Welcome to the Unbreakable Boundaries Podcast
Sept. 19, 2022

#57 Michele Rogers: A Mother's Pledge


In this episode, Michele Rogers shares with us her journey of losing her son. This was a powerful conversation about what happens next as well as her experience. The biggest take away from this conversation is, this is not a parenting problem.

Here is just a little of Michele's story and what she has to say:

I grew up in Tidewater Virginia and later attended Saint Leo College in Florida. I had two sons, Clayton (1989) and Bradley (1992). When I divorced in 1996 I moved with my young sons to Waynesville, NC. I worked in hospitality and marketing. I met my husband in 1999 and was remarried in 2003. I became a Real Estate Broker in 2005 and worked in sales until buying a Property Management Company in 2010.

My husband and I are both NC Real Estate Brokers and together with our small staff, we manage over 400 long term rental properties for our company Select Homes.

When my oldest son, Clay, was in her very early 20s he had a sinus surgery and was over-prescribed pain pills. He became addicted to the pain pills and entered treatment for the first time in 2012. His pain pill addiction turned into a heroin addiction around 2015. From 2012-2018 Clay cycled in nd out of rehab, being substance free, relapsing and back to rehab. In September of 2018 after being substance free for 11 months, Clay relapsed and last his life to fentanyl.

After losing my son, I knew I wanted to do something to help other family members navigate the lonely journey of having a loved one with SUD and the even lonelier grief journey after losing someone to Substance Passing. I met Lisa Falbo and we learned that we had this in common and together we started the 501(c)3 - The SHARE Project. SHARE stands for Spreading Hope and Awareness and Removing the Epidemic Stigma. We hold events including quarterly workshops to bring awareness and education of the drug epidemic. We sit on several drug awareness and prevention coalitions throughout our county and region. We facilitate two monthly support groups - SMART RECOVERY FAMILY & FRIENDS for those who have loved ones struggling with SUD and GRASP - Grief Recovery After Substance Passing. We host an annual Drug Awareness Walk and Event as well as an annual International Overdose Awareness Event. This past may we had almost 300 people attend out Annual Walk and Awareness Event.

When I'm not working at my property management company  or with The SHARE Project, I enjoy traveling with my husband, Rick and spending time with my two grandsons, Elijah (8) and Wyatt (4).


Additional Links
The Share Project
A Mother's Pledge

Transcript

Welcome back to the unbreakable boundaries podcast with your host myself, Jennifer Maneely. In this episode, I am just too excited, I have a guest with me, her name is Michelle Rogers, and she is another. Remember last podcast we had Lisa on. And she was amazing. And she told us her story about her son, which was incredibly sad. And this is her partner in the share project of the people that go out. And they tell people and they support people who have lost their loved ones and not even just lost their loved ones. But if you have a loved one, with a substance abuse issues, they do all sorts of different things, just to really kind of get out there and say you are not alone. And they get out into the community and say, We are here for you. And we want to support you, and we want to help you. And so Michelle, thank you so much for coming on to this. I'm so excited about this conversation. Well, thank you so much for having me. And the reason why I'm excited about this conversation, is because I think it's such a valuable thing to have people that are willing to talk about the hardest journeys, I am not excited about the situation that brought you here. I'm already you know, it's it's, it's I don't want to sound insensitive. But I am excited in the sense that we're here talking about something that I know is going to help a lot of people and I know you're going to bring that to the table. Thank you. And that's our mission is just to help people and help them understand that we know what a lonely journey this is. And there are people out there who will love you through it and support you through it. Yes, absolutely. So I think for this podcast, what would be the best place to kind of kick us off? And I love where we're going is that moment that your son said, Mom, I have a problem. Can you just share with the audience? What was your hang for you? I sure can. And I'll start by saying my son was already an adult in his early 20s. And he was college educated, he owned a home. He was financially on his own. And he called me one day. And he said, Mom, I need to talk to you. And it's really important. And I said sure, no problem. And I was running some errands. So I stopped and picked him up. And we were in my car in the Ingles parking lot. And I stopped my car and he looked at me and he said, Mom, I need to borrow some money. And I was like flabbergasted. I said, What do you mean you need to borrow money. He had never borrowed money from me. And he said, Mom, I can't pay my mortgage. I have a problem. And literally when he said that it took my breath away. He told me that he had a substance problem you at that time. His problem was pain pills, mostly Aussies and Percocet. He had gone through a sinus surgery and became that's how his addiction started. But unbeknownst to me, he had been what I call a functioning drug addict. And I don't like to use that word, but for the sake of this conversation, I will he was functioning, working paying bills. And when he came to me was because he no longer could function. Because he had spent all his money. And he told me that he had spent all his money on bills, and he needed help. Honestly, Jen, I had no idea. I thought do I take him to the emergency room? Do I call his family doctor and get her I was clueless and overwhelmed. And so one of the one of the questions I have in my mind is because this is a little bit like unique because it sounds like you know he was in his 20s went to college, graduated college, owns a home out there just doing the adulting life you're doing your life right. Now, a lot of times like when I ask people I'm like, Are there any red flags prior to this or was it just like, out of the blue Honestly, it sounds naive, I promise. I'm not naive. It was out of the blue. In high school, in high school, my son got in trouble one time, one time for drinking at a football game. Obviously, we didn't make that big of a deal about it because he was in 11th grade. And not that we condone that he got punished. But it wasn't really a flag, he didn't have a drinking problem. He did not have a substance problem. He was an exceptional athlete. He was an exceptional student. He was very ambitious. When he bought his house, he was only 22 years old, still a college student. And he did it all on his own. There weren't any red flags. So it really took me by surprise. And also, I guess I was a little bit naive. Because honestly, I saw it. Treatment once we found out what to do. And we found a treatment program. I honestly thought it was going to be he'll go for 21 days, come home, and he'll be fine. Well, and of course, why wouldn't you because his whole life as far as like you knew, knew it, he was okay. It's just like all the sudden, you know, and look those pain pills even after the sinus surgery and stuff. They can be physically addicting, why wouldn't you just think like, Hey, he's gonna go in, they're gonna sober him up, or they're gonna clean them up, and he's gonna get out and his life as he knows it, the normal life is just going to kind of continue moving on. Why wouldn't you have any other thoughts as to? That was our expectation. Yes, that was. And so what really happened. So what really happened was he went to treatment. And he came back, he went right back into his life. And we thought everything was going smooth. When, in reality, about a month later, maybe two months later, he experienced his first relapse. And it was right that into the same cycle, you went to a GAC, which is in Black Mountain View, and then back to treatment. And from there, that started our journey of this cycle that i is heartbreaking, not just for the family, but for my son, it was devastating for him, because he tried so hard. But he went through this cycle of getting sick, which a lot of people are recovering, get sick, because their body becomes so physically dependent on this medication, and going to rehab, getting clean, doing well. Getting back into their routine, relaxing, and it's like a vicious cycle. And what happened with my son was the pill. The the cost of buying pills on the street was so high. Every time he relapsed, it seemed like it got worse and worse every time. And it became such an expensive addiction. It was actually a drug dealer that introduced my son to heroin, about two or three years into his addiction. And he said, Hey, Clay, it's cheaper. And you can get it easier. Because pills were becoming harder and harder to get, because of the crackdown on doctors over prescribing paying bills. And it was easy to get the pain pills at one time because these drug dealers could just doctor shop, right and get these prescriptions. So every time my son would relapse, actually, the indicator for me was always stuff started disappearing. And I don't mean myself. My son never took anything from me his own stuff. I would go to his house and his TV would be gone. You're like where's your TV? Where's your TV in? His hunting rifle would be gone, his bow would be gone. His fly fishing holes would be gone. And then this was part of this vicious cycle. We were in my husband I would rush from pawn shop to pawn shop to try to get his stuff back. Because some of the stuff like the fly fishing poles, and hunting bows, things like that were sentimental. And we wouldn't rush and get them, I would hide them, I would swear I wouldn't give them back to him. And until he got better, and he would get better, I give them back, they would disappear again. And this was a several year cycle that we went through. And so when, as you're going through this cycle, what what were some of the questions you were asking yourself? Doing? So you know, I would me, dishonest if I didn't say that. I question myself, Where Where did I go wrong? It's very easy to blame yourself if you're the parent. But I advocate for the message that addiction is not a failure of parenting. It's not even a moral failing on the person's. But it did. Obviously, that was my first like, how did this happen? Yeah. But most of all, Jen, honestly, it was so terribly lonely. And it was so painful to go through. I didn't even want to admit it to my own immediate family. Like, how do you tell somebody, and we were at the age where my friends, and I've got lifelong friends. And I've got local friends. And we and this whole social media almost makes it worse. Because we were at our middle age, my husband and I were reaching middle age. And our friends were either planning college graduations, or weddings, or even birth of their grandchildren. And I was planning treatment for my son, and running around to the pawn shops trying to get up and running around the pawn shops trying to get the what you had kind of envisioned your life being when you thought about having a son grow up, do the college thing, go live out of the world, we're anticipating, you know, having the grandkids and just you had a serious girlfriend, they had been together for five years, they were planning a family like we, I felt like until substance hit my family, I felt like we were checking off all the boxes. And this was a kid who wrote a business plan for he wanted to open a fly fishing shop. And he wanted to be like a tour guide in western North Carolina for fly fishing. And that was his business plan when he was at Western Carolina University. Like this was a kid who was checking off his own boxes, let alone me checking off his box. So it was it was really a disruption to our whole world. And lonely is really the word I always use. Because, you know, I would run into people, whether they were old friends, by old friends is teachers. And of course, everybody knows it's like, oh, house here, but nobody saw that way. And it's a small town. Right? So I learned How's clay doing 100%? That question, how's quite an immediately I would literally, it would take my breath. How am I going to answer it this time? And I always gave up a pretty standard answer, which was he moved to South Carolina to live closer to his dad, most replace friends and our friends knew that his dad was active duty Army and moved around. And that was always kind of an easy out for me. I could just say, Oh, he moved to the coast to live by his dad or because I heard you say he's in treatment, because now he's going from deals to heroin. How do you how do you interject that in a conversation in a social setting? How do you how it's hard, and it's hard? How do because it's like, this is something like when I'm working with families because this is like the most dreaded question they have. They're like, I hate this question. I hate running into people like no, they almost want to like they they see someone in the grocery store. And they know they're going to ask and they say oh, I want to turn my cart ride around just so I don't 100% Absolutely. And you know, I don't know if it's just because of my work through the share project. My My passion for advocacy, but now I have no shame in it. And it's not I was never ashamed of my son, right. I never gave up hope and my son, I never lost faith. I was sad. I was sad that he was sick. I was sad that I couldn't help him. I, so I will share with you that I am, what I have learned is called a helicopter mom, I was that hovering mom, I was probably a little overbearing with my two boys, I raised two boys, I was involved in their life, whether it was helping with their baseball teams, or being on the PTA, or I knew it all, I knew all their friends, I knew their friend's parents, I knew what they were doing. And this was the first time in my son clays life that I felt out of control. I had no control over that situation. And that was devastating to me. And so when you think about that situation, because you brought up something important, you said you didn't have any shame towards him? What was their shame? And what kind of was it for you? So I, as I mentioned previously, there there was, there were times of me questioning, where did I go wrong as his mom, because I was the primary care, my ex husband, my his dad, and I divorced when the kids were young, we did our parent very well. But I was the primary caregiver of the children, they live with me. So obviously, I felt like people would judge me and they would judge my son. And the mama bear in me, didn't want people judging my son, I was more worried about him being judged than me being judge. And it was just a struggle. It was a struggle on how to navigate those waters. Because there's no handbook for it. There's not a book that says how to take care of your child that's addicted to drugs. Maybe there is I didn't read it. Well, and there really I mean, that's it there. There may be like you said, but you know, it's really hard to either find it find one that you know, so one of the things that I've done a lot of reading in this field, right? Just so I could have a handbook to hand to families, right? Because it's like, I already give you the handbook. So I wanted to go find it, right. And what I found is there's all sorts of various different things and a lot of really great information. There's a lot of really good educational pieces out there. There are but you know, what I found is, you might have one therapist or author or doctor tell you to do it this way. And another this way. Like some may say, try the tough love, that's what works. You know, and we've all heard the, they have to hit rock bottom, they won't get help them as they hit rock bottom. And then you've got those that say you've got to meet them where they are, and be gentle. And it's also confusing it is and that's exactly what I was gonna say is, when I go through it, I'm like, How is anyone gonna have feel like they have confidence in any of their decisions? With all of the things that and there are there's so it's almost like there's too much out there, but not enough about so what do I do and when I try this, this doesn't quite land like I anticipated and what's really going on and sometimes it's a simple you're, you're doing things that the books tell you to do, based on the situation that you think that you're in, only to find out that maybe there's a whole lot more going on that you don't know about and so you're not doing things based on the situation that you're actually in, you're doing things based on the situation you think that you're in. Absolutely. And you know, I this was all a learning process for me and my husband and you know, I have to say I know as lonely as the journey was and continues to be. I know I am Very blessed and very lucky. Because I have an amazingly supportive family. I have an incredible husband, who has, he loved my son through it. He's loved me through it. But it's still very lonely, right. And I didn't really understand addiction. And I, my only experience was, I have had family members. In my past that struggle with alcoholism, I didn't really understand alcoholism that much because I was a child and really understand drug addiction. And honestly, I'm ashamed to say this, but it's important for me to say, there was a time more than once, especially like, in the second or third year, that I said to my son, for God's sake, just stop. Like, how hard isn't? It's destroying your life, you're gonna lose your house, you're gonna lose, like, Stop, I didn't under stand, that this drug literally hijacked my son's brain. Now a force I thoroughly understand addiction as a disease and needs to be treated just as if it were Ms. Like my husband, as my husband has MS. So we treat it right, right. I have a sister of us cancer, she's getting treatment. Right? We, but we don't always look at addiction that way. And we tend to roll our eyes or turn our head and always think that somebody else's problem. Yeah. And it's, it is a community problem. It's a society problem. It's a city problem, county, state, national, and the epidemic is only getting worse. Oh, absolutely. And I don't know if this makes you feel any better. But I am in recovery myself. And so that means that I have a whole lot of friends that are also in recovery. And there are times where they don't do what I want them to do. They may go out and they some of them or they have a really difficult time staying clean for whatever reason. And there are moments where even I get frustrated, I get angry, I don't understand why do they keep doing this to themselves? Recovery in this world understanding firsthand what it's like to have your brain hijacked. And yet I still will go into that place of of what are you doing? Why are absolutely it's an easy place to go to. And first, let me say congratulations to you, and keep it up and how important it is for not just for yourself, but for other people struggling that you are so passionately putting this message out there. And I will just say as in loving mother family member, it's so easy, especially because I would look at my son and I'm like, You're so smart. Like you did you've succeeded already. Like you've got all these successes in life. Why are you screwing it up? And it's easy, because I'm a fixer. And I thought I could fix it for him. And I thought he could fix it for himself. And it just was devastating. Every time he relapsed, was it literally was a kick in the gut. And I didn't understand and I am sure there are, you know, things that I wish I hadn't said through our struggles. But you know what, that's part of parenting. And what I do know is that I love my son through it, and we did everything we put him in every program that he ever wanted to be in. And even though my son in the end lost his battle, as you know, four years ago. I know this is gonna surprise a lot of people, but I've never been angry at my son. I've never been I feel like he did the best he could. Yeah. And he did. And it's it's sad. And it's one of those things where it's like, look, we're going to we're going to do whatever we can at the end of the day. You know, sometimes it's not about the actions that you take ache, although it's great to have that support, it's about the action sometimes on the other person. And sometimes we'll just don't ever get there. And that is a really hard conversation. But it's one that I'm like, we have to talk about that piece of things. And we all have to acknowledge that you did everything that you could. And there's going to be places where maybe you feel oh, I could have done this, or I should have done that. And then yet, it has nothing to do with anything that you did. Well, and I no, ever feel like I could have done something different to change the fact that my son ended up having substance use disorder. I do sometimes think about those early conversations when it was so new to me. And I was like, okay, so you know, you, this is causing you to miss work, and pawn your stuff. So just so, so just stop and move on. And I didn't understand the power of the addiction. when I really started understanding it was a couple of years before we lost my son. When I as that overbearing mother had a key to his house. We had suspected he had had a setback. And I went into his house, because I thought I'm gonna go see if his TVs there, right, because that was always the telltale sign right when he started pointing stuff. And I found syringes. Now, Dan, let me tell you, my son was terrified of needles, terrified as a grown man was terrified. I had to go with him when he was 22 years old. He had to get stitches in his hand. And he called me at work and said, Mom, please go with me. Because he was terrified. He knew they were going to give him a shot in his hand. And I left his house, I couldn't even breathe. And I called my husband, I was having almost like a panic attack. And I said, This is bad. When somebody who's terrified of syringes, is intravenously now taking drugs. We I knew this is beyond any control. Right? This has taken over his wife. And we, we, you know, of course, sent him to treatment again, that time, right? Of course you did. You know, here's, here's the interesting, this is one of my, I don't, I won't say favorite stories. It's a sad story. But it's an interesting story. I remember the first time I checked into rehab, and as I said, the first time I checked into rehab, they, you know, they go through all your stuff. And, of course, the girl was going through all my stuff she asked me, she said, Do you have any needles and that was mostly for her protection. She goes, I just need to know because I don't want to like stick myself or anything like that. And I just looked at her like she had 10 heads. I was like, oh, no, I don't like needles. Like I was so I think in that moment, both I was like, I'm scared of needles. I sounded probably maybe a little pretentious. Because I was Yeah, haha. No, that is not me at all. That's not me. Right. Yeah. And she kind of scoffed at me when I when I said whatever I said in the way that I said it. She goes home that's never stopped us before. And what was probably the sad thing was a couple of years later when I relapsed I ended up not only using needles, but I also ended up getting high with her as well. Wow, yeah. Oh, that gave me chills. Yeah. That's Wow, it was a very interesting I guess kind of not a really very bizarre twist of iron is very bizarre twist of of irony. And I remember that story, and that that particular story for me was going gin. You are absolutely capable of anything and everything that is out there. There is absolutely nothing that you won't be willing to do. When it comes down to it. Never say never. And you know, that reminds me of something that I can share about my son I think because my Son, number one, ironically never had a criminal record. He never spent a night in jail. He I don't know why, but he would. I actually think this led to his own demise in a way, but many more than once. Clay called me from treatment. And he'd say, Mom, you gotta get me out of here. I'm not like these people. I'm different mom. I'm different. I got this. That was his favorite things. Enemies. Mom, I got this. I'm good. And he, I think that my son, because he was so smart. Right. And my son was also really deep in his face. I think he thought he could outsmart this disease. I am I'm they're sad. Yeah, just you feel it? Because, you know, so I grew up, you know, in a very similar way of, I didn't. I grew up in a very good home. I was not around drugs. I was I've never seen my mom drunk. Not once in my entire life. Well, I had a very wonderful I grew up in I went to private school in high school, like it was that kind of life. College, just a really good family. We were at church going good family and ninth grade. I'm sitting here listening to DC talk. And like Michael English, you know, if you don't know that those are all elected Christian Rap bands and rock bands, right. And so it's like back in the 90s. And I was really into that. And so when it came time for me to enter in, and I do feel like, I'm not the smartest person in the world, but I can hold my own in a conversation and smart enough to feel like I should be able to be smarter than this, especially because when I hear the comparison is the mother of all evils. Right? And absolutely, I would compare myself to other people's stories where they were like, oh, yeah, me and my dad, or my mom or whatever. We're all sitting around smoking crack and getting high together. And like, Yes, and I grew up with and I don't know, any different. And all of the stuff that I'm sitting here like, well, that's not my story. That's exactly what my son experienced. Exactly. And he would tell me that he's like, Mom, do you know this, that I come from a different life and, and I've never been to jail and all I hear stories about people in jail, and I've never robbed anybody. And I've never done these things. And I would say, but clay strip all that away, you have the same problem that they have. Yeah. And that and that, to me is like, I still have to be really mindful to not compare myself out. Because this is the one. This is the one place where it does not matter what your upbringing is, it is it doesn't matter what kind of home you had, absolutely not who your parents were, it doesn't matter if you smoked crack at the age of six, or yet you didn't get into it until you were 22 years old. And it just 100% addiction does not discriminate. Addiction, doesn't care who you are no discrimination, it can happen to anyone and I have heard so many stories, what really also helped me understand addiction as a disease is I've heard so many stories of people who experimented, I mean heavily experimented at a young age with drugs, whether it's crack, or even meth, or cocaine, whatever. And then, you know, they hit a certain age and they're like, moving on with my life. They put it behind them and they move on, and it never affected them again. I have no idea these people how they do it, I will do it. Right, right. And then there's people like my son, people like you who have this zero tolerance to substance that the moment you take this mind altering substance, it hijacks your brain, literally. And that's when I realized it's and you know, my son actually said to me once Mom, this is not a fun life. Like he said, it's not like, I think that's important to say because I think some of the the public who casts so much stigma and shame on addiction, I think what they say what they're picturing are a group of people sitting around getting high and laughing and joking, and living the life of Riley, when in fact, it is a physically difficult it is my son would get physically sick every time he would try to get off the drugs. It it is emotionally impairing, it is crushing. It's demoralizing. It's horrible. Nobody, nobody ever wakes up and says, gee, I think I'll be a drug addict. That sounds like a fun life. Yeah, this, this, and I can tell you that when I was in the deepest parts, there was no fun being had, there was nothing I mean, like I there would be nights. And this is these are like the scary stories where it's like we would be so off our rocker that we, you know, we would be running through the parking lot of our apartment building, swearing up and down that there was people watching us, and we would check every car in the parking lot. For cameras, for all, this is not a fun thing to do. We did not do laundry for months, and at least stuff. I mean, I gotta tell you, you know, there's no way we didn't sink. I couldn't smell myself anymore. But I was losing weight left and right. So demoralizing way to have to go through your day. And some for some reason. It's like, you know, I still, I'm like, Man, I really wish that I could smoke crack, like socially, right? Like, like, why would I ever want to think about that? Why would I want to do that? It's just the where it takes us. It's nice, where your mind goes. And, um, you know, I, I can remember my son had moved to Wilmington at one time, so we ran in his house out, we put a renter in his house. But that was the only thing my son ended up not losing was his house. We, we were able to save his house by renting it out. But at one time, my son was living in Wilmington. He had gone to treatment there and actually his father live not far from there. So he was going to start a new life. I think my my son would move from town to town. And I think he always thought he could escape his addiction. Right. I'll move to Greenville. I'll move to Greensboro. I'll move to Wilmington. And he always moved thinking he could start a fresh life. But I found out that he was donating I had not even heard like didn't even know you could do this. He was donating. Not what but flightless. For money. Yeah. To get high. Yeah. Which I guess is better than stealing to get high. But it devastated me. And now, when I stick my son never stole from me. That doesn't mean he didn't manipulate the heck out of me to get money from me. It was always Mom, I need food. Mom, I need, you know, something at the store? And I would it wasn't Venmo at the time. There was a way you could it wasn't Western Union. It was through what Walmart? You could send money. Yeah, it was kind of like Western Union. And I would send him money. And that was always devastating for me. Because the difficult thing when you're a mom, is you never want your child to be hungry or cold. or scared. Or, and but at the same time, where do you draw that line? Right? of enabling, right? Or just mothering? And did I enable Sure. I can't say I didn't. Because there were times I gave my son money. Deep down in my soul. I knew he was lying to me. Yeah, about what he needed that money for. But I also didn't want to lay my head on my pillow at night and think about my son being hungry. Yeah. And that's, that's one of the hardest one I don't. For me. I'm like, I hate the term and enabling, right. I hate I hate that because I think it's so one I think it's really vague. And and two, it's like, why don't we instead like let's look at this practically speaking, where it's like, Alright, so you've done this thing. Now let's look at outcomes. Right let's look at see what has actually happened in the past. So If they have ended up using the money, right for other things other than what they tell you, or maybe they really did use it for food, but it was because they use all their money for the drugs. And so the food, like, yes, they may, you know, they may go hungry, but it's like, let's look at the actual outcomes of what you have been doing and see what's working and see what's not working, and how can we look at, like, what maybe could we do something differently to create a different outcome, instead of just going into the same, like, I'm going to give you money, and you're going to, you know, use it for this or that and, and like, also balance that I don't want to lay my head down on my pillow. And think about my kid being hungry, because that's just the biggest heart tug there is. I can't have them laying out on the street. Hungry. And I'm like, that's why. And sometimes I have to remind people, but they've kind of said that that's what they want their life to look like, right over and over and over again. They've been setting themselves hopes and making decisions that says that this is what I want my life to look at. And what if we honor that instead of going? Yeah, what if we honor their choices? Not the tough love? But what if we actually honor them? Sure, you know, and that's a can be a really difficult place to be. But you know, I hear people they'll say, I don't know if I like was it enabling? I just couldn't figure out like, I wouldn't want to do it any other way. I just don't like, yeah, for me, I'm like, oh, let's can we throw enabling out of the dictionary? Well, there's so many words we need to throw out. And I've used many of them just in this podcast, but just for the sake of conversation. But we try not to say like drug addict, or like we try to use substance use disorder. Like we, you know, one of the messages that Lisa and I are trying to get out, is we have to break the stigma. And a lot of these words that we use, only inflate stigma, and only add to the stigma. And honestly, it's I get very easily, maybe not easily I can be triggered by certain words. And I absolutely will correct a complete stranger. In our grocery line. If there's a conversation behind me talking about junkies on the street corner, I will turn around and I will correct them. And I will say, you know that person is somebody's son or daughter, brother, sister, mother grandchild, and that person has a disease. And, you know, if you can't have a little bit of compassion, then just don't even acknowledge it. Yeah, right. Yeah. Like I will call somebody else. And and those words literally make my stomach flitter, because they're devastating. One it just for I can only imagine. But it would probably, if I were you bring me back to that moment of that deep mother instinct to say, you are not going to judge my son, you are not going to judge my son, and you're not going to judge somebody else's son. Right. And that's where it takes me. And obviously, you know, me, and you know, I'm not shy. And I will speak. And I do it very respectfully, I do it in a in a motherly way. But honestly, a lot of a lot of those conversations are because people aren't educated enough. And that's why podcasts like yours are so important. And that's why these workshops that Lisa and I do, and these events that the share project, because that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to get that message out there that guess what, this isn't somebody else's problem. This isn't just kids as as an old expression kids from the wrong side of the tracks. Right? This is everybody's problem. These are addiction doesn't discriminate. I tell a story in some of the I wrote a story and I've read it at some of our events, but it's called not my child. And the way the story starts, I say, I have a confession to make. There was a time in my life that I thought drug addiction only happened to other people. And I don't mean other race, religion, socio economics, none of that. I just mean not my child. Not much right? I'm not my child. And that is the best way that I can describe it, I tell this story of this journey with my son. And the whole time thinking, this is not my child, this is not my clay, my slave would not have sold his iPhone, to buy drugs, right? And all the way to the very end, where I'm standing over his casket, and I'm saying that's not my trial. But it was. But the more we can get that message out, that listen, it can happen. And it's it happened to my family, and it happened to Lisa's family, and all these other people that come to our grass, meaning it can happen to you. And ironically, I've met like you, it's almost like, once you start telling your story, then it will my grandson, or my nephew, or my brother or my sister, and it's people you would never fathom, like, professional people with multiple degrees. It could be anybody. But it does seem like the more we open that door, sharing our story, people are saying, now I have somebody that I can tell. Yes. And I think exactly what you were just saying when we start sharing our stories out. And it doesn't matter at what point you may have just heard, just kind of like how you did in the beginning, that your son or daughter is having a little bit of a challenge. And a lot of times, parents families, they want to keep that very close chested. They don't want to talk about it with other people. They don't want to tell other people Yeah, I had to go put my kid into into rehab because of all of that stuff. And yet, there's so much going on in those dynamics that it's like, you feel lonely, you feel isolated. And it's not until we can actually start removing the shame, and absolutely about it that all of a sudden, we realize there's nothing to be ashamed of. There's so many people, I cannot tell you, I cannot go into the grocery store. And literally today I was talking with someone, and he saw my shirt, you can't see my shirt because we're on a podcast. But he saw my shirt said MC said what's that? I said that's my consulting business stands for when he goes your consultant. And I have talked to this man several times. I was like, Yeah, and I told him what I do is like, yeah, work with families that have always wanted to substance abuse. He goes, Oh, he goes, Well, how long do you have? You know, I don't know how I knew. But how long do you have? And I said, you know, 15 years? And he goes, Oh, I have 22? And, oh, wow, we cannot go anywhere without finding someone that knows someone? Or you know, or is that person, a family member, a brother, a sister, a cousin? A whatever? Absolutely. When we keep it close chested, we do feel like we're doing all of this alone, because we are. And I feel why organizations like the share project podcast like yours, like we are, that's what we're doing. In fact, share stands for spreading hope and awareness and removing the epidemic stigma. And, and a lot of it also is just where we're at in our day and time. And I look back on middle aged, and I look back to when I was a kid and when when I was growing up. Family problems staying in the family. Culturally, that's what we're used to. That's what we're used to. They stay within the boundaries of our home and not outside the home. Right. And it's it's a big adjustment to say publicly, I experienced this and it takes time. And honestly, the very first time I shared my story publicly, was in the Smoky Mountain News. There's a journalist there named Corey vallencourt. He knows me really well. He knew my story. He asked if I was comfortable sharing my story. And this was only about a year after I lost my son. And I said absolutely. He came to my office. We talked. He wrote this wonderful article where he gently handled my son's story was such dignity. And it gave, he really opened that door for me and gave me the courage that there there are kinds of people. Right. And listen, Jen, I know there's people who judge me. I know there are. I've had it sent to me. I actually had somebody asked me in a public forum, do I ever look back and wonder if I could have parented differently? Of course I do. There will always be the naysayers, there will always be those who shame those who spread stigma. But I think I have hope. And I am inspired by the community support, we have received the support from our local politicians from our police department, all these organizations that come out and support every event that their share project puts on, it is like each time I can exhale a little bit more, that I'm not being judged my foot, most importantly, my son's not being judged correct. And it's a it's a fine line, because I said, when my son passed away, I said, when when I had to write my son's obituary, which is the hardest thing any parent can do. And my sister, of course, were so incredibly close, she immediately came in town, she stayed with me through it all, she helped me with it all. And I remember having this conversation with her. And, and this is ironic, I said, clay will not I don't want my son to be remembered for how he died. I want him to be remembered for how he live. So I made it important that everything in his celebration of life, the people that spoke was all about how play inspired them and all the wonderful because my son truly was a wonderful man. But yet, ironically, I am publicly sharing almost every day how my son passed away, but it's important. And I feel like if my story and Lisa story, and our little organization can help just one person, then that's what we're here for. And if there's just one mom that says I'm going to call them because I need somebody to talk to you. That's what it's all about. And I think, you know, because you've talked about the share project. Now you guys do actual, like, group stuff and event. Oh, so tell me a little bit about your groups that you do? Yeah, sure. So we actually have two monthly support groups. The second Tuesday of the month, we have a group called grasp, and that stands for Grief Recovery After substance passing. And that's the second Tuesday of the month, the Haywood Regional Hospital was generous enough to donate us classroom space in the fitness center. So that's it's a very safe place to me, and it's quiet and private. And then the third Tuesday of the month, we have smart recovery friends and family and that group is for anyone that currently has somebody struggling with substance use disorder. And that's um, yeah. Yeah, also do events. So what kind of events do you do? I see, there was an international overdose awareness event. Yes. And I will tell you a sad thing about internet international overdose awareness. We have these posts are these vital poster boards that say the number of lives a day that have been lost to overdose and we put these banners throughout our community. We have these banners of 150 faces of young people from across the United States. Of course, my son is on their latest on other people from Buncombe County, Jackson County, Haywood County, but also all over United States and the sign say X number of lives are lost a day to overdose. These are a few of them spaces. We started putting those banners and those signs out two years ago. And it was at that time the national statistic was 200 lives a day. Then we had to get the posters updated to 222 and then 285 and now it's 295. And last year, we did 222 glass jars with purple lights, because purple is the ocean knows power on the courthouse steps, and we'll do that. Again. We weren't able to get it coordinated this year. So we only did the banners this year. But people were able to submit their loved ones name. And we actually did like handwritten tags on the glass jars with purple ribbons. And that was a very powerful tribute. We also do an annual Walk in May. And we had around 300 people this year at our walk. And we get different speakers this year, we had the Kenton mayors and Smathers. And we had some people who work in treatment, who spoke and then of course, they said I always be and people in recovery as well. And we try to change it up each year to get different speakers, different different points of view. But the important thing of our walk or walk is my favorite event, because we also invite all these organizations from western North Carolina. And we had, I want to say 32 or 33 organizations are represented at our walk with tables, flyers, pamphlets. Because one of the things is I go back to where we started, when my son said, Mom, I need help. I had no idea. And our walks of course, are open to the public. So maybe there's another mom who's going to have that conversation. And they're going to say, hey, wait a minute, I just saw at that walk a flyer from via health or sunrise, or meridian. And that might get them one step closer to finding help for their loved one. Yeah. Because this is, and this is what's really important because man, let me tell you what you find out kind of like how you did, all of a sudden, your kid comes to yours like I need help. You don't know anything, the only thing you kind of really know to do is sit down and Google what to do. And let me tell you, the world of confusion is a world of confusion that you will dive into if you ever sit down and start asking these questions into Google, into Facebook into social media. It's so hard to find a very clear and like trusting answer or someone that you know has your best interests as well as your loved ones best interests at heart. So it's not our way that Jen then has the added obstacle. Do you have insurance? Who takes your insurance? Most likely you do not have insurance? And guess what? Who can pay for that posh Treatment Center in Florida? That's, you know, $60,000 for 30 days? Yeah, right. So then you've got to find something that your family is in your family's budget, or your loved ones insurance. It is such a difficult water to navigate. And now we've got the added difficulty right now of staffing shortages. And the thing that you and I both know is when a person makes the decision. I'm ready. I'm ready for treatment. Take me right now. And then you're told there's a one week wait to even get him in? Yeah. You overwhelming I tell people when I work with families. Now normally they've either gone through this at least once, right? By the time they find me. And but I'll say we need to come up with a very proactive plan. Because you have about 24 hours when they come to you to get them somewhere or they're not going they're not knowing they get scared. They get sick. Because they start detoxing. Yeah. And it's traumatic. It happened with with us and my son more than once were like, basically, we had to trap him in the house until a bed came open. You're not leaving this house. Yeah. And it's it's, you know, I it's one of those like we really, the time to figure it out is not the time when they say I need help. I'm desperate. That is the time that says okay, this is what we're doing right now. And this is where we're going we're getting into the car and we're we're going and that's not easy to find. And that's why it's like it's really important though, to have that like one phone call that you need to make that says we are on our way and that's all you have for you're already set up with everything else and I think that's a really important piece of the puzzle of like, look, when they say they need help. It's not in five days from now, it's not in, oh, it's 30 days until I can get in there. And I think it's even a little more difficult for communities like ours, because we're such rural communities. And our resources are a lot more limited than in like Charlotte, or Fayetteville or some of the bigger cities. And I am hopeful that Mamie with some of the opioid settlement funds. Yeah, as limited as they are. It sounds like a lot of money when you hear reports, but it's broken down over snippets of money. But I am, I am hopeful that maybe some of our communities can Co Op some of that money, and maybe we can get more treatment in western North Carolina, and treatment that to be clear, we have a lot of treatment facilities. I know because I go, you know, sure all of them more affordable, accessible, accessible, that's the key, you know, and it's like, Look, I'll go in, and they'll be like, Oh, well, we either take this insurance, or you can pay us 20 grand. That's what I'm saying. And if that's not in your budget, then what are you gonna do? We don't take insurance pay is 20 grand? Hey, it's 20 grand. Yeah, let me write your check. Okay, I'll get right on. Let me go mortgage my house for someone that I have no idea. This is their third treatment, I don't even know. Like, it's like, okay, and I get it. Listen, I treatment centers. You have to be sustainable. There's a sustainable business model. In order for them to keep the doors open. They have things that they have to pay for. They have clinicians they have to pay for they have there's a lot I totally understand that. And yet, it's still not accessible for families that aren't have been through the wringer and can't afford it. It's just like your ruin. What are we doing? It's like a hamster on a wheel. We're just spinning. We're just spinning. It's like the I want to pull my hair out sometimes. But there are places if you know, where to go and what to look that, you know, there's, I won't I won't name all the names because I'm, you know, they know. But I how do I go ahead? Yeah. And I've learned more since Lisa. And I started the share project. Yeah, I learned more about what treatment is out there than I did. When my son was going through this, we knew of certain ones. I feel like my son, like made his rounds at the same ones sometimes, because he was comfortable there. Yeah. But, um, there's treatment in western North Carolina, I didn't even know existed. Right? Well, and you see, and here's here's part of the problem with sitting down to Google, right is the first page, anywhere you go to do anything is going to be paid ads, paid ads, all the paid ads, all the bigger treatment, and they're not even treatment centers, they're like networks, that will go send you over to the it's very confusing, right? The whole thing is confusing. So it's never going to be the nonprofit that is, you know, they that you don't have to pay, it's never going to be that on the first page. You're going to find those on like the fourth page, this page, and then you're going to be like, This doesn't make any sense. And I don't know if I can trust it or whatever. And it's like, no, but I'm gonna go spend money, I'm gonna go spend 1000s of dollars because at least then I know that they're real. And it's like, but but then they're not. It's so confused. And I don't have any very clear answers. I'm at least acknowledging the level of confusion and how nice it is to have people like you to have people like me, where it's like, Listen, you have these questions, and we kind of have these, these answers. And we can help you streamline this because we are in the community that can go and send you in one direction versus 10. Right, like, start here. If that doesn't work, let me know. We'll go send you somewhere else. And I think yes, that's one of the things that's really valuable for what you guys are doing with both your smart recovery and your grasp. Meetings. is is you have people that are knowledgeable about this stuff. And so it's I know that a lot of family members who've been close club keeping their lives close to their chest, they have a really hard time walking into that group for the first time and a group of people that they don't know, one recommendation is, and I don't want to just be like, oh, you should get over that. Because I think that is just too much. It's very overwhelming. And I've heard you say this, and I don't want to offer this. But it's sometimes it's nice to talk to someone first, to say, yes, there are so and so's going to be there and they're going to meet you or whatever, please come like we would love to have you and what what I offer, I, if people generally the way people first find us is on the internet, and they'll send a general email, the first thing I do is, of course, respond. And I give my phone number. And I say please call me or if they've given their phone number in their initial email, I and I first invite them to coffee, or I'll say, if you're comfortable, I'll come to your house. I've been to people's houses, I've taken people to lunch, and I make that initial contact in person. And it's usually a grieving mom or a grieving dad. And but I do want to clarify, we are not parents only we've got spouses, we've got grandparents in our group, but I will offer I have no problem with drive into Buncombe County, or even Hendersonville, whatever. So I offer to make that initial contact in person, because I feel like then once they meet me, and I can make them feel comfortable, then when they come to grass for the first time, and I'm standing in the doorway to welcome them. They don't feel like a stranger in a strange land. Absolutely. How valuable is that? It's almost like I, I think about it as like the first responders kind of club that that initial contact, that that bridge that helps make that first step, a little bit less skill. And the other side of that. The other side is sometimes they're not ready to come to a meeting, but they need someone to talk to. And I always make sure I clarify that I am not a therapist, I am not educated in therapy. I am just coming as a friend. I'm coming as someone that has walked in your shoes, and I will hold your hand and let you cry. And whatever you need me to do, I'll bring you lunch, I'll do whatever. I have one lady in Buncombe County, whose house I've been to we text, we talk, she's not ready to come to a meeting and I'm okay with that. I'm not going to pressure anybody to come to a meeting until they're ready. Sometimes they just need an Yeah, and you know that my whole business was based out of the understanding that not everyone is going to go to a meeting, not everyone, maybe they can get there, maybe they can't is irrelevant to me. All I know is sometimes people just need to talk about their stuff, they just need to have someone they can connect to that's maybe not in like a group setting. And it was like, Okay, well, if you're not going to do the group, cool. Something's got a, something's got to be out there. And so like that, for me, it was like, Okay, I'm just gonna create it. But you've, you know, you want you've created that group place for people that are ready for the groups. And I think it's amazing and so generous in giving, that you also are willing to just be that person that they can talk to you because that's sometimes all people can handle in the beginning of it. Everybody has their own journey, and everybody has their own means and their own way of handling it. And it's the same thing for the friends and family, the smart recovery, friends and family. The reason that was so important, and I don't leave that one, because quite frankly, I don't have somebody currently struggling. But so I leave the grass and Lisa leaves the Smart Recovery even though she's experienced both how but one of the things that Lisa and I, the reason we were so adamant about the group's is because the recurring See when she and I met, and we would talk about our own struggles, because she was really the first other person I met, who walked in my shoes, right. She, and we talked about there not being a family resource, a family support group. And like I said, early in the podcast, you know, my friends are planning weddings and births of children. And, you know, how am I going to damper that by saying, well, I need to talk to you, my son is addicted to heroin, right? So I had to keep it all buried inside and within my, the confines of my own little family. And we wanted to build a safe space, that loved ones could reach out and say, I have somebody struggling and I need somebody to talk to. Yeah, absolutely. Wow. That's such a good. So if I have anybody who's listening to this that wants to find you, how are they going to be able to find you? So of course, we have a website, and it's theshareproject.org o- R-G. And this will be in this will be a link in the show notes, by the way. So yes. So they can go to our website, there's a link that they can email us directly. And all of our contact information is on there. We have a 24 hour phone number. And we are available when most people reach out to us initially by email, and I think that's just comfortable. Absolutely. Well, you know what, when I'm trying to connect with someone, honestly, I feel like even if they give me their phone number, if they give me their phone number, and they give me their email, the truth is, is I'm probably going to email them. Absolutely. Absolutely. And also on our website, we always list what workshops we're working on, we've done the workshops is new this year. So we've only done three of them. So far, we try to do one a quarter, we did one that was just basic, called addiction one on one. And we brought a specialist in who just talked about the basics of addiction, it was wonderful. We have people that work in treatment that come to our workshops, we have loved ones, and sometimes just interested people in the community. But then we did one on MIT. And like I said before, like we don't advocate for any one treatment over another way, this felt the importance of educating people on MHD. Because it was something that was pretty new back when I was going through this with my son, I didn't really know much about it. Then we did one on just language and stigma, how words like junkie, we talked about this, right? So how words can build stigma. So we're always looking for ways that we can continue to not just support our community, but also educate our community. That's it. That is so amazing. I think that what you guys are doing and putting into this world is yellow, just a gifts seriously. So I just really want to thank you, sincerely for this time for you being willing to share. This was when I started this. People like you and Lisa or my vision of what I wanted for this podcast. And so I just want to want to thank you so much for the willingness to be open, of course. And I thank you for giving us the opportunity, and for inviting us. Thank you. We love what you're doing. Your podcast is wonderful. Thank you. And you know what, guys next time that you hear this as at some point, it's going to be Lisa and Michelle together. And that I think is going to be such a powerful little panel of just a what I know will be a wonderful conversation. If you do have, you know someone with substance abuse, it doesn't have to you don't have to be a parent, you may be a brother, you may be a sister, you may be a cousin, a grandparent, it does a spouse especially. It doesn't matter. I think what we're saying is, you are not alone. And there are people out there there are resources out there to support and help and you don't have to feel like you have to navigate the Google world, the social media world, all of that there are people you can actually reach out and talk to so please do that. And sorry, I almost called you Lisa. Shel, thank you again. So yes, thank you so much. Yeah. And thank you for listening to this podcast. If you want to listen to more or find more information out about this podcast, and more of what I do to help families, you can go check out my page at unbreakable boundaries podcast.com. It's full of other great podcasts, just like this one and other great resources to look through. And please remember to share this podcast with others because you never know who may need to hear this people are often hiding their battles in this arena and sharing is a great way to provide this valuable resource to a person you may not even know who needs it. And don't forget, there is always hope, even when things seem the most hopeless.

Michele Rogers

co-founder

I grew up in Tidewater Virginia and later attended Saint Leo College in Florida. I had two sons, Clayton (1989) and Bradley (1992). When I divorced in 1996 I moved with my young sons to Waynesville, NC. I worked in hospitality and marketing. I met my husband in 1999 and was remarried in 2003. I became a Real Estate Broker in 2005 and worked in sales until buying a Property Management Company in 2010.

My husband and I are both NC Real Estate Brokers and together with our small staff, we manage over 400 long term rental properties for our company Select Homes.

When my oldest son, Clay, was in her very early 20s he had a sinus surgery and was over-prescribed pain pills. He became addicted to the pain pills and entered treatment for the first time in 2012. His pain pill addiction turned into a heroin addiction around 2015. From 2012-2018 Clay cycled in nd out of rehab, being substance free, relapsing and back to rehab. In September of 2018 after being substance free for 11 months, Clay relapsed and last his life to fentanyl.

After losing my son, I knew I wanted to do something to help other family members navigate the lonely journey of having a loved one with SUD and the even lonelier grief journey after losing someone to Substance Passing. I met Lisa Falbo and we learned that we had this in common and together we started the 501(c)3 - The SHARE Project. SHARE stands for Spreading Hope and Awareness and Removing the Epidemic Stigma. We hold events including quarterly workshops to bring awareness and education of the drug epidemic. We sit on several drug awareness and prevention coalitions throughout our county and region. We facilitate two monthly support groups - SMART RECOVERY FAMILY & FRIENDS for those who have loved ones struggling with SUD and GRASP - Grief Recovery After Substance Passing. We host an annual Drug Awareness Walk and Event as well as an annual International Overdose Awareness Event. This past may we had almost 300 people attend out Annual Walk and Awareness Event.

When I'm not working at my property management company or with The SHARE Project, I enjoy traveling with my husband, Rick and spending time with my two grandsons, Elijah (8) and Wyatt (4).