Recovery Blog Post-Paul

In March of 2000, I witnessed the greatest hockey game ever played. Well, I may be exaggerating a little but I was a competitive Dad back then. Although unqualified, I was appointed an assistant coach on my son Evan’s House Hockey team. At the end of the season, there were playoffs and the final two teams played in a championship game. As I watched from the players’ bench in the Darien Rink during the national anthem, I could see my third grader Evan with his rosy, red cheeks and a big smile on his face. At the end of the anthem, he folded his arms, leaned back, and shot his legs out at 90 degrees, doing what I could call his Russian squat dance.

That was Evan, always joking and entertaining. He was born a comedian, a sensitive one who wanted everyone to be happy. He was smart and did well in sports. But most importantly, Evan wanted to have fun.

He wasn’t nervous like I was that night. You could see the tension in most people that night, including the coaches and parents standing there. This was just another house hockey game, and he was going to enjoy himself with his buddies.

I will spare you the details of the game, but I will say that Evan’s Prudential Wheeler team was the underdog. The opposing Mailex team had gone into the championship game with only one loss on its record, while Prudential had many losses and not much of a chance. During the game, the shots on goal were probably 4 to 1 against. Amazingly, at the end of regulation, we had a tie game 3-3. And as they say in all sports, anything can happen in overtime. And it did–with Evan’s team scoring the next goal and the championship.

With the win came a huge silver trophy cup called the Massie Cup. It seemed larger than many of the first graders on the team. As I watched Evan on the ice celebrating, I realized that he would have been just as happy as if they lost. But I was ecstatic. As USA Hockey Coach Herb Brooks once said: “we beat those guys!”

Evan skated over to me with the cup. The words out of his mouth were typical Evan, “Dad, if we get a ½ gallon of vanilla ice cream and some chocolate syrup can we make an ice cream sundae using the Cup?” I said sure Evan, that will be great. When it was our turn in the rotation, Evan, his dad, and his two brothers all got spoons out and ate from the cup.

Five years later, I was driving my son Evan to Saxe Middle School in New Canaan. He was in eighth grade. He told me, “Dad, I don’t want to go to school today. I have a stomachache”. This wasn’t the first time he had said that, and his “stomachache” had already been checked out with a doctor. There was nothing medically wrong other than a little acid reflux. What Evan was really telling me was, “I have anxiety, Dad. It makes me feel uncomfortable and alone.”

To this day, I have major regrets. What if my relationship was such, that back then Evan would have shared his pain with me? In 8th grade, Evan found another way to cope, to find relief. When his friends tried alcohol and substances, he joined in. Evan would later tell me that the self-medication worked. His drug use provided the relief he was looking for, even if it was just temporary.

Five years later, during his Freshman year, Evan continued to hide in plain sight of me. He still had his anxiety, but found no need to open up about it. Alcohol and weed were the way to cope. His use had grown into a dependency—a substance use disorder—and it was staring me in the face. He was functional, however. He was in college, and he had made Dean’s List in his Fall semester. Finding the right college for him had made a difference!

At college parties, Evan experimented with prescription drugs—not just drinking and pot. Among the pills were opioids like Vicodin. In addition, after his freshman year, he had his wisdom teeth out and was given a large prescription of opioid painkillers.

Five years later, in April of 2015, I found myself in a 12-step meeting in New Haven, CT. It had been a long struggle for Evan and everyone in his family. He came home from his sophomore year of college as a heroin addict. Not only did he need treatment and support, but his family needed help as well. Because addiction is a family disease, it hijacks the brain and impacts family members and friends.

On this warm, spring evening, in a meeting comprised mostly of young men affiliated with a New Haven-based treatment program, Evan was to be awarded his 1-year anniversary coin. I was proud of him. What an honor for having reached 365 days of sobriety. I was also proud of how he had handled the peaks and valleys of his 4-year struggle with opioid addiction. He had made it to this point because of fellowship and connection—including friendships with guys like his buddy Cojack. Evan was smiling again, his eyes were clear, and he was cracking jokes just like the family comedian I remember. During his coin acceptance speech, he shared his goal to get a bachelor’s in social work and become a licensed counselor to help others.

When he accepted his coin, he thanked his support network and said he wanted to help the new guys, the ones who were just starting out in their recovery journey. On this particular evening, several young men received a 24-hour coin, just like Evan and his 1-year coin. The “newbies”. Evan wanted to be a role model, to encourage them. I was proud.

We had our old Evan back—he was funny, honesty had returned, and his brain had repaired itself. His parents had found support from other parents—hope and connection with others who had been through the same thing. The future was bright, as bright as a shiny silver cup filled with vanilla ice cream.

Three months later, on July 15, 2015, Evan Paul Reinhardt died of a drug overdose in New Haven.

The next year, on September 15, 2016, the New Canaan Parent Support Group started up its first parent support meeting in a local church.