When my daughter, Allison, stepped off the plane from D.C., she wondered how her life could have changed so completely and so quickly. She’d gone from college, to inpatient treatment, and now she found here, a ranch for extended care and sober living in a windy Texas town.
At the ranch, Kevin made an impression on Allison right away. Sharing her love for working out in the gym, Kevin had the heart and patience of a teacher and tutor. With a vibrant personality and a smile that put me at ease immediately when I met him, he embraced the recovery program and encouraged so many around him.
Two young adults taking the next steps in life, they were coming to terms with the destructive forces of addiction in their individual lives, and turning to face the horizon of recovery. A new day, a new chance at life. Love found them. Through the ups and downs of early recovery, their communication, respect, and love for each other deepened, and their relationship continued even after they left the ranch.
Kevin seemed to thrive in the structure of collegiate recovery, and earned high honors in his coursework during his first semester back at school. As I got to know my daughter’s new boyfriend, I was impressed by how openly he talked about his struggles and experiences with addiction, which began for him as a young teenager. It was hard to imagine that a year earlier this compassionate young man had been sitting in a prison cell, contemplating whether or not he even had a future. It was even harder to imagine that even though Kevin seemed to be doing so well in recovery, we’d soon lose him to an overdose.
The last time I saw him was the last day of final exams for the fall semester. He smiled when he hugged me and he looked me in the eye. I didn’t see what was to come. I have thought about that last goodbye many times since then.
Kevin’s mother, Lisa, and I are having iced tea at a restaurant as we wait for our dinner. She’s in town on a business trip with her work. I don’t ask her how she’s doing; I know it hurts too much. As we talk, she smiles and wipes the tears that are falling from the corners of her eyes. This is the first time I have seen her outside of a memorial service. I watched her greet each co-worker and friend at two memorial services with sincerity and grace. I first met her by phone on the worst day of her life, the day the police came to her door to tell her that her Kevin had died of an accidental drug overdose while visiting a friend in another state during the winter break. It’s been four short months since that day.
Many phone calls and texts later, we sit together here, sharing the love, the pain and the memories of this wonderful young man. As Mother’s Day approaches, I can’t pretend to even begin to know her pain, but I can let her know she is not alone. I tell her that I think of Kevin every day, and we share a special bond through our love for him. Ours might seem like an unlikely friendship—she a professional engineer mom and me an at-home mom—but her care and concern for my heartbroken, devastated daughter has helped me to stay strong and feel encouraged. Her continued support helps me to walk beside my daughter as she takes her recovery one day at a time.
Although living many miles apart in different parts of the country, we raised our kids to the best of our abilities. We gave them all the time, love, attention and advantages that we had to offer. Sure, we made mistakes, but we put our hearts and souls into bringing up these young adults. Our schools gave them high-quality education, offered drug prevention programs. But the disease wreaked its havoc anyway.
Lisa and I have painstakingly pondered what we, our schools, and communities could have or should have done differently. We’ve wondered how the world would view our children without the stigma of addiction. We want recovery providers to make improvements to their programs based on scientific research on addiction, and we advocate for Shatterproof’s National Principles of Care and Rating System for Addiction Treatment Programs. We hope and pray that our younger children never have to go through what we have been through with their older siblings, that society will become more compassionate towards those struggling with substance use disorder, and that addiction will one day be treated like any other disease. We hope and pray that more of our children can find lasting recovery, like Allison has. And I hope the moms of addicted children everywhere know that they are not alone.