TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — There’s something special about moms. They are unique people. Their emotions run deep, on an entirely different level. They know how to nurture, how to soothe, how to heal – with a simple touch or reassuring smile.
And, they have razor-sharp instincts.
In fact, many of us know firsthand what it was like to get that well-known warning, “Don’t try anything, I’ve got eyes in the back of my head, and I’ll see what you’re doing.”
Indeed, mothers have a sixth sense about them – a “mama bear” spirit that allows them to tap into the very heart of those around them, specifically their own children.
But, there’s a demon among us.
It is a force so powerful, so sinister, so insidious – that it has derailed even the most perceptive parents. It has overtaken their instincts and left them powerless in a terrifying battle. It has tempted, lured, engulfed and ultimately destroyed lives. It knows no boundaries and seems to seep into any path it in which it gains access.
The demon is addiction.
It doesn’t care about gender, race, education or bank accounts. Addiction isn’t about where you live, where you work or what you look like. It seems to writhe its way in and, similar to a parasite, it doesn’t let go.
Just ask Lynne Knowles and Tracy Carathanasis.
They are two loving moms who are left with aching hearts – two different stories, yet both the same. Their worries, concerns, fears and doubts were identical at one point. Their days were spent waging war on a seedy killer. Their nights were spent sleepless. They died a thousand deaths every time their child didn’t come home.
Each has lived a draining lifetime of anxiety and worry. They existed on hope, faith and prayer. It kept them alive as they struggled to save their children.
That world is gone. For both moms.
They are now left with grief and exhaustion after a battle they couldn’t win, one they fought round-the-clock, desperate to make things better. .
They tried. They fought hard. They gave everything they had and more.
But, this demon was too devious, too clever, too tempting. It outsmarted them at every turn. And in the end, it claimed the lives of those they loved most.
Both mothers say the pain is so deep, so raw, so hideous – that it almost doesn’t seem real.
Each mom lost the love of her life, her own flesh and blood, the child created and born from each of their bodies.
It just can’t be, they explain.
But when you look in their eyes, you see it. When you hear the stories of their children – Jamie and Drew – you feel it. It is real.
The heartache. The disbelief. The shock, as fresh as the day it happened.
Both recently attended the Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education candlelight vigil at Hillsborough High School in Tampa. The auditorium was packed that night with moms, dads, sisters, brothers, teachers, friends and loved ones.
Lynne and Tracy were among those in attendance. They sat in the crowd, shoulder to shoulder, with other parents. They shared their stories and opened their hearts. After all, these two moms have walked similar paths.
Lynne’s daughter, Jamie, begin a battle with addiction at a very young age – in middle school. It started off with prescription pills and lots of them. Lynne would later find out that her daughter began doctor shopping in high school, going from physician to physician around Tampa Bay, to get prescriptions for painkillers.
Unbeknownst to Lynne, her daughter got thousands of pills.
The Countryside High School graduate, who had good friends and made good grades, would eventually move on to heroin, landing her in and out of jail and rehabs.
But, Lynne admits she had hope.
She believed, deep in her heart, life would get better for her daughter. It had to. Lynne was not giving up on her child.
Jamie traveled a long road.
lAfter multiple incarcerations, hard-fought detox sessions, counseling, rehabilitation centers and sheer will – it happened.
Jamie’s became sober.
Life looked so hopeful.
She married a young man who was serving in the Navy, and the couple moved to San Diego where he was stationed before being deployed to the Middle East. They were blissfully happy and in love.
Lynne was also happy.
This was a new start for her beautiful daughter. It was finally happening. Jamie had turned a corner.
Lynne traveled to the West Coast where the mother and daughter duo spent a blissful two weeks together. They laughed. They talked. They shared their dreams for the future and a renewed sense of hope in repairing their own relationship, one that suffered the saddest of setbacks as Jamie’s demon unleashed a savage divide between them. It broke Lynne’s heart. And Jamie’s.
As every parent of an addict knows, intimacy and trust are no longer an option amidst addiction. Moms and dads will tell you – the love is always there, even in the midst of agony and chaos. That’s one thing this demon cannot destroy. But, that doesn’t mean it stops trying. Instead, it wreaks havoc in other ways. It chews at and rips apart the fabric of honesty, which can sometimes never return to a state of purity and innocence.
Lynne worked hard at having faith. She prayed every day that the bond with her daughter, her firstborn, would heal in time.
And, it did.
As Lynne spent those days in California, she saw her daughter relaxed, happy and sober. Lynne had no way of knowing, those precious days would be the last time she would see Jamie alive.
It would be their last trip together.
Lynne savored the time, as did Jamie. They had a blast. It seemed as though the once-turbulent life of the 23-year-old was finally stable, with a level of peace as Jamie embraced her sobriety.
Lynne’s daughter was back on track.
Jamie’s future seemingly consisted of clear skies, as blue as the Pacific Ocean she enjoyed during moments of respite in her recovery. This was the way life was supposed to be – happy, healthy, and in love. She was a newlywed, married to a husband who adored her.
Lynne returned home to Clearwater with a feeling of cautious optimism. She couldn’t wait to get back to the West Coast to spend more time with her daughter in the weeks to follow. Their time together was inspiring. It was a moment filled with immense joy. Lynne felt that the future was filled with possibilities.
That feeling of hope lasted six days.
Then, the phone call came.
It is not a moment Lynne likes to think about or talk about. The conversation she had that day makes her sick to her stomach. It shattered her soul.
“I remember I was sitting in a chair and I went down on my knees, and I started screaming, ‘Are you sure, are you sure, are you sure?’”
It was the coroner calling from San Diego. Jamie was found dead in her apartment.
She was alone.
She had overdosed.
Jamie wanted to use heroin one last time. And, she did.
Sadly, it was a temptation she couldn’t resist – a demon that came calling at a precarious and fragile time. Sadly, that seems to be the modus operandi for addiction. It’s as though this evil element knows exactly when to rip apart the knot at the end of a rapidly fraying rope.
Addiction will destroy progress and persistence every time. It delights in frustration, as those who are struggling start to fall.
It is with uncanny timing that when someone’s strength seems to fails, weakness, in the cagiest, cruelest form creeps back into a thriving life, spreading lies and falsehoods in the process.
Jamie had everything going for her.
She was young, beautiful, smart. Her life was just starting over. She was on a hopeful path. Then, came that irresistible, deadly temptation. It would crush her resolve and take her life.
All that remained was a syringe on the floor.
Thousands of miles away, Lynne was wailing on the kitchen floor, choking back heaving sobs – horrified by the phone call she received.
It was a living nightmare, and it felt like torture.
“I just remember walking circles and circles in my kitchen,” her mother sobbed. “I screamed, ‘This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening.’”
“But, it was. It really was happening. She was gone.”
For the mother of Drew Carathanasis, the story is eerily similar.
She, too, was filled with hope.
She, too, thought things would get better.
Her son was also fought a ruthless battle with addiction. Drew was, at one time, a happy teenager with an energetic, magnetic personality. He seemed to draw people in with his adventurous spirit and quick wit.
People loved Drew. They would often say, there’s just something about him.
Her son, who attended Alonso High School, would battle the demon for years – and would ultimately lose.
With tears in her eyes, Tracy explained how, nearly two years after his death, she still can’t bring herself to clean out Drew’s room or move his things.
It is just as it was.
It is just as it was.
“His shoes are still on the floor. His hoodie is still hanging up,” she explained, as her eyes welled. “It feels like he’s still coming home.”
Just as Lynne had with Jamie, Tracy also watched in disbelief and horror as addiction took over her son’s life. Drew was a bright, young man with the world at his fingerprints.
Success was his for the taking.
He was handsome, smart and charming. He had a loving family, dozens of friends and was good at sports.
At a young age, Drew began experimenting with prescription pills and found out quickly, he couldn’t stop. Drugs would rip his family apart as his addiction grew and morphed into an uncontrollable monster. He seemed to try, and subsequently like, almost everything he could get his hands on, says Tracy.
The damage began to take its toll.
Broken-hearted and feeling helpless, Drew’s family watched him slip into an angry shell. At times, he was combative and cruel.
This wasn’t the boy they knew.
Drew rebelled and broke every rule his parents set for him in his young teenage years. His entire world morphed into one daily goal, one sadistic mission – find drugs and use them.
But, still there was hope.
Just as Jamie’s journey was filled with speed bumps on the road to what looked like success, Drew’s journey went much the same way. He entered a drug diversion program. But, it didn’t seem to take. He was in and out of rehab multiple times. Tracy says that at first, he didn’t take it seriously.
Then, one day, he turned a corner.
She says he began to try – working harder to reach a goal of getting sober and graduating high school. She tells the story of visiting him at rehab and finding him alone at a picnic table surrounded by books and binders, studying for the SAT.
She knows he wanted to get better. She knows how hard he tried.
She also knows how tough it was for him to stay sober as he battled addiction. She encouraged him on his journey. She reminded him how much she loved him, how she wouldn’t give up on him. Ever.
Tracy had no way of knowing the drug that would eventually take her son’s life was the very one diagnosed to help make him better.
Just like Lynne, Tracy remembers the phone call that day. Her son was found on the side of the road. His brother was the one who discovered the body – his own sibling, slumped over in the grass.
And, just as Lynne screamed out in agony, the same words came from Tracy.
This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.
Drew overdosed on the antidepressant Wellbutrin.
He had been hallucinating for hours, according to eyewitnesses who would later tell investigators they honestly thought the young man was just messing around with friends or possibly drunk. They had no idea that he was moments from dying.
“I feel, in my heart, that he was truly depressed throughout his recovery as he struggled to stay sober. I feel as though he took all those Wellbutrin tablets thinking it would make him feel normal, better. I later read in his journal that he would tell young people this was not the way to live life.”
This particular demon seems to do that kind of damage, according to parents of young addicts. It is quick to entice, to destroy progress and lead a young life back down a path of dangerous behavior.
Both moms admit that their children willingly made these choices. They chose drugs over and over again. But, both moms also admit – this is an epidemic, one that is destructive and relentless.
These mothers have learned many things about their children since losing them. Each has endured years of their own painful detective work, speaking extensively with friends and acquaintances of their beloved son and daughter.
They’ve learned more than they wanted to know. They’ve heard gut wrenching details and stories that seem to fill in the gaps and the puzzle pieces over the years that just didn’t make sense.
From each mother – there is one big piece of advice for every parent. It is simple and no-nonsense: Get educated.
“I was worried about my daughter graduating high school,” said Lynne. “I should have been worried about her staying alive. I didn’t realize that my daughter was doctor shopping in high school. I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something wasn’t quite right. But, I didn’t know what it was. Don’t be like me and stick your head in the sand. I wish I would’ve been more educated, I wish I would’ve known then what I know now.”
For Tracy, that sentiment is shared.
“I would tell moms and dads to educate themselves. Learn everything they can about the drugs, and most of all, learn everything about your child,” she said. “You think you know, but a lot of us really don’t. The one thing I always did, I always made sure Drew knew how much I loved him. I made sure he knew that I was never going to give up on him, and I think he always knew that. Sometimes it’s like we think he is coming home, that he will walk through the front door.”
For these two moms, their lives have been filled with moments too painful to remember, but impossible to forget.
In the end, it is a tale of two mothers and the two lives they tried so hard to save.
Two moms who would do anything to have their children with them once again.