We met when I was 16 years old, and nearly 20 years and several serious relationships later, he remains the love of my life. His smile, his sense of humor, and his ever-giving selflessness are what I loved the most about him. Drugs took that all away.

Early on, I wasn’t as concerned about his drug use because he worked full time in construction and went to community college at night. It was 2003, and I lived in the dorms at Temple University. We saw each other on weekends and occasionally during the week; but I had no idea how the disease of addiction was developing.  Looking back now, it makes sense considering his family’s cycle of addiction. His own father had overdosed a few years prior, and other members of his immediate family were in various stages of addiction.

For his 22nd birthday, we took a trip to Ft. Lauderdale. While there, he never wanted to leave the hotel and unbeknownst to me, he was going through withdrawal. Recognizing how serious his addiction was, our relationship quickly fell apart. I was pregnant with our son and we had little to no contact during that time. But when our son was born in July 2006, he came to the hospital, and I was in complete denial of his addiction.

We got back together that summer and I started nursing school in the fall of 2006. It wasn’t until I found numerous needles in his bed that it hit me: he was abusing heroin. By December, he had overdosed 3 times, spent a month in rehab, and detoxed twice.   I found myself missing school, having sleepless nights, and not focusing on our son, instead spending that time driving around looking for him, hoping and praying I wouldn’t find him dead somewhere.

The following June he was found on the street, unconscious, with half of his head shaved. Pastor Rob, who was his biggest supporter and father figure, convinced him to seek inpatient treatment. I was adamant that he was not permitted to see our son while he was using. He put me through a lot of headaches over custody. He was scheduled to give a urine sample at a custody hearing, and he didn’t show up.

After that we didn’t hear from him for years. Still, I spoke to his family and to Pastor Rob to check up on him because I still loved him. When he later went to jail, I wrote him a letter telling him how disappointed I was in the person he had become.

By 2013 I received word from several people that he had stopped using, had completed treatment with methadone, and was actually doing very well. I didn’t believe it. I had convinced myself that I was done with him… until he called. I heard his voice for the first time in years and my heart melted. I could tell from the clarity in his words that he was ‘clean’. All of the emotions I had felt for him as a young teenager in love came rushing back.

The next time I saw him again was at our son’s baseball game. I tried to play it cool, but all I wanted to do was give him a hug and kiss and never let him go. I wanted to protect him from ever getting caught up in that life again.

We started to hang out after work. We went to the gym together and laughed for hours. We took yoga classes and it felt like the old days. I went to church with him at Pastor Rob’s services. We spoke about getting back together and being a family for our son. Everything seemed perfect; but I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

As much as I wanted to give it a try and get back together, I just couldn’t trust him. I couldn’t risk my son being hurt if things didn’t work out. I couldn’t risk his dad being ripped from his life again, because this time he’d remember it. If it was just me, it would be different; I wouldn’t have as much to risk losing. That’s when we had a falling out and stopped talking. He couldn’t understand my decision.

Months later, I received a call letting me know that he had fallen through a roof while working, crushing his legs. That’s when everything unraveled. His injury required surgeries and pain medication; and his demons came back full force.

On Christmas day, my son asked to go see his dad. He hadn’t seen him in nearly a year and a half. I reluctantly and cautiously allowed the meeting. I was in a relationship and 8 months pregnant, and yet it was so difficult to see this man who I loved so much still struggling. My son was elated to see him, but the visit barely lasted an hour. I didn’t know then that it would be the last time my son would see his father.

A little over a month later I was in the car with my boyfriend, talking to him about my prom. I hadn’t spoken much about my son’s father to him, but it was nice to reminisce about the good times. It was then that my phone rang; Pastor Rob’s name popped up on the screen.

Pastor Rob meekly said, “Court, he overdosed and he passed away.”

The day of his funeral was just days before I gave birth to my daughter. It’s impossible to explain the pain I felt. I literally wanted to climb into the casket and just lay there to hold him, to smell him. I’ve never felt pain like that. As I sit here typing this 4 years later, tears fill my eyes and I continue to miss him.

When our son was a baby, I prayed that if he couldn’t beat this disease that he would just pass away and be free. I couldn’t regret that more. I regret everything. I hold so much guilt. Why hadn’t I been there more for him? Why didn’t I stay in his corner and help him fight this? Why did I say and text such mean things? I have gone through every stage of mourning, guilt and regret.

He was my first love. First loves are pure and unbiased; you haven’t yet been jaded by heartache. I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m happy to have had that love. Our son is living proof of that love. And our son also gives me hope that this familial cycle of addiction will end with him.

About the Author: Courtney is a Philadelphia native currently living in Bayonne, NJ. When she’s not chauffeuring her son to his numerous sporting events, and being the mom to two active toddlers, she works full time as a NICU nurse.

If you or someone you know are in need of Substance Use Disorder treatment, please call 1-888-545-2600 and read our Accessing Treatment information sheet. There are also support groups for addiction.