If only I could talk….
When Jeff was growing up in Findlay, Ohio, his parents, Mark and Colleen, noticed that he had a difficult time functioning in social situations. He couldn’t look people in the eye or pick up on social cues. They questioned his pediatrician and other mental health experts, all of whom said it was social anxiety or ADD. Jeff had a good connection with his best friend, Alex. Their community was small, neighbors were like family, and Jeff functioned well in that environment. Everything changed though when a job opportunity moved the family to Virginia when Jeff was thirteen.
The first two years after the move, Jeff struggled to make friends. His parents kept him focused and busy. He worked and volunteered with the emergency squad and earned his EMT licensure at 16. Eventually, he connected with a group of people who were using drugs. The drugs helped to ease Jeff’s social anxiety, making it possible for him to interact with others. He also started dieting and exercising with an obsession because he was conscious of being overweight and was bullied for it. He was eventually diagnosed with body dysmorphia in addition to the social anxiety and ADD. Jeff’s parents sought the help of a neurologist, psychiatrist, and counselors to provide treatment for Jeff. His father wondered if they had made a huge mistake moving. His younger siblings, Gregory and Juliana, adjusted to the move within a few months, and though Jeff didn’t adjust well, he got good grades and graduated from high school and Virginia Tech with honors.
His parents didn’t approve of Jeff’s new friends but reluctantly had them over for a farewell dinner when Jeff went off to college. They later learned that the night of the dinner, a friend shot him up with heroin for the first time. Within a few years, while at college, Jeff was deep into substance use. “If you look at pictures from that time, his mom said, he was always standing away from the crowd. It hurt him so much that he couldn’t be like other people.” It was in his second year in college when Jeff was diagnosed with mild Asperger’s and his previous behaviors made sense. He graduated from college in May 2007 and started working, but by January 2008, he was addicted to benzos and heroin. In September 2014, the family held an intervention and sent him to a program in Texas for chronic relapsers. He did well for a time, but it didn’t last.
In the last five years of his life, Jeff lived out of state but came back home three of the five Christmases when he wasn’t in treatment. “We all welcomed him back with open arms,” Colleen said. “When Jeff was not using drugs, it was good to see the siblings together. It was like old times.” Shortly after celebrating one year of sobriety with his parents, Jeff was found dead in September 2019 from an overdose.
Jeff’s mom is now reading about treatment for those with addictions and autism, trying to understand what happened with Jeff. “In treatment centers, it is often said that the opposite of addiction is connection, but when someone is on the autism spectrum, it is hard for them to connect,” his mom said. “That is likely the reason that treatment never worked for Jeff.”
Jeff’s mother, Colleen Sharp, provided the information for this narrative.
August 6, 1988-September 26, 2019
Age 33-Lived with the disease of addiction 9 years