On the morning of October 14, 2016, I received a phone call from Alison’s boyfriend, who also lived in her sober living home (it was co-ed). Here is what I remember from the conversation that I now refer to as “The Call”:
• Boyfriend: Hi Ms. Flory. I wanted to let you know that I went into Alison’s room this morning to wake her up, but she was unresponsive.
• Me: What do you mean? What happened?
• Boyfriend: We got high last night.
• Me: Okay, well what happened after that?
• Boyfriend: We fell asleep.
• Me: Where is she now?
• Boyfriend: We called 911 and they took her out on a stretcher.
• Me: Where did they take her?
• Boyfriend: I don’t know.
• Me: Is she okay?
• Boyfriend: She was unresponsive.
• Me: What do you mean, unresponsive?
• Boyfriend: She died.
• Me: What do you mean, she “died”? I thought you said you called 911
• Boyfriend: The paramedics came but it was too late. They took her… body… away.
• Me: Are you sure???
• Boyfriend: Yes. I’m so sorry to have to be the one to tell you. They also took the other girl to the hospital, because she overdosed too.
• Me: Is she okay?
• Boyfriend: I don’t know.
• Me: Okay, I’m going to call the hospital to find out what’s really going on. Goodbye.
I now subconsciously refer to everything in my life as having taken place either “before The Call” or “after The Call.” Life, as I knew it, changed in a split second when I heard the words “she died.” It felt like the universe shifted and time had stopped – a phenomenon I will never forget. This occurred before I could even comprehend what was happening (or what had happened). I later discovered that there is a name for what I experienced: a temporal illusion.
A temporal illusion is a distortion in the perception of time that occurs for various reasons, such as due to different kinds of stress. In such cases, a person may momentarily perceive time as slowing down, stopping, speeding up, or even running backwards, as the timing and temporal order of events are misperceived. (http://www.exactlywhatistime.com/psychology-of-time/temporal-illusions/)
The denial set in quickly, and I had a million reasons in my mind to explain why this couldn’t really be happening.
State of denial
I thought to myself: I had just spoken with Alison the night before and she seemed fine, so this must be a mistake. She seemed to be doing well in her treatment program and was super proud of her five months of sobriety, so there was no way she would have thrown it all away by getting high. Her DOC was cocaine, so it would be highly unlikely that she would have overdosed. I had just visited her the month before and saw that she was in such a good state of mind, so I would have seen the signs if she was using drugs or at risk of relapsing. This made no sense.
I called my mom, and she came over. I spent the next several hours on the phone trying to find out what happened. I was unable to reach anyone from the treatment center or sober living home. I finally got in touch with the medical examiner, and he confirmed that they had her there. I asked them how they knew it was her, and they said that they identified her based on her driver’s license information. In my mind, this was enough to maintain hope that this was a mistake. Maybe it was someone else. It couldn’t be Alison.
Later that afternoon, I received a call from the sheriff’s department. As soon as he said where he was calling from, I said, “I already know why you’re calling.” I asked about an investigation, but he couldn’t give any details. He explained that since it was a suspected overdose, not much further would be done to investigate the death. I was furious. A death is a death! What if there was foul play? What if she had an unknown health issue? Her death mattered enough for an investigation. We deserved to know the truth.
I’m not sure how I got through the series of events that followed. My mom says that I was in a trance-like state and dealt with everything methodically and without emotion. I was on a mission.
Reality sets in
We asked the youth pastor from our local church to be there when Alison’s younger siblings came home from school, so we would have support when telling them the news. The only thing worse than feeling the pain of losing my own child is the pain of seeing my children’s pain upon finding out that they lost their big sister. Hearing them sob was unbearable, and answering their questions was impossible.
I honestly don’t remember much about that first night – I was numb. I still am, to a point.
I booked a flight for all of us to go to Florida. I didn’t have a specific plan, but I knew we needed to go. The day before we left, I received a call from a woman in South Florida whose son was in recovery. She heard about my daughter’s death and was in contact with the mother of the girl who also overdosed that night. She told me that she wanted to help me find the truth about what happened to my daughter. Who was this woman? Why did she care? What would she want from me in return for her help?
The girl that Alison was with that night had also overdosed, but she survived. Her mother couldn’t get in touch with her the morning of October 14th, so she began to worry. She reached out to another woman in the area that she knew through a Facebook group. (This was the woman that called me.) This woman contacted another woman that lived closer to where the girl was and drove by to do a well-being check. She found her overdosing in the bedroom next to Alison’s. This girl had a brain stroke and was dying! They called 911, got her to the hospital, and she was in the ICU for several days. Upon arriving to Florida, my mom and I went straight from the airport to visit the girl at the hospital. We wished it was Alison that we were visiting instead of someone else’s daughter. Why didn’t I have any contacts in Florida to do a well-being check on Alison? What was I missing? It didn’t seem fair.
I met the woman who initially called me, the mother of the girl who overdosed, and a few other women at the hospital. They were all there to support this other mom and I and to help us find out what happened to our daughters. Could this really be happening? Why were these people helping us? They didn’t know Alison. They don’t know me.
Meeting these women was a turning point in my life. It was the beginning of my journey towards becoming an advocate myself, although I didn’t realize it at the time. The love and support I felt from this group of women was exactly what I needed. Everything they gave, from their kind words to their strong hugs, made the absolute worst experience of my life a little bit more tolerable. Meeting these women was a blessing.
Over the next few days in Florida, we met many of Alison’s friends, housemates, and coworkers. Her best friend planned a memorial service for her on the beach by the pier where they were baptized. I was so grateful that we were all there to celebrate Alison’s life with the friends she spent her last year with. She would have like seeing us all there together! I wish she could have been there with us.
In addition to meeting Alison’s friends, I also spoke with law enforcement, shared my story at a sober home taskforce meeting, a county commission meeting, and a recovery advocate group meeting. Local news reporters interviewed me as well. I was astonished to see how many groups and organizations existed to help and support people in recovery. I was horrified to learn of all the ways in which the industry was corrupt. This experience was eye-opening in so many ways.
Once we returned home, we had a memorial service for Alison at our local church. I had an urn at her service, but it was empty. I don’t think most people knew that. The State Medical Examiner's Office was dealing with a backlog in performing autopsies that caused a delay in cremation services. I asked the Medical Examiner if there was any way to speed up the process. I asked if he was sure that Alison would be okay. I wanted so badly to protect her. I couldn’t bear the thought of her being cold and alone. He said that it could take up to three months, but thankfully it only took 4 weeks. I received her cremains in a cardboard box delivered via courier. I still haven’t opened it to this day. I can’t.
Over the months that followed, dozens of reporters from various media outlets interviewed me. During this time, I met some other mothers who had lost their daughters while at treatment centers and sober homes owned by the same man. We took part in some interviews together and developed a strong bond with each other that I will treasure forever.
Newspapers published articles about our daughters, news programs shared our interviews, and Dr. Oz even invited me to be a guest on the show. As we discovered more details about our daughters’ experiences preceding their deaths, we shared all the information we found with the FBI and local law enforcement. We found that this treatment center operator was engaged in many fraudulent and unethical activities. He plead guilty to three federal offenses of conspiring to commit health care fraud, money laundering, and sex trafficking. These other moms and I testified by sharing our stories at his sentencing hearing. He received a sentence of 27 ½ years in prison and must register as a sex offender. Painful as it was to go through, we know that we saved lives by speaking out and sharing our stories. I think that Alison would be proud of me.
Advocacy is my calling
As I mentioned earlier, everything is my life took place either “before The Call” or “after The Call.” After The Call, I became a different person. Nothing is the same. My mindset, thought process, priorities, reactions, relationships, opinions, goals – EVERYTHING has changed. Everyone’s response to trauma is different. Mine was to instinctively dive headfirst into sharing my story, getting involved, and helping people. It wasn’t a conscious decision or a well-thought-out plan – it was just what happened to me. I began receiving calls and messages from people – some that I knew and some that I did not – sharing their own stories of losing a child or asking for help for their loved one in active addiction. I also kept in contact with many of Alison’s friends that she met in treatment as well, and I care about some of them to this day as if they were my own! They confide in me at times even before they can be open and honest with their parents. With all these people depending on me for help and support, I needed to have resources to give them quickly and based on their individual needs. I knew that to prevent anyone from experiencing what my daughter went through, I would need to make sure any person or place that I recommend must meet the highest of ethical standards. How could I do this, though?
Guidance & resources
Because of what I have been through, I am skeptical of most everyone I come across in the addiction treatment industry, especially in Florida. Everyone should be. People are not always as they seem – there’s no denying that. On the other hand, I have met some truly amazing people who work in the industry, and I have an incredible ever-growing network of advocates and parents all over the U.S. who are willing to help others at the drop of a hat. If I had known about this network while my daughter was in treatment, maybe the outcome could have been different. Maybe not, but I will always wonder.
Local resources are especially crucial for parents with children in treatment away from home. There are pros and cons to out-of-state treatment. If leaving their current environment is the best option for your child, as I believed it was for my daughter, please make sure you thoroughly research the facility before providing any payment or insurance information and make sure you have a network of local people you can trust to call on if necessary. I am proud to be a person so many people trust for guidance.
What qualifies me to provide guidance and reliable resources? After all, I’m not a licensed clinician or a certified interventionist. What I am is a mom who genuinely cares. I’ve been through a horrible experience and hope that others can learn from my mistakes and naivety. My main goal in life is to honor my daughter’s memory by helping others, as she would have done. I feel that I can do that best by helping anyone brave enough to reach out and ask for help.
I’m a Recovery Advocate, and this is what I do.