I made a promise to my son, Brian, to spare others of this tragedy. From this promise emerged a vision to unite millions of Americans within one organization, and empowering them to create change.
My son, Brian, was a loving child, full of smiles and light.
Like so many children, as he entered his teenage years, Brian tried marijuana. And like far too many, this led to other drugs to which he became addicted. For almost ten years, Brian battled the disease of addiction and its cycle of shame, isolation and failure. During that same time, my family and I fought to navigate the complex and confusing web of treatment programs and therapies. If you know someone who has struggled with addiction, you know all too well the pain and anguish of watching a loved one in the clutches of this disease.
Loving and compassionate, through it all Brian wished others did not have to suffer from this devastating disease. During a visit home in the summer of 2011, as we sat on our back porch one evening, Brian spoke about the stigma and shame he felt:
“Dad, 300 years ago, they burned women on stakes in Salem, Massachusetts because they thought they were witches. Later they learned they weren’t and stopped. Someday, people will realize that I am not a bad person. That I have a disease and I am trying my hardest.”
This turned out to be my son’s last visit home. Four months later, in the middle of the night on October 20, 2011, I received the phone call that is every parent’s worst nightmare. Brian was dead.
Brian's passing was and continues to be excruciatingly painful. Perhaps just as tragic, is the undeniable reality that it was not just addiction that claimed my son’s life. It was the shame he felt every morning when he opened his eyes that led him to wake up that morning, research suicide notes, light a candle and take his own life, alone.
In the aftermath of Brian’s death, I struggled to make sense of what had happened. After months of research and reflection, four facts haunted me:
- Brian died of a disease that afflicts more than 22 million Americans every day, as well as tens of millions of family members that love them so dearly. That’s one quarter of American families. Over 370 die every day, shattering countless lives.
- Like Brian, the majority of those addicted, nearly 8 out of 10, developed this disease before their 18th birthdays, while their brains were still developing. We as a society are not protecting our children when they are most vulnerable to becoming addicted and unable to protect themselves.
- Research exists that could have saved Brian and countless others like him, but is not being implemented throughout communities and healthcare system.
- For every major disease in this country there was one well-funded national organization devoted to funding the discovery and implementation protocols and programs related to prevention, treatment and recovery, changing public policies and supporting families as they navigate some of the most trying times that they will ever face. For every major disease, but not for addiction.
Disquieted by this information, and inspired by Brian’s compassion, I made a promise to my son, to spare others of this tragedy. From this promise emerged a vision to unit millions of Americans within one organization, and empowering them to create change.