I'm never really sure where to start when I write about losing our son. But I have to tell the truth. There's so many aspects of the addiction process it's difficult to cover what I have encountered. You see I'm not only a victim of someone else's addiction, I'm also an addict. I'm an alcoholic. I sobered up in 1996, just as Nick was beginning to explore his relationship with drugs, a love affair, if you will. I think the percentage of young people who don't dabble in drugs or drink is relatively small. So in the beginning it seemed pretty normal. As with myself I recently heard it explained this way "it was as though I were born with all my nerve endings on the outside of my skin, I was just raw with emotions, anxiousness and fear, that first drink of alcohol poured a coating over those nerves and for the first time in my life I could breathe, the impending doom would vanish" The freedom I experienced was truly amazing. I returned to that "Well" again and again. Along came drugs that enabled me to consume more alcohol and my path to destruction was set in stone.
It consumed my every conversation and thought. When I worked I watched the clock, waiting for the moment I'd planned for all day. There were times my addiction would step aside and allow me to fall in love, to change jobs, to start a family but it was always waiting to return and take over. It would destroy everything I was and had so slowly that I couldn't even recognize it.
Eventually I hit a wall. Even then I wasn't convinced I was an alcoholic, I thought I was just crazy. (I had preferred to think I was crazy, then I could still drink. It was the only way to coat those nerves) my last bottle found me wanting to end it all, shaking, crying uncontrollably. I asked for help, but I had asked for help before. The difference was this time, I was desperate. I was willing to do anything, I was even willing to do AA. I had avoided AA and people in recovery for years.
Subconsciously I knew that AA worked, I watched Joe (a close friend) get sober. But I thought that getting sober meant the end of having fun, not to mention the end of coating those nerves. I think we as addicts love harder and hate harder than normal people, our emotions run to extremes. Learning coping skills from the ground up isn't easy, but it's possible.
I watched Nick battle with the very same demons. Jail was becoming his oasis, the only place he could clean up. He tried methadone that soon found him eating Xanax, methadone and drinking. Nick worked as a tile installer for me and other contractors, his addiction Vornado him to show up sober if he showed up at all, eventually it took his truck, his home, the woman of his dreams, his self esteem and his will to live.
Nick and his older brother had "dabbled" in recovery. He often claimed that it wouldn't work for him. He had lots of excuses why it wouldn't work, but finally something happened. Nick began hanging out with a crowd that was getting sober together. They had a blast together. He wanted to go to meetings. He even wanted to go to meetings with me. He and four of his friends rented a house together. They had a pool and sober parties. Things were turning around for Nick. About 6 months in, a girl from work invited him on her dad's boat.
Her father offered Nick a beer. Nick told me that he felt like a liar in AA calling himself an Alcoholic, he said "I'm a junkie dad, not really an alcoholic" So he thought "what can one be hurt" but that one beer triggered the "alcoholic allergy the "phenomenon of craving" developed and he found he could not stop drinking. He called me later that night completely wasted. I picked up my truck I had let him borrow. I don't know where he went. I never did when he was using it. I watched helplessly, his friends pleaded with him. Soon he was homeless, so I tried tough love. The truth about "tough love" is that it isn't tough on the addict, it is tough on us. The addict in his cups will "lie and cry" anything to get around the consequences. That same person sober is trustworthy and oh so lovable, but I never knew which one I was getting.
I hated drawing lines in the sand, I watched him come in and out of meetings with less and less enthusiasm. He was arrested for shoplifting multiple times, banned from Walmart but addicts always find someone to enable them. Nick was handsome, almost 6 feet tall, kind with a mild manner and a contagious laugh. He was so lovable. One night he showed up here covered in blood, he had been jumped by 4 kids. He had bite marks all over his chest and back. He knocked one out, the one that bit him grabbed Nick's face and put his finger on Nick's mouth, nick bit the finger off. He pulled dreadlocks out of another kid's head and knocked a couple teeth out of one of their mouths. They took off running. I put him in the shower and cried. I begged him to get sober but he kept saying "it's easier to do this" soon enough he landed back in lock up for 90 days.
I saw him in Home Depot soon after his release, he looked buff, he had been working out in jail. That was one of many times I had no words, I just didn't know what to say. I should've just hugged him, it was the last time I saw him alive.
It wasn’t long before he was strung out again. He contracted a blood infection from IV drug use, his friends dropped him off in front of the hospital in bad shape on Thanksgiving eve. The hospital phoned his mother but not recognizing the number she didn't answer. It would be her last chance to see him alive. Nick died alone in that sterile environment with no one to hold his hand and tell him he was loved.
I had left earlier that night with my wife and her daughter to go to North Carolina for a country Thanksgiving. We arrived at 6am and crawled in bed. At 8 am my phone rang with news that Nick was gone forever. I was stunned, I knew it was coming. It was only a matter of time. I tried to prepare myself but nothing I had done could prepare me for the waves of emotions and the loss that would capsize my life forever.
God in his wisdom had me secluded in these mountains where I had no internet, no Facebook, no drama. I was surrounded by people in recovery that kept me safe from myself.
Saturday as we traveled home my wife asked me if I minded that a few people would visit Sunday. I thought about pulling into the garage and seeing Nick's bags of clothes, shoes and what tools he hadn't pawned and knew that soon I would have to process this for real. I didn't want anyone at my house, I just wanted to sit and cry alone. But if I've learned anything in recovery it's that very simply "I don't know what I need to be ok, God does" I half heartedly agree.
The next morning at 11am a knock was at the front door "Tye Dye Dave" and Wes was here first. Within 15 minutes there were over 40 people at our home. Hugging me crying with me sharing the sting of loss. Most had sat shoulder to shoulder with Nick in meetings they fell in love with him too. They brought food and soon began passing a hat to help with the funeral expenses, I argued with my wife that " I didn't want their money that I would bury my son: but she stood firmly and said "David you help a lot of people they love you and it's their turn to help you, you let them, don't deprive them of that", I lost it again and again that day.
Monday I went to collect Nick's personal effects from the hospital, I was on the verge of a collapse once again. Those nerves were uncovered and raw, I was ready to explode having been sent back and forth from one office to another only to come up empty. I returned to the basement office where there was a double locked door to enter the office interior, I stood at the glass and was told that I was not next to Kin and could not pick up his things. A door opened behind me. A girl walked past me, unlocked the door to the inner office and stopped dead in her tracks. She swung her head around and looked at me, it was Nichole. She lived in that house where they were all sober. They had nicknamed me shoeless because I am. She came back through that door and wrapped her arms around me and held me as I sobbed. God put her in that place exactly when I needed it, it soothed those nerves for the moment.
There are so many emotions we experience. There were people that didn't reach out to me that I thought were close. I realized that it was probably uncomfortable for them.
Most people don't know what to say, or possibly afraid of saying the wrong thing they avoid us. I found it was my job to teach them and exclaim that I know b they may not know what to say, as well I don't know how to respond. That I know they care and love me. I know they're thinking about our loss and that's enough. Taking them off the hook was healing for me.
About two weeks later my younger son was in the hospital. He was 16 at the time.
He was diagnosed with HEPC. You see he wanted to try heroin, he was beginning his journey. Nick being the older brother was a huge influence on him. At first Nick turned him away. But Ty had money, Nick did not. He was getting dope sick and had to agree.
I can only imagine the guilt Nick felt for getting his little brother high, the little boy he had taken fishing and camping. The wave of emotions that followed me the next few days were mixed with hate, sorrow, fear and guilt. Knowing addiction first hand helped me realize that my son was not a "Bad person" Nick was sick with the "dis-ease" of addiction. His mind closed to the solution he found none. It's just that way for so many.
About 1-½ years later I got a call. Wes, who had come to my house with "Tye Dye" had OD'd in the halfway house he was living in. His mother drove from Atlanta and stayed with us for a few days while she made the decision to pull the plug on her beautiful brain dead son. Being there for her was so emotional but healing. Of all the people i thought for certain he would never use again after coming to my home and seeing the grief produced by drugs. I was wrong again. I have buried many others since the loss of Nick in 2015. We all have. I've been on the helpline for many years, I've managed to talk to many addicts and Alcoholics. The one common denominator for those who stay sober is they do the 12 steps and are involved in service work. Meeting makers die from untreated alcoholism if they don't. I won't make excuses for Nick. It's hard to face the truths about addiction but until I do I cannot begin to heal. I'm sure he was afraid to do the drastic proposals just as i was, but it's a boogeyman. It had no teeth. I've been working more and more on how to approach new comers. "Alanon" (for the Family members of the Alcoholic) has helped me in a short time be much more effective. It's helped me "detach with Love" . I can now see that I really did do some things that would have contributed to the problem, when I, in fact, thought that I was helping. I cannot go back and repair that damage with Nick But I have others that I can help and I've turned my focus there.
Two weeks ago a young fella was broken, he left a sleazy motel with no money and nowhere to go. Through a series of strange coincidences He bumped into a guy that struck up a conversation. As he was walking away he turned and said "I need help" the guy gave him the number of a guy that could help him. Someone he had just met. He called that number and The guy took him in and nursed him for a day or two and broke out the book Alcoholics Anonymous. They got to work immediately.
In just two weeks he's finished steps 1-7 and is working on the few that remain.
From a shaking, smelly nervous wreck to a kid brimming with enthusiasm for life and recovery in just two weeks. I know I can never bring Nick back, but his death doesn't have to be in vain. If I'm willing to face some truths I may be able to help save someone else's kid.