In May 2012, Carter learned that his son, Austin Pacholski, died of a potential drug overdose.
Carter said his son had an enlarged heart at the time of his death, and authorities are unsure if that played a role in the 30-year-old man's death. Once a month, Carter calls the coroner’s office in California hoping they’ve determined a cause of death.
“Since he died, I don’t really have a joy in life anymore,” Carter said.
‘Shooting up everything’
From the time he was in high school, Carter drank alcohol and smoked marijuana to make dealing with his home life easier. When he moved from Rockford to Grand Haven nearly 30 years ago, he never expected his life to be anything other than partying.
On his first night in Grand Haven, Carter met a drug dealer and took cocaine. Throughout the years, his drug use expanded to LSD and heroin.
Carter, now 60, said using needles gave him instant gratification.
“I was shooting up everything,” he said.
Carter’s drug habits eventually cost him relationships, a job and more.
When his ex-wife and her husband took his son to California to live with them, Carter didn’t have money to fight it. All of his money went toward his next fix, he said.
Substance abuse affects a user’s whole being, their loved ones and the entire community, said Rich Thiemkey, a treatment services coordinator for the Lakeshore Coordinating Council.
“Family members suffer the emotional stress from the lies, abuse and action of the one addicted,” he explained.
For Carter, his sobering moment came when his other son, Chad, saw him at his worst.
Instead of spending a spring break vacation visiting Carter in Grand Haven, Chad went back to his mom’s house just a few days into his stay. Fearing he had lost his son, Carter sought help and didn’t look back.
Years later, Chad told his father his leaving related to the way he drove his motorcycle over the drawbridge.
Carter cleaned up his act and enrolled in school. He continues to attend meetings helping those who are in his shoes.
Carter said he had no idea how much his life would change after getting clean.
“I’m somebody I never thought I could be,” he said.
Since he had such a positive turnaround, Carter hoped he could convince Austin to do the same. Whenever Carter spoke to Austin, he tried to persuade him to get help — but the pleas fell on deaf ears.
“I was the 'crazy one' because I got sober,” Carter said.
The first step in seeking help is recognizing the individual wants to change, Thiemkey said. From there, he or she can receive assistance from area substance abuse centers, support groups and counselors, and have a friend hold them accountable for their changing ways.
“It’s changing a lifestyle,” Thiemkey said. “It’s thinking differently.”
One of the approaches Thiemkey encourages is a “take-off, put-on principle” —where he or she replaces a negative behavior with a positive one.
Thiemkey said people have to be willing to overcome the pain and discomfort that comes along the bumpy road to recovery.
“Addiction to substances isn’t a life sentence,” Thiemkey said. “There is hope.”
Local substance abuse services:
• Lakeshore Coordinating Council, in Grand Haven: 616-846-4662 or 866-846-7311
• Catholic Charities of West Michigan, in Muskegon and Holland: 877-359-6523
• Ottagan Addictions Recovery, in Grand Haven: 616-842-6710