Written by: Ally Kernan, Peer Support Specialist, Positive Directions
Those were the words spoken by a grieving parent of a childhood friend I grew up
with. My childhood friend, my bestie, was gone. Their intention was to purchase a pill that was supposed to be Xanax, a pill used to treat anxiety disorders. My friend was prescribed them, but had lost their provider. The provider was caught in one of Connecticut’s largest crooked doctor operations and was immediately terminated from working with patients. The scramble of helping current patients continue services was a nightmare and my friend fell into the pile of unresolved and failed referrals. They had dependency on this prescription and they were never given a refill. So, with the threat of death from withdrawal, my friend went to the streets. One pill, that they took 3 times per day, killed them. The pill that was sold to my friend was laced with fentanyl and according to the experts, it was enough to kill 8 people. I truly believe that their death is considered a poisoning, rather than an ‘accidental overdose’.
I was never the same after this. I couldn’t believe that the murmurs of “everything is laced” were true. I had heard that expression since childhood and it always seemed unrealistic and I thought it was used as a fear tactic. Throughout 8 years of my active addiction, I had never come across a substance laced with anything harmful. I was one of the lucky ones. My addiction ended just months before fentanyl was found in everything and heroin became scarce. However, I remember one of the last times I had used, I felt a sensation that I later found out was signs of an overdose close to happening. My body was shutting down and I hadn’t a clue. I can’t help but wonder if it was part of the beginning of fentanyl-laced heroin. It terrifies me to know that my family would have found my body in the home I was raised in.
My friend was one out of so many lives lost. My high school graduating class has lost, to date, 12 people due to addiction and untreated mental health conditions. Every time that I end the day still in recovery, I can’t help but wonder… why me? Why was I one of the survivors? I have a hard time with being someone that made it out alive because my friends deserved to survive too. I try to live my best life every day for them, but lately, it has been so hard. I am getting married soon and as I was figuring out my invitation list, I had a complete breakdown. Both my fiancé and I realized we have 3 tables that would’ve been full with loved ones no longer here. We are finding a way to honor them on our special day, but I don’t want a candle and a picture with a nice note… I want them. I want my friends back.
Using My Pain to Help Others
I wonder how I could have helped and what anyone could have and should have done. However, that won’t bring them back and it won’t prevent the next funeral. Instead of being stuck in a cycle of guilt, I use the pain to help the next person. Sometimes I truly believe that it’s the energy of my loved ones on the Other Side that guide me to the next person to help.
I’ve dedicated my life and my future to helping those that are hurting, whatever that looks like for them. Sometimes it’s something simple, like a ride or some food. Other times, it’s hours of comfort, problem solving, empathy, and navigating some of the most challenging waters.
I’ve discovered in the journey of my own healing, and helping others, that mental health and trauma are the roots of all the pain. I remember the times that I failed at recovery because I didn’t have mental wellness and my trauma was interrupting every part of my daily routine. I found healing through alternative practices along with traditional. I’ve had several versions of therapy, different levels of care, community supports, holistic remedies, and medical remedies. Now, I’m able to give others the support that was given to me.
Beginning Oct. 4th 2022, I’ll be co facilitating a group called, “Alternatives to Suicide (Alt2Su)”. It will meet every Tuesday at 7pm at Positive Directions, located at 90 Post Rd West, Westport, CT. This group is free to attend to anyone 18 years old or older. Alternatives to Suicide is a peer-led support group where people can talk openly about suicide thoughts, attempts, or experiences like self-harm. It's a safe, non-clinical space where people come together to talk about their experiences and emotional distress without judgment or fear of unwanted interventions. We do not assume suicidal thoughts are connected to mental illness, and you do not need to be experiencing a current crisis to attend. You are welcome to join us with no need for a referral or requirement to be connected with mental health services. Feel free to just show up to a meeting, or call 203-227-7644 or email me for more info.
I’m really excited about this because this group has helped my healing journey tremendously. I have always wished there was a place for me to speak about the thoughts I was having without being forced into a ‘solution’ I didn’t feel comfortable with. I talk to so many people in the community and find that they also have been searching for that same place.
My life right now is something I’ve dreamt of and although I still face troubles and challenges, I’m able to process them without relapsing or harming myself. Healing is linear for me and I couldn’t get through low moments without the love of my community and loved ones. My number one motivation has always been, and will forever be, the ones who have held on until their last breath. I treasure the memories I’ve had and I think of their families every day of my life.
So, if you’re someone who may indulge in the things out there, please be careful. Get informed on the harm reduction supplies and resources available to prevent being poisoned or an accidental overdose. There are fentanyl test strips available and there are a variety of support options in your healing journey.