One family’s journey honoring a loved one’s memory on Overdose Awareness Day
Published 5:54 pm Sunday, September 10, 2023
Members from the community and representatives from substance use treatment programs and facilities gathered recently to mark National Overdose Awareness Day with a walk at Stanly Commons.
Many families had luminaries honoring the lives of loved ones lost to substance use. Several in recovery shared their testimony to those in attendance while facilities had tables to share information with the public about their services.
Sandy Duarte has seen examples of substance use in her own family in multiple ways.
Her former husband of 28 years suffered a back injury and became addicted to painkillers, she said.
“Our marriage did not survive his opioid addiction,” Duarte added, saying three of her five family members dabbled in drugs.
Her oldest son, Cody, and her daughter, Gretchen, both used drugs, at times with their father.
Cody served in the Marine Corps, including a tour in Afghanistan, and was honorably discharged. He fell into addiction after coming home, along with his sister, she said.
“Their dad was not just doing painkillers anymore. When heroin hit my family, it’s when it all fell apart,” Duarte said. “He went through our entire life savings…I had to ask him to leave.”
Gretchen overdosed on the way to going to detox, she added. On their way to the facility, Gretchen asked her mother to pull over to go to the bathroom.
“I had no clue she had done heroin in the bathroom…she became unresponsive and I had to pull over and call 911. We were in Concord, and (emergency responders) had to Narcan her four or five times,” she said.
The journey for her two children continued when both were arrested. Cody did not go to jail, but Gretchen did. Her mother said Gretchen found Jesus while in jail, later going to a women’s recovery house in Union County called House of Pearls
“She has been clean now for four years,” Duarte said.
Cody’s journey, however, took a turn for the worse.
“I was enabling him. I was loaning him my car, loaning him money,” she said. “It’s not just the addict who has to hit rock bottom, but it’s the enabler.”
Reaching that point, she said, she stopped enabling him, and he started going to church and got clean.
“I had my son back. Everybody was just amazed; his whole life was turned around. Everything was fine for five months,” Duarte said.
Cody got through the holidays and his 30th birthday, but one month after that, he got a headache and was having trouble sleeping.
“We went to Zaxby’s and I got him a salad, and we picked up some Excedrin,” Duarte said. “Later than night I called him and he didn’t answer so I didn’t think anything of it because he had been doing so well.”
The next morning, she got the call no parent ever wants to receive. Someone who worked with him had found him. He died in March 2022 from fentanyl poisoning just two weeks before his mother was to remarry.
“I wake up, as God as my witness, I still wake up in shock some days. Sometimes I feel like it didn’t happen,” Duarte said.
One thing which has helped, she said, has been to help others who are going through similar losses.
“Helping others is definitely a part of the healing process, and it helps you. You feel like you’re going to cave if you don’t help others,” Duarte said.
It also helps, she added, “allowing them to lean on you and then allowing them to just fall apart in your presence.”
In much the same way, she said, as those with substance use problems deal with those issues moment to moment, so do the families who have lost loved ones to it.
“I’m still in the process of rebuilding myself. I pray every day that God will use me to help others, because I feel that is going to help me deal with it better,” Duarte said.
She said she hoped her story would show others that her life “can be completely shattered and turned upside down by addiction.”
By being part of the recent event, Duarte said she walked “to bring awareness that overdoses not only take lives, but destroy the lives of families suffering the loss. These families are all around you. They live and work, attend church and their children attend schools right here.
“Overdoses affect the entire community. It can happen to any family at any time. I pray for change.”