On March 30, 2018, my husband, who is Megan’s stepdad and I were out of town when we got the call no parent ever wants to get.
My daughter Megan Szabo was born on January 22, 1999 in Austin, Texas. She was an adorable bald-headed baby who blossomed into a beautiful young woman. People were drawn to her magnetic character.
On March 30, 2018, my husband, who is Megan’s stepdad and I were out of town when we got the call no parent ever wants to get. Megan had been found by her brother’s friends, and the paramedics could not revive her. An hour after the initial call, my son called to inform us she had passed, and the police would be calling us to confirm our worst fears.
We were traumatized and devastated. Almost two years prior, in March 2016, Megan had opened up to us. She told us she had a problem with substances and asked for help because she had been unable to stop on her own. It took courage for her to trust us enough to admit she had a problem that she could not control.
We had no idea she had substance use disorder. Initially, we thought were dealing with typical teenage defiance. In hindsight, we came to realize we were in denial. However, we were greatly relieved she had found the strength to ask for help.
The deep, dark world of addiction is not one we ever expected to be in. We knew nothing about it and quickly took a crash course to find out what we were supposed to do to help her. We read extensively, sought out counseling and attended support groups to learn from the experts. It was like learning another language, with acronyms and words we had never heard before.
This is when we learned about using an Education Consultant (EC). We did considerable research to find an EC whom we felt could best help Megan. After several interviews with her and family members, the EC recommended we send her to a wilderness program. We were taken aback because we thought the EC was going to recommend a school she should attend to finish high school in a safe, drug-free environment.
In addition, we were totally unfamiliar with wilderness programs. The EC said education was a secondary priority at this point and insisted my daughter needed an “intensive” intervention, another term we were not familiar with. In a state of shock and disbelief, we tried to wrap our heads around all this new information. My daughter had an opiate addiction, specifically heroin, which we came to learn was quite serious and extremely hard to break.
After the seriousness of sending my only daughter into the wild in another state sunk in, the EC narrowed down our choices. We chose one, and she agreed to go. So, we quickly began figuring out all the logistics. In the process, we learned it is rare for a person with substance use disorder to come forward on their own and ask for help. Because of her willingness to go, she would not require professional transport. This was the beginning of our treacherous journey down a road of hope, heartbreak, and financial despair.
Megan spent seventy-seven days in the wilderness program, immediately followed by an additional forty-five days in a residential treatment center (RTC). This allowed her to gradually reintegrate back into the “front world.” The RTC program included individual, group and family counseling, as well as school and meetings. She was doing very well, which “they do until they don’t.”
In October 2017, I received a phone call from Megan; she was crying hysterically. She had been in an accident. Fortunately, she was alive, only shaken up. No one was hurt, but she had hit at least four parked cars and flipped her car, totaling it.
When we arrived at the scene of the accident, we thought she was lucky to be alive. There were several police cars, one lane closed, and tons of onlookers. She had relapsed after a fight with her boyfriend and ended up in jail. She had been abstinent for seven months.
Once again, I began contacting resources to find a place for detox and rehab. To her surprise, we picked her up from jail and drove her straight to detox. After completing detox, she transitioned into a 90-day treatment program, which she completed successfully. Then, she stepped down to an intensive outpatient program (IOP), followed by an outpatient program (OP).
She was also taking high school classes. Only a few chapters were left in her last class. This put her on track to finish by April 13, 2018, the week after spring break. She had picked out her graduation gift, a trip to South Africa to volunteer at a monkey and wildlife rehabilitation center. But, instead of planning an exciting celebration for her graduation, we were forced to plan her funeral.
In the aftermath following my daughter’s death, I was in a state of shock. It was hard to breathe, sleep, focus or concentrate. As if losing her wasn’t enough, I also lost my job and my house and had to put down one of Megan’s dogs all within a 5-month period. The timing of everything was eerie. We put everything in storage and stayed with family while we figured out how to pick up the pieces and move forward. Our world was literally turned upside down.
There is an initial outpouring of love and support when everyone learns about your tragic loss. However, I found the hardest time to cope was after the celebration of life is over and the shock wears off and the real pain sets in. My life will never be the same, but everyone else’s goes back to normal.
For a month, my husband and I stayed in a cabin in the redwoods and did a lot of hiking. I found being in nature to be very therapeutic. It was my own adult form of a ‘wilderness’ program.
My daughter had been doing so well. She was in recovery, about to graduate high school. She had just gone to her outpatient group, had a clean drug test and was dead three days later. This is a stark reminder about how powerful substance use disorder is and why remaining active in recovery is the only way to keep it in check.
She was beautiful and had her whole life ahead of her. Her final relapse was not only the end of her recovery, but, tragically, the end of her life.
Megan was loved by all who were fortunate enough to know her and will be greatly missed. When you think of Megan, please remember her smile, stunning eyes, unique style, and love of animals. Celebrate her in your memories and live life to the fullest.