid addiction could be, but wanted to believe that he was well. After his first arrest for shoplifting he admitted he needed help and he went to Seabrook House in NJ. He stayed 28 days and seemed to be “better” but relapsed the day after he came home. 28 days is not nearly enough to help. He continued to use, causing a lot of turmoil in our home and at one point overdosed in the house; EMS came and administered Narcan. He was put into the ICU and stayed overnight because his oxygen level was low.
After his first overdose, my husband and I flew him out to Crossroads in Arizona where he spent four months in treatment. He seemed to have “overcome” his addiction. Two weeks after coming back, he relapsed again. He didn’t have a core group of people that he could lean on. All of his friends were addicted to heroin; he needed friends in recovery. Aside from the treatment he received in Arizona, Chris has been in seven different treatment programs. Most of them were 21 to 28 days, depending on what the insurance company believed was appropriate. You don’t really go in and say, “I’m going to have 28 days” either. It’s three to five days, then it’s another three to five days, and so on. It’s very weird how insurance works. I have great insurance though, and Chris always got the maximum number of days he could get. Even with the best insurance he was not getting better.
At one point, during another stint in Rehab, Chris went AMA (left without medical advice) and was missing somewhere in Kensington. There are no words to describe how difficult to handle. I would take the mornings off from work and come in on the afternoons, so I wouldn’t have to face kids. My job at that point was more of a curriculum writing position. I was obsessively searching for Chris through social media and calling everywhere. We found out that he was living in an abandoned house near Kensington and Allegany until we extracted him back home and off to another treatment program. Chris tried Arizona again but when he came back went back to his old ways of shoplifting and eventually was arrested and sent to prison.
This time when he called me to tell me he had been arrested, something happened to me, a calm enveloped me and I feel that was when I just “let go”. I was able to calmly tell him that, I only had advice for him: First he was being recorded and he should watch what he said and that he should trust no one. I also told him he needed an attorney and should apply for a public defender. He asked if I would get him an attorney, the answer was NO, NO attorney NO bail. Then I told him something I never thought I would be able to do; I told him that this was his journey and I was not coming with him anymore, I had my own journey. Then I told him that “I was ready… he said for what? I said to bury you…. He cried…. Then I told him that I had another child and I had to be ready. I said you are either going to stop or you are going to die and I must be prepared for both.
“Then I told him something I never thought I would be able to do; I told him that this was his journey and I was not coming with him anymore, I had my own journey.”
He was dope sick and going through withdrawals and hearing me say that was difficult for him. I got a call six days later that his public defender got him a pre-trial status that would allow him to leave with an ankle bracelet. When I spoke with him over the phone, I reported the news to him. I learned he was getting out before he himself found out. Overall, Chris spent five years involved with the criminal justice system in some form.
Chris wanted to go to rehab after those 6 days in prison. There was a huge ice storm at the time, but nonetheless I told him “Absolutely, let’s go.” The road conditions were horrible and weren’t supposed to be driven on; we made it though. After giving the Malvern rehab staff my insurance card and copay, I said goodbye to Chris and left. He eventually got into an argument with someone else in the program and was transferred to Willow Grove. I worried after the transfer that he was going to be sent back to Doylestown but I got a call from him that something had changed, and now people were coming to him for advice. He seemed different, like something really clicked, I cannot really explain it.
Although this was positive news, I had been there before and I called his counselor and told him that Chris needed long term care and needed to go somewhere else after his 28 days. I needed their help as I knew that he could not come back home, it never worked before and I was “done” with the turmoil. The counselor suggested a place called “Steps to Recovery” and said he’d be able spend another 30 days in that program. Chris was hesitant, but eventually decided to go. There were different phases of treatment in the program.
He spent thirty days in the first phase, seventy-five days in the second phase, and then moved into a recovery house with a group of friends he had made. After living in a sober house and the time at Steps to Recovery Chris moved back home. It had been a year since he had lived with us. Even after a year away It took six more months to feel comfortable giving him a key to the house.
Chris lives with us today and is doing well in his journey. One of the best parts of his recovery is watching him rebuild his relationship with his sister again. It is amazing to watch them laugh together and be friends. He has a little two year old now, which gives him a lot of motivation to keep going. He is currently working full time and is going to school to become an electrician. I’ve noticed a lot of positive change in him. The first thanksgiving that he was back home, Chris got up from dinner and said, I have to go see Pete, I said why it is a holiday and he said “Mom I need to go thank the person who saved my life”. How do you even answer that? I knew then his recovery was something he really wanted to work on.
He holds sober parties at our house, and it’s great to see so many people who have learned to have fun at our pool without needing drugs or alcohol. It can be sad at times though, to learn that some of the people you saw having fun ended up overdosing and passing away. Unfortunately, it’s at a point where it’s not a shock to hear of an acquaintance overdosing. It is so sad to know that my son who is 24 has lost so many of his friends to this disease.
While Chris found a good support group in his journey, I found also found a group on my journey as well. I met a few other moms who were going through a similar situation as me. We texted often and decided to form our own private Facebook group. It started with five of us but has grown to close to 100 Mom’s. It’s been a wonderful support system. It’s therapeutic to hear that you’re not the only one dealing with this kind of stuff.
I’ve also gotten involved in events, like fundraisers, to connect with others. They had a big event at Step to Recovery, in which my son and I spoke on ABC 6 news, which was huge for us. I’ve become more open about Chris’s situation with my students, and it’s really changed our relationship. They’re more willing to come forward and share their stories of how this epidemic is impacting them. They’re amazing kids, and it breaks my heart to hear some of their stories. I try to help them and let them know that they’re not alone.
“One of the best parts of his recovery is watching him rebuild his relationship with his sister again. It is amazing to watch them laugh together and be friends.”
I joined the Board of Director’s for the Bucks County Commission for Drugs and Alcohol. I was really nervous at the first meeting. I proposed funding for Narcan in our schools and training on how to use it, and everyone voted for it; that was really powerful for me. Other teachers in my district are in the same situation as me, and we recently formed the “Neshaminy Addiction Task Force.”
We came up with our hashtag, #StandUpNeshaminy and it’s been a work in progress. We’re providing links to informative videos in school emails to parents and are posting those videos on our school’s site and social media. We recently added our own URL: standupneshaminy.org. Every student next year will also be able to find resources on the back of their student ID. I’m also a member of the “Neshaminy Coalition for Youth” and teach parents how to talk to their kids about drugs. We have a lot on our plate.
This is why I’m sharing my opioid story, so other parents realize that they’re not alone. Not just parents, but brothers, sisters, and other family members. We struggled for years with our son’s addiction and it tore our family apart. Just reach out to somebody; there’s so many people going through this. Just know that everyone copes differently in their own way and that’s okay. Every journey is unique. Feel free to reach out to me at any time.