For the love of Jeremy
Once upon a time, there was a shy and timid princess and an outgoing and charismatic prince. They came from two different worlds, but really weren’t so different. On a chilly October night fate brought these two together. Their souls were filled with nothing but love for one another, but their story is not one that warms the heart of others. Addiction and jealousy plagued the lives of these two star crossed lovers. Their story does not end in smiles and joy; instead it ends in tears, sorrow and death. In our story, evil prevails over good, in our story, there is no happily ever after.
I met Jeremy homecoming weekend, October 2006. I was a sophomore in high school, an honor roll student, an athlete, I had the same friends for most of my life and I was not the pretty, popular girl that everyone wanted to date. I was average. I had gone to a bonfire at a friend’s house, Jeremy was his cousin. The moment I was introduced to Jeremy, I knew he was high. I may have never seen marijuana at that point in my life, but I knew what being high looked like. I wish I would have known at that moment what the coming years of my life would teach me about drugs and addiction. After chit chatting for a short period of time, Jeremy and I realized we had some mutual friends and a lot in common. He was persistent about exchanging phone numbers but I was hesitant.
He was so persistent that he proceeded to take my cell phone from me and ran out into the middle of a hay field. He told me that he would not give me my phone back until I came out there to get it. We sat in that hay field talking for what felt like hours. While we were lying there, looking up at the sky, he mentioned that things like this only happen in movies. Confused, I asked what he meant. He stated “Laying in a field under the stars with a beautiful girl, that is the kind of thing you only see in movies”. At that moment, this strange red head had stole my heart, and I wasn’t quite sure how. I think part of me enjoyed the attention; I was not the type of girl who was given a second glance from popular jocks like Jeremy. He knew everyone, he was loved by them, he could get any girl he wanted…..and he would admit to that. I was intrigued by him, he had something about him that captivated me and I yearned to know more about him. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I can’t say that if has known I would have turned around a walked away.
Jeremy and I spent a lot of time together. I had just recently gotten my driver’s license and could only drive between certain hours of the day, and Jeremy had wrestling practice and various family functions throughout the week. We saw each other as much as high school students could. But a couple weeks after we met, Jeremy was arrested. The details of that night slowly unraveled over the YEARS, which we were together. At that point, all I had known was he had gotten arrested with his brother and a friend and that he was grounded and could not see me but his parents would let him call every now and then.
This was my first of many puzzles with Jeremy over the years, most puzzles I have now solved. I had bits and pieces of information and had made my own assumptions. My assumptions were wrong though, I had blamed others for the deal, that I later found out was Jeremy’s. This proved to be crucial when I started putting details of his life together, desperately trying to figure out how things ended up the way they did.
Jeremy and I dated off and on for almost six years. We were constantly fighting over his addiction, the secrets he kept from me and the person I had become. My family and friends no longer understood me or wanted to be around me. I had let Jeremy consume my life. I was now a co-dependent. In my mind, I was determined to help him, in my mind, things were going to change. I was blind to the fact that his issues stemmed much deeper than a seventeen year old could ever take on. I didn’t have a normal high school experience or college experience. I didn’t attend football games or pep rallies. I didn’t go to bonfires on Friday nights with my friends. I spent all my time at home with Jeremy. Everyone knew what my life consisted of, it wasn’t a secret. My friends didn’t like Jeremy and I stopped being invited to things because I always had an excuse as to why I couldn’t go out. I felt like I couldn’t go without him. In my mind, the minute I walked away from him was the minute he started using again. If I was around I could control it. But this was a lie, he would use whether I was there or not. He would try to hide it, but there were many a nights he didn’t care and no force I exerted could stop him.
At 18 I knew what the going rate on the street was for most drugs, especially prescription pills. I knew how to make bowls and bongs out of household items, I knew what drug combinations would get you the most high, I knew the best hiding places for drug paraphernalia. Although I had never used myself, I watched everything that went on around me. I used it as leverage to bribe him, I used it to keep myself out of trouble but most importantly I used it to keep him alive. I lived a life of secrets; I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. It was all about what I could do to save him. He would hide drugs when he thought I wasn’t looking, and I would find them and flush them down the toilet. Then we would fight. We would argue about why I would do that, the money I just cost him, that now he didn’t have anything. Each time I would respond, it’s for your own good, I am helping you. I learned the hard way that you can’t make someone quit using when they are not ready to quit. I think that was the worst part, that he was choosing drugs over his family, that he was choosing drugs over me. It was a fight we had every day.
When Jeremy and I were good though, we were great. We held more love in those short six years than most people ever hold in a life time. We were often referred to as soul mates by people around us. We shared a common interest in music; one of the topics that jump started our conversation the night we met. He was impressed with my taste in all things screamo. We loved A Day to Remember, and he would play “You Had Me at Hello” on his guitar for me all the time. That became our song; it was the story of our fairytale. We were so young, that we didn’t know anything other than pure love, that’s how I know it was real. We were in love with each other’s souls and he was without a doubt also my best friend. I loved the way he looked at me, I love the way he laughed, I loved the way his one tooth was slightly crooked and it made the goofy smile I remember him always having. I love that we played and joked. I loved the nights we spent laying on the garage roof looking at the stars, taking us back to the night we met. I was truly lucky, he trusted me with the deepest parts of his soul, the parts no one else knew and for that I am thankful. I think that kind of love only comes around once in a life time but I never want to feel that kind of heart ache again. Jeremy was my ride or die though. We used to have a saying, first there was Romeo and Juliet, Dom and Letti, Edward and Bella, and then there was Jeremy and Katie. We both lived in a world that at times was spinning out of control with no end in sight, but we always did our best to ground ourselves and remind each other that we had something special, that we loved each other more than anyone else could.
I was 20 when Jeremy passed away from a heroin overdose. I was then in my sophomore year of college. My future goal in life was to be a drug addiction counselor…..I later decided against that, I knew after that I had been through there was something bigger for me. I was so grief stricken; I literally felt my heart break. They say you can’t die of a broken heart, I am here to testify of that, but at that time I swore I was going too. While taking this class, “Drugs across the spectrum” my views on Jeremy’s life changed. This class talked about your basic drugs, but it also touched on the concept of dual diagnosis mental illness and substance abuse. The moment I heard these words, I knew this is what happened to Jeremy. “Mental illness can cause substance abuse, substance abuse can cause mental illness, and outside influences can cause both”. This was my worst fear, something I had tried to prepare myself for. I knew that if things kept on the rate they were, the probability of this was high. But it’s not something you ever think would actually happen. Words don’t describe how his death shattered my world. I don’t think it is something that I will ever get over, because of the hole in my heart that Jeremy left. Peterpan was one of my favorite movies growing up; I had always referred to Jeremy as the boy who never wanted to grow up.
After his death I saw a quote from Peterpan, it read “you know that place between sleep and awake; that place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I will always love you, that is where I will be waiting”. For months, I fell asleep watching peterpan, and I would dream of Jeremy. Sometimes my dreams felt so real, I could have sworn he was really there. I would constantly have the same reoccurring dream, where I would find Jeremy, I could see him, I could almost touch him, and as soon as I would get to the place where he was, he was gone. There was no real comfort, my dreams were nightmares and then I would wake up and I would still be living the nightmare in real life. My own mental health took a decline, I had to learn to cope with my grief, I was on anti-depressants and sleeping aids. I had even seen a psychic medium a couple times. I know what you are thinking….but she told me things that no one ever knew, like how Jeremy and I used to play a game where we would hand wrestle. She gave me the words I needed to hear from him, that he never got to say before he died. She gave me answers that I desperately needed so I could move on with parts of my life. Whether she really put him through to me or not, she helped. I was seeing a counselor, and she was teaching me how to deal with what had happened. I was receiving help and at the same time I was learning. My sessions not only helped me put my own life back together, but they helped me put together the puzzles of Jeremy that I didn’t understand. Ultimately, solving those puzzles was the best grief counseling I could ever have gotten.
One of the first puzzles I had to put together with Jeremy, was his social anxiety. We could not go out to even some place as simple as Wal-Mart without him feeling it was necessary to smoke some pot. I caulked it up to the fact that he was addicted to pot. I was young and naive then, I didn’t understand addiction and I surely didn’t understand anxiety. As I thought about these things more, I thought about his mood swings, his need to act wild and crazy, followed by his period of depression. Jeremy had been taking anti-depressants our entire relationship as well as adderall for ADHD. There were a couple other situations that really stood out to me, and I finally realized, Jeremy used drugs to combat what was going on in his head. His mental state caused his substance abuse. I knew my future career would lie in behavioral analysis; with a concentration in dual diagnosis disorders
Dual diagnosis is a fairly new concept, just recently added to the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Unfortunately, the idea may now be acknowledged but dual treatment is not common. I am not a doctor, but I believe that if Jeremy’s counselor would have dug a little deeper, she would have figured this out too. The system failed him, point blank. When he was arrested, he was put on drug diversion, a program to help those facing substance abuse through the Superior Court system. Neither his drug diversion counselor, nor his probation officer, ever relayed information concerning his arrest and treatment to his mental health counselor. Nor did his mental health counselor ever inquire about him using recreational drugs. Jeremy’s mental health medication was never changed; he was never offered programs to work on coping skills and useful tools to help his anxiety and depression. These professionals abandoned him in a sinking ship. It took me a long time to work around the guilt I felt for not being able to help Jeremy. I realized I couldn’t stop Jeremy from using drugs until Jeremy received the psychological help he needed, and as a teenager that was not help I could get him.
Unfortunately, it is hard for a mental health professional or substance abuse counselor to diagnose symptoms outside their realm of training. Substance abuse counselors require less education then psychiatric professionals and lack the clinical background to dual diagnose (Mericle, Martin, Carise & Love, 2012, p.219). Often times mental health and substance abuse services may not have the resources to handle both problems (NAMI, N.D., para.1). More often than not, patients attend treatment at two separate facilities that they travel back and forth to (NAMI, N.D., Treatment Programs For Those with Dual Diagnosis para.1). Co-occurring Substance Abuse and Psychiatric Disorders can have successful treatment but it would require a hybrid approach (NAMI, N.D., Treatment Programs For Those with Dual Diagnosis para.1). (Henault, 2014). These specialized treatment programs are far and few between, they are unlikely to be funded and require staff with training well beyond regular facilities. If communities want to combat the drug epidemic seen around the country, they must first understand that more work is required. Work like instituting multiple hybrid treatment facilities in each state, including Delaware. Jeremy was one of those many patients being treated at two separate facilities. Although his substance abuse treatment was court ordered through diversion, the lack of communicate between the two facilities was detrimental to his success in treatment. Like many, he knew where the cracks were in the system and how to manipulate them to fly under the radar. These cracks are absorb and are extremely avoidable.
The biggest problem lies in whether each facility screens for other disorders. Does the mental health facility screen for substance use, does the addiction treatment facility screen for mental illnesses? These inconsistencies lead to one side of the problem not being treated. 7 states, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont have received SAMHSA funded co-occurring state incentive grants. These states submitted their program data to the authors, who then evaluated their programs using the above named tools. Analysis of these states and their use of the co-occurring disorder programs conclude positive results, only 1/10th of states are using these tools though (Gotham et al., 2013, p.239). To date, not one facility in Delaware uses tools like the Intergrated Dual Disorders Treatment (IDDT) scale, agency self assessment tools, The Dual Diagnosis Capability in Addiction Treatment Index (DDCAT) and its sister program The Dual Diagnosis Capability in Mental Health Treatment Index (DDCMHT) (Gotham et al., 2013, p.236).
If this system works so well, then why have facilities not adopted its practices? This problem lies in the underfunded nature of the mental health world. New facilities would need to be built or opened, higher educated staff would need to be hired, and facilities would need to provide a wider range of services. From an economic stand point, it is more cost effective to continue to allow patients to see two professionals, in two separate facilities under two different programs. Funding these new facilities and paying their staff would require more tax payer dollars and federal funding like given in Indiana, Louisiana and Texas. Why spend that kind of money in a small state like Delaware? Why not just utilize the facilities that the state already has? The problem is, the programs already set in place aren’t working (Henault, 2014). The statistics regarding the amount of defendants that reoffend in drug related offenses and the amount of people who have checked into a substance abuse program more than twice is astronomical. Delaware’s jails are over populated. Those suffering from addiction are not able to receive a sufficient amount of time in state run service centers because of the need to continuously rotate patients out to provide beds for incoming patients. Delaware has 11 state run addiction services program housed through its three counties. It only has 4 state run mental health facilities including the state psychiatric hospital. There are other mental health and substance abuse facilities run through private organizations. These facilities require comprehensive medical insurance and are out patient based. If a patient does not have particularly good medical insurance, their insurance does not cover these types of treatments or they do not have reliable transportation, the likelihood that they can receive proper care decreases. The need is clearly there, but the help is not. This need constitutes a necessary call for action; action that I don’t believe is coming, action that could save many lives.
Four years ago, I wrote this paper three months after Jeremy had passed away, for a class I was taking called drugs across the spectrum. The point of the paper was to write about someone affected by drugs or alcohol, diagnose them, and talk about how their drug use affected us. I was the only person in the class who was directly and severely impacted by someone’s drug use. I was the only person in the class who has lost someone due to an overdose. My story had moved my teacher and she was very impressed by my research on dual diagnosis. She asked if she could submit my paper for a competition that a mental health and substance abuse journal was holding on student work. With permission from Jeremy’s mom, the instructor submitted my piece. Out of close to 200 entries, my work was published in the spring of 2012. An accomplishment I told no one about. At the time I was still grieving, heavily. I didn’t want to relive what happened through the article over and over again, and I was ashamed of many of the events that had occurred during my time with Jeremy. One day, I saw this quote “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness; it took me years to understand that this too was a gift”. The life I lived with Jeremy was no life that a 16 year old should have lived, but it taught me so much. Before Jerms, I was sheltered and didn’t understand much about the world around me. After everything that happened, I found a true passion for the world of mental health and substance abuse. I knew I wanted to help people the way that I couldn’t help Jeremy.
Since this paper was written, there have been small strides in the area of substance abuse. Police officers in certain areas, EMT and paramedics are now able to carry narcan, a life saving substance that helps combat and reverse symptoms of overdosing. Two new organizations have been created including Attack Addiction, who has helped fund some of these agencies with Narcan. I personally ran the second annual Attack Addiction 5k this winter in honor of Jeremy, with his family. We had donations given to us to contribute to Attack Addiction and I would like to think that those who donated helped Attack Addiction save many lives by providing first responders with Narcan. As recently as the beginning of August 2015, our Attorney General Matt Denn announced a four part plan to combat the heroin epidemic that is plaguing our state. I have recently been hired by the Department of Justice and work under Matt Denn in the criminal division of the Attorney General’s office. I never expected my career to take a turn towards criminal justice, but I have embraced it, because I feel that god has put me here for a reason and he will use me to make a difference.
And so, the purpose of this blog; Thursday, August 27, 2015 marks four years since Jeremy was called home by god. I have been struggling the past month, cried more then I have in years. I miss him every day, but this year, I miss him more. I wanted to do something special in his memory. I am too much of a baby to get a tattoo, a memorial with our friends and family was just too much to take on this year. His family has been struggling as much and more with the coming anniversary than I have. A scholarship fund or benefit in his name was just not in the financials this year either. But I knew I wanted to do something that would help those around me. Everyday via social media I see friends who are struggling with their own loved one…or with themselves because of substance abuse. I thought that this blog may be the key to helping them. I thought, the paper I wrote that received some attention was a good way to start. If anything I write here, if any knowledge I have or resources I know about can help just one person save themselves or their loved ones from going through what myself and Jeremy’s family have gone through, then I have succeeded.