by Braxton Collier
My wife and I were married in 1973 and started off with all kinds of dreams of how we were going to live our lives, how many children we wanted to have, where we would like to live and many other things just like most all couples in middle class America.
In January 1976, our first son, Stephen Boyd Collier, was born and we decided my wife would stay home and raise him. Then in May 1979 our second son was born. I would say we were a relatively normal couple, two kids, house in a good neighborhood and a bright future.
We raised our children in the church, participated in little league, joined our community swimming pool and all the other activities many others do. Our children were taught right from wrong, and were taught to always tell the truth, respect our elders and do what is right.
In 1994 our oldest son graduated from High School and was accepted into a good, small college in another city. It was far enough away that he could grow on his own, but close enough that we could get to him in a few hours if necessary. Three years later our youngest son graduated from the same High School and decided to go to college where his brother was. We thought we had died and gone to heaven, having both our children in college. Neither my wife nor I had gone to college so you can imagine how proud we were of our children.
The oldest son graduated, found a really good job, bought a house and had everything going his way. Our youngest son graduated in 2000, got a really good job and went to live with his brother.
We thought we had made it
It would now be time for us. I guess you could say we were like the Cleaver Family on Leave It To Beaver.
In June 2002 our Cleaver family image came to a crashing halt. We found out our oldest son was a cocaine addict. Well you can imagine the devastation we felt. We could not tell anyone about the addiction. People would think we were bad parents, our son made bad choices, hung around with the wrong people, all of the things associated with a drug addict.
That was the beginning of the worst four years of our lives. I was running around trying to fix his problem, lecturing him about his bad choices, paying his bills, going to NA meetings with him, going to therapy sessions, rehab programs with him. I was convinced I could fix this problem and no one would have to know.
After four years of this, it became apparent that I was just as sick as my son and that I needed help. I joined a group called Families Anonymous (FA) which is for loved ones of addicted people. From the first meeting I attended I found I was not alone. There were a lot of sick families out there struggling with the same problem I was struggling with.
We would sit and tell our stories and at the end of the day we all had the same story to tell. Our addicted son was not the only one struggling with this awful disease, our whole family was.
Family disease to me means all of my siblings and my wife’s siblings, as well as our living parents. Of course we did not tell our parents everything because we did not want to put that much on them.
I became very involved in the drug advocacy world by getting involved with organizations such as The McShin Foundation in Richmond, Virginia. The McShin Foundation is a non- profit peer to peer recovery organization founded in 2004 by John Shinholser and his wife, Carol McDade.
Since 2004 they have dedicated they lives to helping those with substance use disorder and their families with the disease of addiction.
There are currently 23 Million people in the United States in active addiction and another 23 Million people in the United States in recovery. In the United States two hundred (200) people die of drug overdose per day, that is over 54,000 people per year.
It has been proven that addiction is a brain disease
This disease is now the leading cause of death of people under 50 years old. Yet politicians at the local, state and federal level do NOTHING but talk about it. They say it is an epidemic but do nothing. Many of them feel we can arrest our way out of the problem.
Our jails are filled with addicts; in fact about 70% of people in jail are there because of the disease of addiction. Unfortunately, it may take a loved one of a politician to have to experience and go through what my family and many other families have gone through to get up off the couch and use their elected responsibilities to help stop this epidemic.
The McShin Foundation currently have recovery programs in the Pumankey Regional Jail, Chesterfield County jail, assisted with helping the City of Richmond jail get a program started. WE CANNOT ARREST OUR WAY OUT OF THIS EPIDEMIC!
For an addict there are only 3 options: (1) you find and keep recovery (2) you go to jail (3) you die. Our son had numerous recoveries, rehabs, and a 3 month jail stint.
After struggling with the disease of addiction for over 15 years our son lost his battle with it. He relapsed, overdosed and died on September 8, 2014. Fortunately, we had 15 months with him as an adult clean and sober. He was the son we had raised and we were very proud of him. Unfortunately, the disease called and he went for the last time. At the time of his death he had lost all the material things he once had. He at least died knowing how much he was loved.
That was the first year overdose deaths were higher that traffic deaths in Virginia. Every year since then more people are dying from overdose than traffic accidents and gun deaths combined in Virginia.
Since my son’s death I have committed myself to spreading the word of addiction. I will go to any group, organization, school or church to tell my story with the hope I can save one life or one family. I facilitate two days a month at the Pumankey Regional Jail working with a group of 30 inmates struggling with the disease of addiction, in a recovery program. Many of them have never had the chance or been involved with recovery.
There is so much work to be done in order to stop this epidemic. I know we can make a change and reverse the direction of this awful disease. My hope is that everyone will get their head out of the sand,and get educated. Understanding it is a disease and not a moral failing is so important in this battle.
Thinking you caused or can fix the problem must stop. As the flight attendant tells you in the pre flight instruction on the airplane, “if we lose cabin pressure, a mask will drop from the ceiling, put yours on first before you help someone else”.