You Can’t Love Your Child Out of Addiction with Megan Megale of American Boy

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
You Can't Love Your Child Out of Addiction with Megan Megale of American Boy

If anyone could love a son out of addiction it would be Megan Megale. Her son Matt was an all-American Boy but Megan found out heroin was stronger than her love. This episode will make you sad, mad, and inspired all at the same time. You'll hear:

  • how Megan's family tried everything they knew to save Matt from the horrors of heroin
  • how she now sees ways she may have negatively impacted Matt's recovery
  • the antiquated legal system that pulled him out of a successful treatment program
  • and how after losing their battle for Matt's life, Megan is helping other "Matt's" with her foundation, American Boy

This is a conversation you won't want to miss because you'll gain Megan's brutally honest and brave insights about parenting a child through the nightmare of opioid addiction. It is honest and critical information for any parent listening.

Megan's daughter Shea is the author of, "American Boy: The Opioid Crisis and the Sister Left Behind" the story of her brother's fall into addiction through the eyes of a little sister. The first-hand biography shares unique insight into a now all too familiar and life-threatening phenomenon – what worked for Matthew and what didn't, mistakes along the way that challenge families to talk without shame about their loved one's addiction, and what communities can do to change the course of this historic epidemic in front of them.


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Brenda Zane  01:11
Hello, welcome to Hopestream. Today you are going to hear a story that will make you sad, angry and hopeful all at the same time. I had the great privilege of talking with Megan Magale, founder of American Boy, it’s a foundation that helps kids with substance use disorder to get treatment, to get extended treatment and also to find meaningful work. The foundation also helps families find quality parent recommended treatment, and her daughter Shay wrote the book American boy the opioid crisis and the sister left behind. In addition to running the foundation, Megan is the president and managing director of Megale public relations in New York City. She’s an expert in branding, social media strategy, partnerships and endorsements And her firm’s clients include professional athletes financial institutions, film consumer brands and celebrities. And in this episode, Megan talks about her son Matt, who battled heroin addiction, the unbelievable events around his death and the incredible foundation she runs. Megan is a straight shooter. She’s a fiercely dedicated Mama. And I know you’re gonna want to hear this conversation. So I won’t take any more time and I will let you hear this amazing story with a Megan Megale. 
Brenda Zane
Hey, Megan, I am so excited to have you here today. Thank you for joining us on Hopestream. 
Megan Megale  02:45
You’re very welcome. I’m really happy to be here. 
Brenda Zane  02:48
Well, we chatted earlier and I just was so impressed and impacted by your story that I thought it would be a really great one for the listeners of this podcast to hear not only because you have a relevant story, obviously with Matt with your son, but what you’re doing now I think really shows a level of resilience that, you know, parents can have hope for, regardless of the outcome of what’s going on with their kids that this doesn’t have to be sort of a, you know, the end of your life as a mom or dad and, and that you can do something out of, you know, a really difficult time. 
Megan Megale  03:27
Right. Yeah. And I, honestly, Brenda, I, you know, I, I love what you say about the level of resilience. I didn’t I didn’t know that. I would have that, though, after we lost Matt. And so, you know that that’s a great starting point for us because I felt as hopeless as anybody else. I mean, I sat and looked out my window for three months, thinking my life is over, I can never live without my child. So I thank you for that. That gives me you know, great hope on my end. What I’m doing does matter. 
Brenda Zane  04:03
Well, it’s, it’s one of those things that I think it does take time to find, I think some you know, some people are naturally more resilient than others. I studied that a lot in my training through the Mayo Clinic for health and wellness coaching is resilience is really one of the biggest indicators of how somebody’s going to come out of something. And right now, you know, we’re still in the in the COVID-19 crisis. And I think that’s going to be more important than ever is for a great everybody, everybody to be resilient. Right? But especially if you’re going through this with a child also who’s at risk and yes, I agree. Maybe you can just sort of rewind for us a little bit and tell us about yourself and your family and then kind of tell us the story of Matt and all the things that came with that.
Megan Megale  04:56
So we live in the Washington DC area. My husband and I are both professionals. I have three kids. Kelly is my oldest two. She lives in Manhattan and works on Wall Street. Matt is and was my youngest, my middle child. And I also have a younger child Shea who has a form of muscular dystrophy. And she is our youngest child. My husband travels quite frequently for work globally so many times he’s out of the picture. And her care requires me to pick her up and she’s 21 now Brenda, so she’s gotten she’s gotten heavier and more difficult for me to shower and toilet and things like that. So Matt really was my right hand man because Larry was gone a lot and Matt really filled in because Kelly was out of the house. So Matt and she were seven years apart and Matthew at 16 struggled with, he came to Larry and I and said, you know, I need some help. And we suspected it. We confronted him a few times. And you know, there was always an answer. It was an excuse. It’s always someone else’s. And we knew he was in trouble, but we really were waiting for him to come to us. Because, you know, we had been told that, you know, he, you know, he’s got a wanted more than we want it. 
Brenda Zane  06:28
What were some of the things that you saw that were red flags for you?
Megan Megale  06:33
My husband was an all American lacrosse player. And Matthew followed in his footsteps playing lacrosse, he loved it. And he came home second year of high school and said, I’m going to quit lacrosse. And we were perplexed. We had no idea and, you know, within a very short period of time, there was a new crowd of kids. He took up skateboarding, and you know, he just, everything changed, his demeanor changed, his appearance changed. And the people he was hanging out with change. So that was a very obvious observation that we made. And, you know, he started smoking pot. So he started coming into the house, we smelled it. We confronted him. He admitted to it. But you know, about a year and a half later, right before his 18th birthday, Larry was gone. And I, I just instinctually knew something was not right. And I went into his room when he was at school. And I and I picked up the mattress. I went through that whole room and I found I found a syringe. And I knew I mean, I’m a pretty smart cookie. And I knew I knew exactly what it was. And I knew that I wasn’t going to listen to Oh, it’s my friend with diabetes or whatever.
Brenda Zane  08:00
because they’re so clever!
Megan Megale  08:01
Hah, they’re so clever and manipulative, you know, I mean, I’d give Matthew $20 for a haircut need come home with no haircut. And I’d be like, Where’s my $20 and, you know, he couldn’t produce it. I mean, I knew in my heart, it was just the realization of my own personal acceptance that my child would make decisions that were so. So against what I knew he was, it just I didn’t want to accept it. So it was nearing his 18th birthday. And I knew that after he turned 18, I would lose a lot of leverage, you know, with getting him forcibly take, you know, putting him into a treatment program. And I made the very difficult decision of having two very large men come into my home in the middle of the night. And I had a bag packed for Matt and I had found a treatment center, a wilderness program in West Virginia. And they came and they got Matt, the day before his 18th birthday.  AndLarry wasn’t here. I was here with Shay. And it was a horrible incident. It was just the horrible ordeal to have to see your child, you know, forcibly removed from your home. I mean, I love this child. And, you know, I really thought that there would be a light bulb moment like, Okay, I got to get my act together. But there wasn’t at that point, they put them in the car and they drove them off. And for the next 30 days, I had no contact with him. So that was our first encounter. 
Brenda Zane  09:44
How did you, I’m always curious, because I think a lot of parents get to the point where you were where you know, something’s going on. And also, you know, just commending you for listening to your gut. I think as moms in particular I can’t speak for dads obviously, because I’m not one. But I think moms very often have this gut sense, an intuition that something is wrong. And it’s probably worse than we want to think it is. And so I really commend you for listening to that. And it’s it’s a horrible feeling to have to rummage through your kid’s room and find this – horrible. How did you end up knowing about wilderness therapy or anything like that? Because I talked with you know, obviously, I work with a lot of moms who are just at like, clueless, like where can I, what kind of help can I get? How did you find that? 
Megan Megale  10:39
Yeah, that was really a real eye-opener for me because I, I turned to the only thing I knew, which was the internet. I mean, this isn’t like you know, you can go knock on your, your neighbor, you know your girlfriend that lives next door and say, Hey, listen, my kids doing heroin. What do you think I should you know, do you have any ideas where I can put them? I mean, you know, half of it is shame on my part because I don’t want anyone to know. At that point, I was ashamed of it. I’ve I felt personally responsible, that, that he was making these decisions, which is so irrational now, when I look back on it, Brenda, but at the time, it wasn’t to me. I have six sisters, all of whom I talked to regularly. My father is a doctor. I had all these resources and all these people to support me, but I didn’t turn to any of them. So I turned to the internet. I you know, I knew that I knew enough to know that there is great importance to finding the right treatment center for the individual. I knew that and I knew Matthew was an athlete. He was an outgoing kid. He was very charismatic kid, you know, liked people.  I knew that it had to be something that had some physicality to it. And I was drawn to a wilderness program because it generally tends to attract young people. I wanted them to be with people of his peer group that could relate to what he was, you know what, what he was going through. And I just started picking up the phone and making phone calls. Little did I know, it was more aggressive than buying a car. And I’m getting calls at 11 o’clock at night. Oh, you know, we don’t have a bed now. But when we do, we’ll call you creating all this urgency with me. So I thought when they called me with a bet I had to grab it right. And I realized very quickly this was this was like a negotiation. And I weeded it down to the to the two people and I will give credit to the person I was dealing with. That actually said to me, in my first encounter with them, tell me about your son. The others couldn’t have cared less was like, what kind of insurance do you have? Are you ready to send them? You know, all of this urgency. And I understand everything is a business. But not when it comes to my child and I was in crisis, he was in crisis. That was not the tactic to take with me. So when I had somebody say, Tell me about your son so we can make sure this is the right place. That’s what I was looking for. And this, this particular program did that for me. 
Brenda Zane  13:33
Yeah, that that’s so important. And I think that’s a really good thing to highlight. Because you’re right, it is, first of all, just finding the thought of trying to find a place to send your child away is overwhelming enough. But you’re also not in a time when you’re in crisis and your brains not working right and you probably haven’t slept in, who knows how long and so you’re not even a rational state of mind to be making a decision about like, what coffee to buy, let alone, right, where is my child going to go? So I think that’s really important if parents are in this situation and if they are sort of in the process of talking to treatment centers. Yeah, if they’re not, if they are not first and foremost focused on your child and wanting to know about, right, that’s a warning sign that you may want to move on.
Megan Megale  14:22
Absolutely. I agree. 100% with that. So Matthew, then, you know, went to the treatment center in West Virginia. I called Larry, overseas, and I told him what had happened. You know, it was upset with me that I did that on my own, but I was just I knew his birthday was hitting 18 and I just thought we’re going to, we’re not going to be able to send them then he’s got to be willing to go and you could be dead by then. So anyway, Shay and I were home. I laid on the couch literally for the entire weekend and cried. I just, I think kept saying to this 16-year-old did I do the right thing? Do I think I made the right decision? I was just so second-guessing myself. But in my gut, I knew I did the right thing. And there was some sense of relief much like, if you were the caregiver to an elderly parent, knowing that they were struggling, there was some relief, you know, when he left upset, and, you know, you know, and that’s, you know, it’s, that’s a hard thing for a parent to say, you know, that, you know, I sent my kid away and, and Whoo, all the sudden, you know, I feel like, you know, such a burden has been lifted from my shoulders, but, you know, this was the kind of thing that, you know, I kept thinking that, I’m a really smart person, like, why can I not figure this out for him? I don’t think he can. So I’ve got to do that. And when I couldn’t figure out, you know, I thought, Okay, I’m gonna love him to death. I’m going to throw them out of the house. I’m going to take things away, no use of the car. You know, I tried everything. When I couldn’t figure that out, I just came to the realization that this is bigger than I am, I need an expert I need, I need to reach out to people that do know how to do this. Yeah. But that’s a really hard thing. When it’s your own child. It is, you know that you can navigate through it with him together. It was a really hard thing. But, you know, now in hindsight, knowing it’s a disease, I couldn’t navigate you through cancer, right? I couldn’t, right, I couldn’t advocate my child through leukemia or, or whatever. So why was this any different? But I wasn’t at that state of mind at that point. 
Brenda Zane  16:40
Yeah, it takes a while I think to get there. And also as moms, I think we’re used to being you know, as our kids are smaller, we can usually solve their problems, right? Like, you can usually solve problems for your kids until a certain point but when they get to those teen years and they start doing things, you can’t you just you have to be there as loving support to them and for them to know that you’re there for them. But yeah, like you wouldn’t just try to solve leukemia for your child on your own and then blame yourself if you couldn’t so I think that’s a great point for parents to remember is, this is so far beyond your control and there are people who do this for a living. And this is what they’re experts in and they have PhDs and, you know, we have to turn to them when you find the right ones and trust that they that they’re there and that they know what to do. 
Megan Megale  17:31
Right. Right.
Brenda Zane  17:34
So Matt’s in, he went to he went to treatment for – was it a 30 day program. 
Megan Megale  17:41
It was a 30 day program. I you know, having you know, I was new into this whole scene. And you know, we went to the family weekend on the third weekend. And I mean, you know, I walked in there and I had my child back and I looked at him, you look like a completely different person. I mean, I had my child back. And I was just elated as he was he and of course at that point, you know, they, the treatment center kept enforcing, you know, the need for continued treatment. And Matt said, you know, Mom, I want to come home, I know what I did wrong, I know what I have to do. And and I know I can do it. And of course, that’s what I wanted to hear and my husband and Kelly and Jay. And so we brought him home. And within you know, 15 days, knock, knock knock, you know, friends are back and they don’t want Matt to be in a sober state. Right? They want them back where they are, right. So that hand, you know, I keep saying I kept saying to Matt, you know, those kids are still in the well mat and they’re they’re lifting their hands up for you but they’re not lifting them up to support you. They’re lifting them up to pull you back down. Yeah, because they want you back there. Right? And you’ve got to change everything. And, you know, I was new into this whole addiction community or whatever. And, you know, he went, you know, he’d say, I’m going to NA and, you know, would give them the car and, you know, three hours later, he wasn’t home, you know. So, you know, long story short, Matt. Matt went to a total of three treatment centers.  And we finally finally, you know, understood the value of finding the right treatment center. Because the others he just, you know, he was counting the days to get out. You know, I can get out on the 29th day Mom, can you be here at midnight, pick me up, get me out of here. And I clearly knew he was not ready to come home. But a lot of these programs, you know, they offer aftercare, but you know, it’s outpatient treatment. And the programs we sent Matt to were, you know, six hours from our house. And so, you know, so then you’re posed with the situation of what do I get my son an apartment up there and let him live alone to go to their outpatient program. And that’s crazy. I don’t, you know, I’m not going to do that. So, you know, two times, you know, three times we did it. And the fourth time, we’re now eight years into this, you know, again, Matt came to me and said, Mom, I need help. And I said, Okay, let’s get you the help, you know, start packing because, you know, there’s no other choice but to go to treatment. And, you know, during this time, my husband and I had all kinds of conflict about how to parent Matt Larry was much more, you know, taking a hard line, you know, throw them out. And you know, he’s gonna have to go live on the streets for a while until he comes to the realization of you know of this and hitting rock bottom. Well, what is rock bottom is it death? With heroin it is sometimes, I mean, I wasn’t willing to take that chance. So, you know, we had a lot of conflict in our marriage. And, you know, because Larry traveled so much it was usually my way that we ended up doing things only because I was the front line person at home. 
Brenda Zane  21:29
I think it’s the marriage part is something that often gets overlooked because all the focus is really on the kid and trying to save them but the marriage part, it’s I rarely found parents who say, Yep, we were both in line with this. We were, you know, exactly on the same page and we just pushed our way through it. It’s it’s incredibly difficult when you’re trying to navigate this with a spouse, and like with you a spouse who’s not present for a lot of the time, or, you know, for me with an ex-spouse. So there’s that element too that I think get’s mixed in that. I always say, you know, people looking at this from the outside in, it just it must just look like complete madness, because one day you’re doing this and then one day you’re doing that because one parent believes this. And the other parent believes that and it’s just yeah, it’s incredibly difficult. 
Megan Megale  22:27
And interestingly, you know, the one thing that is so often overlooked are the siblings. Because my children had an opinion. And I never sought to seek it. But they were thinking it right amongst themselves, my two girls. And, you know, finally Shea said to me, You have to the third rehab. Mom, don’t bring them home. And, you know, I thought, Shay, I’m the adult here. And she’s like, Mom, don’t bring them home. He’s not ready to come home. He’s just gonna he’s gonna relapse again. And they were right every time. But, you know, I mean, you make decisions and you compromise your morals. Because you love the child so much. I mean, I made decisions on behalf of Matt, you know, that I knew in my gut were wrong, you know? Oh, can you give me a ride somewhere? I’ve got to drop something off at a friend and I’m in like, this horrible area of Washington, DC. I’m like, what are we doing here, Matt and I knew what we were doing.  But or, you know, he, you know, there were a few times that he said, I’m going to try to withdraw from heroin in my bedroom, which I never realized how horrific that was, you know, by day five he’s saying to me, Mom, you got to give me $10 so I can go buy Suboxone or I’m going to just kill myself. You know, and in your mind, you know, the right answer. But you know, you’re like, Oh my god, you know, or he’d say I’m going to go to Walmart and steal something and then just return it. So I can just go by the money, you know, for Suboxone? And it’s like, it’s like the lesser of two evils. You know, and you just so sick to your stomach because you’re you know, you’re giving into something that you absolutely know, as a parent is inappropriate. But you’re left with So, so little other choices – in my mind anyway.
Brenda Zane  24:27
Yeah, I think that’s right. And I think it’s really easy to read in books that say, you know, don’t enable and don’t do this. And yes, that’s fine. And it’s really great to read that. But when your child is standing there in the midst of withdrawal and sweaty vomiting, and, you know, you are forced to make decisions that nobody should be forced to have to make about, you know, because, you know, by helping them you were hurting them, and by hurting them, you’re helping them it’s like it’s just so very confusing. 
Megan Megale  24:58
It really is. Yeah, yeah. And I know that you know, I mean, now, you know, my kids, they tease me about it. But, you know, every parent weekend, we went to every single one of them. I was pinned by the, you know, the facilitator, you are the enabler and I would look at them because I’m a very strong personality, I say I disagree with you. I am the frontline person that got him help every time and he’s too sick to get it himself. So how does that make me the enabler if your child is throwing up and, you know, vomiting in their bed and running 103 fever? Are they supposed to get up and call the doctor? Are you supposed to do it? And I and I was strong in my conviction that you know, yes, I agree in some situations, giving him the $20 to get a haircut. Yes, I did enable him. But you know, I still to this day, I mean, I know you know, I enabled him more than my husband did. That’s for sure. But I also helped him more than anybody did. And, you know, in my opinion, so I know it’s so difficult. Every every bit of this is so difficult for parents, especially mothers. 
Brenda Zane  26:14
Is there anything in particular that that stands out to you that you did that you look back now and would say to another mom, who’s in the midst of this? You know, this was a big lesson that I learned or, you know, looking back, I would not do this, again, knowing that everybody’s situation is different, but I think there are a lot of commonalities, at least that I hear where you are forced with that decision in the moment. What do I do? Anything that comes to mind? 
Megan Megale  26:41
Well, I think, yeah, you know, I think there were there. There were quite a few times where I tried to be the mediator between like my husband and my son and I tried to keep the peace and I don’t want the police coming to the house and stop you know, everyone stop yelling and you know, and I read so much about addiction, I must have 20 books in my library. I read everything I get my hands on, everyone has a different opinion of it. And, and honestly, I thought and I and I still, you know, I still to some degree feel this way. I thought I could love Matthew through his addiction. I really did. I really thought love would conquer the fact that you know, Shay, my youngest has a terminal illness. And they were so close, so close. And I thought if he can’t do it for Shea and for I, I couldn’t come to terms with why. And I’d often asked him, why can’t you do this? For me, why can’t you do this for Shea? Why are you putting Shay through this? And I put more pressure on my son by saying words like that Brenda.  Then I realized the consequence of what my words drove him to do. And the frustration of him saying, I will never overcome this addiction. I can’t, I can’t How can I not after four rehabs? How can I not have had success? I’ve had success and everything else in my life. And that was heartbreaking for me. And so I think if you know if there is a takeaway from that part of the story, it’s that that words do matter. And I thought I was being loving and trying to get him to realize how lucky he is not to have the illness Shay has, but really it drove him harder into addiction. Because he just felt worthless. 
Brenda Zane  28:54
Because he, I’m sure he wished that love could have cured it too, right, like if it was that easy, well, my goodness, we would all be perfectly fine. But yeah, yeah. And that guilt, I’m sure. 
Megan Megale  29:07
And it did. It tormented Matthew, it tormented him. Because, you know, it came up with every psychiatrist and psychologists that he encountered that, you know, and he would say, you know, they would say to us as a family, Shay is the root of most of Matt struggle, and Shay would get upset because she’d say to Matt, I don’t want to be the root, right? I don’t want that on me. I don’t want that burden on me. I want you just to get better, because you want to be with me, not because of me. And so, you know, it was a very complex situation. And you know, and he did feel very helpless because he was unable to help Shay and unable to, you know, to be here for her. You know, at all. Many times, and you know, I’d call him and say she’s got to go to the bathroom and you come home and help me. And, you know, he’s like, I don’t have a ride home, and I’m an hour away. And, you know, and it would just be like, you know, we both be like, Oh my gosh, you know, this is terrible. So that, you know, there was a lot of complexities in my particular situation. But, you know, there’s complexities in everybody’s life and addiction is a complex issue. 
Brenda Zane  30:26
It is, there are so many things that can make that relationship confusing and complex. And then there’s the guilt that gets added on, you know, for them to save because, you know, and talking with my son just knowing that he didn’t want to be doing what he was doing. And it didn’t look like that from the outside by any stretch of the imagination, but they don’t want to be doing what they’re doing. And if a mom’s love was all that it took to get you to stop using heroin or fentanyl or Xanax or whatever it is, then that would be great. But and I think that is important. I’m so glad you said that because so many moms figure that we can love our kid out of it or worry our kid out of it or think are kid out of it. And it’s so far beyond that. It’s it’s just you know, and I think that also just shows the power of these drugs and what it does to the brain. It’s not just this is not just an emotional thing. This is an actual chemical change in the brain. And, you know, especially for Matt and looking at a sister, I’m sure he would have given anything to be able to help her. But he had something else that had hijack his brain to the point where he couldn’t. And how frustrating that must have been.
Megan Megale  31:45
Yeah, yeah. And I’ve often said to people, you know, it’s like, if I went into my job every day, and I was told by my supervisor, you stink at this job. Yeah. And you failed yesterday, you and i would quit in one day. And he couldn’t he couldn’t quit. He had to keep going into that same job and failing. And that resonates with a lot of people because it really, it really gets you to understand how, how deep this runs. I mean, you can’t just quit, you can’t quit and find another job. 
Brenda Zane  32:23
Yeah, and it’s not just the boss telling you that it’s the boss and the person in the coffee shop walking in and the person who’s cleaning the carpets and the guy who’s sitting next to everybody is telling you that you’re horrible, right, and that you’re a loser and that you’re weak and that you know, you have bad character. And so I love that analogy. That’s, that’s really that really does ring true. Wow. So four different rehab and treatment experiences and then what happens from there? 
Megan Megale  32:55
So I finally came to terms with Matt and said, listen you’ve got you’ve got to be committed to this, you find a place that you think you’ll be happy and we get down to two and then let’s figure it out. So he found a program in California and he kept saying to me, Mom, there’s a big difference between treatment in the east and treatment out west. And I knew that I had heard that. And he said, I think the West Coast treatment will resonate with me because it’s outdoors. He, you know, I’d love to skateboard. I want to try going out to California. So we found a program in California. He flew out there and he, you know, he was 30 days into the program. And he called us on the 25th day and I was fully prepared to hear the same thing I heard every time, ready to come home, I know it all and he said, Mom, I want to stay and I thought I’d won the lottery. And so he Yeah. So he said that I’m transitioning into the next part of the program and I found a peer group and we go to you know, we go hiking and we play volleyball on the beach. You know, I’m going to stay at least another two months. So we couldn’t have been happier. And I realized then, like, had I only done this the first time or two times, you know, we would have maybe had better success. 
But unfortunately, a week later 7:30 in the morning, I got a knock on my door. And I opened the door and it was a sheriff. And she had a warrant for my son’s arrest. And I said to her, how could that be? He’s been gone for three months. And he had no issues prior to leaving. And she looked at me and she said, this is from five and a half years ago. And I looked at her, I said to her, you’ve got to be kidding me. I said, You’re asking me to bring my child back for something that happened five and a half years ago. I said, Isn’t there any way around this? I mean, I don’t want him to leave that treatment center. And she said, no, ma’am. You’ve got to bring him back. And she just handed me the summons. So I called out to the treatment center. We arranged transport. I had a flight coming in the night before the court hearing. I had a flight going back the afternoon of the court hearing. We went to court and the police officer didn’t show. So it was delayed. And it was delayed two months. 
I’m like, What am I going to do with him for two months. So I asked them if he could return to the treatment center while waiting for this delayed court hearing and they told me he could not leave the state. So now I bring Matthew home. And he’s like, well, what am I going to do? I’m not going to find a job because I mean, you know, I want to go back to California. And of course, that’s what we wanted. So, you know, he piddled around and we went, you know, he did not relapse. We went to the second court hearing, and they lost the urinalysis that prove that he had heroin in his system. And the judge said, we have to delay this one more time and the attorney that we had stood up and said, listen, this is ridiculous. I mean, this kid came back on his own accord. The parents are paying the bill back and forth. He wants to return to treatment, you know, I mean, you know, shouldn’t there be, you know, some, you know, allowance from the court to either dismiss this or, and they wouldn’t dismiss it.  
And so, Matt came back, and he said, I’ll just find a job until this is resolved. You know, but meanwhile, he’s losing his connection with the treatment center out in California. At the same time Shea, my youngest daughter was in community college. And she’s, she’s brilliantly smart academically and she, she had published two books for St. Martin’s Press. I mean, she’s just a very accomplished young woman. And Matt had said to her Shea, I don’t know that I’m ever going to be able to really get a handle on this addiction. And I want you to apply to any college that you had hoped to go to and I will go with you. And make sure you get up in the morning I’ll shower you make sure you get your books, you know, go to the cafeteria with you I will go with you as your aide, which I thought was the most beautifully selfless thing anyone could do to give your life up for another.
And so, then applied to seven colleges. She got in everywhere that she applied to and she was making her decision where she was going to go and three weeks after she made she committed to a school, Matt overdosed in my bathroom and died. So I have, you know, I have very, you know, very unhappy feelings towards the court system and how they treat addiction. And how they underestimate the consequences that come from a possession of marijuana case that was the case wasn’t even heroin. And we lost Matt. 
And so, the ambulance came, they took him to the hospital and he was pronounced dead.  And from that point on our entire family’s lives have changed. You know Shay, I mean you know, Matthew was really her other half. She, you know, she was unable to survive without Matt, you know, helping her with her whole life. I mean she’s you know, she’s very independent once she’s in a wheelchair but until she gets in there she depended on Matt and, and now she had just committed to going away to college. And you know, you know, I just collapsed I just sat and looked out the window for three months and my six sisters emerged you know, they each took a week and ran my house and you know, cooked and you know, helped me through it but you know, it was a horrible 10 years of somebody you just love so desperately and you want so much to get better. And it’s it’s that constant roller coaster of well, he’s good. He’s relapsed. He’s not good. The police are here, you know, he’s fighting with me, he’s fighting with Shay, you know, I mean, it’s this constant roller coaster of chaos. And you know, and then and then you lose your child to it. You don’t even get to win the battle. And you know, it’s just it’s heartbreaking.
Brenda Zane  40:24
It is. I think a lot of people. I think a lot of people don’t understand the court. Your whole story about the court is so common, and you would think that today, and I know this happened, you know, a couple years ago, but you would think that, that somebody in the court system and even like a federal level would start to realize because we had the exact same situation that this is killing kids. This is killing them. They cannot go back to the situation that they were in. And they’re, you know, with the technology we have today. I don’t know, maybe with the COVID-19 and everybody’s doing everything online now maybe stop, maybe something will change. Maybe you and I can get the laws changed on this.
Megan Megale  41:11
Brenda Zane  41:13
You know, for parents that are dealing with that, I think you have to and I know, I know you’re a pitbull so you’ve I’m sure you fought as hard as you could and I would just tell other parents, you know, fight as hard as you can when you get into a situation like that because you know, your kid and you know, the rules are just nonsensical when it comes to bringing these kids back for court. 
Megan Megale  41:35
Right. Right. It’s just doesn’t make any it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense. So yeah, but that’s, you know, that’s a battle that I don’t take on Brenda, because I can’t win that battle. I mean, that’s too big a battle for one person to fight. So, you know, I mean, I wish I could. 
Brenda Zane  41:54
But I do know what you have been up to since then, though, and I think that you know, kind of going back to the resilience, after you, you know, get up off the couch, which I can’t even imagine how you did, right. kind of tell us about what has come since then.  Yeah. So about nine months later. You know, I think was December, Shea had said to the family at Christmas, I have a gift for everybody. And she handed us a, a book and she’s an author. She’s already published two books. So we just assumed she was back writing and we were thrilled that she had gotten back into her writing. And she handed us the script. And Kelly, Larry and I looked at it and we had no idea what it was. And it turns out that she had through her grief written a book about her journey with Matthew through his addiction called American Boy. And we all broke into tears, because we just thought it was another a young adult book that she had written. And we then, you know, throughout the day began to read it well, as we rent we’re reading through the book, you know, you become more and more uncomfortable with, you know, letting this all this information out into the world. No less your family but now, yeah.
Megan Megale  43:30
Now, you know, personal it’s so personal. And, you know, I run my own business in New York City and Larry has a high-security position in Washington. And he’s thinking about how the consequences of this on his job and I’m thinking Oh, boy, and you know, we, we all you know, Kelly is like, Oh, boy. Well honest, to be very honest with you, you know, we all really thought about it for a few weeks, and she kept asking, you know, does anybody, you know, are we going to move forward with it? And I, you know, everyone sat and we all talked about it. And I finally said to the group, you know, this is ridiculous. I mean, if we’re not honest about it, who learns anything, this I mean, we have to put this out as it is, and as it happened, so that people that are struggling with addiction can understand and relate to the book. If we put in here how, you know how, beautiful Matthew was, what a great athlete. That’s just a testament. That’s the way I want to write the story. And that doesn’t do anyone any good, right? I can write my own book. 
And so, you know, we decided that we were going to allow the story to be published, and it was a very, very big decision for our family. But it was a decision that was the right decision because the you know, the project that we’ve embarked on called American Boy. It addresses three things. And it was the three things that Matthew and our family struggled with. It was 28 days is never enough time for treatment, never. There has to be aftercare. It has to be long term treatment. The second thing is the stigma of addiction is absolutely deafening to these kids. And, you know, I know I’ve told you the story before but, you know, Matthew would, you know, fill out applications, you’d come to that box, do you have a misdemeanor or a felony? And he looked at me and Mom, what should I do and I knew in my adult brain what the right thing was to do and advise him, but I also knew the consequences of checking that box, and he never could get a job that he that was worthy of a kid like Matt, and every one of our kids is worthy of that and wants a job that made him feel good that he helped people that he made a difference in the life of somebody. 
And I came home from work one day and he had a T-shirt on and I said, Matthew, where did you get that T shirt? I know I didn’t buy that. And the T-shirt said Poop-911. And I said, What is that? And he said, Mom, that’s my new job. He said, I pick up dog crap because I am a piece of crap. And that was such a devastating turning point for me and understanding how the stigma of addiction he couldn’t find a job anywhere. Because he was honest about the fact that he is in recovery. And he couldn’t he was not hired by anybody. And so you know that so we focus very strongly on the stigma of addiction. And our third, the third thing that we focus on is helping people find the right treatment because there’s so many cruddy treatment centers out there, that they’re more interested in the money that your insurance will pay them than they are in getting your child the care that they need. So turning to the internet is not the answer. But quite frankly, there is no Angie’s List out there to turn to. There’s nowhere to turn to. And SAMHSA has, you know, 14,000 treatment centers, are you supposed to call all of them? I mean, there has to be a starting point somewhere. So we’ve begun that process in trying to vet treatment centers and they have to be recommendations from other parents that had sent a child or a loved one there and had success felt that they did a really good job with their loved one, or a medical expert that says I know this is a good program. We’ve sent candidates there. I have peers working there. So those if I had had that kind of a resource to call someone like you and say, listen, help me. My, my, our sons are the same age, they’re both athletes, whatever, where did you send them? And tell me, you know, tell me what his his response was? And did he stay? Was there long term treatment? Was there an option? And a lot of these treatment programs don’t have long term treatment in the in the mix, and that perplexes me because, you know, you can’t just take a kid put them in treatment for 28 days and think that we flip the switch. 
Brenda Zane  48:45
No, they’ve barely gotten the drugs aren’t even completely out of their system at that point. So why, you know, it just goes back to insurance and I’m determined I’m gonna do an episode on insurance but I don’t think anybody wants to talk to me about it, right? But that is the reason and that’s why I think your foundation is so critical and so important in funding some of that aftercare. You know, bringing them back is just a death sentence. 
Megan Megale  49:15
It is it is. So we fully fund. You know, we have scholarships, we have a, we don’t have a ton of money, but we have currently nine young people in long term treatment, and we paid the tab, we gave them each scholarships, they had no insurance, they had no family support. And so we do we give out scholarships  for aftercare, we also give scholarships for treatment. But the aftercare is critically important. And the other thing that we do is we also give out scholarships for kids that are in long term care, that want to start a career, a career that we know that a felony or a misdemeanor doesn’t matter. I don’t care if my electrician, I don’t even ask, do you have a felony right before you put my fixture in? Or a misdemeanor? I don’t care if you’re good at what you do, it matters not to me. Right? So there are jobs that you know, that are achievable jobs that they can, they can make a career out of that will make them feel good. We give them entrepreneurial skills, you know, we, we put them into classes that teach you how to run a business. And everyone has to see that that needle of momentum moving forward. Because when you’re stuck, you’re stuck. And if you knew how to get yourself moving forward, you do it but you can’t. 
Brenda Zane  50:47
So find something that isn’t the Poop-911 where you feel valued and feel like you’re actually contributing and that’s a huge part of recovery because you can’t survive in this world where all there’s, you know, more drugs around you than you could ever imagine even if you do move away from you know, wherever you’re kind of using base was there still it’s all there and so to find the purpose life and to find the reason to live and the reason to get up in the morning and the reason not to go down and find the heroin is so important, right? Yeah, when you get shunned because you have these, you know, things on your record it just starts that that negative cycle all over again. 

Megan Megale  51:34
Yeah, obstacle over obstacle over obstacle, you know, with no end to it. So, you know, I mean, listen, I never in my wildest dreams thought that, you know, this would turn into running a complete foundation. You know, we sell Shay’s book American Boy on Amazon, and we run the foundation and Larry does a lacrosse tournament every year to raise money for the scholarships. We do it for the college students. Last year we had Notre Dame, Princeton and Colgate come. We go down and talk to the teams the night before we tell them that story. And we bring Kelly because Kelly is, would be in the eyes of most just the all American kids. She did everything right played sports, she now works on Wall Street. She makes a ton of money for a kid her age. And she tells the story about Matt and at the end of that story, she says to the group, who now these are all kids in Ivy League schools. Matt got his first dose of heroin at a party of one of my friends. And you can hear a pin drop. They can’t believe it looking at her. And they’re like, oh my god, you kidding me? I mean, I thought it would be a bunch of you know, kids that are you know, down on their luck. Whatever it’s, it was Kelly’s group of friends. And, and that blows their mind. And it really, it really resonates with them because it’s there’s no demographic with drugs, there’s no demographic. You know, any anyone can anyone can be affected by addiction and by drugs. And it’s very apparent when Kelly tells that story 
Brenda Zane  53:23
that’s going to be so impactful.
Megan Megale  53:25
Just so impactful. Oh, it is. I mean, you know, we’ve got the same teams calling us this year saying, we want to bring the kids back and, you know, we’re trying, you know, we’re expanding into other parts of the country and doing another one in Ohio, which is a terribly affected state. But, you know, we do a lot of media, we did a lot of media when we launched the book, that is my business. So that’s an organic thing for me to do. And, you know my greatest hope with this is that, you know, Matthews life mattered. And it not only mattered to us it, we want it to matter to everybody because everyone has a child that they love that is struggling. You know, if your child is struggling with addiction, I know how much you love them. And I know how hard you fight for them. And, you know, hearing our story will resonate with a lot of people because, you know, there’s so many complexities with me not reaching out to my family, my father, you know, to neighbors.
And we have to stop doing that we have to stop judging, because this is no different than depression was. I remember growing up and I again, we had a big family. And I remember my father coming home one night and saying to us, your mother is in the hospital. She just you know, she needs a little r&r. My mother went into the hospital. She had a nervous breakdown and struggled with depression but he wouldn’t tell us that. So you know, then we all get married and my first sister has a baby. And she goes into postpartum depression. My sister’s second sister has a baby, same thing. It’s like, Dad, why didn’t you tell us?
Brenda Zane  55:14
Good information to know? Right? 
Megan Megale  55:15
But he was like, Meg back then we didn’t do think there’s like, it was private, you kept it private. You didn’t share. And this is this no different to me. You know, addiction is a disease. And, you know, I, I know, there’s some people out there that don’t believe that. But if you walked in the shoes of any parent that struggles or struggled with addiction, you’d get on board real quickly. Real quickly. Yeah. 
Brenda Zane  55:45
Yeah. Megan, this is just so there’s so much in here that’s going to be helpful to the parents that are listening. 
Megan Megale  55:53
I hope so. 
Brenda Zane  55:54
I think you know, especially I just think back when you said words matter. I think that is so critical. And I know you and I are both big fans of the the CMC: Foundation for Change and Beyond Addiction. And that’s why I know and I know you probably recommend that book as well that the words that come out of your mouth matter, you know, you can learn the right ones in the right way and the right time and place to say them. It can make a huge difference, 
Megan Megale  56:23
Right, I absolutely agree with you. And I, you know, I mean, we have to be more forthcoming and being able to talk about this and share because what, when you don’t share, nobody learns. And, you know, I’m not ashamed of Matt. He was, I mean, I, I often say that I was never ever ashamed of Matt. I was ashamed of some of the things that heroin brought him to do. But I never was ashamed of my child ever. I mean, you know, if I had to do this all over again, the privilege of parenting that child overcomes all of the chaos of the 10 years that we struggled. And I would do it all over again even knowing the fate of Matthew. Because I you know, there’s just you know, the the gift of of Matthew, you know, is really what’s driving this program that we’re running and you know, I you know, we all feel like there’s a saying that says to the world, you may be just one but to one, you can be the world, and we hope, you know, with the nine kids that we’ve gotten treatment now we hope we are that one. We hope we are that turning point.
Brenda Zane  57:40
Yeah, I look forward to staying in touch and finding out how they’re doing. How can somebody find this information? Cuz I know there’s going to be a lot of parents saying what in the world I need to find out.
Megan Megale  57:53
We’d love to hear from you. And it’s very simple. It’s And we would absolutely love to hear from you. We have a Facebook group called the Mother’s Summit, which is all mothers that have struggling children, or have lost children. We all help one another. It’s a nonjudgmental place to be. It’s a public group, you know, and we also have another Facebook group for young people. So Shea’s book is on Amazon. And we are an open book and we will help you in any way you need. We will jump through hoops to make anything happen that we’re capable of making happen.
Brenda Zane  58:36
That’s amazing. Thank you. 
Megan Megale  58:37
Oh it’s such a pleasure. Thank you. Thank you for letting us share our story. And absolutely. 
Brenda Zane  58:44
That’s so helpful. It really is.
Megan Megale  58:46
Great, well it’s been so my pleasure. Thank you.
Brenda Zane  58:56
I hope that you found that as impactful as I did, to have gone through what she did for 10 years and then lose Matt, in part because of archaic laws and an uneducated legal system is just so tragic. But sadly, it’s also pretty common. If you want to tap into the resources that Megan and American Boy Foundation offer, you can go to And for the book, you can get that wherever you buy your books at a local bookstore, or of course on Amazon. The title is American Boy, the Opioid Crisis and the Sister Left Behind.  Thank you so much for listening. 
Please take a second if you are listening on Apple podcasts, tap the stars to rate it. And then if you’re gaining something from listening, please do write a review that just helps Apple know that people are listening and it helps more parents find the work. If you’re a mom looking for some strength and support, please check out our private community that was created just for you. It’s called The Stream, you can get there at And of course, as always, the resources will be in the show notes which are at Brenda, and I look forward to meeting you here again next week.

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