Columbus, OH,
21:20 PM

Addiction Takes Toll on Entire Family

ThisWeek Community News

The date was Aug. 25, 2018.

My older son, Forrest, was supposed to go to his mother’s house that day and help his brother, Parker, pack and leave for college. I went into Forrest’s bedroom in our apartment around 10 a.m. and tried to awaken him.

The first attempt was in a low voice. The second time, a little louder. The third time, I tapped his foot.

“Come on. Get up, bud.”

There was no response. I shook him a bit. His head rolled off the pillow, but he didn’t open his eyes. My heart and brain immediately raced. I felt a sharp pain in my chest and my legs weakened. I reached down and moved the bed sheet back.

There was the needle and syringe. Forrest’s feet were cold.

He was dead three months before his 25th birthday.

After dialing 911 and screaming at the top of my lungs, part of me was gone forever as well.

Unfortunately, the memory of that Saturday morning will always be part of my life.

Addiction affects everyone in the family, not just the addict.

That’s the first thing everyone should know about this opioid crisis. The second is a high percentage of addicts truly want to quit, but can’t for a number of reasons. The third thing is that addiction doesn’t discriminate.

It might be your son, daughter, brother or mother. Addicts aren’t bad people. They’re just sick.

When Forrest was young, his mother and I never dreamed anything like this was possible. No parent does.

He was a gifted student in Newark City Schools. He was reading two or three grades above his grade level in elementary school. In middle school, his poetry was so good, his gifted teacher took him to The Poetry Forum in Columbus and Forrest recited his work.

He also was athletic and fast. He was talented in baseball and above average in soccer. He was funny. He was loved by his classmates. He loved music, playing violin then acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, ukulele and anything he could find. He taught himself how to play several instruments and he wrote, sang and recorded his own songs.

Forrest also was a class clown due to having attentiondeficit hyperactivity disorder. He didn’t like taking his ADHD medication because, as he would say, it “curbs my personality,” so there was no way to foresee him addicted to pills and eventually heroin.

By the time he was a freshman in high school, he was obtaining pills from the medicine cabinets of his friends’ homes. We spent several nights with him in emergency rooms the following summer.

By then, he also was smoking marijuana.

In the fall of his sophomore year, his mother and I sought help and argued about rehabilitation. We finally settled on a center near Shelby, about 65 miles north of Newark. Between September 2009 and February 2010, we drove to see him once every weekend. When Forrest was released, he had changed. He was mean and angry that he spent his birthday, Christmas and New Year’s away from home.

His problems continued to drive a wedge between my wife and me over the next few years. Before he graduated in 2012, my wife allowed him to have a live-in girlfriend. By then, my wife and I were constantly arguing and she left me and took both boys with her that March.

Around that time, Forrest scored a 32 on his ACT with no preparation and received college scholarship offers. He was barely speaking with either parent and was trying to stay out of our situation. We got divorced in 2013.

Forrest also opted not to attend college. Not that he achieved great grades in school, despite his brilliance. He aced most tests, but refused to hand in any “stupid homework.” Still, he had a superior memory and knowledge and likely would’ve succeeded in college without homework requirements.

In September 2017, my ex-wife moved out of town with her boyfriend and Forrest was not allowed to live with them. He had no driver’s license or transportation and he moved into my apartment.

We butted heads. He had worked a string of part-time jobs at numerous fast-food establishments and factories, but was never serious about creating his future.

In late December 2017, I saw him with needles for the first time. We fought and the police were called. He spent days away at his friends’ places.

There were lies, lies and more lies. There also were constant fights for three or four weeks and I even had to hide the spare change I had been accumulating for years.

In mid-January 2018, he hit rock bottom. I picked him up from his friend’s house and I was pulled over by police on the way home. Forrest had been at a “drug house” and he had used needles in his possession.

I made every effort trying to help his recovery. By June, he was doing well and we moved from Newark to Lewis Center. I wanted to get him away from some of his friends.

I helped him create a résumé, canceled my vacation and took him to interviews.

It was a success. He found a job and loved it, earning a good wage at a smaller factory where the employer cared about its employees. I purchased a used car for him.

It all seemed to be life-changing.

“It’s not like I’m a number anymore,” he said. “I have a life, a car, a new phone and everything.”

He told me several times that he was “lucky” to have a father like me who “didn’t give up on him.” He even texted his friends, “I didn’t think I could ever be this happy again.”

He bragged to me, Parker and his mother about how great he felt.

Aug. 25, 2018, came about six weeks later.

He was high on life. Apparently, he felt it was time to celebrate, thinking he could handle heroin. He had done it before and stopped.

Not this time.

Forrest touched everyone he met. Several of his friends told loving stories about my son at his funeral and how he’d give you his last dollar if he had it. I was filled with guilt. I had judged many of those friends.

I always saw troubled kids and thought, “Where are the parents? What are they doing? Why can’t they help?”

But until you’ve been there, you don’t understand what the addict’s family goes through.

You don’t know how it harms a family, marital status or relationships with friends. You don’t know how hard a parent or sibling has tried or how hard the addict has tried.

Let me tell you, counseling helps you compartmentalize your feelings, but nothing can ease the pain.

I hope you never feel that pain.


Editor’s note: Brad Emerine is a sports writer for ThisWeek Community News. His son, Forrest, died of an overdose Aug. 25, 2018.