Submitted by his mother, Teresa Stepp

Who Chris was

Chris was an incredible soul. He had a very dynamic personality and presence about him. I always think of him laughing or saying something funny. I remember his smile more than anything, and his funny mannerisms, like the way he would flip his hat.

And he was so energetic he would make your head spin! He was always moving. He was a son, brother, father, fiancé, uncle and friend to many. He loved animals, made friends easily and hated that he was an addict.

Chris had a huge circle of friends

Chris was a collector of friends, always helping anyone in need. Being a gifted social creature who could always make you laugh, Chris was rarely alone. Wherever he went, he would make a new friend. He was always bringing someone home.

His greatest passion was playing the drums

Chris was a self-taught musician who felt at home behind his drum kit, whaling away on the skins.

He had this swag about him

For Mother’s Day, the year he turned 18, he was living with his dad. I had made reservations for dinner and he and his brother showed up. Chris had a mohawk. He’d shaved the sides of his head. He’d waited until he was 18 to get tattoos, and he didn’t get just one. He got like five. He gave me this little laugh.

Chris was heavily into tattoos

By age 25 a large portion of his skin was covered. He considered his body an artistic billboard where each piece of art had a significant meaning to him. All of his tattoos were spiritual-based. They weren’t cartoon characters. He had his last name tattooed on his inside forearm. He had a third-eye on his elbow, a reference to seeing beyond. He had a crucifix, he had Jesus. His tattoos were existential.

He was only 26 when he died and he had two full sleeves, and his hands, his torso. Given more time, I’m sure he would have been a complete canvas.

Chris with his daughter Jacey

Chris was into his own personal style

His clothes and shoes were also an important part of his persona and he kept them well organized. He had to have his Vans, his Sketchers. He had his chain wallet, he had his ears gauged. I have a picture of him looking like Sid Vicious.

But though his outward appearance was tough, he wasn’t a roughneck. He was great with kids and animals. He always took up for the underdog.

Chris’ proudest accomplishments

Playing his drums, getting clean for a while and getting a job. Buying his first car. And having his daughter, Jacey. She was only 5 months old when he died.

How drugs became part of his life

The first time I recall being aware that Chris was using drugs was when he was 13 years old. He came home from middle school high on pot; I found him passed out in the bathtub. I learned that Chris was taking prescription opioids sometime around age 19, but I don’t have a specific memory.

How our relationship changed while Chris was struggling with opioid-use disorder

It really strained our relationship. At times it was exhausting and he became someone I didn’t like very much. The stealing, lies, unreliability, shifts and swings in his personality all became issues. I spent more time dealing with courts, asking for bail money and worrying about where he was living. Tough love was difficult and our relationship was often challenged.

Chris on the job as an ironworker

How Chris fought opioid-use disorder

Chris struggled for seven years. The prescription painkillers eventually led to harder drugs like heroin. He would bounce back and forth struggling to get clean looking for rehabilitation and recovery houses that would take him. Most of his clean time didn’t last for very long before he was out on the streets using again.

Chris experienced periods of homelessness as well as being locked up. He spent most of his birthdays between the ages of 21 to 24 locked up for charges like theft that were related to his drug use.

Things were going well right before he died

Before he passed he had gotten a job as an ironworker. He bought his first car and had won the heart and trust of his high school sweetheart back; they were engaged. A band was interested in him becoming their drummer. A relapse of fentanyl-laced heroin took it all away.

How I found out Chris had overdosed

My husband and I were out to dinner celebrating the refinancing of our house. I missed a call on my phone. I still have a picture on my phone of my drink from that night, a reminder: I was celebrating while Chris was dying.

On the way home, I saw the missed call and listened to the voicemail. That’s when my life changed forever. It was my ex-husband saying “your son has died.” I immediately threw the phone. I knew, in that moment, he was gone.

My husband was driving and was asking me what was wrong. I kept pointing at the phone. He picked it up and listened to the message.

I called Chris’ girlfriend and asked where their daughter was. She said her parents had come to get her. I told her we’d be right over.

We went to my ex-husband’s house, where Chris lived, and she was there. The police were upstairs. It was weird to be in the house with Chris up there, but I remembered something my mother did for me. She made sure I was not with her when she died. “I don’t want that to be how you remember me,” she told me before she passed.

So I thought. I’m not going to go up there to see him.

We brought his girlfriend and Jacey to our house. They moved in with us. They’ve been with us since then. In fact, they just moved out this weekend.

We’re all good now. We’re doing better. You process it and you put it where it needs to be.

I am really proud of Chris

After he died, so many people told me how much he helped them when they were down. He was not a selfish person. We miss him terribly.

If I could say one thing to Chris it would be

I wish I could have saved you :(

The experience of losing him has molded me in many ways

Chris dying in this manner has changed my life. I have new connections with people.

I’m a polymer clay artist, and I started making heart pendants and selling them for $9 to raise money for recovery. In January 2018, I had raised $3,600. Through a match campaign, I was able to donate $7,190 to the Helping Up Mission, an addiction treatment center that had helped Chris.

I’ve scaled back my national campaign, but I’m still fundraising and raising awareness locally. I’ve done podcasts. I have a shop, the Clay Monet, and there’s an Open Hearts section where I’m still selling hearts. It’s continued to allow me to raise awareness in a positive way.