Tell me the story of your child’s addiction.
Wayne: That’s a long story. We want to say that ours started at University of Akron. Playing football. He had a bad shoulder injury and had it repaired after his sophomore season. He got exposed to opiates. He was prescribed 60 mg of Vicodin for the pain after his surgery. We think that was when things started to change. He started to change soon after.
Christy: It was November of 2009. We really started seeing something was not right. He was running out of money. He was on a scholarship and he should have had plenty.
Wayne: Before that, he was a normal high school college athlete. Fun-loving Midwestern kid. Did he drink alcohol? Yes. Did he try marijuana? Yep. He was the type of person, though, that if he put something in his body that couldn’t help him become faster, stronger, or better at that sport he loved, it wasn’t going to go in to his body. He looked at the body as a temple. We think he found that - through opiates - you can play with injuries and pain. There was a lot of pressure to stay on the field and compete.
So his addiction started there. And from our knowledge of it, we had a very short window to when we lost him, which was about 18 months. So it wasn’t enough time in our estimation to get educated and get help. We were parenting him through it, meaning moms are natural enablers and dads tend to coach it out of him. There’s scare tactics. There’s yelling. Screaming. Just tough it out. And both of those are not good for an addict. They’re already embarrassed and shameful of what’s going on. So my tactic wasn’t helping. Mom’s enabling wasn’t helping either.
Tyler's 18th birthday
Christy: What it comes down to is we didn’t know about addiction. There weren’t really resources. We went to intensive outpatient therapy with him, but there wasn’t enough education on our part. We didn’t understand. And so you don’t know you are enabling. I didn’t even know what the word meant.
Wayne: Looking back, we probably harmed the situation more than anything. We really have to educate people on how to handle this because we did it completely wrong. And we hid the fact. It was our dirty little secret. We, like all parents, closed the doors. We were going to fix this at home and no one’s going to find out and we’re going to get back on track and no one is going to be the wiser. That’s how we approached this.
So Tyler was prescribed pain medication and then he used it for at least a year and a half, until he ran out of money. And he would get more powerful drugs. He started using heroin after a couple rehabilitations. They learn things in rehab from others – and it is always in the back of their minds that heroin is a replacement for drugs but who in God’s name wants to use a needle? He was afraid of needles.
Christy: Tyler and I were watching a show one time and it was about people using heroin. They were dirty and in an abandoned house and shooting up and I remember sitting there with him and I said “Oh my gosh. That’s so scary and that is disgusting.” And I must have said something to him along the lines of this is what could happen. And he said “Mom, I would never do that.” And it disgusted him too. That’s how strong that addiction is because that is the only choice they have because they can’t afford buying pills anymore. And that conversation was very close to the end.
Wayne: We found some signs in his room and we looked it up and thought “Oh no.” That’s when we immediately put him in inpatient rehab in Glenbeigh, which is up in Cleveland. It was an expensive rehabilitation facility with a great reputation. We called every day for a week. Three times per day. No openings. No openings. No openings. So finally on a Saturday morning they had an opening. And we rushed him up there and thought that would be able to fix everything. We had it in our minds that you go to rehab for 30 days and you are then fixed. That’s it.
Christy: And that you’ll be all better. Again, we weren’t educated and didn’t understand it.
Wayne: No. We didn’t understand relapse. And we didn’t understand how one’s tolerance level could drop. None of that.
Christy: I do remember one time in outpatient therapy going with him. It was for guests and parents too. One doctor did a presentation and I remember him saying “it takes one year for your brain to recover from opiate use.” I was stunned. I knew nothing about opiates. I remember Tyler was right next to me and I was doing everything I could not to completely break down. I remember him looking at me and he could see the fear in my face. I had no idea it took a year. And I had no idea that is how it affects your brain. All I could think of was “Oh my gosh. This is so serious.” I mean, I knew it was serious, but I didn’t understand the depth of it. Or that it was deadly.
Wayne: We have a calendar on our fridge. I would ask Tyler when the last time was that he used. He would tell me and I would circle that date and I would say, “And now we have 12 months from this point.” I would tell him whenever he got that urge, let’s do something else. Let’s put on your shoes and let’s go run. Run until you are so tired. Get in the gym. You’re a gym rat. Do whatever. But just don’t give in to the urge to use drugs. Again, that was me trying to think I could coach our way out of this. Now we understand how the brain functions and that addiction overrides your prefrontal cortex, rationalization, food, water, shelter, etc. They turn into animals and we didn’t understand it.
Christy: So Tyler was at Glenbeigh and the counselor called and they said they wanted to release him after two weeks. I was stunned. The insurance said he was ready. The counselor was telling our insurance that he was not ready. He was not ready. Seven years ago they didn’t understand that this is long-term recovery. Even professionals didn’t understand it.
Wayne: They were treating it like the crack cocaine epidemic. They told me we’ve never had a heroin epidemic and we’re treating it like the last one until it proves us wrong. And I said, “So my son’s a guinea pig?” and they said “Yes.”
Christy: I called the insurance company and cried and begged, I mean cried and cried and cried and begged.
Wayne: Christy is a school district employee so she has great insurance. That’s some of the best insurance and it still doesn’t cover enough.
Christy: So the insurance company finally said, “Okay. We’ll let him stay for another two weeks.” And then at 28 days and it was time for him to leave.
Wayne: They all admit that he wasn’t ready. He said he wasn’t ready. I guess they did give us the option that for $7,000 per week, he could stay. And that was hard to comprehend. Looking back, we would have mortgaged the house and have sold whatever to stay. But you didn’t really feel that threat. It wasn’t there. So we were proven wrong.
Christy: I went and picked him up and brought him back.
Wayne: This is that point in time where you go, “You know what? God has a funny way of putting things together.” Christy would never drive 3½ hours by herself and she had many offers from other relatives saying we’ll ride with you to go get him. And she said no, she would go by herself. They stopped at a few places on the way back to visit relatives. They had a ton of windshield time.
Christy: We stopped to visit different family members on the way home. We came home. His brothers were in the driveway. Wayne was there and he was high-fiving everyone. When I picked him up from Glenbeigh that day, he looked fantastic. He had been working out and he had cleansed himself. He felt so good and he looked good. And he had this great outlook. But when I picked him up, his counselor said to him and she looks right at him and said “Now remember, you have to do 90 meetings in 90 days.” “I will,” he said.
So we got home and he’s high fiving his brothers and hugging everyone. And that night he said, “Mom, I have to go to that meeting.” And I said, “I’ll go with you.” He said “You don’t have to. I have to do this on my own, mom.” So he told me where he was going and what meeting he was going to be attending. It was getting late. It was midnight. And I remember looking at my phone and I was going to call him. It was 12:05am. I was getting ready to call him and he walked in the front door. He looked fantastic. He’s standing here at the counter and drinking milk and having snacks and telling us, “I figured it out. I think what I want to do is be a counselor,” which a lot of addicts do. But he was talking about his future and what he wanted to do. He was healthy. He looked better than he had before he went in, of course.
Wayne: Yeah. It’s almost as if you could tell it was a different Tyler. He had a sparkle in his eyes.
Christy: It was our son.
Wayne: He was like the kid we sent to college three years ago. That funny, witty, fun loving, healthy kid. Physically, he was 20 pounds heavier and muscular. And I went “Geez, dude, you can’t play safety at that size.” And he said, “I’m done playing football. Too many injuries. Forget it.” I said, “Well, I’m coaching at this school. Do you want to help?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll help. But tomorrow I’m going to sleep in. I’ve been getting up at 6 am and going to bed at 9 pm. Yeah, I’ll help you coach.” And it was all good. And you could just tell this was different. And we thought it was fixed. We’re done. Right? Going to bed was the biggest sigh of relief.
Christy: And so we all went upstairs. He jumped on his brother, our middle son Ryan, jumped on him …
Wayne: … because Ryan was on his phone and it wasn’t a school night but he was teasing him for being on his phone. And we were wrestling around. Wrestling in the bed a bit. Yeah … we went to bed fun. Laughing. We were all relieved because his brothers were happy. He was happy. We’re happy. And I think “Whew. Thank goodness.” Right? So you go to bed. You go to sleep. And I got up early and went to practice. I have a ritual where I’m the last one to bed and the first one up so I check on the kids. So at night I go check on them and make sure they’re there. And in the morning, I do the same thing. Just kind of peek in. They all have their separate rooms. But in the morning, Tyler’s door was locked. And I just thought, 23 years old … privacy … what the heck. No big deal. I remember leaving. But the weird part was … I go down the stairs and there is a crack of light under all of the doors. In his room, I saw a shadow move.
Christy: I saw the same thing.
Wayne: And I swore I heard him snoring but maybe I’m wrong. But I saw something move. And I went to practice.
Christy: A couple hours later I was making breakfast and my neighbor stopped over for something and I’m realizing it is getting late. The boys are all sleeping in and it’s a beautiful Friday morning. And it’s sunny. They need to get up. I went upstairs and opened Ryan’s door. “Ryan, you need to get up.” Went to Tyler’s door. It was locked. And before that, I had gone up earlier and I swore I had seen the light on under his door. It looked like the light was on and I thought he was getting up. So I got to Tyler’s door and it was locked. And I said, “Tyler,” and he didn’t answer. And I said his name again. And then something just came over me. Concern. We can unlock our bedroom doors from the outside if you want to really get in. So I did that. And I found him. And of course from there it was chaos and everything else. So he passed away. He used …
Wayne: … so Tyler used in the privacy of his room from midnight or 1am, until whenever he went to bed.
Christy: Something transpired from the time that he left here to go to his meeting and when he came home. He somehow got heroin. And it is so hard as a parent because you think he is doing great. He is saying he is doing great. He seems like he is doing great. And that weak moment that he had … ended his life. And to find your child dead … will never leave my brain. It will never. And you can’t live any worse nightmare than that. And there is so much guilt too. How can I lay in my bed at night and not … not … you know … know … that happened. How could I not know? So there is just so much that goes with that. And the guilt later of not knowing how to treat, doing all of the wrong things you thought were right as a parent, enabling and then finding out what it means, and yelling or whatever was Wayne’s version – there’s so much guilt there. Because if we had known, we would have done things completely different.
Wayne: Completely different. And we would have probably never let him come out of rehab knowing that he’s not ready. It takes much longer. He should have been there for 3 months, or 6 months, and then outpatient. But we didn’t know.
A few years later I remember going to Glenbeigh because I happened to be speaking up in Ashtabula County. I asked them if Glenbeigh was close and they said it was 5 minutes away. I said, “Wow.” I hadn’t been back there yet. When Tyler was there, we would go on weekends for family counseling. You’d go as a group and you would go individually. And it was very emotional. And you’re trying to learn about this addiction too with your child. So I went to Glenbeigh. It is a beautiful place. It used to be owned by the Cleveland Clinic. So I walk in and I have no idea what the heck I’m going to say or do. It was the opening day for the Cleveland Indians and some lady was busy putting up stuff for it. And I said, “You know what, I don’t even know why I’m here, but this is who I am,” and I put out my business card and pamphlet for Tyler’s Light. And she just stopped. And she goes, “I know who you are. I remember Tyler.” And she started crying. And I said, “How do you remember him? There are so many people.” And she said “I remember him. Trust me. Everybody here remembers him.”
I said that I heard some of the people in recovery with him had put their money together and bought a plaque. She then brought me into this theater room and there’s 100 chairs. Half of them had these plaques on the back of them. So I sat down and I’m looking at my kid’s name on a gold plate on the back of a chair that the other kids bought. So I said to her, “Let me ask you a question. Why did you guys let him go? And when you let him go, why didn’t you tell us that right then that Tyler was so vulnerable to an overdose because his tolerance level went down? Why didn’t you tell us that?” She goes, “To be honest with you, Wayne, we didn’t know. We didn’t know enough.” And I went back to remembering Tyler was essentially a guinea pig and I said “Geez.”
His counselor told us afterwards that she almost gives odds when people leave rehab – who’s going to make it, who’s coming back, who’s going to relapse. And Tyler was the one. She said he wasn’t coming back because he was so strong. He was leading groups.
Later that morning after Christy found Tyler, we’re sitting in our formal living room and there’s a coroner sitting next to us. The county coroner is there because Tyler’s upstairs. Our house is full of people. The coroner said, “Did Tyler just recently get out of rehab?” And I just stopped and said, “What kind of question is that? Why would you ask that question? I’m just curious.” He said because a lot of these fatal overdoses happen directly after rehabilitation. I said, “You’re kidding me. Why?” And he explained about tolerance levels. I said, “They should have told us that, right?” And he said, "Absolutely."
Again, uneducated. We learned when you’re using heroin, you should be with someone. Because you pass out. You want someone with you so you can keep each other alive. Awake. If you can get through that, then you’re okay. When you are by yourself, you are high risk. But we learned that after.
How is your child doing today?
Wayne: Tyler overdosed and died in 2011.
When did you first realize you were dealing with a drug addiction problem?
Wayne: Despite any conversations you would have with him, he would get his scholarship check and just go out and buy drugs. And not pay rent. That’s when we went, “whoa.”
Christy: We didn’t know he was buying drugs. We just knew his money was disappearing.
Wayne: The financial trail is probably the easiest one to track. That’s your come to Jesus time.
Christy: And you’ll notice things missing in your house that you knew were in a certain place and they’re now gone. Like personal items, jewelry, video games, tools, and you would never ever suspect that your child would do that. Our son would not do that. That’s just never how he was. But you start to notice things … our younger sons noticed that some of their video games were missing …
Wayne: … and their piggy banks were empty. Just weird stuff. And they all do it. They hurt the ones they love the most first because they’ll pay them back tomorrow. They mean to. But they can’t. Because tomorrow the addiction says they need to use again.
Christy: You know what Tyler told us? We went up to see him on a parent weekend up in Glenbeigh and we were sitting on a picnic table outside. It was a beautiful day. And he said, “Let me explain addiction. When you guys wake up in the morning, you start here at zero. And you get your coffee and you get going and your day progresses to a 5 or 7. But when I wake up in the morning, I’m down here. I start at negative 5. So I have to use to get to where you’re at, just to get my day started.” Because your body is physically in pain and so you need to use to just function.
Wayne: And it’s not about getting high at that point. It is about feeling normal like everyone else. So then you realize you didn’t know it was that bad.
Christy: What’s heartbreaking is you know that they want to get better. They tell you they want to get better and do all of the right things. But the disease is so strong that it drives them off of that path.
Wayne: Yeah. So many stories come from that family day at Glenbeigh. I started looking around at these people and I’m realizing they were professors. There was this guy there, 6’4”, looked athletic. His wife was like the trophy wife, blond hair, three little kids. They looked like the Ken and Barbie family. I asked Ty, “What’s his deal?” And Ty said he’s a surgeon. And that guy is a doctor. He’s a dentist. He’s an attorney. I was dumbfounded.
Christy: That was a learning experience for us. We were sitting in a room with a small group of people in a circle. We had to be face to face with our loved one. And in that room I remember there was a dentist. A young guy in his 30’s. And his wife was there with him. In our heads, we always thought Tyler was not like these other drug users or these people on the streets using drugs with the dirty fingernails and laying in the gutters. When we were at Glenbeigh and saw all of these professionals and business owners there too, we thought “Wow.”
Wayne: At Glenbeigh I saw this girl with red hair, black fingernails, tattoos, and I said, “There’s your addict.” And Ty said “Dad, we’re all addicts here.” When they get sober, they get very, um … honest. It’s like truth serum. And then they’re saying stuff you really don’t want to hear.
During all of this, what was your biggest fear?
Christy: I didn’t think he would die.
Wayne: See that was not even a risk to me. I was thinking how are we going to get through this cleanly without being scarred? How can we get through this without having a felony? How can we get through this without anybody knowing? See . . . we were the poster children for stigma. We didn’t even tell family members. We were embarrassed. We thought we did something wrong as parents and that Tyler is not a morally strong or ethical person. That’s what we thought.
Christy: But for me, the motivation was I was protecting Tyler. And it sounds weird now but I was protecting him because he was going to get better. And I didn’t want it to taint his reputation. Once someone knows your child is an addict, that is the way they look at them. They look at them through these glasses that sees them as a tainted human being that is weak. And we were putting this fence around him where we were going to protect him and he was going to get better and then we will open the gates and he will step out. Tyler can then tell you if he wants to. I never thought it was going to kill him. I never thought that. He passed away in 2011. And from then until now, it is out there and on TV. In the last year and a half, the opioid epidemic has ramped up and everyone is talking about it – on the TV, in the paper. When Tyler was going through this, opioid abuse was in the paper but it was more hidden in the back of the paper. And now it is talked about so much more.
At the time, we didn’t know anyone else who was dealing with this addiction. If they did, they were like us . . . hiding in their homes. We didn’t know this was an epidemic because at the time it wasn’t out there. It wasn’t talked about it. It was rising. It was something you kept really close. We didn’t tell our younger sons that their brother was using opiates.
Wayne: Our middle son got wise to it and he was getting angry because of the reputation. “People are talking Dad. What’s going on with Tyler?” I’d say relax. And he would get mad because something got stolen and he wanted to physically fight Tyler because he was a big kid. I said “No. Tyler is sick. He’ll get through this. He doesn’t mean to do these things.” Tyler wasn’t mean. He was sweet. He looked like he was in a glass room and he was trying to get out and he just couldn’t find the door. And I’m on the other side saying “Come on. This way”. And he just couldn’t find the door. We have a blind dog and Tyler reminds me of her. She’s looking for you, she hears your voice and she can’t find you. And that was like Tyler. He was looking and he would reach out and would want you to pull him through a portal or a door but he couldn’t find it. Because he was embarrassed. He would detox on his own for 3 days in the basement. Puking. Sweating. You get diarrhea. It’s just horrible. He would do it by himself and then he would come out of the basement soaking wet with sweat. He was embarrassed. He did not want anyone to know about it. And he would break down and cry. He would say “Why do I keep doing this? I don’t understand.”
When you think back, was there anything that put your child at risk for drug addiction?
Christy: Looking back, when Tyler did something, he did it at 200%. Excessively. Even wanting something ... he wanted a certain kind of skates, "Bob something" skates when he was 12. He would ask and ask and ask and ask. And I would say no, not right now. They are expensive. And he would keep asking.
He was a good student. He would take something as a challenge and work so hard to be the best at what he wanted to be. For football that was definitely the case.
Wayne: And it didn’t matter. If it was skateboarding as a kid, he had to build a skateboard ramp. He had to practice and be Tony Hawk. And then when he played a guitar and he got a band, he built a stage in the garage. Then came sports in high school and he would come home from school and practice and he would be exhausted and you would hear him jumping rope in the driveway at 9pm at night. Which makes no sense. Those are all signs of a relentless pursuit, this pleasure sensor in your brain, your reward system.
Christy:– Looking back and thinking hard about it, the only thing Wayne and I have found ... is that Tyler’s drive was maybe an addictive personality. And we don’t know that for sure. And we’re not saying that everyone that has that drive has an addictive gene. But maybe that is a sign. Maybe that is something to look for. And what we’ve noticed is people in recovery, especially men, will start to work out. They replace their addiction with a new addiction. Their new addiction is working out all of the time.
Wayne: It’s real simple once you can step back and look at what you are dealing with. I was at a seminar and I was one of the speakers and a female judge came from Cincinnati and she said her father was an alcoholic and my brother was a drug addict and I am a work-aholic. She said one of them is acceptable and the other ones aren’t. She said she can’t be married. She said she wakes up at 3 am works. And she said that her addiction is acceptable for an employer, but that she is no different from her brother and father. I thought that was interesting.
So ... they do things excessively. And probably when Tyler crossed the line with opiates, he realized he could play injured and this could help him easily get through that.
Christy: I compare Tyler to our other two boys. They were athletic and did sports, but they weren’t driven like him. They loved football. They played it. But they didn’t go that extra mile to be better and better and better.
Wayne: Tyler would take his body through physical and mental fatigue and there would be games where he would be physically shaking from exhaustion. He would take his body to extreme points. He had the personality of never giving up when you say “no”. He viewed your “no” as a “maybe” and he would come back and ask again tomorrow. That drive was relentless.
Have you wondered whether you could have done something different as a parent to prevent your child’s addiction?
Wayne: We should have known what the heck an opiate was. We should have been more educated. We should have understood prescription medication. Period. I don’t care if it is Xanax, I don’t care if it is opiates. I don’t care if it is Adderall. Understand that these drugs get shared by our kids very early. Understand what they are. We should have asked about Vicoden and found out that it is addictive. We should have known whether 60 was a lot and whether he took them all or not. He was 19 years old and they didn’t offer them to us. They offered them to him. We didn’t know if there were refills. And would we have known? Not with HIPAA laws. That would have been stage one.
Stage two, his freshman year after he had one semester there, his coach calls me and asks if one of his teammates could come home with Tyler for spring break. We said sure. What’s the matter? He said his home life was a little jacked up and he said he knew we ran a tight household, so was it all right if he comes over? He said he knew Tyler was a good kid. Well, low and behold, this quarterback had been in rehab twice. So he sent the fox to the hen house. We had no idea. That would have been good to know. Our radar would have been up. We would have been asking a lot more questions. We just assumed Tyler had bad money management skills. And that just enabled it and that let his addiction go further. And then you start helping them financially and start paying rent. We probably could have gotten to it earlier before it dug it’s claws in. So as a parent, absolutely don’t take anything for granted. Don’t trust anything. Really. I hate to be a helicopter parent, but you’re allowed to go through their room as long as they are a dependent of yours. That’s ok. Go through their room. Be curious.
Has your child’s addiction affected how people treat you?
Christy: Before Tyler died, no one knew so they didn’t treat us differently. After, people were very loving. We had a ton of support. We’ve lived in this community for 30 years. I didn’t feel outcast at all. I felt more people looked at me with pity. And that’s really hard too. I mean, you’re in so much pain emotionally. And you just cut yourself off. You don’t want to go to functions or social events. You just don’t want to see people. And it is not because you are embarrassed. It is because you are in so much grief. When you do force yourself to go to things, I know people look at me with pity. The things they say to you are pity. And they don’t know what to say. Some times they say the wrong things. Sometimes saying nothing is better. Or just hugging you and saying we’re here for you is better than some of the things they do say.
Wayne: We are in a different classification too because we did something. We started Tyler’s Light. That was almost immediate. The community kind of did it. They got together and said we’re going to do something. Somehow an education thing morphed. And then we made videos. And the next thing you know I left corporate America and I’m in schools.
Wayne: Our friend brought us those Coke bottles. She was checking out at a Giant Eagle and she saw these Coke bottles sitting there just like that.
Couldn’t your child have made better decisions and not abused opioids? Was your child just weak-willed?
Christy: Absolutely not. Here’s what should have happened - when Tyler had surgery, the doctor should have said “Here’s 10 pills. Or 4 pills. And that’s all you get. And this is why.” And he should have explained it to him. We weren’t there to monitor it. We didn’t know. So how could we expect Tyler to know the dangers of that drug?
Wayne: Someone might ask if Tyler used drugs in a recreational sense. And we have no idea. But there was never a sign that he did. He was so driven to be a good athlete. He would watch NFL football and when it came up to draft time, he would show me all of these safeties and he would say “Dad, look at their height and their weight and their speed.” He said “All I want to do is run on a kick off team one time. I don’t care if I don’t make the team. I’d like to, but that’s what I want to do.” So as a starter, he would play special teams because he knows the NFL looks at that. That’s how focused he was.
Christy: These are Tyler’s actual high school and college jerseys. Those jerseys were gifted to us. It was incredible to receive them.
Did you ever try shaming or punishing your child to make them stop?
Wayne: Of course. My method was coaching. I’d say “Look what you’re doing” and make him feel guilty. Well that doesn’t help him. That makes it worse. They already feel guilty.
Christy: Punishing him was difficult because he was 22.
Wayne: We took his phone away and monitored everything he did. What did that do? Nothing. We didn’t know any better.
Did you ever feel ashamed or disgusted with your child?
Wayne: Ashamed of the addiction, yes. At the time, yes, because we were thinking “What in the world”. These are those other people. Those people on TV. I remember going to a legal hearing downtown in the court building. And there were 50 people with a 9am court hearing and I’m looking around and I said to Tyler “Do you look similar to these people?” And he said “Nope”. Because Tyler was an athletic, fit, well dressed college kid and these were derelicts that looked like they just came off the street. But Tyler had something in common with them. They all had an addiction.
Christy: I think any one who is not educated who is having to deal with addiction is disgusted with their loved one. Because they just see the actions. They just see them stealing something. Or they just see them walking in high. And you don’t understand why can’t you just get better? Why cant you just stop? So there are definitely times you will feel ashamed and be disgusted with your child. You won’t have compassion until you become educated and understand the disease.
Did you ever feel hopeless or want to give up on your child’s drug abuse?
Christy: I don’t ever feel like I was hopeless. Just . . . exhausted. I never felt like I wanted to give up. It exhausts a family. The stress is incredible.
Wayne: Tyler was our oldest. He was with us 5 years before our other two came along. He was super successful. You could have 10 of Tyler and it would have been easy. So when Tyler was going south, we had two other kids that have normal daily activities that you have to be part of. One was a senior in high school. And we couldn’t spend enough time with our younger two so that was causing stress in the house and animosity towards Tyler. Our home was like a pressure cooker all the time.
Christy: Any home that has an addict is like that, even if the addict doesn’t live in your home and they’re off at college. The worry and the stress it brings on you . . . like where are they, what are they doing, who are they with, are they in danger, fear . . . it is so incredible. You can’t even explain it. It is very very stressful.
Parents in your position are often stuck between wanting to help their child and wanting to cut them off. Were you ever worried you were enabling the drug abuse by trying to support your child financially or providing meals or housing?
Christy: They would tell us when we went to counseling early on that we need to tell him this is the line and if he crosses that line, he’s out. Tough love. I remember one counselor told me “Pack a bag by the front door. And when he does something and he doesn’t abide by your rules, give him the bag and tell him he’s out.” And I told the counselor I would never do that. I would never put my child on the street. Because the last thing I would ever want to do is find out he passed away in the streets.
Wayne: There is fear because what if your son or daughter leaves and what if something bad happens? The last thing you said or . . . and one of our friends . . . that was their last move. They followed those instructions. They packed his bag and he left and that was the last time he stayed at their house. That’s tough to live with.
How many times did you give your child money and worry they were just using it for drugs?
Christy: I can’t even count how many times. One time Tyler told me “Like a dummy, I paid for everybody’s drinks in the bar last night. So I don’t have any money left.” He was very creative. There were times at the very end where we knew the addiction existed and we really limited with how much we gave him. We were asking a lot of questions. Instead of giving him money to buy gas, we would take him and buy him the gas or buy him the clothes or whatever it was. In person.
Where do you think the line is between supporting and enabling your child?
Wayne: If they’re not putting forth effort to get help – because they have to do the work too and going to meetings and doing all of the things they are supposed to do – and if they’re not but you are supporting them, then you are making a mistake. If they are doing what they are supposed to do and you can see it and you are with them and they are open about it, and if they are living in the recovery world, then you are not enabling. You are supporting. And you can continue forward. But you have to be right on top of it. You are living this addiction with them and you are walking every step with them. And that is why it is grueling for everyone around them. It is so hard. I have met many parents that have an active addict and I tell them you have it way tougher than me. And they’ll ask what I mean. And I’ll tell they have to deal with this stress every day. It’s 24/7. They never know. They’re worried. The phone rings and they freak out. Where’s he at? What is he doing? Ours is over. There is grief. There’s a big hole in your heart, but it is different. It’s not that daily stress. We sleep. They wake up in the middle of the night thinking about him. And during the course of a day you’re thinking about him maybe 1,000 times. Just those brief moments right? What if someone gets married. You’re thinking about all of those things people his age are doing and what if Tyler had been here for this. That never goes away. But the daily stress goes away. The grief is there. It is the greatest diet ever. You lose 20 – 40 pounds.
Christy: People have to face the addiction with their child and not be afraid to talk about it with them. And it’s never going to be easy helping a loved one get well.
Wayne: It is not a character flaw. If someone has diabetes or cancer, you are open about it and you deal with it. They will need tons of support. And they will realize there is a whole world of people out there that have addictions. And they are good people and they are productive and successful. They just know that they can’t go binge drinking at bars. They can’t be drinking when watching a game over at a friends’ house because that will weaken their guard.
Christy: That was a really hard part as parents. Here Tyler was, 23 years old and his friends from here – they weren’t addicts and they are his best friends. And his friends were going out to bars and they wanted Tyler to go. Well, you really can’t do that. And Tyler wasn’t a big drinker. So Tyler’s choice was to use an opiate. I remember talking with Wayne and we were crying and I remember we were so down and we thought – what is he supposed to do as a young person in our culture where young adults go out to bars. This is what his friends do and they are not alcoholics. They tailgate at games. These are fun things they do. And how does Tyler incorporate himself with his friends but he can’t go to those things? Will he lose those friends? It was a real struggle for us. And yes Tyler made friends in his recovery world. But it is so complicated. And this whole generation . . . how do they navigate this? We still don’t know how to do it well.
What happened or needs to happen to get your child into recovery?
Christy: They have to be willing to go. They need to be sick and tired of being sick and tired. Tyler went to intensive outpatient therapy first. And that was 2 weeks. Then he went to an inpatient for 2 weeks. And we didn’t know at the time, but Tyler said he didn’t buy into that program. But the second time he went into inpatient at Glenbeigh, he was ready.
I remember that doctor saying it takes a year for your brain to recover. If they would have told me what I know now – which is it is a life long recovery - I would have really lost it. Any one with this addiction or any addiction, it is just a life long battle. You have to change your life and you have to be on guard the rest of your life.
Wayne: We were treating this like a short-term addiction. We thought outpatient therapy for opioid addiction was the remedy.
Christy: You know what hurts so bad having lost our son almost 7 years ago? Knowing that if they would have talked to us then like they do now and if they had been educating people then like they do now, then maybe my son would be alive. That’s what is gut-wrenching.
Wayne: And you wish there were the Tyler’s Light organizations in existence back then and that there was information out there educating parents and kids. But . . . God plays funny tricks. We were the ones to have to go through it early. We had to start this. And we’ve had people say if it wasn’t for our organization or our support groups, I wouldn’t have had a clue. I was so lost.
Christy: I Believe in God. And I believe that . . . and I still question this . . . but I believe that maybe God took our son away from this horrible disease and he really saved him. He really saved him. Maybe he would be alive today but maybe the addiction would still have a hold over him.
Wayne: Maybe the last 7 years would have been just . . . hell.
Christy: Because we know many people who battle it for 10 years. We have a friend whose son was the same age and he just died in October. And he had been battling it this whole time. And so you have to find something and some reasoning to make sense of it. And we’re never going to know for sure. But you have to try to find some light in it. And to help other people. Maybe God took him to teach other people. Because that is what started the organization and that is what is educating people. And many other parents who have lost a child to addiction have started the same type of thing. So there are these little lights everywhere that are connecting and educating people and putting it out there that it’s ok to talk about it and that it is not a moral failure.
Can you identify anything positive that has come from your experience with opioid addiction?
Christy: The organization we started is a positive. Our friends got Wayne doing it. You don’t see the rewards of Wayne’s work. And a lot of times it is very stressful for Wayne. Because it is kind of like being on a hamster on a wheel and you’re on there and you never get off. He never knows the positives and whether it has prevented something. But periodically, someone comes up to him and says I want you to know I saw you speak three years ago and I was presented with a situation and this is what I did and you kept me from using. So Wayne gets these stories and those are what keeps him going and helps him see the light in what they are doing. That’s our reward. That is the positive.
What are you doing to cope?
Wayne: People ask me – did you take some time to grieve? And I tell them no. Because two weeks after Tyler died, we started Tyler’s Light. Tyler’s Light is my therapy. I am a complete opposite from Christy. There is an article in The Dispatch about how 80% of couples get divorced after you lose a child. That’s pretty high. We are total opposites when dealing with this issue. I deal with it by pounding my fists and I just go. I look at it as I don’t know why this happened and that this is an opportunity. Doors have opened because of it. You don’t know why, but you have to remember this is a big plan.
Christy: Wayne’s coping was to take action. A very typical man. Men and women are very different. Men take action. They want to fix it. For us, women, and for me in particular, I went to counseling. I needed to talk about it with someone other than Wayne and my kids and family members. So I sought professional counseling and one on one counseling. I read the Bible a lot more and went more into my faith and tried to make sense of it. I read multiple books about heaven. I was kind of obsessed with it. I wanted to know if Tyler is there and what it is like. I went to a clairvoyant medium. Wayne went after me because I told him my experience. So I was more on the spiritual side, trying to make sense of it and cope with it. And Wayne was trying to take action and fix this and prevent it form happening to other people. That is his therapy. We are all different.
How are you doing today?
Christy: I run a grief support group for parents who have lost a child to addiction. It is very small. Sometimes there are 6 people. Sometimes there are 3. That is the other issue – is trying to get parents who have lost a child to addiction to come to a place where they might know somebody. They don’t have to talk. It is difficult. We know multiple people who have lost children and they just don’t seem to want to come to a group and talk about it.
I think being 6 ½ years out, I can compare myself to the parents in our grief group who are a year or two out. I can completely see the difference in me. Where they are is where I was. And so I try to give them some hope. I am not going to tell you it is going to get better. You learn to live with it. You learn to function every day. And if you have a reason to get out of bed . . . for me it was my other kids, then that’s all you need in the beginning. Take time to grieve. Don’t rush back to work in 2 weeks. Take a leave of absence from your job. Your life has been completely changed. It just takes time. And you learn to live with it. I could have broke down and really lost it a minute ago. And I tried to keep it in. And you have moments where you break down. I look at Tyler’s picture and I just feel like he is with us all of the time. And I say that all the time - I’ll say “Don’t you just feel like he’s going to walk through the door?” It seems like Tyler is just away at school right now. You don’t consciously tell yourself that, but you just feel like he’s just gone for the time being. And maybe that’s God’s way of saying we’re going to be with him again some day but in a different way. As time goes by, you learn to cope with it a little bit better. You still have those moments where you break down, especially at weddings of his friends. That’s really hard. But I’ve gotten a lot better at that too.
Wayne: I’m just kind of mad that I have to do what I’m doing. I say that after this school year I’m going back to work. I’m going to let someone else do this job because it’s 80 hours a week. It is relentless fundraising. This is what I do full time now. I left my career in 2013 to run Tyler’s Light. At the beginning everyone wanted to help, and then about a year later they all just went back to their own lives because the shock and awe is gone. So you have people who volunteer and we get these highs and lows. We had too many volunteers - we had 15 people on our board at one time. I sprinted a marathon. And you can’t right? You flame out. It is so tiring. And it is all bad news. There is no real good stuff happening. The numbers keep getting worse. And you run into politicians that are just lip service and government agencies that can’t fund you because you don’t use evidence-based practice. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same stuff but you expect a different outcome. I’ve been putting up with this for years now and I’m just so sick of the group that is in charge of trying to fix the opioid epidemic. It’s just all public funded trash. Garbage. Bureaucracy. It’s sad. It really is. So there is frustration there.
Do you have any advice for parents currently trying to help their child deal with opioid addiction?
Wayne: You have to educate yourself quickly to understand that there has been a chemical change in your child’s brain. It is not a personality issue or that they are being stubborn or rebellious. It is a chemical change in their brain. And you have to learn. Abstinence yes. But learn what medically assisted treatment is. That was something I said no to. I didn’t understand why you would want to give him an opiate (Suboxone) to get off of an opiate (heroin). And then we would have to ween him off of Suboxone. And I had already seen and heard how they abuse Suboxone and they sell it and double up on it. And this made no sense to me.
Christy: Vivitrol wasn’t on the scene yet. At that time it was methadone and Suboxone.
Wayne: Suboxone was the brand new drug. They called it a wonder drug. But you get addicted to that too. It didn’t make sense to me. Tyler was a very strong willed person. He liked the challenge of being told he can’t do something and then he would. He would crawl across broken glass to win a game of checkers. He had that type of will power and pain tolerance.
Christy: You have to get them the help immediately. Find professional help ASAP. Like, yesterday. Don’t wait. I don’t care if you have to take a week off of work to figure it out. Figure it out. Because that is your priority.
Wayne: Sell one of your cars. Take a second mortgage out on the house.
Christy: You do whatever it takes – in our minds now – do whatever it takes. Take the time to get in touch with the right people ASAP. You can’t drag someone who is not willing. Usually they understand they have a problem at this point. They are willing. And if they are willing, you have to get them there. Don’t be afraid of assistive treatment. Vivitrol is really the only answer right now. It is a once per month shot. They can’t abuse it. They can’t sell it on the street. And it works. It is non-opiate based. At this point, in 2018, Vivitrol is the wonder treatment. But they have to go to treatment because they have to treat the other issues going on. And when they come out, no doubt if I had to pay $1000 every time your kid needs Vivitrol, I would do it. It is a once per month shot. But the help is out there. Some of these people can go on Medicaid. Medicaid pays for Vivitrol. Go for it once you’ve done inpatient and you’re learning how to cope with the addiction.
Wayne: Treatment first. And there are all kinds of options. It will depend on what you can afford. There are programs that are $50,000 per month and you write a check. There are families that write checks instead of bringing it through their insurance because of the stigma. And you have private insurance. You have free. You have faith based. But you have to get to it immediately. And you as a parent need to get into education and counseling. You have to figure out what the heck addiction is and what can you do to help.
Wayne: Al-Anon. Nar-Anon. You have to go to those. Be around other people. They might be five years ahead of you and you can learn from their mistakes. It’s a family disease. It is not just that person. The whole group is involved.
Christy: Everyone is affected by it. Because while you’re yelling at that child, the other kids are hearing it. We wanted to protect Tyler’s younger brothers. And we were essentially trying to protect Tyler because his younger brothers looked up to him and we didn’t want to taint their idea of him. He was their big brother and we felt like he was going to get better. And it would be water under the bridge and they wouldn’t know about it. But they had to have seen me crying and heard Wayne on the phone talking about it. We were trying to protect Tyler from other people knowing because you think they are going to get better and no one is going to know any differently and we don’t want to ruin Tyler’s reputation. I’m not going to say go out there and tell the world that your child has an addiction. I’m saying don’t be afraid to reach out for help and talk to the right people. Go to support groups. Parents will be there who understand, have been where you are and can give you advice. You can form a relationship and you will know that you are not alone. You will know that you are not the only person in the world who is dealing with this. And that your child is not a bad person.
Wayne: It wears on you. So what happens then is you don’ t sleep, you’re stressed, your job suffers, everything suffers and everything starts to deteriorate around you. And then you’re trying to make decisions with 3 hours sleep and you’re emotional. It’s unbelievable how it affects people. And it ages people so fast.
Christy: It affects your relationship as parents together as husband and wife. Because you don’t agree with the way they’re handling it and they don’t agree with the way you’re handling it. And so you’re at odds with each other all of the time. And your child knows how to play on those feelings, usually a lot of the time it is the mom. Any child does. But in addiction, they can really play on those emotions.
And you can’t love it out of them. You’ll go to all ends of the earth to help your child get better if they had cancer. You would second mortgage your home. You would be do what ever it took.
Wayne: And you would be in every pink ribbon race there was. But this addiction thing . . . we still haven’t grasped that it is not a moral failure. It is a disease. It is a chemical change of your brain. Some of us are already pre-wired to be there quicker and easier. 20 - 25% of us are pre-wired to have an addictive personality. And it can be gaming, pornography, eating disorders, etc …
Christy: I remember Ed Hughes. He is a doctor who wrote the book Baffled by Addiction. I had a phone conversation with him and I was concerned about Tyler finishing his education and still being able to play football. I asked if Tyler could continue school and go to intensive outpatient while he is in college. I’ll never forget him saying “Christy, if Tyler had cancer, would you send him to school and then tell him to go ahead and go to his chemotherapy treatment while he was at school? Would you do that?” I said absolutely not. And he said “Well, this is the same thing. This is a disease that needs to be treated. College can happen later. We need to address this now.” He opened my eyes up and he put it all in perspective. Finishing school, getting a job – that stuff will never be there if they don’t get well. They’ll be like us, meaning their child will not be here today.
Wayne: You stop whatever you’re doing. Those things don’t matter right now – college, jobs, sports, careers, just stop. This is life-changing.
What advice can you give to parents of younger children so they can help their kids avoid opioid addiction?
Christy: Talk about it. Don’t be afraid to talk with your kids about what’s out there and explain to them what can happen.
Wayne: Parents don’t know the latest terms. Parents don’t know that kids have a thing that looks like a thumb drive and they’re smoking them and they are fooling all of their teachers. Parents don’t know that. Parents are going to learn from their kids. Constantly ask questions. And so you don’t really put them on the spot, ask your kids about their friends. They will talk about each other. Ask them what they see out there and tell them what you’ve heard about. Get your kids comfortable talking about drugs with you. This shouldn’t be a one time conversation of “Hey, you’re not using drugs are you?” Be the kind of parent who knows what is going on in your kids’ lives and know who they hang out with.
Christy: You don’t think something is going to happen to your kid when they are 19 and going off to college. Right? We were relieved we were getting one off to college and we had our other two in high school.
Wayne: You have to ask them what is going on. And talk to them about anything that is going on. Tell your kids about what is going on around town and what you read in the paper. So when someone offers them a drug, a pharmaceutical drug, your kids will know that pharmaceutical drugs are absolutely taboo.
Christy: You just have to be really open with your kids and share a conversation . Not just “Don’t do drugs” or “You know drugs are bad for you don’t you?”
Wayne: And it is ok to go through their room and their possessions. It’s ok. Because you know what? I’d rather have them pissed off at you for a day than have the start of an addiction going on and you can’t get to it because you’re not curious enough. They have teenage brains. They are very risky. That’s normal. Understand where they are at in their development. It’s ok. You’re allowed to look. You have to.
List two things you think need to happen that will help put an end to the opioid crisis.
Wayne: I think it is a supply and demand situation. No matter what you think of our president – bat shit crazy or whatever – he is doing the right thing. He is going to try to cut off the largest source of drugs. A 25 billion dollar operation comes out of Mexico alone. We have to at least stop that. And where does the demand come from? Our children. Schools need a K-12 curriculum about this. We have to educate our kids early on the dangers. And it just can’t be a program that is half-run. It doesn’t matter if a kid is really good at social studies, math or science. If they leave high school and they’re not with us 5 years later, what did we accomplish in the education process?
Christy: There is an organization called Drug Free Clubs of America. They started in Cincinnati. Wayne worked with that organization and got them started in our schools here and in some other schools throughout central Ohio. The gist of the club is high school students join this club and they vow to be drug free. They can be randomly drug tested throughout the year and they agree to this. They are given rewards for being drug free. They are given discounts, free items, parking spots, public recognition, and it gives them an out. So if they are at a party and someone offers them drugs, belonging to this club gives them an out.
Wayne: Peer pressure is the number one reason kids will try something. They will hear it from a friend. So if we can help kids get out of that tough situation where they really don’t want to try it but they are being pushed, the kid can say “I can’t because I might be drug tested tomorrow.” That will happen a few times and then the other kids will know not to ask anymore. And then that kid beat the leading cause of trying drugs or alcohol – and that’s peer pressure from a friend.
Christy: These kids are rewarded for just doing the right thing.
Wayne: Don’t wait for them to goof up and get punished.
Christy: Wayne was instrumental in getting Drug Free Clubs of America into our high schools and other schools near us. Our organization Tyler’s Light pays a huge portion of the fee that it costs for a student to be a part of this club. The student only pays $20.
Wayne: Tyler’s Light pays $30,000 - $40,000 this year just for the kids in our town. It is expensive, but you think hmm. . . what would you rather do with all of the money you are fundraising?
Christy: It goes to the kids. We’re having our 5K in 2 weeks for Tyler’s Light. This is the first time that the drug free clubs will be putting something big on right after the race over at the high school. They are having a food truck festival for Drug Free Clubs. The kids will be running it with their advisor at the school. The public can come and they will have games.
Wayne: So they will be having fun and raising money for a good cause. It is reassuring for parents to know that if their child is part of this Drug Free Club of America, their kid will be drug tested five times this year. That would be nice. It is just another way to battle this thing. There are 20 ways to fix this. You have to cut off the source so it is not so easy. Make it expensive. $5 for heroin. Why? Because it is just coming through in truck loads. What if it was $500 for heroin? That would take it off of the shelf.
Christy: People in the medical field like physicians and the medical industry have to be better educated. Over-prescribing has to get better. It has gotten better for sure but it has taken time. It has taken too long.
Why do you want to remain anonymous and not have your picture connected with your interview? Why do you want to have your image connected with your interview?
Wayne: We’ve already aired our dirty laundry. We know that it is not a moral failure. And how are we going to help the next group if we just close our doors and go into hiding with our photo album? How are we going to help anybody? It is going to continue to get worse and worse. So we want to be part of a solution. Not part of the problem.
Christy: Absolutely. Lifting that stigma because we’re an average American household I guess. Three kids. We live in the suburbs. Addiction affects all walks of life. It crosses all boundaries.
Wayne: When you watch these tv shows about drug users and they show that person in the alley when they’ve hit rock bottom and they’re filthy dirty and homeless and they’re using drugs – that’s not all of them. It’s also the kid driving the BMW. Show me more of them. Why? Because suburban parents are not looking. They think it’s not going to happen where they are.
Christy: They still show images that continue to feed that stigma. The ones who least suspect it are the ones who are really in danger. These drug dealers – they deliver it like pizza. The narcotics commander said it is like a pizza delivery system. And those drug dealers love to come into these suburbs where there is money and young people.
Wayne: The opioid epidemic started in medicine cabinets and then heroin is delivered to the suburbs. If you got money, it’s coming.
Christy: And you’ll see so much of this in middle-income suburbs. We were the parents that least suspected it. We were them.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Wayne: We are curious about what your project is going to turn into. We hope it will do some good. Sounds like you are going down the right path with this. In yesterday’s paper, there were 2-3 articles on different groups doing different things. One of my vendors said to me “Drug addiction is the most unregulated field. There were 3 articles in the paper yesterday about it. And it seems to be such a mess.” Rehabilitation is unregulated.
Christy: It feels really chaotic to me.
Wayne: We’re incarcerating addicts that committed a crime. The crime needs to be punished. But the main reason they committed the crime is because they have an addiction. And there are no mental health places anymore. That got deinstitutionalized 20-30 years ago. Now people are self-medicating and then commit a crime to get the drugs or they committed a crime while they were on drugs. Now we have a prison system that’s full of mentally ill people and addicts. Look at how jacked up we are? How did we get to that point? If you’re mentally ill, you need help. There should be hospitals for the mentally ill. Mental illness is like outer space. We’re not sure. But addiction – it’s getting a lot of attention now. As it should.