Has your child’s addiction affected how people treat you?
I don’t think it has. I don’t think people treat us any differently. I think our family is a little softer with us because we have that stress of our son’s addiction. So they tend to protect us a little. We’ve been pretty open, myself more than my husband. He’s more private about it. But I don’t think our son’s addiction has changed how people treat us. I really don’t. We’ve been blessed with a good support system. They don’t treat us any different but I think they treat Jack differently, which bothers Jack.
I have lost friends due to my children’s addictions. Only because they don’t want to hear about it. So I found new friends, made new friends and have new friends because of my children’s addictions. Their children are also in addiction. Like Kevin and Tanya and Dawn and Michelle and Justin. I know so many people right there with me. So the other people, I have contact with them a little bit but not nearly like I did beforehand because they can’t comprehend the anguish we go through. So they block it out, especially those who have children that are highly successful in society: college education, marriage, children and good jobs.
We work really hard through our organization to share drug prevention and awareness. In order to do that, I share our story about Brady. There have been some under the table back door comments of people saying everybody treats Brady like he’s a martyr or a hero. So I know there are some people out there who have a negative outlook on this. They want to focus on how Brady died instead of on me trying to prevent their child from going down the same road. But overall, people appreciate and respect what I’m doing with our organization. It’s not easy. And I think people sense that. If you come to one of my presentations, it’s deep, man. We play the 911 call. People respect that. When you don’t know what you’re walking into and you hear the 911 call and you hear the rest of the story that goes along with it and people didn’t realize they were going to hear any that, they kind of get it.
Remember earlier I said I was hoping to get a phone call from a community member after I told on Brady? I did get that phone call from him. It was maybe a few months too late, but I did get that phone call from him. He called after Brady passed and said, “I get it now man. Sorry. What can we do?” His son was engaged in the same activity. And basically he didn’t want the community to know that his son was involved because of his professional role in the community. He was ticked off that I was making some noise. He said he wanted to deal with it all in-house. We have big golf outings and this guy became one of our biggest financial sponsors. His son still struggles with addiction to this day.
When things were really ugly and when we were getting a lot of phone calls and stuff was getting thrown out in our yard, my wife got an argument with one of the parents. That parent was so mad at me for telling on her son. And my wife said, “What’s it going to take? Somebody to die before you guys freakin’ wake up and see what’s really going on?” She said that not knowing it was going to be our son. So … it’s a weird turn of events sometimes.
I became closer with people who are on the same journey. You know … all of a sudden you start to hear stories. We are not very public about this. We were public that our daughter had mental health issues, but not to the extent of the drug addiction. Some people in this community whom we trust know, but it is not really a public thing, mostly because of what our daughter has said. She does not want, at this time, to be doing that yet. There will be a time when she will, but not yet. I haven’t had a negative reaction, but she has had negative reactions. One of her closest friends she grew up with through high school basically shut her out. Her friend got married and told my daughter she was not welcome at the reception. That devastated my daughter. A lot of her close friends just walked away. A couple people—I will always remember them—a couple people stayed and did not walk away from her. I have great respect for them. But a lot of people basically trashed her.
So the first few years, any plans we had, any invitations we had, I couldn’t go. I couldn’t face people and have them ask how my kids are doing. And so I missed some things. I missed funerals. I missed anniversary parties. I missed graduations. I missed a lot because I isolated myself. Also I couldn’t talk without crying. During that time I didn’t want to see anybody because I was bawling all the time and so I isolated. And then I came out of the closet and started posting on Facebook, speaking to groups, the State House, just doing all kinds of activist things. Bailey and I did a video with some people back in the day about drug addiction in Hamilton County. Everybody was so supportive and kind and understanding about it. But not that long ago, a friend of mine posted on social media a picture of the police on the road right by her house with a guy on the ground. She wrote “Look at that junkie. He’s such a loser. I should let my dogs out on him.” And then a couple other friends agreed with her. And these people know me. I would hope that I would never say anything like that to be unkind to somebody. These friends know me and they know what I am going through. But then again, why are they always supposed to be thinking about me and my feelings? This is not their thing. I don’t usually write on Facebook, but I wrote and I said you know what, this is somebody’s son, brother, uncle, cousin, and he’s very sick and he needs help.
Travis: The very hardest thing for me was … and I’m over this now … but in the beginning … if you didn’t acknowledge that my son died, I was angry with you. Meaning we would run into each other and you’d be like, “Hey! The Cavs are playing tonight.” And I’d be like, “Wait a minute. We’re going to talk about the Cavs?” I wanted to choke them. That’s how angry I was. Now if you acknowledge it and say, “Hey, I’m sorry about what happened to Ty,” I was good. And we could talk about whatever else you want. But you had to acknowledge it with me.
Shelly: There is a difference between your kid having a “real” sickness and having an addiction. When kids are sick, normally people help the family. When people have an addiction, nobody is bringing a casserole. No one is asking, “How can I help?” They’re just like, “My kid’s not playing down there with them.” There is a stigma and you feel it.
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.