From the NDepth Library of NewsOK, the online newspaper powered by The Oklahoman, comes the story of Reggie Whitten, a man forced to live through one of the most devastating events every parent dreads: It’s bad enough to have to bury your son, but it’s even worse when the cause of death is something senseless like substance abuse.
The NDepth Library, incidentally, takes the fast-paced new stories we all glance through these days and slows us down for a closer look at tales that really matter. This story focuses on a man’s motivation to spread the word about Oklahoma rehabilitation centers and reasons for achieving sobriety.
Reggie Whitten had reached the pinnacle of his career as a lawyer in the fast lane. Although he grew up poor, he made it through college and law school and then got married and started a family. Even though he won a $130 million settlement at once point, he never lost track of the love he had for his son, Brandon, who succeeded at football in high school, inspired others to follow his example, and entered his twenties playing football at Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford.
Then came Brandon’s long, slow slide into addiction. The wake-up call for Whitten occurred when Brandon drove himself and his girlfriend off the road, flipping their car upside down, the two nearly drowning in a creek. Brandon had been taking Valium and washing them down with alcohol—a common practice, Whitten says, among Brandon’s fellow athletes.
Brandon appeared to have the more serious injuries from this accident, but in a weird twist it was his girlfriend who died of a staph infection about six weeks afterward. As Whitten puts it, Brandon was never the same after that.
Faced with guilt over the death of his girlfriend, Brandon sought help. His first Oklahoma rehabilitation center was a 30-day program, and it seemed like more than enough time to effectively engage in recovery. However, Brandon had his ups and downs over the course of the next three years. Sobriety is a difficult thing to maintain if you don’t work a recovery program.
In mid-February 2002, Whitten received a call from Brandon. He knew Brandon had been drinking, and in Brandon’s life where there was alcohol, there was Valium. Whitten set off to pick Brandon up in a nearby town, where Brandon said he would wait.
But Brandon didn’t wait. He hopped aboard a motorcycle and headed back home. That’s where Whitten found the emergency vehicles; Brandon had smashed the motorcycle into a brick mailbox a couple doors away from his home. The only thing Whitten could do was cradle the back of his son’s crushed skull. Brandon, at the age of 25, was dead.
Whitten was numb for months after Brandon’s death. But when his daughter asked him to talk to a friend of hers, he found a voice, a way to speak out about rehabilitation and recovery. That was the beginning of F.A.T.E.: Fighting Addiction Through Education. Whitten speaks publicly these days about the way that drugs and alcohol changed his son from a leader into a follower, how addiction altered Brandon’s brain chemistry so that he couldn’t even fight for his own life.
F.A.T.E. is just one avenue to find an Oklahoma rehabilitation center, and Whitten has taken his message outside of the OK State as well, working in Nebraska and Utah. He works with addicted veterans and he’s even taken his message to Uganda, traveling with Pros for Africa. If you’re hoping to help a loved reach recovery, there’s a message worth sharing: Easy does it, one day at a time.