This is by far the longest, most difficult and personal blog I have ever written. If you don’t have time to read it now, I hope you will mark it and return when you have a few minutes. And I hope that you will share it with anyone you think needs to read it.
The backdrop of what I’m about to share is the funeral of my precious, 18-year-old daughter, Alana Bianca Carbonara, who lost her short, fierce battle with her heroin addiction on September 19, 2015. Her name means “pure, white light.” That is what she was to everyone who knew her. I don’t want you to think about her as my daughter, and don’t want you to think about her death as one of the too many statistics claimed by drugs. Instead, think of her as your child, your niece, your neighbor, your friend, your classmate, or maybe even yourself.
Not trusting myself to speak at the service with any sort of clarity, I wrote out what I hoped to read. The room was dark, and my eyes were too filled with tears to read the words in front of me. So I just spoke and tried to recall what I hoped to say. What follows is a copy of what I intended to say.
A few weeks ago at my father’s funeral, I saw my daughter Alana in a crowded room, and I thought “She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”
Beauty runs in my family.
When I was little, I was in love with my cousin Debi, another blond-haired, beautiful girl. Secretly, I planned to marry her someday.
Stupid thoughts like that also run in my family.
When my son Jack was three and Alana was two, he announced “When I get big, I’m going to marry Alana.”
Jack’s mom told him that he couldn’t.
“But why? I love her!”
She told him, “You just can’t. That’s not the way it works.”
Jack started to wail, “But why!? I love her so, why can’t I marry her!?”
I intervened and told Jack, “Honey, when you’re both older, if you still want to get married, we’ll move to Arkansas so you can do that.”
Alana was beautiful. Beyond that, she was brilliant. And multi-talented. Anything she tried her hand at, she excelled in. She wrote better and more beautiful prose than many published authors I know. She was artistic. She played the violin. She was athletic. As a child, she was a figure skater, she played basketball, and she was a high school cheerleader. And she was a fierce defender in soccer, once she realized that the actual game of soccer didn’t involve giving constant hugs to her teammates during the game when the ball rolled 10 feet away from her.
She loved animals. Last year, we saw a mouse running down the street when we were driving on Route 59 to Olive Garden. She was upset that I refused to get into a car accident so I could pick up the mouse and carry it to safety. And the day my father died, Alana stood in the backyard feeding his squirrels by hand.
Alana had a beautiful voice, both when speaking and singing. She had kindness in her spirit towards others. She couldn’t stand to see anyone left out or bullied. She would stand up for her friends and become a defender for those who didn’t have a voice. She loved helping people. A few months ago, she told me that she wanted to be a counselor, so she could help kids overcome their addictions.
And Alana was a fighter; I mean she had tenacity. At eight, she decided she wanted to play basketball, and she entered a league where all of the other kids had played for some time. A player on the other team was really good, and he kept coming right through Alana, because he spotted that she was the weak link on the team.
At halftime, I told Alana, “Don’t let that kid get by you. Keep your hands up so he doesn’t have a shot.”
She went back in there, and the other kid immediately tried to get past her. Alana kept jerking her arms NOT UP but directly AT the face of the kid with the ball. The kid stepped back, tried a couple more times, gave her a look that said, “You’re crazy!” And then he picked a new weak link, because Alana would not give him an inch.
In all of those ways, Alana surpassed me. She got none of those genes or characteristics from me. But in another way, there is no one in this room or in this world more like Alana than me. I told her, “Alana, you’re me in a skirt…if you would ever wear a skirt.” From me, Alana inherited anxiety and depression. Add to those traits low impulse control and poor emotions management, and you have a recipe for addiction. In fact, the only difference between me and Alana is that I embraced a loving community of recovery nearly 5 years ago and have been sober ever since, and Alana could not find a way to stay in recovery.
Some of you remember the “life of the party” Alana, the wild, free spirited, crazy Alana that said and did things you almost wished you could say and do yourself. So many of the pictures she posted on her well-crafted social media accounts show a happy, living-large Alana, who had the world at her command. What is the face of addiction? It’s often the life of the party, the most exciting person in the room. That is one face of addiction.
But there’s another face of addiction. How many of you saw her weeping for how unmanageable her life had become? I did. Her mother did. How many of you knew what she did after the party? She went home–alone, terrified, and full of shame. That’s another face of addiction.
Look at my Alana now. That is another face of addiction, the cold, lifeless face where many addicts, like Alana, end up way before their time.
But there is another face of addiction: it’s my face, the face of someone who struggled but found redemption in active recovery.
Addiction ends in one of two ways: death or recovery. The addiction wants to take your life, like it took the life of my daughter. Recovery wants to redeem your life, giving you unlimited opportunities to live, fight back, and create a life of hope, forgiveness, and strength.
Alana had tenacity, stubbornness, and willpower in spades. But those aren’t enough to fight addiction. Willpower is like a muscle that tires with repeated use and eventually gives out. And in the case of an addict, giving out means giving in and giving yourself over again to the addiction, and each time that happens, the shame of failure serves as further confirmation that “I’m worthless, I can’t do it. Why bother fighting?”
No one can stop a runaway train, but a community of support–joining together around one purpose–can.
When something like this happens, the death of a beautiful, 18-year-old girl, the first question we ask is HOW? How did she die? Then WHY? Why did it have to end like this? Finally, WHO? Who did this? Who introduced her drugs? Who did drugs with her? Who sold her the drugs? Who knew about her drug use?
Who can we blame for Alana’s death? Blame me. Blame her whole family. Blame the community of Naperville. Blame the government. Blame yourselves. But those are just more lies. Blame never saved a life, and blame never brought back a life from the dead.
For Alana’s death to have meaning—and by the way, Alana’s life HAD MEANING—meaning to me and every person whose world she entered—but for her death to have meaning, blame the addiction. And determine to not let another Alana die without fighting back with the power of love and the strength of a community of support.
Let me say a word to the parents who are here tonight.
Your job is NOT to be the best friend of your children.
Your job is NOT to let your kids drink in your basement, reasoning, “Well, at least this way I know they are safe.”
Your job is NOT to say, “I smoked pot when I was your age. So as long as you’re just smoking pot…”
Your job is NOT to turn a blind-eye to your child who comes home smelling of cigarettes, consoling yourself that “everyone experiments. It’s just a phase.” Would you let your toddler “experiment” with battery acid? Would you allow your grade school child drive your car? Would you approve of your middle school child playing with a loaded pistol?
What is your job as a parent? Your only job is TO KEEP YOUR CHILDREN ALIVE.
The only reason I’m still alive is that my sweet, dear mother and recently-departed father cared nothing if I liked them. They parented me. They stayed on me. They watched me. They knew my friends. They did NOT trust me. And still, I nearly went off the deep end. Because I feared and loved my parents, I am still alive. And if you ever hope to earn the privilege of holding the hand as you walk down the street with your adult child, DO NOT BE THEIR FRIEND TODAY. BE THEIR PARENT. KEEP THEM ALIVE.
Alana’s mother and I have lost our daughter, Jack has lost his sister, and we all have lost a friend. So if you were one of Alana’s friends, you are welcome here. If you partied with Alana and enjoyed her as “the life of the party,” you are welcome here. If you introduced Alana to heroin, or if you drove her to buy heroin, or you used heroin with Alana, you most certainly are welcome here. And I’d like to talk with you. And I’d like you to know that I love you. And I’d like you to know that Alana loved you. And if you knew Alana at all, you knew that she would have laid down her life for you.
It’s too late for Alana, but it’s not too late for you.
If you are on the road to addiction—if you are no longer in the driver’s seat of your life—and you get help, Alana’s death will have meaning. If you’re here in the throes of addiction, don’t leave here without talking to me, or Tim with the “A Man In Recovery Foundation.” Tim Ryan understands addiction. He is a recovering addict, and he helps addicts today after he lost his own son to heroin. Kyle is with him. Can you two stand up? Kyle is Alana’s age, and he’s been in recovery for 10 months. Since that time, this is the 8th funeral he’s attended for friends like Alana who died because of their addictions. There are members of the church here who lead recovery programs right in this building. These people will be right outside the door. They want to talk with you. Please don’t leave here without knowing that there is help for you, there is love for you, and there is community for you.
Don’t listen to the sweet lies of addiction that tell you that it’s too late for you turn back. It isn’t. As long as there is life, there is hope. Tonight you can find a loving community of support to help you on your way to recovery and to life, the life that you know you can live, the life Alana would want you to live.
You don’t have to live like Alana—terrified, defeated, and alone. And you don’t have to die like Alana, either. Please make Alana’s death mean something. She would have given everything to be part of your recovery and your healing.
(If you or a loved one need support for an addiction, please call Tim Ryan directly at 312 502 8671 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him at Transformations Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center.