My amazing son, Nick, died of a heroin overdose on Feb. 8, at the age of 23. He had his whole life ahead of him. He was an addict. Did he choose to be an addict?  Unequivocally not! Did he make bad choices? Yes, like the majority of teens, he chose to experiment with alcohol and drugs. Only for him, like for so many others, his drug use turned a switch on in his brain that, once activated, unfortunately does not have an off button.

Addiction is defined by the National Institute of Health as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. Addiction is not a moral flaw, or a weakness or caused by a lack of willpower. Once addiction settles in, free will goes out the window.

Nick tried and tried again to stop. He did not want to do drugs. He was tortured by his addiction. His addiction resulted in behaviors he was not proud of, including getting in trouble with the law. He voluntarily admitted himself to several rehabilitation centers, including Phelps, Arms Acres and numerous inpatient rehabilitation centers in Florida. He abstained for months at a time and in fact had been drug free for eight months before he relapsed and passed away in February.

Sign Up for E-News

It was a daily struggle. It was painful for him to repeatedly let himself and his family down, and it was painful for everyone who loved him to watch him destroy his life.  It is difficult if not impossible to be released from the grip of a heroin addiction.

Make no mistake: This disease does not discriminate. It affects the rich or poor, black or white, educated or uneducated, those who come from intact families and those from broken homes. It can happen to anyone with a propensity toward addiction.

Heroin overdoses have increased fivefold between 2010 and 2013 and although the figures for 2014 are not yet out, I am fairly certain the numbers are increasing still.  Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought my loving son would have been a part of that statistic.

My life now consists of looking for evidence that there is an afterlife, because the thought of never seeing my son again is too unbearable to swallow. I spend my time reading books about mediumship, going to mediums or listening to those who have had near-death experiences. I wouldn’t wish this tragedy on my worst enemy.  Please be kind to the individuals and families suffering from this disease. The pain they experience is no less worthy of your understanding and kindness than any other misfortune.

I remember being at a Drug Crisis in Our Backyard meeting not long ago where someone said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” How true that is. I was afraid to curse when I was a kid because I knew if a “grown up” heard me, my mother would find out. As a community, we need to come together to care for all of our young ones.  If you see something, say something! Our kids deserve it.

Yes, Nick was an addict.  He was also the sweetest kid with the biggest heart. He was a gentle giant who was full of compassion and empathy. He was an amazing artist and singer and he taught himself how to play the guitar. He was a loving son who told me at least once a day and every time he hung up the phone with me that he loved me. He loved his family, especially his cousins. He loved to make people laugh.  He is missed beyond words. He was my world, my pride and joy.

Happy birthday in heaven, Nick. You are always in my heart. Until we meet again.  Love forever, Mom.