In episode nineteen of The Courage to Change: A Recovery Podcast, Melissa Bresnahan shared her story of losing her child to an overdose with podcast host Ashley Loeb Blassingame. We’ve edited and condensed it here for a fast read. You can listen to the entire interview here.

Melissa’s first-born son Pat died tragically in 2017 at the age of 35, after many years of struggling with addiction. After four wonderful years of sobriety,  Pat relapsed and died from a drug overdose. Melissa and her family have been determined to remember Pat forever in their hearts.

Pat’s Childhood 

As a child, Pat had pneumonia often. He had several sets of tubes in his ears, chronic ear infections, and eventually a mastoid infection that landed him in the hospital on massive doses of antibiotics. He had hearing problems and speech problems. Once he got into school, the family realized Pat had a language processing problem and Attention Deficit Disorder. “He could be very inattentive and very impulsive, which is not the teacher’s favorite child to have in the classroom,” says Melissa.

When Pat entered junior high, he began smoking pot and drinking alcohol, which he continued heavily throughout highschool. “It’s kind of a blur,” his mom says, “but a lot of drinking, a lot of coming home late.” He was repeatedly suspended from school, including during  his senior year, for bringing pot to school.

Pat was sneaking out of the house and would be gone all night. “I had no idea until the police called one night and said, I have your son here in the back of our car,  and I said no you don’t, he’s sleeping downstairs. Then I’m running down the stairs seeing pillows in the bed and the windows unlocked.” Things were beginning to escalate.

At 18 years old Pat moved out of the house after Melissa caught him smoking pot at home. His girlfriend’s parents took him in, and he lived with them for a year. Looking back, Melissa felt all the signs were there, but when it was happening, the addict Pat was masterful at pulling the wool over her eyes.

The Progression

Pat’s drinking progressed after high school. He started working for his girlfriend’s father as a bricklayer. “He had a good job, he never needed money from us. He paid the rent, took care of himself. He would come over for dinner, it was nice,” shares Melissa. But looking back, she notes that, “he would pound down the beers, and there were a lot of arrests.” Pat would drink, become belligerent and get arrested for fighting. Melissa and her husband Dan never bailed Pat out. It got to the point where Pat was put on probation and had to wear an ankle bracelet. “He just always had the book slammed on him.” 

After serving time in jail, shortly before his 25th birthday, Pat seemed to be doing better. He started working on the oil rigs, he wasn’t doing the bar scene as much, and he was playing on a city basketball league. Shortly after joining the league, he blew out his knee and was put on Oxycontin after undergoing knee surgery. And then, Pat started to use Oxycontin more and more.

Melissa recalls being at his home and seeing prescription bottles for Oxycontin from a different doctor than the one who did his knee surgery. His addiction was ramping up. During that time Melissa was told Pat was shooting heroin. “It was like someone just took a bat and hit me in the chest it was like I couldn’t breathe.”

He was taken into a County Outpatient Program and did a two-week taper using Suboxone. He was grey and emaciated. He moved home during this time. 

Kicked Out

After being caught with pot again, Melissa and Dan kicked Pat out of the house, “he loaded up his few belongings and was gone and lived on the streets and in crummy hotels for about six months.” Six months later, Melissa didn’t have any contact with Pat. Her husband, who worked for the district attorney’s office, heard that Pat’s car was on surveillance, and heroin was involved. 

Melissa hopped in her car and started searching for cheap hotels in the area. She found her son in the third hotel she went to. “He came out and that was when I knew, my son [was]a junkie.” 

Melissa tried to get Pat to come home with her, but he didn’t get in the car. “I just remember crying the whole way home. I have never cried like that, and praying, help me, God help me.” About a month had passed and Pat was knocking on the door asking for help, “looking back on it, I don’t think he wanted help. I think he had run out of resources.”

Four Great Years

The next morning Pat was on a flight to Decision Point, an Arizona addiction treatment center. It took him about a month to detox, but it was a bumpy road and he was eventually kicked out for misconduct. Melissa heard there was an opening at Blueprints, another residential treatment program in Pennsylvania; she called, and a woman named Serena said they could take him. 

“She helped give Pat the best four years of his life. Even though my son lost his life, I’m so grateful for those four years because he was able to make amends with all of us and we were able to be a family again,” says Melissa.

Pat started working after finishing his treatment at Blueprints, joined the fire academy and was on proper medication. Right before the four-year anniversary of his sobriety, Melissa received a call from Blueprints saying Pat had relapsed and was in jail. “It was a bad arrest: he had taken meth and heroin and he was just so ashamed, and so disgusted with himself.” 

Pat went back into treatment for 45 days. Following treatment, Dan (Pat’s father), went to pick him up and get him settled in his apartment, while there, Pat was upset that he had a felony arrest and if convicted, he would not be able to become a fireman. The fire academy was extremely important to him. Melissa could sense his sadness and wanted to bring him home. Dan spent a few days with him, and he too had the feeling of not wanting to leave him, but he knew he couldn’t just move into an apartment with him and hold his hand. Three weeks later, Pat died of a drug overdose.

“Our family mantra has become, always a family of five. We’re kind of finding our way as a family that’s experiencing grief, but he’s always going to be a part of our life, and I can’t pull him out of my heart or do something to get rid of that void. You just have to find your way and cling to those who love and support you, and not give up on yourself.”

Quotes have been edited for clarity.