My Two Beautiful Boys

Mother raises awareness

Drug overdose. It’s every parent’s fear, and now that Denise Roberts has lived through it twice, she’s on a mission to raise awareness.

“Because if you find out your child has cancer, there’s support. If you find out your kid’s addicted to drugs, nothing happens. Silence. There was no support. Family members pull away. No casseroles brought to the house,” Denise said. “I didn’t know what to do. I tried so hard, but I lost them.”

Denise never saw it coming when drug addiction invaded her teenagers’ lives.

“I gave birth to two beautiful boys, Matthew and Dillan, both born on July 17th, four years apart. Their stepdad, Tom, was their ‘every day’ dad, and we were almost that perfect family. We did sports together, we went to church, the boys were in private school. We were extremely involved parents, and then my husband died tragically young from a heart attack in 2008– and my boys just went into a downward spiral.”

It was at Tom’s funeral that Denise discovered Dillan had a major drug problem, because he kept disappearing into the bathroom. He was shooting himself up with heroin. “So, shortly after burying my husband, I took my son to a nine-month inpatient rehab center. He wanted help, and he was successful in rehab, but he didn’t get the support he needed back in the real world.”

Dillan seemed to be overcoming, then he would surprise Denise by saying, “Mom, I need to go back to rehab.” She can never forget the moment when he admitted to pawning items from the garage to support his habit. “He said, ‘I’m not bad, I’m sick.’ That resonated.”

It wasn’t until after he overdosed and died December 30, 2010, that Denise read his journals. “He described the pain of detoxing, as if every bone in his body was breaking,” Denise said. “He would write prayers, asking God to heal him from his demons. It was heartbreaking, and I finally understood why he couldn’t ‘just quit’ like I’d asked.”

Then came the next shock. In response to Tom and Dillan’s deaths, her older son, Matthew, became a drug user to escape his depression. “Mental health issues combined with self-medication—it’s a serious medical condition,” Denise said. Things got worse when Matthew was caught driving with drug paraphernalia in another state. Although it was a minor charge, he was sentenced to probation in a little town in Arizona, with the court refusing to transfer the case to his home in Nevada. With no family support, and unable to see his son and fiancé, he overdosed on February 3, 2016. “He was out there all by himself. He wasn’t a murder suspect—why couldn’t he go home? And now he’s dead, and it was so unnecessary.”

Denise now lives in Edmond, having left the place in Nevada where her whole family is buried. She is now an Oklahoma administrator for a national online support group, Team Sharing, Inc. that provides support to parents who have lost children to substance use disorder. The group is striving to bring attention to drug addiction in hopes of replacing its negative stigma with awareness and resources. Denise is working with state representatives to write a future bill proclaiming August 31 as a day to lower flags for overdose awareness day.

“Drug addiction needs to be talked about. This is when children need the most unconditional love; when they are most unlovable. I was left alone, trying to find help for my children and fighting with insurance. But I couldn’t heal my children, so I accept that they are heaIed by my God. Spreading awareness is the only way I know to help find resolution,” Denise said. “I wish my boys were here, but this is my life’s journey and theirs, and maybe we can make it better for other people.”

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