My parents got divorced when I was very young. My dad's drinking consumed him and my mom took my brother and me away from that situation. As the years went on and I grew up, I soon realized exactly how damaging alcohol addiction can be. When I was in going into middle school, my dad lost his job thus forcing my mother to pick up a second job to support my brother and me. It was at this time that I began to look after my brother after school while my mom was working her second job. About a year later, my dad lost his battle with addiction and passed away. When he died, he and I had not spoken for over a month. About a year later, my family moved from Atlanta to Connecticut to be closer to family. I carry with me some of the lessons I learned throughout that whole experience with me to this day. The foremost lesson I've learned is that death can happen to anyone. Even when you know an addict, you never think that your loved one is that bad or is drinking that much. I've taken these lessons with me into my high school where I am president of a student run nonprofit who work to spread awareness of issues relating to teenagers, including substance abuse.
My name is Suzanne and I have lived with addiction in my family since I was three years old. I grew up with two older brothers who struggled with addiction for most of my life. In addition to family members, I have many friends who have also battled with addiction and some who have ended up incarcerated or who have lost their lives because of this disease. Most recently I lost my 18 year old godson last year to a heroin overdose. I knew my godson had struggled with alcohol and marijuana abuse, although it was a big shock when we lost him to an opiate overdose.
I fell in love with Ian’s mom and her children when Ian was 5 years old, after the divorce from his father. Ian and I had a very special relationship. We both enjoyed sports, and Ian loved to play baseball and soccer. Ian was captain of his soccer team, which I coached. I owned a health club in the community, and Ian participated in the karate class. At the age of 11, Ian earned his black belt in karate and took the second-place trophy in sparring at Madison Square Garden and Even though Ian participated in all these activities, was well-liked, and did well in school, he would still take many risks. His mother and I always encouraged him to make good decisions. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for him to come to us with the private pain and secrets that eventually led to his turning to drugs.
After he died, his friends told me that he called me Larry “love.” But he never told me that. I miss him. Even though it has been twenty years, the pain and grief of the loss has not lessened for me or for Ian’s mother and sister. There are those who believe that drugs only affect families of a certain income, or who live in certain places, or who pick their friends badly. We had to learn in the most painful way that drugs can affect anyone.
In middle school, I suffered with mild anxiety that increased as I got older. I struggled with self-esteem issues and started experimenting with marijuana and alcohol in middle school. At the age of 16, I started experimenting with prescription pills. I still maintained good grades and graduated high school. In college, even though I maintained good grades and a job, I started abusing prescription opioids daily. During my second semester, I became addicted and dependent on opioids and started missing class; I dropped out of college because of my failed attendance of school.
I moved into an apartment with my drug dealer and my addiction progressed to heroin by age 19. My addiction caused damage to my body, leads to homelessness, encounters with law enforcement, and at 22, served time in prison. After prison, I experienced her first relapse. I used for about 4 months and then reached out to help.
I've been in recovery since December 2, 2015. I am now a Certified Recovery Coach, and have been able to use my experience to support my peers in their recovery. In addition, I am passionate on helping others and state organizations implement strategies to improve access, reduce barriers, and promote high quality, effective treatment and recovery services, as well as provide resources and guidance for youth and young adults in their search for mental wellness and recovery.
Are you concerned with a loved one? The State of Connecticut offers a hotline for residents looking to be connected with a local substance abuse walk-in assessment center: 1-800-563-4086.
Substance Abuse Walk-in Centers in our area: CT Renaissance Outpatient, Four Byington Place, Norwalk PHONE: 203-866-2541, Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm