Henry spent about 9 months in inpatient drug treatment last year. He spent 3 months at a wilderness treatment program near Asheville, NC and then another 6 months at a program in Montana based on the “Positive Peer Culture” (also known as PPC) model. He had terrific therapists and counselors at both programs who worked very hard to try to help Henry break free of his addiction to drugs, and to help his family learn better skills for supporting Henry in recovery.
Here are some thoughts about Henry from one of the girls who attended the Montana program with him (“Echo” refers to the boys’ group cottage in which Henry lived and “Sapphire” was the girls’ cottage/group).
The most important thing is to remember Henry the proper, respectful way—the way he was. The way he is. Henry was not “a” drug addict but a beautiful, talented, unique human being. Surely he had his own problems (don’t we all!), but I remember, and I’m sure everyone at the program, especially Echo, as being such a warm and bright individual with a wonderful future ahead of him. He didn’t leave the program very successfully, but he left having successfully brightened each of our difficult and dull days, making strong friendships, and leaving us all with a fantastic lasting impression. I remember how much Echo loved him and I remember how much we used to love listening to Henry play the guitar on the porch of the Echo cottage. He was wonderful at guitar. We, Sapphire, actually used to sit on the window sills and listen to Henry and whomever else play the guitar (on top of spying on their cottage… heh). We would watch them have techno dance parties in their cottage and wish we could get away with fun like that in our own cottage. And I remember the stone and wire necklace he wore that everybody loved. I recall how disappointed I was when he shaved his head because I loved his big, curly, unruly hair. It suited his different and unique personality.
This is Henry with his Dad when they arrived at the therapeutic boarding school he attended in Montana. It was a beautiful setting for Henry to work on his recovery.
Although Henry chose to leave the program when he turned 18, in October instead of staying longer, which would have been our choice, our whole family had high hopes for his ability to stay clean and move forward with his life when he got back to Knoxville. I was SO EXCITED that he was coming home. I had missed him like crazy.
Here is Henry about one week – maybe less – after returning to Tennessee from Montana. He had just turned 18.
I never could have imagined that he would be gone forever before the next summer.
Henry began using again – and selling drugs to support his escalating opiate use – within only a few weeks of returning home from Montana. At that point, we had to make the difficult decision to tell him he could either enter an intensive outpatient program and attend daily 12 step meetings, plus agree to random drug tests, or move out of our house. He chose the latter. The day I told him he had to get out, and packed up his things for him to take was – until his hospitalization – the worst day of my life. I knew it was what needed to happen in order for Henry to perhaps experience the natural consequences that would allow him to realize he needed help, but it was hell to actually tell my child that he needed to get out of the house.
We saw Henry frequently over the next 7 months, until he was hospitalized on April 27. He would sometimes spend the night with us, which made me very happy, even though we wouldn’t let him actually move back in unless he accepted the help his father and I were desperately trying to make him understand that he needed. But on those nights when he would come and stay overnight, I could mother him just a little. I could feed him and hang out with him, and his sisters and brother got to spend some time with them. He always promised them that he was in the process of getting clean. They always believed him.
Here is Henry, wrapped in a blanket and kicked back on our couch, watching a movie. This was taken in January 2010.
Because we wouldn’t let him live at home unless he agreed to get help, he alternately stayed with relatives – a dangerously enabling situation to which his father and I strenuously objected – or he drifted from place to place. We could not force him to do anything because he was 18, and this removed virtually all our parental rights under the law. I looked into pursuing a legal guardianship based on his obvious mental incompetence due to his addiction, but was discouraged by the lawyer with whom I spoke. He told me that if Henry contested the guardianship, my prospects were dim for regaining legal authority to force him back into treatment. I spoke with police officers and a defense attorney about whether I could or should try to get him arrested for using or selling, but everyone discouraged me, saying that once he was in the system, things would be worse for him. In hindsight, I should have done everything I could to get him arrested. The system would have been safer for him than the residence where he spent the last 18 hours of his life.
This is the last photo I have of Henry and me together, at our house. He was eating supper with us that night. It was taken February 22.
During that seven month period after he left treatment, I spoke to him almost every day, even though he was not living at home. I never, ever cut ties with my son or abandoned him in any way. I never gave up. Neither did the rest of his family. Many people, including parents of his friends and his aunt and uncles and adult cousins reached out to Henry on a constant basis during these months, attempting to overpower his addiction through the sheer force of love and determination. It wasn’t enough, even though he loved us in return, and continued to tell us so.
He spent Christmas Eve with us at home, but it was clear to our whole family that night that he was suffering some kind of drug withdrawal because he hadn’t wanted to show up high around his younger siblings and cousins. Throughout the spring, he and I would have lunch together, and twice we went walking together at Lakeshore Park, just to talk.
Here he is on Christmas Eve, helping his little cousin NC play with a top, as 7 year old cousin M looks on.
In March, Henry admitted to me that he had for the first time begun shooting up the opiate pain pills to which he was addicted. He was spiraling to a very dark place, very fast. Things escalated quickly in those last two or three months. During this final period, he was arrested for the first time ever – for possession. I prayed he would be forced to stay in jail and go to treatment, but only 3 days after his arrest, he was released because he was a first time, nonviolent offender, and jail is crowded.
In March, he asked if he could try living with us again. I told him and his girlfriend, a lovely teenage girl from a very nice family who also had a terrible addiction to opiates, that they could live with us – in separate rooms – as long as they both went to daily 12 step meetings, took drug screens weekly, and either got jobs or enrolled in school. They agreed. 24 hours later, he told me they were leaving that day to go to Bell Buckle to stay with my family for a while to see if they could kick the drugs more easily if they got out of Knoxville. I told them that they could not run away from their addiction, but the two of them left anyway. They spent several weeks in Bell Buckle, where they went through physical opiate withdrawal and according to Henry, really intended to try to quit. But soon enough, he was back in Knoxville, spending the next few weeks drifting around within the underbelly of our small city, doing whatever it took to get high. In the last weeks before he was rushed to the ER with the brain injury from which he would die 5 weeks later, he was essentially a member of the city’s homeless population. He wore the same clothes each day and was often dirty. He sometimes hung around outside the homeless shelters near downtown, and he told me that at least once, he ate a meal at one of the shelters.
In the final months of Henry’s life, opiates were his drug of choice – he was physically addicted and shooting up by this time – but he used other drugs when he couldn’t find what his body craved so desperately. It became increasingly obvious to me that Henry, who was described in the media after his death as “a man” and “an adult,” but who was actually just a boy – a senior in high school – was clearly being taken advantage of by much older adults who preyed on the fact that he was a very sick teenage child who trusted people easily and was extremely vulnerable due to his addiction.
On April 26th, I couldn’t get him on the phone and he didn’t respond to text messages. I tried to track him down through friends of his, but wasn’t able to. Sometime that afternoon, he texted me, saying simply “Mom, I’m having a really rough day.”
The next time I saw Henry was the following day, when I rushed to UT just after noon and encountered the terrible sight of my son, comatose, on a respirator, his face badly bruised and blood running from his ears as doctors worked frantically to save his life.
Henry Louis Granju October 7, 1991 – May 31, 2010
My Beautiful Boy