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Butterfly: A Mother's Loss and Moving Forward

Butterflys Flying

Tell us your story.

It started with the phone call that she had died, and I had kind of suspected it. My daughter, Lisa and I, lived in different states but stayed in contact over the phone. Lisa had made comments in the past hinting at problems. I was in the military, but went to Virginia for a visit back in 2009. At the time, my son made a comment that Lisa wanted some of his medication, wanted drugs, but I didn’t think anything of it. What I know is this: she didn’t like anything I said, and there was a lot of animosity. We thought she was bipolar, thought there may be some mental issues. All of these factors made it hard to get involved, especially not knowing the full extent of what was going on. After she died, that was the first I knew about any huffing. I didn’t know about that at all before.

After Lisa’s death, her friends started to come out of the woodwork; the same friends that she had told not to tell me about everything that was going on. Lisa was afraid that her kids would be taken away from her, tying back into medication and drug abuse, which apparently she had been doing for a while. Her roommate admitted she thought Lisa was doing that back in high school and quit then. Lisa didn’t have a stable environment from the age of 16 to 18, since we moved around a lot. She was blacklisted from getting any narcotics- she wasn’t allowed any from the doctor. She was living in a different state at the time of her death, but was still blacklisted from getting any kind of narcotics, so this was the first sign that she had some sort of drug abuse problem. When they had found her body, she was clean with nothing in her system, despite marijuana found in her room with her. She had a can in her lap, and a second in the room that was fully used. I know she was a pretty regular user [of inhalants], but not sure how often it was.

Now after the fact, looking back as an adult and as her mother, there’s not really much to do about it. If I had known more I would’ve taken more steps. I didn’t know about her friends enabling her, her 4-year-old child being there and there not even being any food in the refrigerator. Had I known about that, I definitely would have stepped in sooner.

Looking back, when was the first time you had heard of inhalant abuse?
When I was a criminal investigator for the army, I had known about inhalant abuse as an issue. Even further back, a friend of hers in high school had died from huffing computer duster.

Why do you think inhalants are so popular among teens and youth?
They’re cheap and accessible. They’re very easy to access. I currently do investigations within the state of Texas- when the parents are told they’re paying $2 a pill for Xanax, when they’re living off government aid, when they’re addicted they’re going to do that- but when they can get high off an inhalant it’s so much easier. They don’t ask for an ID when they purchase it. These are common, easily accessible items that are being abused.

What would you like children to know about the danger and severity of inhalant abuse?
You think that it’s not going to kill you. What you don’t understand is using it over and over again- they don’t know the anatomy and physiology- it deprives you of oxygen. My daughter either passed out from no oxygen or too much carbon dioxide. It’s going to suffocate you! Even if someone is there with you, nothing could save you in a lot of cases. Even with the buddy system there comes a point when the inhalants override the system. This could happen the first time, too. At a young age, there’s no way to know this.

I’ve actually got pictures that showed the crime scene and the aftermath- face being smashed into her leg- her eyes have busted blood vessels. There was no autopsy, but she had brain bleeds. Kids need to see this, because it’s not all pretty like in the movies. This is how your family will find you, and it’s not pretty. Everyone wants to protect their kids until something happens, and it’s out there. As a parent, you just don’t want to think that your kids are doing this. She was an underage tobacco buyer, and already involved in combating drug abuse at 14 years old. As a parent, I wonder what I did wrong. At what point could I have done anything that could change the outcome? My son tells me that she liked the lifestyle too much to want to change. What can we do differently? Show the pictures- it’ll affect at least one kid. Final sight is powerful.

Describe how inhalant abuse has affected your family and the community you live in.
Her immediate family, me and her brother, we’ve accepted it to an extent. There’s been no need to seek treatment or deep grieving.  We accept it. I am so pissed she made such a stupid decision. I know a few of her friends have had a bit of a rough time and they still post on Facebook “I miss you”, but I don’t know of any immediate effect or counseling going on as a result. I did have quite a few of them contact me and say they were aware. They felt guilty because they didn’t take those steps to tell me before it was too late.

Tell us about your butterfly release, who helped support, and if you will plan another event.

It started out as a silent auction with posters and pictures as a one year anniversary for her friends. It was a get-together for them, a healing type of thing, life goes on type of thing, and all the proceeds would go to inhalant.org. Lisa had a butterfly tattoo from when her aunt died, and a butterfly release emerged with a silent auction to raffle off butterflies. It evolved into a butterfly release after getting in contact with Butterfly™. She died in November, so we did it around the anniversary of her death. Maybe we’ll change it to a month of awareness to put out to Facebook. However many can be sent in a lump container, have a $20 donation, a group release in a park, however many people can be there- they can release a butterfly for their loved ones. We’re looking at the end of October for that.

If there was one message you wanted to get out to other parents, what would it be?
Don’t believe your kids, no matter what their age is. If there’s a change in personality or if you have any inkling of mental illness, delve into it deeper. It may be more than a chemical imbalance: It may be drug abuse.

How should parents promote discussions with their children about inhalant abuse?
Parents need to be upfront with their kids and not beat around the bush. Parents are too sensitive. You can’t be naïve! They’re not just being moody, there could be something going on. If you think it’s none of your business, it is your business. Ask questions. They have to deal with it.

Thank you to Faith Coleman for sharing her story of losing her daughter, Lisa Doughty. For more resources and information, please visit www.consumered.org/nipaw

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