Losing My Son to Addiction-A Look Inside a Mother’s Heart, by Tracy Jackson

I had the honor of speaking with a beautiful woman named Tracy, who tragically lost her son to this disease.  She is warm hearted, courageous and incredibly brave to share…here is her story.

Losing My Son to Addiction-A Look Inside a Mother’s Heart, by Tracy Jackson

On May 9th 1989 at 3:01 pm Zachary Scott Schellenberg entered the world a perfect 5lbs 15 1/2 oz. Zachary was not born with warning label or sign that would identify him as a future addict . He was smart , beautiful, kind, eager, loving and curious. He had many friends and was popular. He was born into a family that loved him and raised him to be the best person he could be. He was an Eagle Scout and a lover of all things nature. He had qualities others only envied, from his free spirit to his gift to speak to anyone no matter who they were. He was unique and inspirational.

So why did he die? What did we do wrong? Why was Zachary and addict????

This is my story:

When Zachary was 7 he was what his pediatrician would identify as ADHD and we were advised by him and his first grade teacher that he should be taking medication for it . From the first moment he took the stimulant Adderall and then later Stratera Zachary became manageable and quickly his grades were improving and Zachary was no longer a distraction in the class room. Zachary would continue on this medication until he begged me at around 13 that he no longer wanted to take the medication . He said he was no longer able to think straight and the headaches were unmanageable along with stomach pain. Zachary pediatrician advised us to just to discontinue the medication and he would be fine. But he was Not fine.

It was at that time did I discover Zach was smoking weed to help in combat the symptoms of his diagnosis, he said his head raced and it helped him. To me it was “shock” because my son was breaking the law by smoking pot.

Additionally at age 12 Zach fell from a truck bed and causing a open fracture to his left arm. He would require two surges and prescription pain medication after both procedures.

By 16 and two drug rehabs later my son was what I refer to as a “professional addict “because he worked at it like a job. As his mother I was extremely angry and sad and pleaded with him to “stop “

He was bringing shame to us and I was quickly becoming withdrawn and depressed. I felt I had no where to turn and I was alone. Both his father and I did what many parents do when in crisis we shut down . Or argued about what we did wrong.

After Zachary’s dad died in 2013 of a long fight with cancer Zach dove into heroin . In the three years he was shooting up I saw the biggest change in him.

He lied , stole, and did anything he could for his next “fix” . I watched helplessly as he went from my son to something else. I was ashamed, sad, scared , I felt so helpless because no matter what I did I was a bystander to his demise .

I watched his become physically gaunt and sick . Zach attracted Hep C through his I.V drug use and was dying slowly from his addiction.

The son I loved was replaced with a person I did not know. He was a lost boy and there was no place to get help.

In 2014 his first stint in prison occurred. While waiting in the jail prior to sentencing he would call me begging for help and for me to bail him out and because I would not I was an awful mother according to him. It was not until the heroin shed his body did any sign of my child surface. It was also while he was incarcerated did I feel any peace because at least I knew he was alive and not lying dead somewhere of an overdose. This went on for two more years.

Jail, prison, sobriety, relapse, jail, sobriety, relapse….


On September 7th , 2016 at 9:45 after 9 months clean the body of my son was found by a person walking to a gas station that was adjacent to the field he was lying in.

At approx 5:17 pm a deputy sheriff came to our home in Smithton to deliver the devastating news of my sons death.

A friend of my husbands since childhood he drove up to our home on that evening and thinking it was simply a social call Warren my husband eagerly greeted him with a hand shake. The realization of his visit soon became apparent when the saddened officer asked If i was home. Warren came in from the garage visibly shaken asking me to go to the garage with him it was there I met the officers eyes and I could hear his words before ever spoken. I quickly became panicked and begged him not to say the words I had been dreading to hear for years and the words no mother or parent should hear.

My heart immediately felt a pain I did not know possible and finding my way to a cooler in our garage I sat before I fell. After speaking to the officer a bit longer and speaking on the phone with the coroners office I made my way back into our home to start relaying the news of his death.

The next few days were a blur of family and friends do desperately wanting to help and the need for arrangements to be made. During all of this I stayed awake fearing sleep would erase the captured voice of my son I had playing in my head since I was given the devastating news ” love you mama” the last words he spoke to me days earlier. When sleep finally did find me nearly 2 days later I awoke knowing that I had to make choices and had to do whatever it took to move forward-

Fast forward to now and I’m still moving forward just differently.

My message to everyone who reads this is “yes” my son was an “addict” but he was also my son. He could not just “stop” like I’ve heard many say to him. He did not want to be an addict. He did not enjoy hurting his family and as bad as it was for me to watch ,it was so much worse for him. The drug took a hold and it did not let go. It stayed with him in his mind despite his stints with sobriety. It’s a demon willing to take hold of you and leaving nothing behind but despair and death.

Zach was everyone’s child, he had nothing to identify him as “at risk” . He grew up in a two parent household and was given all opportunity to thrive.

Heroin has no enemies, no prejudice, and no fear. The new addicts of this age are the honor students, athletes, the professional, the face you see walking down the street, the friend, and the Eagle Scout and our Veterans

Zachary’s story needs to be heard because we need awareness . We need to break away from the stigma that he was less than because he was a heroin addict. He was my son, my heart, and from the moment he was born I did everything to protect him. And yet I was helpless to this.

My only happy place in my story now is the last time I saw my son we spent the day together and it was amazing.

He saw my parents and his sister and he was happy. That was my gift from God and I will be forever grateful.

Editors Note:

Tracy, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Your raw and courageous words may help save someone’s life!

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, I have resources that can help you.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out for a confidential heart to heart.



About the Author:


  1. Jacqueline Tomaselli October 24, 2016 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    My sons story was sadly close to this one. But it was almost five years just writting that sends chillsvdown my spine. Ive been to Washington dc to help with the cara law I help those struggling with this diease. My heart goes out to Zacharys mom!

  2. Liz Appleby October 24, 2016 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss. My family is also dealing with an addict. It destroys all of our lives. And I keep playing over and over in my head – “just let him stay clean for the next minute, the next hour, the next day”. Losing a child is one of the hardest things a parent can go through. We lost a child at age 23 – beautiful, bright, nurse. She died from a car accident. I pray every minute of the day that I do not have to bury another child. This addiction has become epidemic and we must not feel guilty, “if I could have done something different”, or listen to other people say, “Kids with “good” parents aren’t addicts”. It is hard to see them doing this to themselves, it is sad to see such a different person come out from this. God Bless you and your family and your son. Be at peace!

    • Tracy Jackson October 28, 2016 at 9:44 pm - Reply

      I am so sorry to hear of your trials.
      You are so correct, guilt and blame serves no purpose as to only render you helpless in an already almost helpless situation
      We as by standers can only do what the addict allows hoping something we say or do gets through. I was so scared to sleep at night to wake up to a knock at the door .
      As my heart aches for my son daily I do know I did all I could do to love him through it without the risk of taking us all down with him- the truth is this will always be a struggle even when he’s sober and is the power of this disease.
      What can we do as families ?
      Try to keep moving forward, proactive, and strong for our selves and our children.
      I use to beg my son to “stop” and cry and be powerless to his disease(my disease ) but then I knew all I could do is be strong for us all-
      And even though my sons life ended does not mean I failed .. The disease just became to powerful

      May your story take another path and may God be with you –/

  3. Lorraine October 24, 2016 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your wonderful son,I too have a wonderful son struggling with drug addiction.He come out of rehab and four days later back in full force,I had been for counselling and they advice to ask him to leave the home,I did that but it tore my heart out and had him back home four days later,he is trying to stay clean but this is tearing our family apart, it consumes my thoughts morning ,noon and night, why are theses Demi s so hard to fix! What about Shebaxon ,the drug to lessen the cravings,was your son on that,would you recommend it? Counselling is difficult at 85 a session,the whole family needs it. Did you attend nar non meetings? We as parents feel so helpless over such a powerful disease with desperate hope for a happy life for our son. Thanks for sharing your story

  4. Bob Lehmann October 24, 2016 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Katie and Tracy Thank you for sharing this story. Every day we hear of families who have experienced the death of a loved one due to addiction. These days the age of the individuals losing this battle is getting younger and younger. Everyday we hear that the number of deaths are multiplying at a rapid rate and all to often they become someones statistics. Whats lost is these young people are someones son, daughter, brother, sister, husband or wife. We can never lose sight of the fact that they are people, important to someone and now will be no more except for the memories. We must continue to fight for those that cannot fight for themselves and for those that are no longer with us whose voice is silent. I work in the treatment industry and see first hand what a devastating disease it is and how it not only impacts the person, but the family as well. I know this first hand as it has impacted my family directly. What I also know is we cannot give up…we must get everyone to hear the message that this disease must be fought at every level or it will get so out of control which is where I believe it is heading. We must do this now and be aggressive in our approach and commitment. I promise you there isn’t a person in this country that hasn’t been touched by addiction in one way or another. As a nation we need to open our eyes, see the problem and come up with solutions that will aggressively address education, prevention, and treatment before it gets so out of hand it will be to late. If someone needs a reminder they only need to read stories like Tracy and her son Zach and realize the clock is ticking. Thank You again for sharing this heart felt story.

  5. Jodi Dale October 24, 2016 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    May God bless both Tracy and Zachary. If possible, could I have her address? I’d love to send her a copy of my book in hopes it can somehow comfort her. xo

  6. Maunie October 24, 2016 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    Your loss is my biggest fear. I cherish every single moment with my daughter. I love the minute times we share. For I am not at all blind to the fact that she could be called HOME in an instant. I will pray for you daily. God bless you with HIS serenity.

  7. Rick October 24, 2016 at 6:41 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing a very personal story, about Zachary, What a Wonderful Son and Awsome Mom.

  8. Hope smith October 24, 2016 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your Story. I am glad people are speaking out. See, I found out on April 17 my son was a Addict. A opiate user. I have learned a lot and trying to help people learn about the Diease of Addition . I just take one day at a time. Thanks again for sharing. God bless to all Addicts and there families.

  9. Beverly October 24, 2016 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Tracey, thank you so very much for sharing. I hope the people who are lucky enough to read your story are able to be inspired and educated with regards to addiction in our world instead of the classic stereotype that is the usual.

    Sending Peace and Blessings,

  10. Steph October 24, 2016 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    thank you for sharing your poignant story. Such a heartbreaking loss.
    No one should have to suffer this way.

  11. Toynua palmer October 24, 2016 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    I have a daughter who is an addict, she was a cheerleader in Jr high and is a graduate. I could use any help you have in coping and trying to move forward within such matters I know I can’t control, from a desperate parent…

  12. Tracy Jackson October 25, 2016 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing my story- if it reaches just one person and helps it was worth it-

  13. Tracy Jackson October 25, 2016 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing-

  14. Debbie October 25, 2016 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    I am speechless…….I am so sorry for your loss…..my daughter currently sober but has relapsed so many times, celebrated her 30th birthday incarcerated in August in jail. She just got out 2 weeks ago and I’m holding my breath as she is in a very unhealthy relationship with her current boyfriend. Heroin is no longer used by just “scummy people” no one is immune. I pray that you will find peace and comfort and those with family members affected by this terrible epidemic will also.

  15. Gina Crawford October 26, 2016 at 4:41 am - Reply

    Reading your story has left me with So
    Many different thoughts.
    I’m an addict and altho. I’m in Recovery for 1yrs. I too being an addict am well aware that I’m NOT
    Invincible from relapse,death,jails,-&-institution’s.
    I now struggle daily with my own pain of my 2 older children (ages 24-&-25)
    Being addicts themselves. I mean really, How can I not blame myself.
    My beautifuLL, gorgeous, loving, free,daughter is 25 in active addiction, My son 24 only 11months apart, in active Recovery. Then I have their lil sister 16,who
    They resent terribly because for some reason I love her more and got Clean-Π-SoBeR for her,That couldn’t be further from the truth!!
    Addiction is truly a Horrible disguise to one ending, to one place- Death/-&-/HeLL.
    Godbless you Tracy.
    Godbless you Katie D.

    • Tracy Jackson October 28, 2016 at 9:30 pm - Reply

      First of all I applaud you for your 10 years of sobriety and obviously are realistic about recovery by your post-
      As I do not know the family dynamics and have no information as a response I do know that the blame game is very prevalent in addict addiction so don’t hold to much weight to it as far as how they feel about your youngest daughter. But more importantly than that you have to keep your road of sobriety protected — –
      Again I applaud you on your sobriety and hopefully your children will as well follow in your footsteps to get clean- it s a tough place to be and my prayers for you all-

  16. Gina Crawford October 26, 2016 at 4:45 am - Reply

    Not sure how to Edit my last comment
    But my sobriety means the world to me and I am 10 yrs Clean-Π-SoBeR
    And it reads I’m”1yrs”
    How can this be fixed

  17. Wendy October 29, 2016 at 7:11 am - Reply

    Dear Tracy, I am a mom who just 9 months ago lost my precious son Steven (age 25) to addiction. No words can describe the pain I feel and only a parent who has lost a child understands. I loved this child so deeply and yet there was nothing I could do to save him though I tried. Like you, it consumed me and in the end I drew some boundaries and prayed with a group of ladies who had similar situations with their adult children. Addiction is ravaging our country and so many families are left devastated in its pathway. I’d give anything for just another day with him but then I guess the good Lord knows that would not be enough, I would BEG for more. Some days I still can’t believe it, my pain is still so raw. In the midst of my pain, the Lord has bestowed on me the gift of Art. Steven was an artist and now I feel a connection when I paint. Heaven holds the son I love, my heart and life will NEVER be the same. God bless you and other parents who have been thru this tragedy.

  18. Kim Groves October 30, 2016 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Katie I’m so sorry for you and your family I can’t imagine the your feeling because I’m an addict and I to struggle everyday with my decease I’m mother of two children and and I’m now struggling with seeing my son going down the same road and it hurts me to think that I am responsible for the life the that he is choosing because of my selves ways today I I’m learning to except the fact it’s a decease that takes not one family member but the hole family and today I I’m trying to except that we all have chooses and we all can make healthy one’s
    Thank-you for this reading this and people like yourself help those in need?

  19. Kim Groves October 30, 2016 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    So sorry for your loss

  20. Tracy Jackson October 30, 2016 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    Beautifully said-
    May God comfort you with peace and thank you for the message-

  21. Sarah November 2, 2016 at 10:43 am - Reply

    I am sorry for your loss. I live in fear of that police officer coming to my house with unbearable news. I have a support group and try every day to.let go and let God. I’m an enabler and I am working on that. Someone said step back so God can get in there and do his work. I am trying every day to do that. I am concentrating on myself and my marriage. I’ve heard that once I change so will the situation. These are horrific circumstances we all live with. I try to practice acceptance and surrendering. I am now examining my shortcomings and truly being honest with myself. I see change in myself amd try to be patient when I feel things aren’t happening fast enough for my liking but I know it’s in God s time not mine. I’m so grateful for all of the things I have reading on these blogs and feel comforted that I am not alone. We are all part of the human family and I thank you all for your generosity

  22. Glenda November 6, 2016 at 11:06 pm - Reply

    While I read the stories, I am afraid for what the future may bring to my BFF and her son. Everything described about how it starts from lies, to the cheating, and stealing has happened. Her son is only 22yo. I love him dearly as I also have a son his age. I saw this prescious, sweet, smart, handsome boy grow up! As I read the stories though, I want to know how to best help and support my best friend. We’ve been friends since elementary school. Her son has been in rehab 4x now, stolen from her, and resently caught by police stealing from a commercial bldg. he now has charges, court dates and felony charges. This is not the boy we know. My friend is a single mom and the costs to put him in rehab and now possibly sober living is exhausting! She and her mom have suffered so much these last 3 yrs. I do what I can to listen at all times of the night but feel it’s not enough. I want to find meaningful ways to help and support my friend. It’s almost as if there are no solutions like there are for AA. Why? Written steps as to how to go about this progression. She’s now at a point where he is not welcomed at the house anymore due to fears. She could use more support as in people stopping by her house for advice. Phone calls from parents with similar stories. I have looked at programs and fees are astronomical! What else can I do for my best friend to lessen her pain? I’ worry about her health emotionally and psychologically. It is so much to bear while still having to work full time, deal with grandma at home, and life’s deadlines. It’s very hard just to standby. Neither deserve this and it pains me everyday to know she has to deal with her only son in this manner. Please can someone give me more direction? I’d like to put into action support for my bestest friend! I love her to pieces ?Thank you

  23. Bob Lehmann December 4, 2016 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    Katie it’s Bob Lehmann…give me a call in the morning…

  24. Kathy January 15, 2017 at 12:54 am - Reply

    I am sitting here late at night reading all of theses comments. I also have 26 year old son that is hooked on heroine . he just finished his 28 days in rehab and seem to be doing better. He will be living in a halfway house. I am hoping this will help him. I jumped every time the phone rings. I though by letting him living in our basement apartment that he would be safe and we can watch him. WRONG We took his car away but them he would call on the phone and have the drugs delivered down the road. We then took the phone away and he still was getting them thru contacting people on the internet. His brother hardly speaks with him because of all the nasty things he said when is doing the drugs. I smartened up and went to the pharmacy to get the nasal narcon. Sadly to said I have had to use it twice. So you parents do not take all the blame as my son once said
    “do not trust a addict they will say and do anything to get the drugs. I am hoping and praying everyday that he makes it. He really is a good person he just made a few bad decisions. It just feel that everyday a piece of me is taken away.

    • Katie February 1, 2017 at 12:21 pm - Reply

      All we can do is love them..but not love them to death. We can’t work harder on their recovery then they do. Prayers going out to you and your family ❤

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