Local mom aims to give young addicts a fighting chance

Out of tragedy often arises a silver lining, and in the case of town resident Mary Gibbons, the lining is self-made.

Ms. Gibbons is hard at work developing age-specified Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings in town in honor of her stepdaughter, Kelsey Curley, who died as a result of drug addiction in October 2011.

Although she and her husband, Michael Curley, Ms. Curley’s biological father, have spent the last year grieving and learning to cope with their loss, they are now ready to make a difference in the lives of other young adults who struggle with drug addiction, Ms. Gibbons said.

Ms. Curley was an “incredible, talented, gorgeous, smart girl,” Ms. Gibbons said, “who was also addicted to drugs.” Battling her addiction for seven years, she got into trouble several times, as many drug addicts do, Ms. Gibbons said, and her struggle was quickly made public.

Mr. Curley and Ms. Gibbons tried everything in their power to help their daughter, from rehab to doctor supervision, but her struggle continued, and after having lived on her own for a time, Ms. Curley returned home to live with her family for the last two years of her life.

“So that’s when my education [on drug addiction] really started,” Ms. Gibbons said.

After she began attending NA meetings with Ms. Curley, she said, she realized that her stepdaughter was battling a disease. v

“I was just kind of blown away by my own limited education about drug addiction.”

If Ms. Curley had been battling cancer, Ms. Gibbons said, she would have been exploring every possible cure and taking her to doctors around the country to find her the best care.

Instead, “I was just mad at her a lot,” Ms. Gibbons said, but attending meetings changed that.

While driving Ms. Curley to an NA meeting in Stamford around that time, Ms. Gibbons asked her stepdaughter why they were traveling so far to one of her “home” meetings. Ms. Curley explained that NA meetings in Greenwich were very sparse and those that existed consisted mostly of older people who were battling addiction. Age-specific groups with topics that young adults could relate to and at times that would be convenient for them did not exist, Ms. Gibbons said.

Upon making this discovery, Ms. Gibbons contacted Selectman Drew Marzullo about the limited availability of drug addiction support in Greenwich and how to change it, she said.

“It is much more of a problem in town than anybody’s talking about,” she said.

Although battling drug addiction is never easy, Ms. Curley’s struggle was made more complicated by the lack of age-appropriate NA meetings in town, and after she passed away, Ms. Gibbons said she owed it to her stepdaughter to generate awareness and get others who are struggling the help they need.

A year later, Ms. Gibbons and Mr. Curley have made their mission trifold.

The first piece, Ms. Gibbons said, is to establish age-specified NA meetings in town that have topics geared toward younger people, who are more likely to relate to each other than to people in their 40s or 50s who struggle with addiction. Ms. Gibbons has spoken with a number of local churches that are willing to make their facilities available as meeting spaces. She has already confirmed with the Greenwich Teen Center that it will begin to hold meetings at its facility on Arch Street beginning next month.

The second and third parts of the couple’s mission include expanding education for people of all ages on how to handle drug addiction and what it entails, as well as creating counseling groups specifically for the family members of those who have passed away as a result of drug addiction.

The stigma attached to individuals who struggle with addiction is something that needs to be changed, Ms. Gibbons said.

When Ms. Curley died, one of the town’s local newspapers included in its story about her death every arrest or time of trouble the young woman had experienced in her short life. As a result, those attending her wake later that night, many of whom were unsure of what to say to the girl’s grieving parents, mentioned the article they had read about her earlier in the day. Ms. Gibbons and her husband were horrified, she said.

“If Kelsey had died of cancer we would be talking about what a great fight she fought … and she did,” Ms. Gibbons said.

Instead, those around town who consoled her and her husband expressed their sympathy but always had a big “but” attached to their condolences because of the nature of Ms. Curley’s death, she said.

When Ms. Gibbons tragically lost her 3-year-old son in an accident several years ago, the outpouring of support from the town was unmatched, she said. But when Ms. Curley passed away, things were different.

“What I learned by observation in being on the periphery, and also being a part of it, this year, is that when a child dies of drug addiction that you’re not consoled the same way.”

Siblings especially, she said, “carry a shame” when a brother or sister dies from an overdose because of the stigma attached to it.

Ms. Gibbons and Mr. Curley hope to establish group therapy geared specifically toward surviving family members of individuals who have died as a result of drug addiction. The couple, along with Ms. Curley’s siblings and step-siblings, attended group therapy sessions several times over the last year. The problem, Ms. Gibbons said, was that the sessions were for families who had lost a young family member, but not necessarily one that had died as the result of an overdose. It was clear in these meetings that Ms. Gibbons’ and her family’s issues were “very different” from those the rest of the group was dealing with. Specific grief counseling, Ms. Gibbons said, is therefore a crucial part of her mission.

State Sen. Scott Frantz (R-36th District) has been on board with Ms. Gibbon’s objective from the very beginning. He is “happy, willing and able to help in any way,” Ms. Gibbons said, and he is working with her to get age-appropriate NA meetings off the ground in town and then, if possible, statewide.

That process, however, will need funding in order to take off. Ms. Gibbons held a fund-raising event over the weekend, during which she offered pieces of her art collection for sale, including pieces from the several international art symposiums and exhibits she has hosted over the last few years, she said. Additionally, she offered signed copies of her book The Definitive Book About ICEHOTEL Art & Design for sale at the event.

All the event’s proceeds were donated to what Ms. Gibbons has christened “Challenges and Passions” — the official 501(c)(3) charity she recently created in celebration of Ms. Curley, which will fund the establishment of NA meetings around town, from the cost of renting space to the coffee and tea served at meetings, she said.

“This is Michael’s way and my way of honoring Kelsey,” she said.

Ms. Curley always felt better when she was actively going to NA meetings because of the support she received there, Ms. Gibbons said. Now it is her goal to find a way to “fortify that support and really get the community to embrace these kids as opposed to saying, ‘Oh boy, there they go again,’” she said.

If possible, Ms. Gibbons will take her concept of age-specified NA meetings nationwide, she said. Drug addiction “is a lot bigger than we are at this point,” she said, “and we’re losing our kids.”

To donate time, expertise or funds, or to simply stay in the loop with Ms. Gibbons’ project, contact her at [email protected]

 

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