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Wednesday started in typical fashion, walk the dog, kids off to school, have some coffee, catch up on Facebook and emails and texts. For a little it feels like just another Wednesday, and then I remember that it isn’t. Once again, the memories come crushing back as they have every year for the past 13 years, and I have to say goodbye to my brother all over again. I write about him every year on this day, the anniversary (seems like such a strange word to use) of his passing, because it helps. It helps me, it helps the people who knew my brother, it helps the people who didn’t know my brother, it just helps. My brother Jonathan is a part of my everyday, not just because he was my brother, but because his death from an overdose is what propels me to “do good” wherever I can. Deaths from opiod overdose can be prevented, we have my stepdad Jack Fishman, to thank for that. Now it’s our job to get that information out in to the world and get naloxone into the hands of anyone that needs it, thinks they’re going to need it, or thinks they might know someone who needs it. Yeah, that basically means everyone. I have written about this subject so many times, that I will just link a few of those posts here for you to peruse when you have time.
I could write so much more, but part of me wants to go back to this being just another Wednesday, at least until later when my mom and I will be together and drink a toast to my brother, his girlfriend Ashley, and all the others who have been lost. I hope it’s just another Wednesday for you, even for just a minute.
My morning started off rather sweetly today. Sure I didn’t sleep well, sure I knew storms were predicted that were going to rain out a school fair I had hoped to attend with my Totems, but that wasn’t going to get me down. I did something I love to do this morning, I baked.
That’s my zucchini oatmeal bread with a little twist of chocolate. You can see it’s a hit with my boys as half of one loaf was gone by midday. There’s something about mixing all those ingredients and having it come out into a delicious finished product that is deeply satisfying. The smell in the apartment doesn’t hurt either. I had already been emailing with a friend from the Harm Reduction Coalition about a very informal, and very hush-hush drug education conversation I am going to be having at one of my kids’ schools. Hush-hush because apparently the principal isn’t interested in keeping her student body safe, but that’s clearly for another blog post! In the midst of this emailing, my friend forwarded me a link to an article that is appearing this week in Newsweek magazine. She did this because I’m mentioned in the article, as is my mom, my stepdad, my brother, my stepbrother, her, the head of Drug Policy Alliance, and a young, incredibly aware and caring doctor in Miami, Dr. Hansel Tookes. This article is about my family and the course we have taken since my brother’s heroin overdose almost 13 years ago, and my stepfather’s ironic creation of the drug, naloxone, that could have saved my brother’s life. It’s bizarre to see your story in print, especially when it’s written by someone else, and their spin on it all. I have written about my story many times, just click on the blog page and search anything from overdose prevention, to harm reduction, to heroin, and you can find lots of stories I have written. It’s not the same when you see your own name in print in relation to an event that still makes your breath catch in your throat and your stomach drop out from under you. It’s not the same when someone is retelling the horror that you lived when you showed up at the hospital and witnessed your brother already in a coma because people he was using drugs with were too afraid to call 911 and instead dumped him on the hospital steps. It somehow feels like you’re reading someone else’s story. That’s exactly what my mom said when she called me sobbing this morning after reading the article. It’s a sadness for sure, but there’s also a sense of hope that comes along with it, which is bittersweet because it comes too late for my brother, but it’s not too late for so many others. That’s why so many people have shared the link to the article on Facebook, for example, because there’s power and courage in the telling of our story and there’s much work to be done, and many brave souls doing the work. My brother isn’t here and that’s devastating a lot of the time, but a sweetness happens when I show my mom a picture of one of my boys and she sees a resemblance that is sometimes too overwhelming for me to admit. Yes, my brother’s life ended many years ago, and sometimes it pisses me off that he’s not here for me as a brother should be, that he doesn’t get to enjoy my children and be their uncle as he should be, but I am doing my best to make sure his memory lives on in all that I do to prevent this tragedy from happening again and again, just as I should be.
I am fortunate that I get to pick up my youngest kid from school most days. I love the look on his face when he sees me, it’s like an instant heart-warmer. I am also grateful that I can connect with other parents and check in with his teacher when necessary. There are those moments though, that I have to hold my breath. You know the ones I mean, when your child comes up to you and says “Mom, the teacher needs to see you.” Breathe. I always ask my children, and I highly recommend this technique for you, what they think the teacher might want to talk to me about. Sometimes they know, and they tell me right away, and other times, they don’t. Either way it helps me determine potential guilt or innocence. Yesterday afternoon, my sweet boy greets me at pickup and tells me the teacher needs to talk to me. I ask my question, and he has no clue why she wants to talk to me, and I believe him. Finally, most of the kids get dismissed and I approach the teacher. She’s magical by the way and engages children like I have never seen. A smile crosses her face as she sees me, but I can tell that it’s a heavy smile, like we are definitely going to talk about something of substance related to my child. She tells me she wanted to give me a heads up about the stuff my son is working on in class for their poetry unit. Immediate relief washes over me, because I actually already know what my son is working on because he told me. He’s writing poetry about addiction, substance use, overdose, overdose prevention, and family. My son is 9. I smile back at the teacher because I realize that she’s likely telling me because the poetry books will be revealed to all at an upcoming publishing party for the class that includes parents. I reassure her that this subject matter is regular conversation in my house, and that if she had any questions or need for clarification I would be happy to oblige. I did have a moment where I was concerned that it might be too much for the other kids and their parents, but that concern quickly turned into gumption and hope that my son being this open will spur his friends to ask questions and maybe even their parents to ask questions. It’s all about the conversation, and that my 9 year old is talking about Naloxone, “a life saving drug that his grampa made to help people who use drugs”, is miraculous. It’s also heartbreaking.
My kid asked me for a journal the other day which is how I know about the poetry unit in class. He’s calling it a lyric book. He wrote his first poem and it’s called “Quit”. There’s a line in it about my brother who died of a heroin overdose a few years before my son was born. He refers to my brother as “the uncle he never had.” He also uses my regular statement of my brother’s death hopefully saving him from the same fate. I told him how beautiful the poem was and thanked him for sharing it with me. He seemed proud of himself and was eager to write more. This is how I know how important these conversations are with my kids, and how important it is to keep the lines of communication open. I am grateful that my son’s teacher didn’t freak out and didn’t tell him that he couldn’t write about this topic, instead she marveled at his depth and encouraged him along, and let me know what I can expect at the upcoming publishing party. I’m not too worried, I’m pretty good in a crowd, and who knows, maybe I’ll bring my overdose prevention kit for show and tell!
How about a Gary Revolution? That’s who I ended up in conversation with earlier this week while out walking my dog, and it’s stayed with me ever since. At first glance, Gary, also known as the Brooklyn Cowboy, seemed like a shady character. He was shuffling along with one shoe on, the other shoe in his hand, along with some newspapers and such. He wore a hat that covered most of his overly greasy hair, and the handful of teeth in his mouth that were visible, didn’t look like they’d be hanging around much longer. Normally, I might just give a nod and keep walking, but something made me slow down when Gary hollered to me. He said something about family and before I could answer, my pooch was saying hello. Dogs are great at sniffing out creepers, and my dog is super protective of me, so I know if he sensed anything “off”, he wouldn’t be wagging his tail looking for a petting.
We talked about the dog for a minute and then I asked Gary why he wasn’t wearing his shoe. He mentioned that his toe was hurting him, and with that the chat began. We walked down the block and within those 200 feet, Gary was telling me he has been sober for years and I was telling him I lost my brother to a drug overdose. He mentioned helping people in recovery, and I mentioned my work with overdose prevention. Common ground. We went on like this for a while, sharing our stories. Gary talked about being hospitalized and I asked if it was due to Hepatitis C. He looked at me incredulously and said “Hep C? Hardly! I have the full deal, the whole HIV/AIDS.” I was practically speechless, but I managed to utter a “holy s#*t”! Ever the ladies man, Gary quickly followed up with “I look good, don’t I?” Which frankly, for having HIV/AIDS as long as he has, he did look remarkably ok. He owed his health to his twin cousins who are doctors, he said. We talked a little more and it was clear Gary had a story to tell, and all I could do was urge him to write it and wish him well. Gary has told a little of his story to HIV Positive Magazine, and you can read it here.
Gary called me an angel during that conversation and with tears in his eyes he went on his way. I don’t know about an angel, but I do know that I might not normally have stopped to talk to this disheveled, gritty guy, but I am glad I did. A moment of humanity for me, and a chance for Gary to tell someone else his hopes and dreams.
So if you see Gary shuffling along, give him a “what’s up”, and you’ll feel good by making him feel good. For that matter, if you see anyone that looks like they could use a smile even, go ahead, it’s free and the return is amazing!
Score another one for the Demons as we wake up today to the news that former lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots, Scott Weiland, was found dead on a tour bus yesterday. This one is devastating, well they’re all devastating really, but this one hits closer to home. We are a musical family, there’s always music happening in one form or another, whether it’s my two older boys jamming in their room, or my little one tapping out a rhythm or humming a tune. Stone Temple Pilots has been a band my kids have enjoyed a lot lately, plucking out acoustic versions, even my son and I harmonizing on some songs occasionally. Telling them this morning was hard, especially for my older one. It reminds me of when I had to tell them that Cory Montieth, of Glee, had passed away. That one wasn’t easy for my middle son, who was a big Glee fan. I talk about my brother often, he lost to the Demons as well, and as hard as it is to talk about him, it’s important. So this morning when I told my boys about Weiland, I could only offer them my hope that Weiland’s death, like my brother’s, like Monteith’s, would somehow help them make better choices in their lives. I could only feel the frustration that the life-saving drug Naloxone, invented by my step-dad, isn’t more widely available and easily accessible. So I talk about it, and I talk about it some more, and hope that people will be shocked to hear that overdose deaths topped deaths from car accidents in 2013, because that is shocking and a lot of those deaths, likely preventable.
This image of Weiland gives me shivers because I see my sons in it, and my brother, who also played guitar and sang and loved Stone Temple Pilots. This image gives me shivers because it’s another ghost added to the horror story of drug users who couldn’t be saved. This image gives me shivers because until we realize that the “War on Drugs” has only created casualty after casualty, we will continue to lose more and more beautiful people, like Scott Weiland. I hope he finds peace and that the Demons are satisfied, for at least a little while.
PS:If you are a drug user, or know someone who is, and you would like access to an overdose prevention kit, email me at email@example.com
12 years ago today I said goodbye to my brother, who after being in a coma for days following a drug overdose, finally let go and passed away. This date will always be difficult, though some years I manage it better than others. The first year was the most horrible, because as my mother and I had ended our evening celebrating my brother by dining on some of his favorite foods, we learned that his beautiful girlfriend Ashley, had overdosed earlier in the day. I can’t possibly communicate the devastation we felt yet again, and then basically had to have the same funeral all over again a year later. Ashley’s parents were in New York a couple weeks ago. I hadn’t seen them in 11 years and to be honest, I was dreading it. Sure, we are connected on Facebook, and “likes” here and there and words of love and support have been shared online, but I just couldn’t imagine sitting with them again, face to face. I met up with them and my mother, after allowing the parents to share some time between them, and it was hard, and easy at the same time. Ashley’s parents looked great, and they were so sweet and lovely. They asked after my children and we chatted about their son, and their business, and what restaurants they should eat at while they were in the city, and you wouldn’t have known there were ghosts sharing the table with us, but they were there. Jonathan and Ashley, remembered in life, vibrant and charismatic, and missed by all of us.
One of the themes that gets thrown around in the world of drug users and recovery, is powerlessness. It’s a tough word, and a word that sets me off, because I don’t like being powerless. That motivated me to change the word in my vocabulary, at least in this milieu, because I spent part of my day today, in honor of Jonathan and Ashley, gaining power. I am now officially trained and have the power to train others, in how to reverse an overdose. If you, or anyone you know, uses heroin or opioids (i.e. morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone), you need an Overdose Prevention Kit, and now I have the capability of getting you one, and training you in how to potentially save someone’s life. You don’t have to be powerless either. Feel free to reach out to me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. I am forever grateful to the amazing crew at http://harmreduction.org, for answering all my questions, teaching me, and helping me grieve in a powerful and productive way. Now, there’s a corned beef and pastrami on rye with my name on it, and my brother would have loved it!
It’s Monday and my head is spinning with all the madness of the last couple weeks. Mass shootings, tragic car accidents, suicide bombings, and now punctuated by the death of Bobbi Kristina Brown. I can’t really do anything about mass shootings, other than let my politicians know we need stronger gun control and more mental health help. (And please, this isn’t about starting a debate about gun laws.) Tragic car accidents, are just that, tragic. Wear your seat belts. Don’t drive drunk. Don’t text and drive. Suicide bombings? Well, misguided religious fanatics cannot be helped. We can only be vigilant and hope that there are no casualties other than the fool with a bomb strapped to his/her back. Then there’s Bobbi Kristina. I know I should be sad, and maybe I was 6 months ago when she was found facedown in a bathtub, just like her mother almost three years earlier, but now I’m angry. Bobbi Kristina struggled with drugs and alcohol, this was not a secret, and she apparently had been hospitalized more than once in her short, yet troubled life. I’m not sure anything could have been done to save her, but there is a simple answer out there that could help save thousands upon thousands from overdose. Naloxone, is a wonder drug that has already helped save so many, yet it is difficult to get, and expensive at that. I even get to say that my stepfather helped formulate this wonder drug. However, I also get to say that Naloxone wasn’t available to save my brother, or his girlfriend, when she overdosed a year later. Overdose deaths in 2013, surpassed deaths from car accidents. How absurd is that?! That’s why I’m angry. That’s why I’m doing something about it. I’m talking about Naloxone. I’m talking about Good Samaritan Laws, that offer protection if you’re with someone experiencing an overdose and you call 911. Not all states have Good Sam laws, and some states are defined differently, but a simple check on the Drug Policy Alliance website and you can find out about your state. Thanks also goes to the tireless workers at Harm Reduction, for their part in getting the word out and getting Naloxone into the hands of those who need it. In the meantime, I am making a pledge, if you are a drug user and at risk of overdose, or know someone who is, email me at email@example.com, and I will find a way to get you an Overdose Prevention Kit!
We need to educate and inform, and make Naloxone available to anyone who might need it, including co-prescribing Naloxone with any opiate prescription. This is all possible but we need to make this happen together so we don’t have to mourn another young life gone too soon.
Stay well and rest in peace, Bobbi Kristina.