A Story of Loss and Hope

Posted by on Oct 6, 2015 in Challenge Yourself | 57 comments

This is by far the longest, most difficult and personal blog I have ever written. If you don’t have time to read it now, I hope you will mark it and return when you have a few minutes. And I hope that you will share it with anyone you think needs to read it.

Al1The backdrop of what I’m about to share is the funeral of my precious, 18-year-old daughter, Alana Bianca Carbonara, who lost her short, fierce battle with her heroin addiction on September 19, 2015. Her name means “pure, white light.” That is what she was to everyone who knew her. I don’t want you to think about her as my daughter, and don’t want you to think about her death as one of the too many statistics claimed by drugs. Instead, think of her as your child, your niece, your neighbor, your friend, your classmate, or maybe even yourself.

Not trusting myself to speak at the service with any sort of clarity, I wrote out what I hoped to read. The room was dark, and my eyes were too filled with tears to read the words in front of me. So I just spoke and tried to recall what I hoped to say. What follows is a copy of what I intended to say.

*******************

A few weeks ago at my father’s funeral, I saw my daughter Alana in a crowded room, and I thought “She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”

Beauty runs in my family. al2

When I was little, I was in love with my cousin Debi, another blond-haired, beautiful girl. Secretly, I planned to marry her someday.

Stupid thoughts like that also run in my family.

When my son Jack was three and Alana was two, he announced “When I get big, I’m going to marry Alana.”

Jack’s mom told him that he couldn’t.

“But why? I love her!”

She told him, “You just can’t. That’s not the way it works.”

Jack started to wail, “But why!? I love her so, why can’t I marry her!?”

I intervened and told Jack, “Honey, when you’re both older, if you still want to get married, we’ll move to Arkansas so you can do that.”

al3Alana was beautiful. Beyond that, she was brilliant. And multi-talented. Anything she tried her hand at, she excelled in. She wrote better and more beautiful prose than many published authors I know. She was artistic. She played the violin. She was athletic. As a child, she was a figure skater, she played basketball, and she was a high school cheerleader. And she was a fierce defender in soccer, once she realized that the actual game of soccer didn’t involve giving constant hugs to her teammates during the game when the ball rolled 10 feet away from her.

al5She loved animals. Last year, we saw a mouse running down the street when we were driving on Route 59 to Olive Garden. She was upset that I refused to get into a car accident so I could pick up the mouse and carry it to safety. And the day my father died, Alana stood in the backyard feeding his squirrels by hand.

Alana had a beautiful voice, both when speaking and singing. She had kindness in her spirit towards others. She couldn’t stand to see anyone left out or bullied. She would stand up for her friends and become a defender for those who didn’t have a voice. She loved helping people. A few months ago, she told me that she wanted to be a counselor, so she could help kids overcome their addictions.

And Alana was a fighter; I mean she had tenacity. At eight, she decided she wanted to play basketball, and she entered a league where all of the other kids had played for some time. A player on the other team was really good, and he kept coming right through Alana, because he spotted that she was the weak link on the team.

At halftime, I told Alana, “Don’t let that kid get by you. Keep your hands up so he doesn’t have a shot.”

She went back in there, and the other kid immediately tried to get past her. Alana kept jerking her arms NOT UP but directly AT the face of the kid with the ball. The kid stepped back, tried a couple more times, gave her a look that said, “You’re crazy!” And then he picked a new weak link, because Alana would not give him an inch.

al4In all of those ways, Alana surpassed me. She got none of those genes or characteristics from me. But in another way, there is no one in this room or in this world more like Alana than me. I told her, “Alana, you’re me in a skirt…if you would ever wear a skirt.” From me, Alana inherited anxiety and depression. Add to those traits low impulse control and poor emotions management, and you have a recipe for addiction. In fact, the only difference between me and Alana is that I embraced a loving community of recovery nearly 5 years ago and have been sober ever since, and Alana could not find a way to stay in recovery.

Some of you remember the “life of the party” Alana, the wild, free spirited, crazy Alana that said and did things you almost wished you could say and do yourself. So many of the pictures she posted on her well-crafted social media accounts show a happy, living-large Alana, who had the world at her command. What is the face of addiction? It’s often the life of the party, the most exciting person in the room. That is one face of addiction.

But there’s another face of addiction. How many of you saw her weeping for how unmanageable her life had become? I did. Her mother did. How many of you knew what she did after the party? She went home–alone, terrified, and full of shame. That’s another face of addiction.

Look at my Alana now. That is another face of addiction, the cold, lifeless face where many addicts, like Alana, end up way before their time.

But there is another face of addiction: it’s my face, the face of someone who struggled but found redemption in active recovery.

Addiction ends in one of two ways: death or recovery. The addiction wants to take your life, like it took the life of my daughter. Recovery wants to redeem your life, giving you unlimited opportunities to live, fight back, and create a life of hope, forgiveness, and strength.

Alana had tenacity, stubbornness, and willpower in spades. But those aren’t enough to fight addiction. Willpower is like a muscle that tires with repeated use and eventually gives out. And in the case of an addict, giving out means giving in and giving yourself over again to the addiction, and each time that happens, the shame of failure serves as further confirmation that “I’m worthless, I can’t do it. Why bother fighting?”

No one can stop a runaway train, but a community of support–joining together around one purpose–can.

When something like this happens, the death of a beautiful, 18-year-old girl, the first question we ask is HOW? How did she die? Then WHY? Why did it have to end like this? Finally, WHO? Who did this? Who introduced her drugs? Who did drugs with her? Who sold her the drugs? Who knew about her drug use?

Who can we blame for Alana’s death? Blame me. Blame her whole family. Blame the community of Naperville. Blame the government. Blame yourselves. But those are just more lies. Blame never saved a life, and blame never brought back a life from the dead.

For Alana’s death to have meaning—and by the way, Alana’s life HAD MEANING—meaning to me and every person whose world she entered—but for her death to have meaning, blame the addiction. And determine to not let another Alana die without fighting back with the power of love and the strength of a community of support.

Let me say a word to the parents who are here tonight.

Your job is NOT to be the best friend of your children.

Your job is NOT to let your kids drink in your basement, reasoning, “Well, at least this way I know they are safe.”

Your job is NOT to say, “I smoked pot when I was your age. So as long as you’re just smoking pot…”

Your job is NOT to turn a blind-eye to your child who comes home smelling of cigarettes, consoling yourself that “everyone experiments. It’s just a phase.” Would you let your toddler “experiment” with battery acid? Would you allow your grade school child drive your car? Would you approve of your middle school child playing with a loaded pistol?

What is your job as a parent? Your only job is TO KEEP YOUR CHILDREN ALIVE.

The only reason I’m still alive is that my sweet, dear mother and recently-departed father cared nothing if I liked them. They parented me. They stayed on me. They watched me. They knew my friends. They did NOT trust me. And still, I nearly went off the deep end. Because I feared and loved my parents, I am still alive. And if you ever hope to earn the privilege of holding the hand as you walk down the street with your adult child, DO NOT BE THEIR FRIEND TODAY. BE THEIR PARENT. KEEP THEM ALIVE.

Alana’s mother and I have lost our daughter, Jack has lost his sister, and we all have lost a friend. So if you were one of Alana’s friends, you are welcome here. If you partied with Alana and enjoyed her as “the life of the party,” you are welcome here. If you introduced Alana to heroin, or if you drove her to buy heroin, or you used heroin with Alana, you most certainly are welcome here. And I’d like to talk with you. And I’d like you to know that I love you. And I’d like you to know that Alana loved you. And if you knew Alana at all, you knew that she would have laid down her life for you.

It’s too late for Alana, but it’s not too late for you.

al6If you are on the road to addiction—if you are no longer in the driver’s seat of your life—and you get help, Alana’s death will have meaning. If you’re here in the throes of addiction, don’t leave here without talking to me, or Tim with the “A Man In Recovery Foundation.” Tim Ryan understands addiction. He is a recovering addict, and he helps addicts today after he lost his own son to heroin. Kyle is with him. Can you two stand up? Kyle is Alana’s age, and he’s been in recovery for 10 months. Since that time, this is the 8th funeral he’s attended for friends like Alana who died because of their  addictions. There are members of the church here who lead recovery programs right in this building. These people will be right outside the door. They want to talk with you. Please don’t leave here without knowing that there is help for you, there is love for you, and there is community for you.

Don’t listen to the sweet lies of addiction that tell you that it’s too late for you turn back. It isn’t. As long as there is life, there is hope. Tonight you can find a loving community of support to help you on your way to recovery and to life, the life that you know you can live, the life Alana would want you to live.

You don’t have to live like Alana—terrified, defeated, and alone. And you don’t have to die like Alana, either. Please make Alana’s death mean something. She would have given everything to be part of your recovery and your healing.

(If you or a loved one need support for an addiction, please call Tim Ryan directly at 312 502 8671 or email him at tryan@amirf.org. You can also reach him at Transformations Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center.

57 Comments

  1. Scott,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I saw you in Sioux Falls just 10 days after your daughter passed. You are an amazing man and this is a story that affects so many people and it is a great tribute to the memory of your daughter.

    • Hi Val. My hope in this is to help others choose a different ending. My heart was broken in Sioux Falls as it is now. But since Alana’s death, six of her friends are now in treatment. That’s six lives that have a second chance to reach adulthood, to marry, have children, and follow real dreams. Alana’s death is having a purpose. While I would give anything to have her back, others are going to have a chance at life that my daughter will not.

      • Scott your words telling Alana’s story are making a difference. Thats amazing and wonderful!

        • Thank you, Julie. I can’t hold Alana again, but I can hold on to the hope that someone will get the help that he or she needs to live the life that Alana lost.

  2. My heart grieves for you and your family.

    • Thank you, Cheryl. When something happens to one of our members, it happens to all of us. My prayer is that one life will turn out differently as a result of Alana’s tragic death.

  3. I am in tears, this is very moving and I hope that it is an eye-opener to someone who is struggling with addiction. I am so sorry for your loss and will continue to keep you nod your family in my prayers.

    • Thank you for your prayers, Laura.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss.
    I am praying for your family.
    I am impacted by your courage to encourage others.
    God bless.

    • Thank you, Karen. I very much covet your prayers.

  5. Extending my deepest sympathies for your loss, Scott. What an incredible and powerful message. Alana will not be forgotten. Take care. All the best to you and your family during this difficult time.

    • Thank you, Sarah.

  6. WOW! So powerful! Thank you for sharing! My thoughts and continued prayers are with you and your family.

    • Thank you for your prayers, Kara.

  7. Prayers for you and the family.

  8. Scott so sorry for your loss.

    • Thank you, Connie.

  9. A powerful message. Prayers for you and the family…

    • Thank you, Brenda.

  10. Scott – Thank you for sharing. Addiction has touch my family as well but for the willingness of the addict to accept help I too would have had this depth of loss. Your grace and compassion have touched my heart today. Prayer of comfort to all of you.

    • Thank you, Jill. Dozens of people–strangers mostly–have reached out to me to tell me about their own tragic losses. I know that I am not alone. But this is not a journey that I want to invite others to keep me company along the route. Let’s see if we can reach one life and change one tragedy into a new story. Thank you for your prayers, Jill.

  11. Scott —

    Thank you for a message that offers hope for so many in the midst of your own personal grief.

    I will share your message with many and I am confident that what you have shared will save lives.

    My family’s prayers are with you and yours at this time.

    May the spirit and light of Alana’s life shine brightly on you always.

    Be at Peace my friend.

    • Thank you, Myles. If one life can be spared…

  12. Scott: My heart breaks for you and your family at this devastating loss. My prayer will be for comfort for you all in the journey ahead. Your message of love, hope and redemption is one we can all use…THANK YOU.

    • Thank you, Colleen. If together we can save one life or help one family to not have to endure such heartache, Alana’s death will have served a purpose. I appreciate your continued prayers.

  13. I love you, man. Still praying for you in your journey of grief.

    • Thank you, Jamie. Pray without ceasing. We are far from through this.

  14. Scott, I lost my son to suicide. I took me almost a year to get myself togehter. And on somedays I would sweat it was just yesterday. So to read you did a speach 6 days letter is remarkable. God uses us all in diferent ways. Maybe this is your way to ease your pain by helping.
    I heard you speak May of 2014 211 conference in Charlotte, N.C.
    The best of wishes along with God’s speed for you and yours.
    Vicki

    • Hi Vicki. I am so sorry for your loss. Suicide and drug deaths are often treated like “dirty deaths” and because of that the pain the survivors feel is far greater than survivors of accidental deaths. My heart breaks with yours for your loss. For us, we have lost something that cannot return to us. But we can still help save others lives. Why I spoke up and out is because I know there are others hurting and on the brink of following my daughter and your son into the grave. I can’t do nothing. I will pray for you, Vicki, and I appreciate your prayers from me as well.

  15. Tears are flowing…….although I did not know your beautiful daughter……I know your heartache. And my heart aches for you!! Bless you for sharing such a poignant and powerful message honoring your daughter. I hold you in my heart and my prayers and pray for comfort and peaace.

    • Thank you, Jenni. It is because of the prayers of people like you that I have been able to get through this greatest loss of my life. If one life and one family can be spared this tragic end, I will feel honored that Alana’s story could be helpful.

  16. Scott, I’m so sorry for your loss. I am in awe of your ability to use this tragedy to inform, educate and inspire others. You and your family are in the thoughts and prayers of your new (and old) friends in Nashville.

    • Thank you, Ed. It’s about amazing grace and not any strength on my part. Thank you for your continued prayers.

  17. Wow Scott, how amazing it was to read this..I too am a heroin addict, ive been in recovery for 3+ plus years now.. While its been very hard at times ive conquered.. Ive seen my father struggle thru my addiction with me, and to this day i can still see the worry in his face when we say goodbye each other.. Im so proud of you for writing this.. And i am so glad that you have sych a positive outlook on the death of your beautiful daughter.. I have children myself, and when i say i dont know how i would deal with their death, i really mean that.. A parent should never have to bury their child… my heart hurts with you and your family.. I really hope that this lands in the eyes of someone who needs it tonight… maybe i needed it, who knows.. I will be praying for you and your family. Also, praying for those still suffereing. God bless you scott!

    • Hi Paige. I am so grateful for your recovery and for the life you are able to have today! You are proof that the road of addiction doesn’t have to end in death, but rather it can enter a place of forgiveness, redemption, restoration, and recovery. Thank you for sharing your story. Love your babies, and keep them alive.

  18. What a tribute overflowing with complete selfless love. I so admire your will, through it all to bring a message of hope seasoned in such love for the addict. The tough love message to parents is necessary. Bless you sweet friend in your grief. Thanking God for your life and the words that he has given you here in this blog. Praying that He sustains you daily.

    • Thank you, Val. No one wishes to become a cautionary tale, but if Alana’s death can help others to choose life, I must submit to letting her story be used in any way that might help.

  19. I read your blog posts all the time because they are so inspirational. I was not expecting this one, but what a true inspiration you are. My heart goes out to you and your family. I feel like you have already saved countless lives because of your message of hope and sharing your story. God bless you.

    • Thank you, Kathy. I could choose to let bitterness take over my heart, or to pray that Alana’s death could help others find life, forgiveness, redemption, and hope. What keeps me going in the cold, dark hours is a hope that someone will live as a result of Alana’s passing.

  20. i am so sorry for your loss! My thoughts and prayers are with you! I’ve been in and out of recovery since 2007, the same year I lost my sister and daughters fathers to the disease of addiction over 8 years ago. My daughter was 7 months old when they both passed, 29 days apart.. My daughter is now 9 and she can tell u ALL ABOUT her aunt and her dad because we’ve kept their spirit alive..
    Still 8 yrs later and I think of them EVERY SINGLE DAY!!
    But hearing my daughter tell me a story about one of them just makes my heart melt!!
    God bless you and your family through such a tragic time!
    Keep her memory alive as you’re doing!! Prayers for the family!!

    • Hi Sarah. I am very sorry for the loss of your loved ones to this illness. Thank you for choosing recovery for yourself, your daughter, and the people you might not even know who count on you. Please choose recovery again today, and make that same choose when tomorrow becomes a new day. Your daughter will be stronger and wiser because of your losses and your battle. Know that. Thank you for your prayers.

  21. That’s MY daughter. Or could be. It’s so many people’s daughters. Or could be. I’ve got the same pictures of my beautiful daughters, their lists of accomplishments, their idiosyncrasies, and even a few hints of their substance use. But they’re all alive. Today. So today, Scott, after I go home and tell them how much I love them with a new ferocity, and then put the iron bars on the house windows, dress them in burqas and hire armed guards, I’m also looking even more carefully. Watching. Intervening. Not forgetting, trying to never forget that their name could be Alana. Their fate could be Alana’s. And more determined than ever to do whatever it takes to help them steer clear, stay clear and be clear. Your ultimate message of hope is just that – hope. Alana’s life story has touched me deeply – thank you for your courage and willingness to share it.

    • Thank you, Peter. I’ve had a ringside seat of the carnage left behind by addiction from my crisis counseling days. It really changes matters when the loss of “someone” becomes “your someone.” You are right to be on the look out for addiction, not just the addiction of an immediately deadly substance. Addiction kills. Period. Smoking takes longer, but it kills. Drinking may take a little longer, unless you wreck your car and life in an instant. Either way, it kills. Losing your family or home to gambling still kills by eroding the spirit and poisoning the will. It’s not about heroin. It’s about refusing to turn your will over to anything that keeps you away from being your best and eventually siphons your life. I will pray for you as a dad, and I will pray for your kids because the lure of addiction is prevalent.

  22. I cannot imagine the pain you and your family must feel right now. You touched my heart when I saw you speak at a SHRM conference and I have enjoyed and referred your books to others. My prayers are with you all, including the people you are helping overcome addiction as you work to make this tragedy into an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. May God carry you all through this journey.

    • Thank you, Karen, for your prayers. Please pass this post on to anyone you think is struggling or has a loved one struggling. Addiction should not be a “dirty little secret.” It should be outed so that people can find community, support, love, and help.

  23. Your story touched my heart. There is a support group for parents who have lost a child in Brookfield, IL. If you or parents you know are interested look online at The Compassionate Friends to find the location, dates, times. I’m so sorry for your lose, but I love your message of love.

    • Thank you, Wendy.

  24. Dear Scott,
    I live in South Africa, and I want to thank you for the courage to write your story. Your loss is unimaginable, I cannot fathom it, as my daughter is 8 years old. Thank you for your message, for giving me guidance in my journey that is still ahead, and I will be the parent, to the best of my ability, to honor your family and the memory of Alana.
    Adele

    • Thank you, Adele. Parenting alone cannot keep our kids safe, but it’s certainly the best place to start and something that is within your control. I will pray that you will have wisdom in guiding your daughter through the challenges this world presents to her.

  25. Scott, I had no idea what you have been through. My heart goes out to you along with prayers of comfort. When we knew one another, life was good. It was fun and interesting. We have no idea of what is ahead of us but we know God is there with love, forgiveness, comfort, strength, and His presence. I still think of you and am so glad you had your beautiful daughter for as long as you did. I firmly believe you will see her again. On a personal note, Don & I celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary. God has always been with us & has kept us in His care. He will hold you close, too… always. Donna

    • Thank you, Donna. No, we have no idea what lies before us. It’s a good thing, because few would have the courage to face each day if we knew the grief that was in store for us. I am grateful for you and Don. I think of you both often. Thank you for your prayers, Donna. I will be in touch soon.

  26. Scott, I am so sorry for your loss.

    Thank you for sharing a piece of your life with us. It reminded me how so many times the people who make everyone feel uplifted, like yourself, have often had to deal with a lot of pain. We experience the beauty and struggles of life daily… hourly… sometimes from one excruciating second to the next. What stands out so clearly in your story is that in those moments you consistently choose to fight for your life and not be a victim. Your story of strength is the best kind of encouragement for those of us dealing with a chronic physical or mental health condition to keep fighting the good fight. Anna

    “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up”.
    – Anne Lamott

    • Thank you, Anna. Where there is life, there is hope. We can let our pain dictate our will to live, or we can let our pain inspire us to help someone else. I pray that Alana’s story will be the help that someone needs to get clean and choose life. I can’t bring her back, but I can celebrate the life of those who choose to go on and keep fighting.

  27. Scott; what a touching tribute – so sorry for your loss.
    Never more true is your statement about “someone” becoming “your someone”. I lost a daughter at 18 months from a liver transplant rejection many years ago. Prayers to you and your family, and bless you for using this tragedy to spread the message of hope and recovery.

  28. Scott, Still thinking of you. This will be a tough season so know that we are praying for you.

  29. Very beautiful tribute. I’m sorry for your loss and thank you for your voice for others going through this.

  30. Oh Scott, I am so profoundly sorry for your loss. As a mother of four two 23 year olds & two 17 year olds there is no greater pain than the loss of a child. After decades of use my brother is a recovering heroine addict, and when it would have been so much easier for you to just be left alone to mourn you chose instead to go out and do God’s work. On behalf of so many thank you for fighting the good fight. You are an inspiration.

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