The following story was contributed by Mary Beth Young, as told to Julie Andersen. Young, who owns The Pilates Advantage in Wilton, is holding a fundraiser for Laurel House in honor of her son Colin, who died of an overdose in 2021. She is sharing their story to raise awareness and remove the stigma around addiction and overdose. Information about the event can be found at the end of this story.
Addiction is silent suffering. The rollercoaster of emotions may be too difficult to explain — fear, hope, despair, recovery, relapse and back around again. The courage to share is often silenced by the stigma and judgment that permeates. The silence is deafening yet addiction continues to take its toll — in the US, overdoses were the number one cause of accidental death last year according to the CDC.
For every person, there is a story — a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a friend. For every person, there is a life, an experience, a voice that deserves to be heard. One story at a time can break the silence and start the conversation.
This is Colin’s story.
A Bright Light, An Old Soul
Colin was a bright light. He was a very charismatic, genuine, kind person who made friends wherever he went. From the moment he was born, I recognized he was spiritual and grounded — very much of an old soul. With radiant blue eyes and blond hair, he could charm anyone. He lived life with intensity and passion. He had an outrageous sense of humor and immense love for his family, friends and pets. His passions were creating music and taking in the great outdoors. We genuinely believe that Colin was on this earth to teach us about loving life, acceptance and self-truth.
Colin loved the holidays! He would often invite friends that had nowhere else to go. My most favorite memory of Colin was one Thanksgiving. We went for a long walk and came home to a fabulous dinner. He suggested we take a moment and have a family hug. We shared everything that we were most grateful for — it was always each other!
Finding His Way to Stay Sober
Colin started experimenting with drugs in high school. He became addicted to opiates during his sophomore year of college. While trying to get clean, he ended up in a hospital near his school. His 20th birthday was the first time we checked him into rehab. At the time, it was the worst day of my life.
Colin struggled with sobriety for several years while making a career in audio-visual engineering. Rehab facility treatments were not effective — costly three-week stays took him off illegal substances and replaced them with pharmaceutical drugs. Once Colin made up his mind to be sober, Alcoholics Anonymous, getting a sponsor, and following the program changed his life for the better.
For me, going to Al-Anon meetings, talking with close friends and prayer always got us through the challenging times.
For eight years, Colin continued his successful career and spent time with friends, family, performing in shows and always having his dogs by his side.
In 2019, a failed relationship coupled with pandemic isolation sent Colin into a downward spiral and relapse. Like always, we were in constant communication and spoke to him daily.
In a panic, I reached out to Laurel House as Colin was across the country in such a bad state. Laurel House stepped in and immediately supported us. They gave me the tools and resources to help Colin when we got to Dallas. They also worked hand-in-hand with Colin to support his move and find him resources in North Carolina.
Colin succumbed to his addiction in 2021. He lost his life to fentanyl. Friends and co-workers were shocked to hear of his death given Colin was high functioning. While many of his childhood friends came to his memorial, some people he was close to never even acknowledged his death. Perhaps they did not want to associate with someone that died of an overdose.
My husband and I were numb. We met with a wonderful grief counselor over the next year. We made it through with her guidance and support.
Our Forever Loss, My Journey
I always second guess myself and wonder if I did the right thing, if I did enough. When a child struggles with addiction or mental illness or both, the pressure of being perfect adds to the stigma and sense of failure. We can help by destigmatizing life’s setbacks and eliminating the shame around them. I share this from my own sense of guilt and shame because I lost Colin.
Now I realize the answer and my toughest lesson learned is to seek the courage and strength to forgive myself and forgive Colin. Let’s move forward to be in a place to help and support each other for our children. Shame, silence and stigma have no place in recovery. This dark shadow needs to be removed so we can see a glimmer of hope that shines through.
When asked about Colin, I say he died of an overdose. I see how difficult it is for people to look me in the eyes. Maybe if Colin died any other way, this would be easier to accept. Even for me, dying of an overdose was not a worthy death for my son. Until we look addiction in the eye and eliminate the shame around it, our society will be unable to provide sustainable support for those suffering.
I can honor Colin’s life and resources like Laurel House who supported him without judgment. Join me for a Sip and Shop event to benefit Laurel House, this Friday, Nov. 11, from 5-8 p.m. at The Pilates Advantage studio, 414 Olmstead Rd., or donate directly to Laurel House.
Laurel House is based in Stamford and serves eight communities in Fairfield County, including Wilton. Laurel House embraces a recovery model of care to help those affected by mental illness in Connecticut. Utilizing its Resources to Recover approach, Laurel House emphasizes services that help people reintegrate into their communities with improved skills, health, and confidence.