juli shamash is raising money to prevent youth substance use in memory of Tyler

Remembering Tyler


Tyler was always small for his age, walked at 10 1/2 months and spoke full sentences by 16 months. He was kind, helpful, generous, extremely intelligent, and inquisitive. Tyler was really easy to get along with and had a great sense of humor. He disliked schoolwork, but if he was interested in something he would research it for hours. He loved building computers  and could hack almost anything including his school’s computer network. He was diagnosed with  Asperger’s and ADD when he was in elementary school. He was constantly seeking thrills to replace the dopamine he was missing, from climbing the tallest trees at the park to climbing on our roof and playing with fireworks.         

He started having anxiety and depression as a young teen and he started smoking pot to self medicate. At the time, I didn’t think it was a big a deal. He suddenly became popular and was invited to a lot of parties due to his vast knowledge of marijuana related topics. The pot lead dabbing and then to Tyler sipping promethazine codeine cough syrup that he found in our house, aka Lean, made popular by rap artists. After Lean, he experimented with Xanax.  At about this time we had him yanked from his bed in the middle of the night and taken to a wilderness program. After that, he spent a year at a therapeutic boarding school, some sober livings, lived at home for awhile and got a job, until he was introduced to smoking heroin by two female “friends” and the addiction cycle started all over. This led to residential treatment, more sober livings, tough love, much therapy, a revival with Narcan, a hospital visit, another sober living and the end of his life, alone in the bathroom of a sober living that he had been in for less than 12 hours. 

When you are dealing with an addicted child, it is a blind area. They don’t go over this in Mommy and Me groups and it’s not like you can ask friends, because most have never dealt with this. There are so many treatment options, it is overwhelming. All of a sudden you become familiar with words like educational consultants, addiction specialists, residential treatment, IOP and brokers. It is up to you alone to try to sift through and find the best options for your family.              

A wise mom once told me that second guessing everything we did, to try to save our children, is addiction’s final assault. Hindsight is the cruelest part of grief, recalling moments we wish we had done differently. After much reflection, I have been thinking about what I could have done differently or what advice I’d give other moms to try to prevent anyone else from having to go through this. What I have come up with is the following. 

I’d tell them to hug and kiss their kids every time they say goodbye, as it may be the last time they see them. I never thought my 19 yr old would overdose, I thought he was too smart and knew so much about the chemistry of drugs to ever die from them. I’d tell them to always assume their addict child is using, even if they are living in sober living and claim to be clean. You never know when they have relapsed and if they are over 18, no one has to tell you. I’d tell them to trust their hearts and not always listen to all of the experts advice. Tough love is great for some and a disaster for others. I would also tell them that, (no offense to anyone), AA doesn’t work for everyone. It is very difficult for a kid with ADD to pay attention in a meeting, while not on his Adderall. What I have learned since Tyler’s death, is that medication assisted treatment has a high success rate, and I should have let him try being on Suboxone instead of listening to everyone who told me that he would just be replacing one addiction with another. It may not have worked, but at least then, I wouldn’t regret not trying it. I’d tell them to monitor their children’s phones and online payment accounts like Venmo and Paypal. They should also have their kid’s device passwords. Having Tyler’s phone password was the way we were able to identify the drug dealer who sold him fentanyl and have him prosecuted. One last really important piece of advice is, don’t wait to find out that your child is using drugs before you lock up all the medicine in your medicine cabinet. Young children can be tempted these days by drugs that are easily accessible in your home medicine cabinet. 

After Tyler died another mom and I formed a nonprofit called Moms Against Drugs. Our mission is to honor the memory of loved ones who have been lost to drug addiction and to support their grieving families. We do this through education and advocacy initiatives to prevent substance abuse and end the stigma of addiction. We have done various awareness walks and events all across the country. 

I miss Tyler more than words can fully explain. I think about him before I go to sleep at night and as soon as I wake up. I go about my life and seem fine on the outside, but inside there will always be a hole in my heart. Before he died I never knew what it was like to miss someone so much, it physically hurts. I often don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. 

Unfortunately, there’s no do over for Tyler or for our family. We can only go forward and hope that sharing our experience will help others. 

Your contribution to SafeLaunch in memory of juli shamash's child helps prevent this tragic brain disease from taking the lives of other young people.