Opioid addiction leads to overdose, death for Fox Cities resident

Melissa Gritton shares story of losing fiancé during talk in Neenah

Melissa Gritton and Brandon Guyant, her fiancé who died on May 20, 2019, from an opioid overdose. He was 28 years old.

NEENAH – Living with and loving someone with an opioid addiction is difficult, but when that person dies of an opioid overdose, the pain can be overwhelming. When Melissa Gritton lost her fiancé, Brandon Guyant, to an overdose, she decided she had to share his story in order to help others.

One of her speaking engagements was at St. Gabriel the Archangel Church on Jan. 10. She titled it “Living With and Loving an Addict.” She spoke about the overwhelming pain and grief she experienced, as well as explaining what led to her fiancé’s addiction and death, his years in and out of recovery, and his in-patient and out-patient treatments. She also addressed the stigma that society has around addiction. In addition, she looked at her life after his death and her journey of healing.

“My big thing is getting people to realize addiction is more prevalent than we realize and that addicts look just like everyone else,” she told The Compass. She has given talks to other groups, such as inmates and other addicts, offering words of advice and healing. “Brandon wanted me to tell his story and help others,” she said.

Her story begins when she began dating Brandon while they were in college. They had known each other in high school, but began dating when she was 19 and he was 20. “Brandon was raised by his grandparents and was 15 when his grandmother died from cancer,” Gritton said. “At that point, he didn’t have a lot of support from family and friends.”

In high school, Brandon began experimenting with drugs and alcohol as ways to cope with his grief and guilt. He was introduced to pain medications when he had his wisdom teeth removed, shortly before his grandmother’s death. After her death, he returned to pain medications to ease his grief. “At that time, those things were readily available at our school,” Gritton said.

“By the end of high school — junior and senior years — he was partying a lot. He had gone back to living with his mother and split his time between his mother’s home and his grandfather’s home. They were all dealing with their grief and were not a lot of support for one another,” she said. 

At this time, oxycontin was the big thing and then someone offered Brandon heroin. The next step, she said, led to someone injecting the drugs. 

“This was an addiction he had before we met,” Gritton said. “It was not as strong or visible of an addiction at that point. Also, he had a family predisposition to addiction. He told me some people could just experiment with drugs and walk away. That was not something he could do.”

“The drugs became a coping method for him and it grew; the dependency grew. The more he used, the more he needed to use,” she continued. “He’d start getting sick and use more. These drugs ruin your brain. He was getting drugs or using them and crying, ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this!’”

Treatment would work for a time, but “there was a lot of unhealed trauma that he was not ready to deal with,” Gritton said. He wasn’t ready to try in-patient treatment, at first, she continued. He would have periods where he didn’t use drugs, but he couldn’t stick with it. He tried methadone, but that still is using a drug daily, she said.

There were other programs; some were maintenance programs and could be productive — at least for a time. Gritton also attended programs, such as Al-Anon, to help her understand and help Guyant. 

“We were college kids and we had lots of expenses,” Gritton said. “He decided to wean off the drug, but eventually he relapsed.”

Brandone passed away at the age of 28 on May 20, 2019.

At the time of his death, the couple was engaged and planning a wedding. They had bought a house and were planning a family. They suffered a miscarriage just a few months before Guyant’s death. 

“We had been together for eight and a half years; we had grown up together,” Gritton said. “His death impacted everything. Everything now fell to me. When he died, I lost 60% of our income. I felt like a widow even though, technically, I wasn’t. My mental health suffered. I delved into my spiritual beliefs at the time to help me heal. I feel like I have been doing a lot of healing and am at a good place now, but the healing continues. There are all those ‘what ifs’ and at the time of his death, I was still grieving the miscarriage from a few months before he died. That is a lot of loss to deal with.”

“I want to share our story to help others cope and heal,” said Gritton, whose father, Tom, serves as deacon at St. Gabriel Parish. 

Today, she is engaged again and plans to be married in October. Her future spouse is “very supportive and we are planning for a family. Some days are hard, but I have worked really hard to get to this point. I do things Brandon would want me to do — continue to live and do these education pieces on addiction. I’m trying to raise awareness and get rid of the stigma attached to it. I live my life in a way that I am proud of myself and others can be proud of me.”