Brandy's Story

One of my favorite sayings is “Addiction isn’t a spectator sport, eventually the whole family gets to play.”  Hi, let me introduce myself. My name is Brandy Turco. I am a mother, not a of a doctor, or a lawyer, instead I am the mother of a heroin addict…. His name is TJ, his addiction started at the age of 12 with Marijuana. I immediately reached out for help but found myself frustrated at the lack of help that I was offered. TJ was diagnosed with ADHD because his kindergarten teacher suggest I medicate him. I believe he was misdiagnosed because things kind started spiraling after that. His behavior worsened, he was getting into trouble at school. It literally got to the point where I was being spun in a circle. Get the mental health issues under control and we will address the drug issue and vice versa. Then the school became frustrated with him and suddenly I have a child that was a freshman and was never in school. I listened to all the dumb ass advice I was given. I was desperate Three years ago, he graduated to heroin and I continued to listen to useless advice.   TJ is an amazing boy. He has this charisma about him that will energize you. When he smiles his eyes sparkle and it warms your heart… From the day, he was born he was sick. He cried nonstop, he was literally a newborn nightmare. Halloween of 1997 I had taken him to the doctor because he was vomiting and had diarrhea and just kept crying. They said he had the flu… I was told to let it work it course. But I had this feeling …if you’re a mother you’ll understand, you know that feeling that is deep inside your stomach and it causes your heart to flutter… That night he became lethargic I took him to ER… The ER insisted the pediatrician was correct and I was just overreacting…. They reluctantly admitted him for possible dehydration only because I basically refused to take him home. The next morning, he was air cared to children’s hospital…  When my ex-husband and I arrived at Children’s, TJ wasn’t even there yet, but there was a chaplain and a team of staff member there who was waiting on us. They began to prepare us for the loss of our 6-month-old little baby. After a major surgery and 2 weeks in ICU followed by a week in the step-down unit he came home. It was a miracle he survived. Come to find out that he had been born with a narrowing in the bowel. A bowel obstruction was inevitable… There’s a reason I just told you that story.  The first reason being, the last 8 years of my life have been pure hell. I blamed myself for his addiction. Almost losing him at 6 months old I felt that I let him get by with a lot because I was so thankful he was still alive, not to mention his smile and those eyes just melted my heart… I felt that if I had been a better mother I could’ve prevented this. I even questioned why God just didn’t take him at 6 months old. Why would he put me through this? The kid that I knew was gone and I had been left with a kid I didn’t know, but I still loved unconditionally… He had no respect for his family, he had robbed us blind, he lied, he cheated and to sum it up there’s nothing he didn’t do.  Again, I had that feeling… I was going to bury my child. I didn’t know when but I was going to bury him… I was angry, I yelled, screamed and cussed. I threw punches, I forced him in treatment. I had him arrested. I threw him out. I did more damage than good. I didn’t know what to do I was at the end of my rope and the only advice I was getting was receiving was useless. I remember lying in bed one night hysterically crying begging my husband to help me. I was breaking and scared of what been broke meant….  I wanted TJ to stop doing drugs, I wanted him to understand he was killing himself and he was destroying his family. I wanted to stop loving him, at one point I even wanted my child to hurry up and die. I begged God to take me or him. I couldn’t continue living like this… So here I was a mother that carried the guilt of her son addiction, who had no one who understood her pain and who was doing more damage to her son than she was good. His addiction was consuming me day and night…My other children felt neglected. My marriage was being destroyed and my son was overdosing at least 3 times a month. We discovered that he had Hep C and he kept getting infections and abscess in his arms. He was living on the streets (because I was told to throw him out, let him hit rock bottom, I am an enabler, I have never let him suffer the consequence of his addiction blah, blah, blah) His overall appearance had changed and his health was declining rapidly.  The week of June 11th TJ called asking me to bring him something to eat. When I got to him I couldn’t believe my own eyes. My son had been tied up. They had put gorilla glue in his hair, they had shaved patches of his hair and wrote in permanent black marker all over his body and face repulsing comments that would make you vomit. I begged him to come home and let me help him. He refused, later that day I was sent videos of this dehumanizing act that had been placed on social media for the world to see. Thank God, I don’t own a gun….  The week of June 18th TJ overdosed 3 times. The 3rd time I managed to get to the hospital before he was discharged. Just in time for me to over hear the nurses violating his privacy as they openly voiced their opinions (my son didn’t have a disease it was his choice to do drugs.) I also got to witness the discharge nurse hand him his papers and say. “We don’t want to see you back here this week”! Then turned to me and said, “This is his third time (holding up three fingers) here this week!” REALLY?????? Well I couldn’t dial Butler Bethesda’s Corporate office fast enough after I left…  On Saturday June 24th, I received a random call from a girl telling me that TJ was passed out and she couldn’t get him awake. When I got to him the squad had already left and he was alert but something wasn’t right. It wasn’t the drug use this time. I had a feeling the same feeling that I had when he was 6 months old. Something was wrong with my baby boy.  Later that evening I finally convinced him to let me take him to the emergency room. After 8 hours of defending my son, begging that he be treated like a patient not an addict, having a doctor dismiss my son’s abnormal vitals (50/32 BP is normal for a heroin addict) and lie to my face (yes, his renal lab was normal, then he sends lab in to do a renal lab) he lied about test result he never ordered… TJ was admitted after I confront the doctor about lying. Come to find out he has heart valve damage due to his drug use.  Monday June 26th my ex-husband, a Hamilton Police Officer, a member of the Fort Hamilton Opiate Task Force and myself met up in TJ’s hospital room for one last plea for treatment.  TJ was signing his self AMA and I was scared to death. He refused treatment and signed his self out of the hospital knowing that the next time he used was probably going to be his last. As I was driving out of the parking lot of the hospital, while my son stood in the parking lot begging me for a ride, I started crying, then my phone rang.  It was the Hamilton police officer. She told me she was scared for TJ. Then she asked me a question. Brandy does TJ know God?  I promise you I didn’t even finish my answer and I got a warm tingling feeling and a sudden weight had been lifted. The bonds had been broken.  Yes, TJ knows God he was baptized at the age of 10, he asked God into his life... No matter what happens Kristy we will see him again I told her. …… I had finally found some PEACE and everything made sense. I got my knees that night for the first time in a long time and thanked God for loving me and my son …. TJ was arrest that night, THANK GOD… After being released three weeks later he went to stay with family in Kentucky. Things were looking up. He was clean, he had a good attitude and he had made this decision on his own. I still had that gut feeling though. I couldn’t shake. I needed a purpose. I needed to make a change. I had to do something and I knew it had to be dramatic. What was I going to do to help fight heroin epidemic? I needed to make a difference for my own selfish needs. I too was recovering!!!! Recovering from being an addict’s mom. I had to know that no matter what, I could move forward if TJ died. That if he died his death wasn’t senseless…. I am 43 years old at the time I weighed 238 pounds, I smoke I didn’t exercise and I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was 17-year-old and my dramatic plan to fight the opioid epidemic was to bike from Monroe Ohio to Washington DC, to attend an Overdose Rally on National Overdose day and march in front of the White House….  With no other thoughts than that I contacted channel 12 news and they aired my story. Mother and heroin addicted son ride to DC to raise money and awareness for Heroin Addiction… Heartwarming headline, I just knew I was going to be hero. Nope instead the comments and criticism flooded me My son was a piece of crap, a waste of space, a criminal, wasting tax payer’s money and on and on and on. I became discouraged. What was I thinking? This is hopeless and I am only one person… One evening I told my husband I didn’t sign up to be put on the chopping block. I’m just trying to something good. Why are people so mean? He looked at me and said “You did sign up to be on the chopping block, the minute you wanted news coverage!!! So, suck it up and get it together. If you believe in what you’re doing is right” …… How dare him…. But he was right…??  But I still had no plan, I just had this crazy idea…  I knew I couldn’t have people donate to me personally so where was this money going and what was I going to do with it…  I quickly found an organization that had similar belief and jumped on board. Now I knew where the money was going.  I just wasn’t sure what is was going for…I just wanted to support an addict….  Regardless I had bigger things to focus on. I had less than a month to plan a bike trip to DC and the only thing I had was a mountain bike.  I campaigned through my personal FB page and somehow pulled this off with the support of some amazing friends and family. On August 24th TJ and I set out for Washington DC, 620 miles on a $79 Walmart bike. Two days later TJ decided that he wasn’t riding anymore. I realized my relationship with my son was on the rocks.  I rode the next 2 days by myself until a friend joined me for the rest of the trip….  I made it DC but the Journey wasn’t easy…. nor profitable. I was told I had only raised $435.  I was embarrassed. I had failed…  I didn’t raise $10,000. I didn’t make it to the media interviews I had lined up.  I didn’t make a change.  What I had done was biked over the Mason Dixon line. I biked through a tunnel in the mountains.  I ate lunch in the Cumberland Gap. I traveled along Potomac River. I walked my bike across the B&O Railroad River Crossings to Harper’s Ferry Maryland. I stood the on Appalachian Trail.  I see the most beautiful scenery every imaginable.  I did something that I wasn’t sure I could do… I found myself!!!! I also found a new and positive way to relieve some stress. I ride my bike all the time now. So, what I only had $435 I was still going to make a change. BUT HOW?? Addiction is such a controversial issue and there are so many angles in which this issue can be addressed. I was struggling. I knew lives were being lost daily and society was rejecting those who suffered addiction, so I began to educate myself and I researched!!!! I researched addiction, treatments facilities, treatment options. What was being done, what wasn’t being done. What was evidenced based, what was opinions… Who was doing what to fight addiction and so on.  I learned TJ’S addiction wasn’t my fault. That his addiction was a disease and I couldn’t fix him, but I sure in the hell could keep him safe, and maintain my own self-care. I learned that there is not a one size fixes all method when comes to addiction and that a lot of the methods used lacked LOVE…. We don’t love those suffering from addiction nor do we embrace the families.  No matter what your opinion on addiction maybe, the one thing we tend to forget is those: worthless, pieces of crap that bring addiction on themselves, waste tax payer’s money and are better off dead is someone’s child…and in the shadows, is a heart broken mother… So why is it that society has no compassion for drug addicts? Because they bring it on themselves?  because its self-induced? We have compassion for COPD patients… That is self-induced when people chose to smoke cigarettes.  We have compassion for type 2 diabetes that’s genetic and usually self-induced….  We have no compassion because we are uneducated when it comes to addiction… Yes, people choose to do drugs, but they don’t choose to be a drug addict… TJ had been taken to the hospital after a suicide attempt not long ago. When I got to the hospital I started on him immediately… “What in the world were you thinking? If you had been successful I would not have been able to ever step a foot into my house….” He snapped back immediately… “It’s always about you, imagine how I feel. I don’t want to do drugs but I can’t live without them….”  Talk about a smack in my face….  How many of you have ever tried alcohol, used recreational drugs or had surgery or an injury and was prescribed pain medication? How many of you suffer from addiction? Addiction is a disease, that can be inherited… That’s not my opinion that is fact… Replaying the last eight years in my head over and over I suddenly discovered how I was going to use my $435 to fight the heroin epidemic…I was going to show every heroin addict in my area that no matter what I LOVE THEM. I was going to pass out bags. These bags were going to have snacks, personal hygiene items and words of encourage. Most importantly they will be filled with love….  I contacted the Butler County Board of Mental Health and Addiction looking for guidance. Suddenly I was a speaker at the Butler County Opiate Task Force meeting. I told my story and people were touched and intrigued. The phone call began. Everyone seemed to want these bags, but there was an issue. I had $435 and not one phone call was to offer money or funding… So, I quit working so I could network. I became a volunteer at the syringe exchange, met with my local PD and FD to see what they were doing for overdose victims. I started planning upcoming fundraising events then suddenly. I partnered with The Partnership for Drug Free Kids and became a Parent Coach…Great resource… now I can prevent parents from experiencing the hell I experienced… I have the tools… I can help…. Yet I seemed to be the only parent in my town that had raised a heroin addict. Again, my high was knocked low. This mission I was on was becoming more emotional than the last 8 years of my life had been. I was depressed and on the verge of quitting…My son was in recovery and I wasn’t getting anywhere. So why should I continue to fight when it seemed no one else cared. Then I got a phone call from the Butler County Courts. A judge had heard me speak at the Opioid Task Force Meeting and was touched by story. They want to me to help them. They want me to provide rewards for completed levels of drug court. The courts wanting to try something different… Something that I believed in…Reward positive behaviors instead of punishing the bad. WOW!!!!! I was pumped up and deflated all within 60 seconds. Sarcastically I look up at the sky and said, “God you keep giving me all these opportunities but you are forgetting one things and that is the means.” Frustrated I began to brainstorm, remembering all my efforts to network, I had crossed paths with someone who told me if I ever needed anything to let them know.  I met with that person in on a Wednesday. When left our meeting, I was heading to my car I looked up at the sky again and said, “Thank you God, thank you”, then I laughed because Gods message had just been delivered and it was loud and clear….  I’m am giving you the means you’re just not seeing it…you’re not alone, you keep isolating yourself. You’re stubborn and hard headed… Its ok to ask for help, its ok accept praise.  You cannot fellowship at home and most importantly you’re not in control I am… That’s the message God gave me… The next day I had been invited to attend a church in Lebanon, Ohio. I didn’t want to go and I didn’t want to burn a bridge with my networking community. I was trying to figure out how I could get out of this commitment I had made. I was thinking hard about a good lie so I could avoid going to this church in Lebanon when I received a phone call, TJ had relapsed…  Really God??? It’s that important that I attend this Thursday night special survive that my son relapses…. It was God’s will and God’s way…He was in control…. That Sunday my husband and daughter joined me at church. It had been almost 10 years since I attended a Sunday Morning Service, not because I lacked faith but because I lacked motivation. Monday morning my daughter wakes up and says she can’t wait until Sunday, not even thinking I asked, “Why? What’s Sunday? She said, “Mother, we have church”. I would not be lacking motivation anymore.  I am ecstatic to say that Journey to Recovery is currently being ran as a ministry through New Freedom Church in Lebanon Ohio. Offering a “NEW KIND OF FIX” because the old fix wasn’t fixing anything….  Yes, my efforts and passion are generated from my own selfishness. That’s OK.  If I save one mother from one day of heart ache or if I let one person who suffers from addiction know they are loved for just one brief second. Then I have not failed… I believe I can make a difference.  Just as laughter is contagious. I believe love is too….

Troy Dean Hunter Jr.

Dave and Lillie"s Story

Love, love, love and then love some more until love (God) lifts them out of their current situation; that’ my advice to you.

Hi, my name is Dave Irwin and I’d like to share my story with you. On November 7, 1987 I married my best friend and begun my life journey with my beautiful wife by my side. Lillie and I both came from Christian homes and we chose to raise our five children with the same beliefs that we held dear to our hearts. Yes, we had our ups and downs just like every family but we raised all 5 of our children the same, with love.

Garriona was our 4th child. She had a unique personality. She was kind and a natural caregiver. Her smile warmed my heart. If you knew her you loved her, that’s just the way it was. Garriona married at an early age and became pregnant. Complication during her labor led to an emergency C-section which in turn led to opiate pain medication and the beginning of Garriona’s battle against addiction. I tried to be supportive, I tried to understand. I remember sitting at the dining room table asking Garriona, “How did this happen? Why had it taken control of her life”?

I just wanted her to stop. She had ruined her marriage, she was dating someone I didn’t like and I didn’t even know who she was anymore. I just wanted my sweet, caring little girl back, again I just wanted her to stop!! 

I tried to help her. I even tried “tough love”. 

I remember coming home one evening and Garriona was in her car in front of our house sitting in the car with her boyfriend, the one I didn’t approve of and the one I didn’t like. I came in and asked my wife, “Why is Garriona out in her car”? She quickly responded. “You won’t let her in the house”.  I said, “She can come in but not her boyfriend”. Lillie said, “That’s why she’s in her car because you won’t let him in and she won’t come in without him”!!!!

I gave in that day and went out to the car and asked them to come in out of the cold. That night I set my opinion aside and to my surprise that boyfriend of hers that I thought was no good, was an amazing young man who was suffering from addiction just like my daughter. Time went on and they spilt up. Garriona went into recovery. She met someone else and was doing great.

November 22, 2015 was a special day; it was the day our family was gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving that year. We went to church, I led worship as usual and I can remember specifically the service being amazing. It started out to be a good day. I was filled with excitement thinking of all the family getting together for that big dinner Lillie had so diligently been preparing.  

Heading home after church I decided I would take a little nap before everyone showed up. I had just laid down when I heard Lillie rushing up the steps in shear panic with a tone of voice I had never heard before. Something bad had happened… Something bad had happened to one of our babies…

Garriona was being rushed to the hospital.  Our little girl who had been in recovery for 11 months and who was 7 months pregnant, had overdosed… We lost our little girl that day, a grandson and part of ourselves. 

My daughter wasn’t a druggie. She wasn’t a low life who came from a bad family. She was a beautiful girl on the inside and out who suffered from a horrible disease called addiction. 

It’s been a little over 2 years since Garriona left us, yet every morning I wake up and it feels like it just happened. I have often wondered what I could have done different. I’ve wondered how could I have prevented this. I want to join the fight against addiction. I want to make a positive impact on someone’s life. I want to help!!! I know that my daughter was sick. I know that she didn’t just wake up one day and decide to become a drug addict. So, in closing I will leave you with the word LOVE.

It free, it’s easy and it’s all I have… so I encourage you to love one another just as God loves you.. 

Be kind and be compassionate because no one is promised tomorrow and addiction isn’t prejudice. 

Garriona Leigh Irwin