According to Mariam Webster the definition of stigma is the mark of shame or discredit. When trying to decide who, when, why, and where I would share my story stigma is the word that always found its way into my thoughts. If I share my story with those around me will it give me a mark of shame, will it give my children a mark of shame, will it give my family a mark of shame? Will someone benefit from my story? Will someone be hurt by my story. How could I ever decide if I would share it, and if I did who would I share it with, and how would I present it? These are all questions that have been on my mind the past couple of weeks.
These thoughts all started last week when I met one of my child’s friends moms. Tripp introduced himself to her “hi my name is Tripp, and my dad is dead.” Well this isn’t an unusual way for Tripp to introduce himself, but I of course jumped in and said something along the lines of “yeah sorry about that he’s very literal.” Well turns out this mother had just lost her oldest daughter. Here’s the thing once you experience a first degree loss you feel much more drawn to those who have felt similar grief. So her and I got to talking, and she asked me how Jason died. I felt safe telling her, and as soon as I did I immediately started backpedaling. Saying things like I had no idea he was using drugs, it was such a surprise, we never saw it coming because I immediately thought of what she must be thinking. Did she think I did drugs, does she think I’ve raised my kids in a drug house, does she think I’m an addict? Will she let her daughter still play with my son, will she tell the other mothers, am I now going to be the talk around the water cooler. Needless to say that experience did not sit well with me.
A few days later while camping with my boyfriend I asked him if he has told his kids how Jason died, and he said no he’s never told them how. I’ve been seeing this man for almost 11 months, and he still hasn’t told his children how Jason died. So it got me thinking about this stigma attached to people who die because of addiction. Jason didn’t die because of an overdose, addiction is what killed him. This disease that is so incredibly hard to beat took his life from him. I’ve decided if I can take his story, and help one other person it will be worth me being uncomfortable. This is my side of Jason’s story.
One thing I know for certain is that I want people to know Jason wasn’t just an addict who overdosed on drugs. He was first and foremost a husband, father, brother, son, friend, life of the party, funny, caring, hardworking, loving, respectful man. He worked hard to provide for his family, and loved us without fail.
Jason’s drug of choice was alcohol. He battled alcoholism since the day I met him although it probably took me a few years to realize what a battle it actually was. See we met in our early 20’s when life was a party so I never realized he was an alcoholic. You would think growing up with one I would know, but I didn’t. Or most likely I didn’t want to admit he was. He was so funny, so sweet, so adventurous, so what if he liked to drink. We were young we would grow up and quit partying when we needed to. Well as the years went by instead of growing out of it he grew deeper and deeper into drinking. We couldn’t plan a vacation without either buying all the beer and liquor before we left or looking up the closest place to buy alcohol wherever we were going. Alcohol was part of every event. If there was a reason to drink Jason could find it. As the years rolled by this got worse and worse. As far as I know he never drank at work, but there were many nights he didn’t make it all the way home from work without a drink.
Jason and I got along wonderfully unless alcohol was involved. Every fight we had revolved around his drinking, every argument, every spat. I used to say if it weren’t for alcohol things would be perfect.
In September 2018 I had reached my breaking point. I had decided I couldn’t do it any longer. The alcoholic was around all the time I never saw the Jason I knew and loved anymore. I had to get to a healthier place, and my kids deserved better. I had decided I was done. As fate would have it Jason called me that very day to tell me it was time and he was ready to go to rehab. We called around and found out Bradford was basically our only affordable option. We didn’t know much about rehabs, or what we needed we just knew he had to get help. The next day we drove about an hour away Warrior Alabama and checked him into rehab.
I’ll never forget dropping him off. The feelings I was having. I was scared, sad, lonely, terrified, optimistic. Above all else I couldn’t imagine the feelings he was having. I cried myself the whole way home. Wondering who he would be without alcohol. So much of Jason revolved around drinking. Everything he enjoyed doing he did while drinking. Grilling, watching football, camping, watching tv, going to concerts, yard work, all of it. How would he learn his new normal, how would I learn my new normal, how would we learn our new normal.
Insurance would only cover 15 days at rehab, what a joke. Jason needed way more than 15 days but we got so lucky with his counselor, and his will to want to get sober. He did it to. He finished rehab, attended AA meetings, and started turning back into the Jason I had known once before. As far as I know he stayed completely sober for 6 months. We both did. We didn’t touch a thing. No alcohol or drugs.
On the day of his 6 months of sobriety for some reason we decided it would be ok to eat a small THC edible. We figured it was just pot what harm could it do. Well that one little “innocent” edible ended up opening Pandora’s box. After the edible we decided it would be ok to smoke here and there, after that it would be ok to take a hallucinogen at a concert after that for Jason it escalated to a little bit of cocaine being ok if we were going out. The whole time I never thought anything of it. He wasn’t drinking for the first time since I met him, he wasn’t drinking. I had watched him use drugs recreationally for our entire relationship, and never once saw him use them addictively. Because of this in my mind his addiction was alcohol. Alcohol was the problem not drugs.
Since Jason started rehab I had been going to SMART recovery meetings, and I would share very honestly and openly with them the things we were doing. Ensuring them every time that I was fine with it because Jason’s addiction was alcohol. He isn’t addicted to drugs. Every time I said that the facilitator would warn me that an addict is an addict and this was in fact a very dangerous road for him to be on. I refused to believe her. I refused to believe her 20+ years of experience. For whatever reason. Maybe the thought of me never being able to “party” again didn’t appeal to me, maybe I honestly believed he could handle drugs, maybe I believed that was all those other people but not Jason. Whatever the reason I never believed her.
Well at some point Jason’s recreation use turned to addictive use. On Tuesday July 30th 2019 I realized maybe my facilitator was right. Maybe he can’t control drugs the way I thought he could cause he was acting very strange when I got home from my meeting. I decided I would let it slide. It was probably just a one time thing.
The next night we were going to celebrate my niece’s birthday by going to my moms. Something we always did for everyone’s birthday. I called Jason to tell him the kids and I could give him a ride. We would be there soon to pick him up. He immediately stepped back into his old alcoholic behaviors. “Actually I can just stay home with Tripp so you and Ellie can go and stay as long as you want, I don’t really have to go do I?” This was very strange and I was able to convince him to go, it was a birthday dinner. My niece would want him and Tripp there to celebrate. After dinner Jason got up to help with dishes, as he always did at my moms house, and when I went to join him I saw white powder in his nostril. I was furious. I could not believe he couldn’t make it through a family birthday dinner without doing some cocaine.
My smart recovery facilitator was spot on this was a very dangerous road he was on. I had to do something, and I had to do something quick before I had a full blown addict on my hands. (Notice I still didn’t really believe he was an addict, I was just more open to the fact that it could happen). When we got home from the birthday party I couldn’t even talk to him. I was furious.
Well Thursday rolls around and he comes home from work, and is messed up the second he gets out of his car. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something wasn’t right. I sent him a text message. I told him I had been there 100% by his side through alcoholism I was not going to watch him become a drug addict. He agreed telling me he would slow down. He was doing too much, and this would be it. He would go back to using recreationally just at shows or special occasions.
Well I’m sure you can probably guess what happened when he got home Friday. He was messed up yet again. He didn’t seem drunk, or high I still couldn’t figure out what it was. What I did know is I was scared, and I didn’t think I could handle being married to a drug addict. I ended up going to my room for the night while he hung out in the kitchen. He was in there listening to crappy music, in and out of the house going to his car, and just acting very out of character. I just decided to keep my distance. The next day would be Saturday and my 36th birthday. My plan was to just talk to him in the morning. He would have time to sleep off his buzz, and wouldn’t have time to get messed up before I would see him.
About 11:00 Friday night Jason came to bed. I told him to please let me sleep in in the morning because the next day was my birthday. All I wanted was a good night sleep. Well about an hour later he was snoring. Jason snored often and usually a poke or shake would be enough to get him to roll over and stop so I could fall back asleep. Well this night I could not get him to stop snoring, and it was so loud. So for the first time ever I decided to get up and go get on the sofa to sleep for the rest of the night. Little did I know that would be the last moment I spent with Jason.
When morning rolled around I decided I would get up with the kids, and let him sleep. I wanted him as sober as possible so we could have a conversation. Around 9:00 my daughter woke up so I sent her in my bedroom to wake up her Daddy. She came back out into the kitchen where I was cooking bacon and said “I tried to wake up Daddy, but I couldn’t and he is so cold.” My heart dropped. I ran in the bedroom and knew immediately he was gone. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I can still see and hear the entire moment as if it’s a movie I’ve watched 1,000 times. I told my kids to get out of the bedroom. I told them this isn’t good Daddy is dead.
The detective said we had to have an autopsy since he was so young. When I received the autopsy results I was in total shock. Not only did he have cocaine in his system which I expected, but there was also Hydrocodone, Xanax, methadone, and ketamine. How did it get that bad that fast? I could not believe my ears or eyes when I heard all the things he had done. Addiction had taken over, Jason was gone and addiction had taken another victim. when will it stop? How can I make a difference? How can others make a difference? Because I promise if love alone could have saved him he would still be here by my side.
I wish this wasn’t my story. I wish this wasn’t Jason’s story, and I really wish this wasn’t my children’s story. The only thing I can do now is hope that our story helps someone else. Stops someone else from dying too young, or stops another spouse from loosing their partner, or stops another child from loosing their parent. Maybe it’s too late and you’ve already lost a loved one to addiction at least you know you’re not alone. My hope is our story serves a purpose.
I decided to reach out to both his rehab, and to SMART recovery and offer to share my story with others. In this crazy time of covid neither are having live speakers or guests now, but they both know when it’s safe I will be someone available to them to share my story. I’ve never spoken to a crowd. I have never tried to tell such a personal story, but I’ll do anything I can to help. Please share my story with someone you know if you think it could help them.