What Your Shirt Means

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We get messages like these every day. “Please help”, “our community needs you”, “there isn’t enough awareness” are common themes in these messages. When I read them, it’s like I can physically feel the person on the other end’s heart breaking; they are in complete despair. It’s even worse when I have to give them the news that they don’t want to hear: “We would love to come to every place that we can’t, but we just can’t.”

Walking for Wellness: Stop Heroin started two years ago by my mom and I. Both working full-time, but we knew it was something that we had to do: for us, for our community, for my sister. Our first walk had fifty people. Now, presently, it’s still me and my mom, and we are still working our other full time jobs. However, we have been blessed with a plethora of volunteers and coordinators, who have their own jobs and own lives, but take their own time to spend on their community, and are the heart of this organization (honestly, that could be a post in itself…you all are amazing!).

Why can’t we go everywhere? Believe me, we wish we could (Sam and I always talk about how great it would be to quit everything and go on a Walking for Wellness: Stop Heroin tour and just start walks everywhere. Brilliant? Yes. Feasible? Absolutely not.). Our organization is 100% funded on apparel sales. We get some donations, but we don’t have grants, we don’t have a building, we don’t have any of that. We are 100% funded on t-shirt sales. That’s how we supply our walks with bracelets to give to their walkers, for walker cards that we give to people who are curious about our shirts, for the banners that people sign in memory of a lost loved one: for everything.

The good news is this: we’re reaching people. They see our shirts, or they see the bracelets and they know “they’re from Walking for Wellness: Stop Heroin”. We’ve had mayors and other officials, come to our walks, police officers walk with us, countless articles written about all of our awesome walks and memorial walks. We’re reaching people. I got this message from a friend that I’ve met through Walking for Wellness: Stop Heroin today:

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We are making a difference. We’re reaching people from all over (we haven’t had a walk in Florida, or anywhere in the south, FYI, so this was really exciting!).

What does this mean?  If you have lost someone to heroin, think back on how that felt, how it still feels. I can specifically remember everything about how I felt when I found out my sister had died: the shock of losing someone just like that, it physically hurts. And it doesn’t go away. There are people all of the nation who are feeling that right now. They are in that same point of “how do we go on?”, “what can we even do about this?”. One community is not more important that any other community. All of the proceeds can’t go to supporting one community, they support all of them. Walking for Wellness: Stop Heroin isn’t just about one geographical community, we are a community together in ourselves. We’re about experiencing and supporting this journey together. We need you to help us help them. They need you. Your Walking for Wellness: Stop Heroin shirt is more than just a shirt. It symbolizes that you’re part of something bigger; a collaboration of people who have experienced a loss unlike any other. You’re a part of the Stop Heroin family.

We wouldn’t be where we are today without you. We wouldn’t be here today without the people that we lost, the people who live on in our hearts forever. We want to keep supporting as many people as we can, and the communities that we currently serve. Thank you for all you have done in the fight against heroin. Together, we do, and will continue to make a difference.

bigwalk

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laura pete

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#stopheroin

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Two Years After Heroin

Today is the two year anniversary of my sister being gone. I can remember this day in 2013 so vividly, and can feel how I felt on that day so intensely. After two years, you’d think that is something that you would have forgotten about, but you don’t.

We had a rough end of the year at Walking for Wellness: Stop Heroin. So many lives were lost in December, all of them being in the 18-24 year old range. The holidays are always a hard time for our family. Dealing with a death and then immediately having to have your first Christmas without your child/sibling/cousin/friend would be unimaginable.

However, I want to start out this year with a message of hope for those who have lost someone to the specific death of heroin. After attending my friend’s funeral, I saw his parents and sister, and I could so easily put myself right where they were. I could actually feel what they were feeling at that moment. It brought tears to my eyes because I knew the immediate pain they were feeling of “how do we go on after this?” and “how will we ever make it through this?”. When I made my way to the front of the line, I could only muster out a short “I’m so sorry”, and then immediately felt like a complete idiot. I was in their shoes before, and I know “sorry” a million times doesn’t make it better. Having been in their exact position, how could I not find something more meaningful to say?

The answer is this: you can’t. There is nothing you can say to make that person feel better. People will constantly say “you need to adjust to your ‘new normal'” and ‘It’ll get better’. A hard reality: it doesn’t get better. When you lose someone, it will always suck and that is the reality of it. But for the people out there who have lost someone, I want to share this: it gets less bad. When you first lose someone to a heroin overdose, people really don’t understand what you just went through. It could potentially be years and years of trauma of living with an addict (and yes, that is pure trauma). But just because your life is free of the raging chaos that addiction brings, doesn’t mean you don’t suffer the extreme grief of losing the person addiction took from you.

After two years of losing my sister, I have learned that it is still hard to be without her on the holidays and birthdays, it is still hard when people ask if I have siblings, and it is still hard I when I think about the day she died. It is still extremely hard not having her here. However, it doesn’t get better, but it does get less hard. Eventually, there will be a day you don’t cry. There will be an entire day you make it through without feeling a sharp pain through your heart. You will smile again, you will be able to enjoy times with friends again, even if it doesn’t seem that way now. I remember when people would tell me this, I a) didn’t believe them and b) wanted to tell them to go away, and that they didn’t understand. Time is different for everyone, but it will happen.  It doesn’t make you miss the person any less, and it doesn’t make you a bad person for smiling again.

I found this quote a while ago, but I find it perfectly descriptive:

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”- Anne Lamont

Your limp will come too. But for now, we are here for you, and we are so thankful for the people who have been there for us, and help us remember her through memories. We love you, Nicky, and miss you every day.

 

Heroin IS Your Problem

When I was in high school, I had a core group of about 15 friends. One was my sister, one was my best friend, and the others were a random assortment of individuals we had met at the mall we all worked at. We were all of the same general demographics (i.e. suburban, middle class, white, 18-22 years of age) and did the things that normal* kids of our age group did: held fairly harmless, but not always intelligent, house parties while naively assuming our parents were completely clueless (they weren’t). I remember specifically being so sad to go off to college because of all of the fun we had together every week. If you would have told me five years ago that two of the 15 would be dead by the time we reached our early twenties, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But here I write today, with two of our fifteen friends dead. Both from heroin. The first we laid to rest last year on January 3rd, was my younger sister. She was 20. The second was today. He was 23.

Unfortunately the “heroin problem” only surfaces when something traumatic happens. We’ve seen the reactive approach from the deaths of celebrities like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cory Monteith. Comments spread like wildfire of sympathy and sorrow, many at the immediate shock that it’s death by heroin. Bandwagon activists come out of the woodwork to share a quick Instagram photo and RT till their heart’s content. However, the sympathy and sorrow fades away a few days later when the next big story comes in the shuffle. Hit by some front page news sorcery, the now “heroin epidemic” has vanished because of its assumed displacement from everyday life.

I’m going to hit you with some hard truth about heroin. This is what happens. You slowly watch your loved one become physically and emotionally destroyed. You watch it destroy your family. You try and hide it from family and friends, because what would they think? You watch as they slowly drown in their own addiction as you try desperately, year after year (if you’re lucky to keep them around), spending thousands of dollars, trying everything you could possibly do to fix them. There is nothing that you can do to stop them, but you don’t give up. You try rehab once. Then again, and again, and again. They try and get clean, and they fail. The addiction is so grasping, and they can’t get out of it. Everyday they get further and further into the addiction. You beg them over and over to stop, even though you know it’s beyond their control. They don’t act like “them” anymore. You start to realize the actual possibility that they could die. You try and mentally prepare for it. You stress every time you get a call from a family member twice in a row, thinking it is “the call”. You hold your breath every time a police car drives down your street, praying they don’t stop in front of your house. Your heart pounds when you have to go wake them up in the morning, considering the very real possibility they might be dead behind that door. But you never think it will actually happen to them. Then it does.

You thought you were prepared for this. You knew this was a possibility. The thing I don’t think people realize about death until you know someone very close to you who dies, is how permanent it is. It sounds ridiculous, but death is forever. They’re not there anymore. You don’t hear their voice, and you slowly forget what it sounds like. You habitually go to text them, only to realize no one will ever read it. They aren’t there for birthdays, weddings, births; they miss it all. The saddest part of the reality of heroin is that this is happening behind closed doors every day. From being the sister of someone who died of a heroin overdose, I quickly realized that my “shocking story” was an exact duplicate of every other heroin addict. But that doesn’t make it less sad. The only feeling worse than that person dying is when you realize there is nothing that YOU can do to stop it from happening once the heroin addiction is in full swing.

Before, life was chaotic and traumatic because of heroin addiction. Now, it’s chaotic and traumatic because of heroin addiction, but without the addict. They’re gone. And they took the person they were before addiction with them. They’re both gone. Forever.

I would give anything and everything to not have to see another mother stand over their child’s open casket because of something so stupid as heroin, as I had to do with my own mother to my little sister, and watch my friend’s mother do to her son today.  But this is not something we can do alone. If you think you’re displaced from heroin, that you don’t know anyone, or that it doesn’t affect you, you are wrong. I promise it. Apathy doesn’t help anyone. Heroin isn’t just my problem anymore, like I used to think it was. It is everywhere, and it’s a ruthless bitch that doesn’t give second chances. Educate yourself, educate others, become AWARE. We need to stop heroin.

Addiction Poem

One of our walkers sent us this poem that her nephew wrote. He is currently incarcerated due to heroin. She shared one of his poems with us: 

There is a war going on inside my mind, body and soul…
The devil is constantly around, making me contradict which direction I should go. 
He is trying to take my thoughts over, and tell me every move I should make,
I cannot stress enough the battle in my mind, with every breath that I take. 
Living this has been a ‘life’ I have grown accustomed to,
Full speed ahead, one foot on the gas, not caring who I gotta go through. 
I try to stop, I try to change, constantly falling flat on my face…
The aftermath is always the same, ending in jail, or another horrible place. 
Being selfish and taking my own life, is something I have tried. 
But The Lord above keeps saving me, exposing my problems that I can no longer hide. 
He say’s, son, your not going anywhere, I am not finished with you yet…
You have a purpose on this earth, I’ll help you find it, so stick around for a little bit. 
I now speak to him daily, or as often as I can…
With him in my life, there’s no doubt I can be a better man.

The dining room table

November 20, 2013

I had decided that when I got home from work tonight I was going to put away all the paperwork from Nicky’s passing that I had been storing on the dining room table for the past ten months. I have been putting this off forever.  Every time you put one more thing away or get rid of one more thing it is like a poke in your heart- they’re gone.  If I just keep it all out, it doesn’t hurt so badly. 

I think my dilemma was I didn’t know how to separate the paperwork.  I had gotten two pretty boxes from Michael’s right after she passed away. The first box, of the initial two, was almost filled with cards from friends and family.  The table was still full.  I need another box. So there the three boxes sat for months.

Tonight I decided to divide them up into cards and funeral day, legal paper work and then personal items from friends or family that made me smile about Nicky.  Since she has died, we have celebrated her 21st birthday.  I have a 2 and 1 candle in the box.  We celebrated Easter.  I have her Easter Egg in the box. We celebrated mother’s and father’s day. I have the cards that we got from each other in the box.  I have her AAA card in the box. That girl was the only one in our family that used that service.  She would be broken down with friends in their cars and say “no problem, we have AAA” and they would come.  : )  The card made me laugh when I saw it.  My aunt sent me these wonderful key chains of Jesus on the cross with words that helped her after her husband Zig has passed away.   My tennis friend Pete sent me glorious notes that said there will be sunshine in my life again.  My mom sent me a multitude of blessed sacred heart badges which I have given out over the year. I have a really cute little Happy Birthday Nicky paper box my friend Mary Pat made for me that had a necklace charm in it.  This year was Nicky’s bookend birthday.  Her birthday was 3-10- 13.  It is the same forwards as it is backwards.  Only my friend Mary Pat would know what that so it made it so much more special. I have the funniest cartoon Nicky had cut out of the paper that was about the best tree ever.  Last year we did the tree together and it was awesome! We used to laugh and say “it is the best tree ever”.

The other boxes are not nearly as much fun but that is ok.  I have this special box of memories that make me smile. We miss our girl so much.  I keep my heart open every day to her.  I dreaded this night but in the end it was o.k.  Did I cry? Yes.  But did I smile too, Yes. 

I love you Nicky!

Mom

 

Middle School Presentations

Thanks to the St. Charles Drug Court system, we have been very fortunate to be able to present to the Fort Zumwalt School District middle schools (South, DuBray, West and North). I presented to North and Dubray in October, and West and South this past Thursday. A big thanks to Brett from OFallonTV for filming as well.

All of the presentations went really well. I really enjoyed presenting to them, and the students were so mature! I was really shocked. You wouldn’t think that 7th and 8th grade students would be able to sit there and be attentive, but I was pleasantly surprised: they were awesome!

I wanted to share with you all something that happened while I was presenting at one of the middle schools that has really stuck with me the past couple days. After I give the presentations, there are always a hand full of kids who come up to us and give us their condolences. We always really appreciate this, and it’s so sweet when the kids come up, because then you know you’ve really reached them. At one school, we had a few different kids actually come up and tell us their stories, and how they have been affected by heroin. And remember, these are 7th grade kids.

The first was a little girl who said two years ago, her half-brother had died of a heroin overdose. She said she hadn’t met him in person, but she didn’t know what he had gone through until she saw our presentation. I gave her a hug, and a Stop Heroin bracelet, and told her how brave she was for telling me this, because it’s true. Kids can be mean, and it’s really scary to say these things out loud. The second girl came up and was absolutely in tears. She told us her story of her sister, and how she got involved in drugs. I asked her if she had ever said how she felt out loud, and she hadn’t. We were the first people to whom she felt comfortable saying any of this. My mom asked how her sister was doing now, and she said she was doing better, but then she said: “I just wanted to say how sorry I am that my sister got better, and yours didn’t.” That kind of stuck with me because sometimes I feel like it really isn’t fair that my sister didn’t make it. However, I would never, ever wish what happened to me on anyone else. But, those words from such a young girl were so sincere, and it made me realize that she truly did get it.

The last person we encountered was a young boy, he was in 7th grade. One of his teacher’s introduced us to him, and he opened up and shared his story with us. It turns out, his mother is a heroin addict. He also has two older siblings who are also addicts, and a brother who is a toddler. Every day, he goes home, and takes care of his family: he cooks, cleans, and does everything he can to make sure they are okay. He is living life with addicts every single day, has no one to take care of him, and he is 12 years old. He said during my presentation, he was getting really emotional, because finally, someone understood how he felt, but he couldn’t express himself because the other kids would make fun of him. All of us could barely keep it together listening to him talk. His father had passed away a few years ago, and his family now is all he has left. A lot of the things he was telling us really stuck with me, but one thing was that his principal really has looked out for him, and he doesn’t know where he would be without her. This is a kid who is just doing all he can to keep his family together and alive. All at 12 years old.

I learned a lot from these kids after these presentations. I can’t imagine going through this at 12 years old. A few of the major things I learned were:

1) Middle school is the right age to talk to your kids about heroin and other drugs because they get it. They aren’t too young. The 2000+ kids I spoke to displayed an immense amount of maturity and empathy. They really don’t get enough credit for understanding serious topics. Protecting them from hearing about it won’t help them if they ever come into contact with heroin or other drugs. Kids need to know how dangerous it is.

2) The impact that school staff can have on kids is understated. This little boy doesn’t know where he would be without his teachers, and frankly, I don’t either. When you are that young (and even if you’re older; any age really), you need support. It doesn’t matter who it comes from, kids need someone that they can feel safe talking to, and can depend on. They recognize it, and appreciate it. I did an interview with a teacher once for a class about the necessity of stricter drug laws and she told me “There is really only so much we can do. If there is bad stuff going on at home, we can’t really compete with that.” This situation is a perfect example of how untrue that really is. Teachers, friends, babysitters, or anyone who sees a child regularly, can and will have an impact on them. So use that to keep them on the right path.

3) We don’t know what kids are going through. Middle school is a lot harder now than it used to be, and kids are getting exposed to a lot more. We really need to hone in on them, and try and understand them. Kids can’t get lost in the shuffle. I never would have expected so many kids to come up to me and share their experiences with me, and I don’t think I really expected that many kids to have been affected by heroin. This is in an upper-middle class area, somewhere you wouldn’t expect heroin to be. But it’s here, and it needs to be stopped.

For anyone who feels like you aren’t making a difference, let me tell you: YOU ARE. Standing up to heroin is making a difference, because so few people are willing to stand up against it. I hope to keep giving presentations, and keep educating kids. Even if it just gives a few kids an outlet to talk about heroin, or share something that they may have been too scared to say out loud, it’s worth it. To all the kids and teachers in the Fort Zumwalt School District Middle Schools, thank you for letting me talk to you. I hope it made a difference.

To my sister, I love you and I miss you. Although I hate having you gone, you are making a difference too in ways that you wouldn’t have even imagined.

Brittney

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The Progression of Our Walks

It’s so cool to see how much our walks have progressed since we originally started. Here are all of the walks we have done since our kick off walk! 

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Kick Off Walk: May 16, 2013

 

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May 23, 2013

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May 28, 2013

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June 6, 2013

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June 11, 2013

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June 13, 2013

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June 18, 2013

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June 20, 2013

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June 25, 2013

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June 27, 2013

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July 2, 2013

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July 9, 2013

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July 11, 2013

We are so thankful for all of our walkers, and we know tonight is going to be a great night! It’s been such a great summer so far, and we are excited for many wonderful walks to come! Thank you for all you do to raise awareness, protect our community, and stop heroin!