The Tragic Aftermath of Using Heroin; Ralphy’s Story

Hope is Darlene’s favorite word. It’s what has gotten her through her son Ralph’s (“Ralphy”) addiction the past several years. And today, hope is what gets her through her son’s anoxic brain injury.

While her son is an addict, Darlene refuses to label him as such because like so many, Ralphy’s addiction doesn’t define him. Ralphy is a grandson, nephew, son, brother, father and a friend to many. He’s intelligent, funny, talented, a musician and artist. Ralphy comes from a loving and strong family. He was cared for by family as a child, attended school and went through the educational DARE program like all other students.

Despite coming from a wonderful family, Darlene still asks herself “how did we get here?” She thought addiction could never happen to her family and when it did- she wasn’t going to talk about it. Because saying those words aloud- even to her family, would make it real. She’s asked herself “what kind of mother am I that our son would lie and steal from us to escape what we thought was a good life?”

With or without Darlene saying those words aloud- addiction happened. And, in the spring of 2011, the day came when they needed to have an intervention. A few days later, Ralphy called his family and said that he would go to rehab. His aunt and uncle drove him to Astoria where he called every day begging and crying to come home, saying that he was fine and if his family would allow him to come home- he would never use again. After detoxing- Ralphy checked out of rehab.

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That November, he went to his mother’s office and asked for help. The next morning, Darlene drove him back to Astoria. He was there for 28 days when he was asked to leave because he broke a rule of making a phone call. In the spring of 2012, Ralphy’s family found a different facility in Michigan. They also hired an Interventionist from Chicago who flew with Ralphy to the Michigan facility that April. After he completed his 60-day stay at the Michigan facility, his mother attended his graduation ceremony. From there, Ralphy went to a sober living house in Colorado and became employed again. For the first in a long time- things were looking good.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last- on his way home from work, Ralphy was stopped by police, taken into custody because a warrant had been issued for his arrest in Oregon. His grandparents posted his bail and flew him back to Oregon to turn himself in. In December 2012, he pled guilty. No one cared about his truth because heroin had stolen his credibility. From there, he was put on supervised probation where his mother said the downwards spiral towards hell began.

By April 2013, Ralphy’s siblings called their father to tell him that Ralphy was stealing. His father rushed home from work and caught him with heroin and his mother began to look for help again. She was referred to a rehab in Vancouver, Washington. She called and was told that they didn’t have a bed available for Ralphy but that she should call again the next day. That evening, she slept on the floor next to the sofa so that she could keep an eye on Ralphy throughout the night. The next morning, she again called the rehab and luckily, a bed had opened up. She and her husband drove Ralphy to the rehab that evening. On the drive- Ralphy was worried that he would be in violation of his probation for leaving the state. Darlene told Ralphy that he was violating his probation by using heroin; to which, he had no answer. He completed 30 days of rehab and once again- things looked good. Unfortunately, when he went home- he began hanging around the same friends and went back to the same habits.

On Wednesday, August 14, 2013, Ralphy’s mother spoke to him on the phone. She said he sounded good- she told him that she loved him and replied that he loved her too. 3 days later at 9:53pm- Ralphy’s parents received the phone call that would essentially change their lives forever. While incarcerated, Ralphy had hung himself.

Today, Ralphy is not the man he used to be. His brain was damaged from the lack of oxygen and he now needs help with the smallest things that most of us take for granted every day. He uses a walker and cannot stand without losing his balance. He can only drink if his head is bent down towards his airway, he needs help bathing, dressing, eating, using the bathroom and brushing his teeth. He lives in a 10×10 room at an adult care home owned and operated by his grandparents. He can’t hold a conversation, has no memory of 2013 and when his mother had to tell him that he attempted suicide- he didn’t believe her.

If you ask Darlene if she’s happy that Ralphy is no longer using heroin- she would say “definitely.” However, the tragic event that led to this point is not something she would wish on her worst enemy. When Ralphy was in the ICU, his parents were told that the outcome would be poor; implying death. At the time, his mother felt that he was still alive just so she could say goodbye.

While in the hospital, Darlene asked Ralphy if he knew what unconditional love meant. He replied “no matter what.” Ralphy’s mother said the “no matter what” love they have for Ralphy has played a huge role in his recovery thus far and she believes that it will continue to do so moving forward. Today, when she asks him how much she loves him- Ralphy replies “too much.” Darlene said this statement could not be further from the truth because as the mother of someone who has had heroin take over her life, the strongest hope one can have is for their family to be whole again.

When asking Ralphy what the worst drug is- he’ll answer “heroin.” If you ask him how many times it takes to become addicted- he will tell you “one.” When his mother asked him if he felt his childhood was unhappy or if he felt unloved, Ralphy said “no” and when she asked why he used heroin, Ralphy replied, “I just thought I would try it.”

From all of this, Darlene said, “For those living in the darkness- I hope you see the light, love and beauty surrounding you. For those struggling with addiction, whether you are an addict, family member, or friend, when the world says give up- ‘hope’ whispers one more time. Every life is important, not one being more important than another. Never give up hope!”

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Originally published at on October 16, 2015.

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