He felt things to his core and was sensitive to the feelings of others but didn’t like to share his own emotions. He was very self-disciplined, delving deeply into any of his interests and practicing until he conquered them. Earlier in life, this manifested in mastering flips and twists in skateboarding or spray-painting graffiti and painting murals; later, he loved custom knife making, which he planned to continue as a lifelong career.
In his late teen years, Sam acknowledged his drug problem and realizing he needed help, took the lead in researching facilities to find a treatment program he thought would work for him. He signed himself up and went voluntarily.
Sam loved working with his hands and honed his skills working with his father in his custom furniture and cabinetry business. When he knew his knife making business had potential, it became his passion and primary focus. He took great pride in his work networking with other knife makers from around the world. His drive and determination to excel resulted in building a widely recognized business with a wait list for his custom creations. His knife making business thrived for years and then he relapsed.
His business began to take a back seat as his substance abuse disorder intensified. He started missing deadlines to complete orders or would use the money and not make the product. He lied, stole, and cheated to get the drugs he needed so he wouldn’t be sick. He also stopped seeing his family. One of the hardest things for those who loved him was feeling helpless and trying to keep his illness a secret. I felt as though people would judge me and even more so judge Sam, I wanted to protect him from that.
After many ups and downs, Sam eventually lost his battle to his addiction. After Sam’s passing, I learned as much as I could about substance use disorder, which is especially important because other close family members are suffering from it as well, one of them is my other son. I learned that stigma keeps those who are misusing drugs from seeking help and families from getting support. The shame and guilt that parents feel is real! And though this is a learning process for me, I want to help other moms and dads learn how to channel those feelings into something purposeful that helps their loved ones’ names to not be forgotten and their deaths to not be in vain.
My goal now is to let others know the truth about substance use disorder as a disease. I co-founded The SHARE Project (Spreading Hope & Awareness and Removing the Epidemic Stigma) to provide education and help reduce stigma. “We want people to know that this illness can happen in any family, it knows no bounds, and you don’t have to handle it on your own.”
Story by Lisa Falbo