Patty Ellison, Drug Prevention Program Director, Almost Home Chicago
I lost my son, Aidan, on December 6, 2017. He was 22. At the age of 17, Aidan went from being a teenager who smoked weed and drank alcohol on the weekends to a teenager suffering from addiction. I began to suspect there was a problem because of changes in his eating and sleeping habits. Then there were nosebleeds and then drastic changes in his personality. He went from being a sweet, mischievous, kind-hearted, goofy kid to an angry, volatile, and erratic young man. He left home and dropped out of high school, and things went from bad to worse.
By now, he was 18 and our hands were tied. There was nothing we could do but watch him spiral out of control. By the age of 19, Aidan had bleeding ulcers. During a hospitalization, we were told that he had an addiction, although we weren’t told to what because of privacy issues. We knew it was pills. It turned out to be opiates and benzos. Shortly before Aidan was released from the hospital, he was writhing in bed with pain, he was incoherent one minute and aggressive the next. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was experiencing opioid withdrawal. Over the next few years, his addiction led him from couch surfing, to living on the streets, many stints in rehab, and a handful of stays at Cook County Jail. An endless cycle of misery.
Aidan suffered tremendously during these years. He was homeless, tortured, lonely, and anxiety ridden. He had burned bridges with his family and friends as addicts do. The saddest thing he ever said to me, and there were many sad conversations. I was angry and he was asking me to do something for him AGAIN. I couldn’t tell you what it was. I told him to ask a friend this time, and he told me “I don’t have any friends anymore”. My heart was shattered when I heard him say that and its something that still haunts me.
Aidan finished his last stint in jail for drug possession in July of 2017. He was excited that he would be out for his birthday coming up on August 7. He stayed at a halfway house and attended IOP (Intensive Outpatient Treatment) for a month. He pleaded with me to let me come home. He was tired of treatment, tired of being locked up and having a curfew. Understandable for a 22 year old young man, but he NEEDED treatment. He ended up leaving the halfway house, moving in with a good friend, and getting a job. He mended all the relationships that had suffered with friends and family. He was doing great! He was not attending meetings, he was still smoking weed, but he was no longer putting a needle in his arm and we were satisfied with that. Anyone who has ever dealt with an addicted loved one, knows that you are ALWAYS waiting for the other shoe to drop. And while this was true, we were so enjoying having our boy back, the real Aidan, that we let our guard down. Anyone who has ever had a loved one who suffers from an opiate addiction also knows that we are always waiting for that phone call. It seems inevitable. But the day that call comes, you are shocked and unprepared. The truth is our minds are designed in a way that protects us from imagining such personal horror.
As parents, we are here to protect our children. Its instinctual. When we fail at that its devastating. Despite doing all I could to educate myself about his illness, it wasn’t enough to save him.
So why do so many of us wait until our child is gone before we take action and get involved in things like this? I can tell you that when our children are alive, we spend every waking moment and every ounce of energy we have trying to figure out how to save them from themselves. Once they are gone, we have all this excess unspent energy that had been spent on them for so long. We need to use that energy in order to keep our sanity intact.
And so begins Patty’s journey with Almost Home.