We thought we were the perfect family.
But we don't mean that the way you might think. What we had was a happy family home filled with love and laughter. Four kids, various pets, large extended families, lots of friends, vacations to the mountains of Northern Maine, trips to the beach, playing each day in the neighborhood park, l, family game nights, ice cream cones in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter. Later it was shuttling kids to sports and other activities, while their parents ran from bleachers to sidelines to PTA. Life with three daughters and a son was certainly hectic but we loved it. It was indeed perfect.
We were occasionally troubled by some of our son Alex’s behaviors. When a teacher would tell us that he talked too much, couldn’t sit still, or wasn’t turning in his assignments, we asked if he could have ADD or something similar. Mostly we were told that he was very smart and that he would be fine, and not to worry.
As he reached his teen years, he went from a funny, talkative, adventurous kid to someone who was often sullen and withdrawn. It sometimes seemed he was only happy when he was on the basketball court, listening to music, or playing video games. We chalked it up to typical teenage angst.
Despite his high school teachers telling us how smart he was and how well he knew the material, he had a difficult time completing assignments and participating in class. Several meetings with concerned faculty at the High School left us looking for answers. We opted not to use Ritalin at that time. One of the deciding factors was our feeling that introducing him to a powerful stimulant would not be in his best interests, and could become a gateway to other drugs. Ironic. Once again his love of basketball kept him going, although anxiety kept his natural talents from showing in his game performance. With some pulling and a lot of prodding he graduated with his class. After graduation, he enrolled in Community College but didn’t make it to the end of the first semester.
Sometime after that we believe that he began using substances. We now understand that he was self-medicating an anxiety disorder. We’re not sure how long it went on before we became aware of it.
After a mysterious car accident it became clear he was using drugs.
Looking back on a series of puzzling events, they began to make sense when drug use was considered. Late night activity at home and sleep disruption increased. Teaspoons were disappearing , yet we had no idea why. Then we began ‘misplacing’ things, a few dollars left on the counter couldn’t be found, a cell phone disappeared. Once you took a good look around the house, incidental and seldom used valuable items had disappeared. He spent less time with his friends and more time with a different crowd..
It was a relief of sorts because we finally knew what was happening., however, we didn’t have the first idea what to do about it. We received a harsh education when Alex had his first overdose and was rushed to the emergency room.
Thus began our family journey with the disease of addiction. All of us struggled in some manner, and eventually learned to cope over a seven year period of emotional chaos. Everyone’s coping mechanism varied and there were a lot of stressful highs and lows associated with each family member’s personal experience with Alex’s addictive behavior.
Alex changed from the son/brother we knew to someone we didn’t recognize.
His time was spent in detox, ‘holdings’, treatment centers, AA Meetings, halfway houses, sober houses, and the street. We learned that addiction is a chronic,
often fatal illness with a low recovery rate. Alex was able to sustain recovery for varying amounts of time, during which he held jobs, spent time with the family, and pretended he was okay. But underlying problems always came back to haunt him and relapse continually got in the way of progress. Alex lost his long struggle on January 9, 2014. He will be forever mourned for what he could have and should have been.
Yes, our son and brother, Alex, struggled with a substance use disorder. He was called an addict, but that is not who or what he was. He was a gifted athlete, a talented artist, photographer, and writer. He was smart, sensitive, creative, and empathetic. He was funny, friendly, helpful and hard-working. He loved his friends and family. He loved animals. He loved to read and discuss what he had read, from religion to philosophy to politics.
The type of person Alex was is illustrated by this message sent to me after he passed away, by someone I don’t know:
“I overdosed and alex called the ambulance then came to the hospital my face was still covered in blood and he washed my face and walked me to the place that i was crashing i was homeless at the time…im old enough to be his mother your son was my Angel and he always will be….he may of been an addict but he had a heart of gold most ppl would of dragged me out in the street but Alex saved my life my children will always be grateful to Alex shortly afterwards i got off of dope…ive been clean since April 8th 2012. I will never forget your son or what he did for me thank you for raising such a good kid. im so happy i got to share my story with you. I try to help those who are still struggling. I can promise you that Alex will forever be in my heart”
We have developed a very personal understanding of addiction, substance use disorders, research data and treatment approaches. Self-medication of treatable mental health disorders and the powerful grasp of opiates can make the road to recovery even more difficult. The events we experienced is an all too common story as we learned by speaking with both professionals and other families like ours. The amount of addiction in Metro Boston and elsewhere is still increasing at an alarming rate.
The Alex Foster Foundation was formed to offer support for teens and young adults struggling with a substance use disorder and to offer help and support to families and loved ones. We will also promote educational programs in our community while advocating for increased awareness of this epidemic.
We have chosen not to hide our family’s tragedy, but rather to do something about it, sharing what we have learned in order to hopefully make a difference for others.
~ Alexander Charles Foster ~
10/21/1985 - 1/9/2014
10/21/1985 - 1/9/2014