Today’s guest, Pat, says that when her son Alex (all his friends called him Clarke) was young, her family would have been considered a ‘good’ family. She and her husband were college professors with great jobs and an amazing son who was both intelligent and athletic. They enjoyed backyard barbecues with friends and neighbors. They had no idea that a major change was just around the corner.

After Alex turned 12, he began to suffer from anxiety and a severe eating disorder. His ready smile seemed to disappear and their lives were now instead filled with therapists and doctors, doing both outpatient and inpatient treatments to try to battle his mental illness. After much therapy, it seemed that the eating disorder symptoms were better and that the worst might be behind them. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning for Alex and his family.

Alex journaled so many parts of his journey and mental health struggles. Life felt like it was spinning out of control, and initially, he felt better when controlling his eating. As he got older, however, he began to turn first to alcohol and then to drugs to gain a sense of control. Pat says Alex’s life ‘veered between happiness, anxiety, success, and despair.’ Alex entered rehab again and again but ultimately lost his life to a drug overdose.

Pat was crushed as all bereaved mothers are and wondered what more they might have done. With her background as a sociology professor, she began to look at Alex’s life differently. Pat began to research social and institutional factors that may have contributed to Alex’s death. She looked closely at Alex’s life by interviewing friends, therapists, police officers, and others who knew Alex. She compiled all this into a book, Surviving Alex: A Mother’s Story of Love, Loss, and Addiction. In her book, she ‘calls for a community of action that would improve care for substance users and reduce addiction, realigning public health policy to address the overdose crisis.’ She hopes that through Alex’s story, she can show the world a more compassionate, caring way to help those suffering from mental health and substance use issues.