Within a six-month span in 2012, Lindsey lost three people to drug addiction. That's three dreaded phone calls, three worst nightmares, three funeral services, three times she felt like dying herself, three holes in her heart, all because of one drug. Heroin.
She lost Henry on April 23, 2012. Henry, who was 24 years old at the time, was Lindsey's first boyfriend, and they grew up together. Two years prior, Lindsey learned Henry, who excelled in political science in college, was using heroin. After many trips to rehab only to relapse, he hanged himself.
"At his memorial I spoke of all the amazing adventures we had together," said Lindsey. "All I really wanted was to scream and curse 'WHY?' But you can't say things like that at a funeral."
Tragedy struck Lindsey's family three months later when her cousin, Joey, who she considered a brother, overdosed.
"He must have felt like he was having an asthma attack because he died trying to plug in his nebulizer," said Lindsey.
Joey lived with Lindsey's family, sharing a room with Lindsey, for five years of his life. Lindsey knew he was battling a pill addiction and had been to rehab twice, but did not know Joey was a heroin addict until after he died.
Lindsey still has the last text message he sent her on July 6, 2012: "I love you." He died the next day. He was just 18 years old.
Leo, a close friend of Lindsey's, overdosed and died on October 30, 2012. Lindsey discovered Leo was using three years prior when she caught him red-handed with a local heroin dealer. Lindsey was shocked, since Leo's own stepfather had overdosed and died earlier in Leo's life. Leo's mother asked Lindsey to put together the memory boards for his services. He was 25 years old at the time of his death.
"I knew this would happen," admitted Lindsey. "Sad reality, but most people battling this addiction do not make it."
Lindsey and the three loved ones she's lost all grew up and lived in a very small town in Upstate New York. Lindsey began grammar school and graduated from high school with the same 60 students. Everyone knows everyone, so when Lindsey experienced her loss, she was not alone. The entire community was affected by the deaths of these three young men. Yet, that has not stopped people from using heroin in her town.
"So many here are still using," confessed Lindsey. "Some of them I have known forever, some of them are related to people who have already died. I am still surrounded by it, but these days, who isn't?"
Lindsey is right. The United States is struggling with a heroin epidemic, with the number of users reaching a 20-year high, according to a United Nations report. Cincinnati is in the news this week for a bad batch of heroin that lead to an "unprecedented" 174 overdoses in just six days. Reports are stating the heroin at the root of the overdose surge is cut with carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer, 10,000 times stronger than morphine.
Like many out there, Lindsey believes her generation is struggling with this drug because of the availability of painkillers. Studies have proven the connection. Whether the pills were rightfully prescribed or not, many become hooked and begin buying them on the streets. A prescription pill habit can quickly become too costly to maintain, so many turn to heroin because it is far cheaper, and maybe still surprising to some, easier to find.
"2012 was the worst year of my life," stated Lindsey, matter-of-factly. "There were so many days that year where I would lay down at night and not even remember the day I just had. I was too preoccupied with death and the decisions these three made."
Lindsey fell into a deep depression, and even contemplated taking her own life. She credits her mother and her best friend for keeping her head above water during those really dark moments.
"I made the decision with my doctor to go on depression medication while I was going through this," explained Lindsey. "It helped me get through the worst of it, after a year and counseling, I was able to learn to cope without antidepressants."
Lindsey, now 27 years old, has begun to focus on one of her life goals, a dream that got pushed to the side as she worked through her nightmare and grief: graduate school.
"I am happy to say that after four years and countless attempts I am finally enrolled in a master's program!" announced Lindsey, who hopes to become a school counselor one day.
"It has taken me four years to try and deal with all of these emotions, and it still takes a toll on me every day. Depression takes a hold, and when that happens, all I can do is hope for a better tomorrow."
Lindsey has learned first-hand that you cannot love someone out of addiction. Her advice to other people who love someone struggling with Substance Use Disorder is to ask for help, both from your friends and family as well as doctors and counselors, when feeling overwhelmed with helplessness.
"Remember to always tell them you love them," stressed Lindsey. "Do not end of conversation without saying 'I love you.' It's more for you, than for them, because believe me, you do not want to the last words you say to be anything but 'I love you.'"
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.