Pubdate: Fri, 02 Feb 2018
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Windsor Star
Author: Chris Thompson
Page: A1


A day after what would have been her son Ashley's 38th birthday, Betty
Niemi told the story of her only child's losing battle with addiction
to a rapt audience Thursday night.

Niemi, who has started a local chapter of Grief Recovery After Substance 
Passing (GRASP), took to the podium at the fourth Not My Kid: 
Adolescents and Addictions seminar before a crowd of about 300 at the 
Caboto Club.

"Losing a child is like having an arm or leg amputated, but no one can
see it," Niemi told the crowd.

"We're never the same. There's always a hole in our

Niemi traced her own story back to an idyllic middle-class upbringing
in Windsor in the early 1960s with family picnics in Essex County and
Sunday nights gathered by the television to watch the Ed Sullivan Show
and then Gunsmoke.

Niemi attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where she met
Ed, and after her studies were complete the couple moved to Toronto,
and she gave birth to Ashley.

A few years later, Ed's drinking "became too much" and the couple

She said Ashley played hockey and baseball, but in school he
"preferred socializing to finishing his work."

He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and was
prescribed Ritalin.

"He didn't like the way it made him feel," Niemi recalled.

Niemi said she would punish Ashley "when borders were crossed" and as
a teen he began smoking cigarettes and then marijuana, and he became a
graffiti artist. "I thought I knew what I was doing," Niemi said.

"No amount of education could prepare me for what was to

Ashley ended up in a group home and later went to live with his
father, "and that made things worse," Niemi said.

His father taught him about sales and he had a job, a girlfriend and a
band that was playing gigs.

But he eventually told his mother an awful truth.

"He told me he had started doing ecstasy, pills and cocaine," Niemi

Then one day, out of the blue, Ashley told his mother he and his
father were moving to Thailand.

She went to visit him there and was shocked.

"He was just not himself," said Niemi.

"He was thin and his face was gaunt."

Niemi learned that Ashley was now using a Thai equivalent of speed or

He eventually made his way back to Toronto and then moved to
Vancouver, where he ended up living on the streets.

"By now he had spent his money," said Niemi.

But somehow Ashley hitchhiked back to Toronto.

"I was tired and I was overwhelmed," said Niemi.

"I had no idea how to deal with him anymore. I had no one to ask for

Niemi moved back to Windsor to be with her aging parents and Ashley
followed in 2003.

He finally seemed to have settled down, had a spouse and a daughter.
But even then, after long periods of sobriety, he would shut his phone
off and disappear for days at a time.

After one of his disappearances lasted five days, Niemi had police

"The hotel manager found him after he hadn't checked out," Niemi said.
He had died of a crack and crystal meth overdose.

Niemi said parents who have lost a child to addiction have to remember
the three C's: "I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I can't
cure it," Niemi said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt