Years before her son, Eric, passed away in 2012 at age 22, Mary Burns of Stockholm began writing down their experiences with what he called his “struggle.”
In her new memoir, Saving Eric, Burns is doing more than just cataloging their furtive efforts to address his battle with mental illness and addiction; she’s also allowing Eric to share his struggle as he had wished.“
Since he was in high school, Eric always told me that he wanted to write a book (about his struggle),” said Burns. “We talked about writing this book together while he was in recovery the last eleven months of his life. I would visit him every other Saturday and we would spend many hours talking about his life, including his pain, recovery and his ‘struggle.’ It was then that my son became the young man that I always knew he could be.”
With his death, Mary had to make a decision: Give up on his wish or continue on in her own voice. For her, there was really only one choice. Adopted in January 1990, Eric was a happy, athletic boy who excelled in school and was especially a fan of playing baseball and practicing karate.
When he started throwing tantrums at age 7, though, things began very slowly – and then all at once – to unravel. The book opens startlingly in the emergency room with 19-year-old Eric seeking help for his addiction. The family is turned away – the insurance company won’t cover his admittance.
“I want the book to allow the reader to understand how difficult it is to deal with issues such as mental illness and addiction,” Burns said. “I also want my book to begin a conversation about addiction treatment. Often the type of treatment an individual receives is determined by their insurance company and what state they live in.”
Burns, who is an honored addiction advocate in New Jersey, thinks that there is a lack of a best practice, or, as she calls it, a “roadmap for recovery.” That needs to change, she says.
“Addiction treatment needs to be immediate, aggressive and long-term,” she said. “Here in New Jersey, an individual is entitled to 180 days per calendar year for addiction treatment. I believe an aggressive approach would allow those 180 days be contiguous [but] most people don’t get 180 contiguous days of treatment.”
She urges parents with children who need treatment to educate themselves on what they are entitled to by law. Burns is a mother of three, a teacher, and has become involved in addiction advocacy since her son’s death. She helped spearhead a walk called Changing the Face of Addiction, to help change the stigma of addiction and has brought her advocacy to her local state senator and addressed the New Jersey Senate Budget Appropriations Committee about the need for a change to the addiction treatment protocol.
She was honored as an Advocacy Leader in 2017 by the New Jersey chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
“I want the book to allow the reader to understand how difficult it is to deal with issues such as mental illness and addiction. I also want my book to begin a conversation about addiction treatment. Often the type of treatment an individual receives is determined by their insurance company and what state they live in.” --Mary Burns