Sons' overdoses spur father to share his story with others
But this is Families Sharing Without Shame, a weekly support group for family members of substance abusers. Most here have children in their 20s who are drug addicts.
Parents "never know the truth about our children," she says. "They lead amazingly secret lives.
There is pain in this room, and guilt.
One woman worries she didn't do enough to warn her children about drugs. "I know as a kid, I was too afraid to try anything," she says. "And I don't think I put that fear in my own kids."
Rosa described the call that brought him to a hospital, where he ignored a nurse's warning and entered a room where Vincent, his second-oldest, lay unmoving. "He was on a table with his arms folded, with this tube coming out of his mouth."
His son was dead. "I tried to wake him up. I was screaming at him, 'You can't do this.'"
His oldest son, Dominic, overdosed nine months later.
Rosa started a program he calls Chucky's Fight, visiting schools to warn children that drugs can kill them. "I couldn't save my own kids, so I try to help other kids," he says.
The parents listen intently, some with their arms wrapped tightly around themselves. His story is their worst nightmare.
Then he asks Rosa whether there was any substance abuse in the family that could have influenced his kids. It's the first question, and it cuts deep.
Some of the parents try to console him. "Every kid's different," one mom tells Rosa. "There are plenty of parents who don't drink and don't do anything, and their kids fall that way. I think we just have to do the best we can."
There are tears shed in this room. But there's rueful laughter, as well, as when these parents share complaints about lawmakers who vote in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, but cut funding for the social workers, school counselors and treatment programs that could save their kids.
Another mother pleads for advice in dealing with her addicted son. "I am no help to him," she says. "I'm his trigger."
"He's 17. There's no place for him to go," she replies.
It's another mother who offers advice: "Stop talking. Let them know you're there for them, and stop talking."
Rosa tells the parents he has no magic answers, but he thinks addicts have to decide for themselves to seek help. That's what happened with his third son, who also used drugs but is now in recovery.
"Donna M" says she learned the same hard lesson. "Every time my son went to rehab, I thought they were going to perform a miracle on my child."
A father talks about his 23-year-old son, who went to a private rehab facility in Vermont and worried about coming home to Concord. "He told me he had a fear he was either going to die or was going to end up in jail."
Rosa says he believes the real answer lies in educating children at a very young age. If you can teach them not to touch a hot stove, you can teach them not to touch the drugs that killed his sons, he says. "Teaching them this stuff is poison, maybe we won't get to where we are today."
As the meeting ends, the group stands in a tight circle and prays the "Serenity Prayer," for serenity, courage and wisdom. Rosa has brought along some of the blue dog tags that he gives away to those who would join his fight.
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