Nicholas “Nick” Lee Schivito, our beloved son, lost his battle to substance abuse on January 20, 2018. We never want him to be forgotten, as he truly is unforgettable. Nick was born July 24, 1995, joining his older brother, John. We were thrilled to round out our family of four. We raised our boys in West Chester, PA, in what we felt was a “normal”, wholesome family. We instilled good moral values and taught them to respect others as well as themselves. Unfortunately, substance abuse does not respect anyone.
When Nick entered the room, he did so with a warm smile and a sense of ease. He loved to laugh and make others laugh with things he said or did. His laugh was hearty and infectious. He was a kind-hearted young man willing to help anyone in need and performed many “acts of kindness” in his short 22 years of life. He didn’t merely tolerate those who were different, he embraced them. He understood differences because he himself had learning differences and, as a teenager, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He would always step up to the plate on behalf of the underdog. He did not discriminate. Unfortunately, neither does substance abuse.
As a child, Nick loved his silly Labradoodle, Max, and spent hours playing with him. He was exposed to many activities including piano, baseball, golf, basketball and tennis. He also enjoyed many of his childhood summers playing on the Ocean City, NJ beach and boardwalk. He loved to emulate Alan Iverson in our driveway with his neighborhood buddies and sled down our hill in the winter. Many Sunday dinners brought his buddies around our table for a homemade pasta dinner. He was a risk-taker, enjoyed thrill rides and lived on the edge. By the age of 12, he achieved his Black Belt in Karate. He took a liking to tennis at a young age then pursued the sport, playing in high school and beyond, and was known as a “lethal lefty.” He achieved a ranking of 4.5 in the USTA arena. Unfortunately, illegal substances are lethal as well.
In many cases, being bipolar leads to drug addiction. Those with bipolar disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol out of an unconscious need to stabilize their moods. Unfortunately, substance abuse has the opposite effect, making the symptoms of being bipolar worse. Bipolar disorder can make one feel unstoppable, between surges of sleeplessness to feelings of despair and deep depression. As one might imagine, it is most difficult to know and understand how to help your child plagued with this disease. Coupled with the disease of addiction, we could never know what would happen next. This led to exhaustion and discord in our family. For the most part, we suffered in silence. We were ashamed and embarrassed by the stigma associated with mental illness and substance abuse.
Nick’s troubles began when he was able to easily purchase synthetic marijuana commonly known as “Spice” at our local convenience store. Spice is known to cause seizures and psychosis. It caused psychosis in Nick. From there, addiction and his mental challenges led him to numerous behavioral health and rehabilitation facilities. This cycle remained for the last eight years of his life. Visits to psychiatrists, therapists, intensive outpatient treatment, local meetings and sponsors could not help to suppress the powerful cravings of his body and mind to use illegal drugs. We were unable to help him corral his bipolar disorder or arrest his addictions. Substance abuse is a disease that only those afflicted by it can bring to a point of recovery.
Unfortunately, he could not loosen the chains that bound him to his addiction. Nick didn’t wake up one day with aspirations to be addicted to illegal substances or to be bipolar. On the last night of his life, we chatted about a local meeting he had attended and was seeking out a sponsor. We exchanged “I love yous” and he went to bed. Nick was struggling to stay clean, but the lethal drug Fentanyl is what ended his life.
We are devastated by his death and there will forever be a void in our hearts. We would have moved mountains to help our son "right his ship" and get on a better path in life. If only our love were enough. We will never see Nick get married, have a family, buy a home or participate in the family business with his Dad and brother, John.
We are in the midst of a rampant, deadly crisis that is killing Americans at epidemic proportions. It affects all backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups, sexual orientations, as well as those in every social and economic status. It does not discriminate.
As a result of this tragedy, we are motivated to do what we can to continue on in a positive way to help others as Nick surely would have done. Our hope is that his life was not in vain. Our mission is to bring awareness and educate our community of the dangers of illegal substance abuse. We also aim to raise awareness of the relationship between mental illness and substance abuse.
Through the Angels Against Addiction Foundation, our hope is that Nick's message will be passed on with the power to help save others.