Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Author: MaryBeth Cichocki (page 2 of 15)

The First Year Fog

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Matt.   The professionals call it grief brain.   I call it being hit in the head by a tornado.   I used to call myself a smart girl.   Once a capable human being.   Able to care for the tiniest, sickest infant.  Functioning at my highest capacity.   Being a wife.   Being your mother and fighting your battle like it was my own.   Never missing a beat.   Being able to rattle off a diagnosis and calculate the most complicated drug dose while working in the NICU.    Today my brain is scrambled.  Like an egg thats been dropped from the counter.   My brain in pieces all over the floor.   Shattered like the town that was once whole but now nonexistent.

All I remember is being wrapped in a fog.   After hearing the words I’ve dreaded throughout your struggle with addiction.   “It’s Matt, he’s dead”.   I remember feeling like my body was no longer attached to my being.   I was in another dimension.   Unable to hear or feel anything.   I felt a protective cocoon envelope my soul and I heard the door shut with a slam.   My brain protecting itself from what would become my harsh reality.

I feel like I’m walking around in a soft, warm fog.   Everything I used to be now a distant memory.   I feel safe here.   My grief cocoon.   Surviving  the first year without you has been excruciating.    I try to break free of the fog.   In my psyche I know I must come to a place in time where I can face reality.   I just don’t know if I can survive.    I’m told the brain protects us from overwhelming, crippling grief.    I say thank God it does.    I would have lost my mind months ago if my fog hadn’t settled over me like it does over the harbor on a humid night.   Protecting my heart from the harsh reality of what has become of my life.

My nightmare keeps trying to break through.   Reality continues it attempts to seep through my fog like blood soaks through a cloth.    My brain continues to resist knowing I am consumed with disbelief and I’m struggling to accept my new reality.

There are days I feel like I’m losing my mind.   Days I just cannot allow myself to believe there will be no more you.    I’m having trouble believing I’ve survived a year without hearing your voice or seeing your smile.   I go through the motions of life.   I get up and crawl through the grief punches.   I put on my mask to face the world but in my mind I’m gone.   I’m told I made it through all the firsts.    Like I should be given that purple ribbon of grief and put your loss behind me.    It’s time to live again.    What no one understands is that living is the most painful thing I do.

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My grief has become a part of who I am.   This first year has been the hardest time of my life.   Brief memories find their way through my fog.   Memories of us on the beach.   Life before your demons took over.   Memories of a mother and her son fighting for his life.   Those struggles seem like a walk in the park when compared to the reality of my life.   I go there briefly knowing that if I stay I will be lost forever.

Everyday is a struggle.   I battle my demons now as your demons took you away.   The guilt of the what if’s and I should haves spin out of control threatening to crash into my fog with a blazing light exposing me for who I really am.

Learning how to breathe.   Learning how to pretend that I feel.   Learning that I must go on without you.   I feel like an infant needing to learn how to navigate a new life.     A broken mother searching for the pieces of her mind.   Settling back into the protective fog when grief whips her heart.

I’m told life goes on.   I’m told the grief changes.   I’m told it gets easier.   For now my fog is a welcome place.   I’m not ready to see the future without you.   My fog wraps me in the warmth of loving hug.   I will emerge when I’m ready.   Until then I will allow my mind and heart to heal at their own pace.   For now my fog is a where I need to be………

 

 

 

United By Addiction. Bonded By Grief

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Matt,

I had the amazing experience of attending The Fed Up Rally and the Unite to Face Addiction concert in Washington DC this weekend.   When I was in the midst of the battle to find you help I felt so alone.   I felt isolated.   I felt that no one cared.   I had no idea how many other mother’s knew my heartbreak.

I was having second thoughts about attending.   Every weather report dampened my spirits and made me think of staying home and staying dry.   Then I looked at your picture and felt that gut punch of knowing you were really gone.    The broken system  failed us both and you paid with your life.   As I continued to stare into your  beautiful eyes, I felt a power in my soul like I’d never experienced  before.   I’d walked through hell during your active addiction, why would I let the threat of heavy rain and wind keep me away.

I read about the Rally in the paper.   They were asking for stories of recovery and hope.   I had written a piece telling our story and included your picture.   To my surprise, It was published and I was humbled.   I also sent your picture to be included in The Addicts Mom’s quilt.   There was no way I was going to miss seeing your face being remembered at this amazing event.

I took a bus early Saturday morning with a small group from Delaware.   We knew each other’s grief, each of us losing a child.   Saturday was an emotional day for me.   It was the nine month anniversary of your death and here I was riding a bus in the rain to attend a rally for drug addiction.   My tears fell along  with the rain drops as I remembered the struggle to find you help.    Unfortunately, Delaware had no rehabs.   We have one detox unit that never had any beds when you finally agreed to get clean.    I remembered conversations begging your insurance company to approve treatment only to be told that you had no days left.   How could they treat your disease like you were not worth the time or money spent to save your life?   Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think you would die and I would be on a bus heading to Washington participating in a march to The White House.

The bus dropped our group off at the hotel.   We grabbed our rain gear and headed to the memorial.  The sky was grey with a light rain falling mimicking my mood.   The closer I got the more I could feel the atmosphere changing.   When we reached the mall, I was shocked at the size of the crowd.   People just like me.   Strangers who knew my grief and walked in my shoes.   Strangers whose faces looked just like mine.   Shock and disbelief marked us as those left behind.  Eyes swollen and empty as we wiped tears away with the sleeve of our shirt.

The stage held a memorial filled with names of those who lost their battle.  I was brought to my knees when I saw your name.  My precious son surrounded by hundreds of those who like you are gone forever.  I felt that too familiar gut punch as my tears started to fall.  I wore your picture on a lanyard around my neck.   I grabbed it and started to sob.     A complete stranger came and wrapped me in her arms.   Whispering that she understood my pain.   Here we were two mothers, strangers, holding each other up as the rain mixed with our tears.    Sharing stories of children lost.   I witnessed the kindness of strangers forever bonded by a common grief.

I was waiting outside The Addicts Mom’s tent.   They were preparing to unveil the quilt.   I remember the wind blowing  and the rain hitting my face.   My eyes searching the many squares until I saw your face.   Your beautiful smile right in the center of this beautiful handmade creation.   The sound of a wounded animal came from my lips as I stood letting the rain mix with my tears hugging myself against the heartbreaking pain.   Arms reached for me.   Another mother who got it.   We rocked each other in the rain and wind as we shared our heart breaking grief.   Another mother living my life, knowing my pain.   Angels walking among the crowd comforting strangers.

We formed groups as we prepared to walk to the White House.   I looked around in awe.   Thousands of people all here for the same reason.   The broken system failed their loved ones.   I was no longer alone.   We marched together.   We hugged each other.   We shed tears together as we shouted out against a system that must be changed.   We were empowered by the numbers.   We were heard.   I walked back to the hotel with a couple who lost their son.   We now call each other friend.   This event formed a bond never to be broken.

Sunday morning came with my familiar face in the mirror.   Puffy eyes staring back at me.   My face changed by grief.   The price of addiction is what I now call my new look.   I have forgotten how to smile.   I attended a breakfast in Arlington hosted by The Addicts Mom group.   A group no mother wants to belong to but the circumstances of life have left us no choice.   It was emotional to meet all the mothers I’ve supported and who have supported me on Facebook.   These women have walked through the same hell and get it.   Again I came face to face with the quilt.   Your smiling face staring back at me and again another mother held me as I shattered into pieces.

There really are no words to describe Sunday’s event.   The crowd tripled from Saturday.  The weather cold, and dreary.   I stood on the hill by The Monument.   In awe at the number of people from all parts of the country coming together to demand better care for the disease of addiction.   Many holding pictures and banners with names and dates.   All here to honor the ones they loved and lost.  Those in recovery were celebrating  a new sober life.   Everyone had a story to tell.   Strangers sharing their souls with strangers.  Sharing the bonds of love, loss and hope.

Sunday evening Joe Walsh and his fellow musicians held a concert to honor those lost and those struggling to survive.   A tribute to this deadly disease.   The crowd came alive.  When the music started the atmosphere became one of happiness and hope.   Rich and famous artists coming out and admitting they were once addicts.  Speeches by people who care and will fight to make changes.  Hope.   I could feel it in the air, at last there was hope.   Our new Surgeon General gets it.   Lawmakers now ready to join our fight  providing equal treatment for the disease of addiction.  Hope.   I stood with a crowd of strangers and danced to the music.  Joy I hadn’t felt for so long coursed through my soul.  We held onto each other when a  song hit a nerve and tears returned.   We sang out loud.  We were empowered.   Too many people fighting for the same cause.   Everyone remembering loved ones.   Honoring them by speaking out against the stigma.

I still get chills when I look at my pictures of all the faces lost.   Pictures of people coming together and lifting each other up in spirit.   Strangers becoming friends.   Promises of keeping in touch.  Of working together for the greater good.   I’m humbled by this experience and I know I will never be the same.   I no longer feel alone as I remember the beauty of seeing thousands of people coming together demanding change.

There is a saying, If God closes one door he opens another.   My new door has opened and I know I have thousands of people fighting the same fight.   I will be your voice.   I will remember your smiling face on that quilt surrounded by a hundred others.    No longer alone but humbled by the compassion of strangers.

Surviving The Reality Of Mother’s Day

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Matt.   Mother’s Day is two days away.   I can feel the dread hanging outside my heart.   Like a lost dog it’s crying to be let in.   I’ve fought all week, keeping my mind so busy hoping that I would forget what this Sunday signifies.   I’m fighting for my life.   Battling my reality against the fantasy I’ve created in my mind.   I can not allow myself to believe that you are gone.   I must protect my sanity with every ounce of my strength.   In my mind you are living at the beach.   Living life in recovery.   Working and healthy.   My fantasy is where I go when the abyss calls to me.   Threatening to take me to a place I can not allow myself to go.  Hanging on like the cat hanging from that tall tree.   Knowing if my grip loosens I will fall so deeply into grief I may never return.

My survival depends on how long I can pretend.   Reality is dark and ugly.   My legs push through quick sand trying to run from what is real.   Trying desperately to keep my mind in fantasy mode.   Knowing the mask I wear will crack and crumble if reality sinks in.   I tell myself it’s just another Sunday.   I avoid looking at Mother’s Day cards when shopping.   I stay as far away as I can from reminders that there will be no more cards signed Love Matt.

This grief can never be described.   There are no books instructing me on how to survive a day that brings such incredible pain.   A day that even Hallmark can not put into words.

I plan to run away.   Like an angry, unhappy child I am running to find my peace.   Our sea beckons me to come, to breathe and to remember.   I need to be where you were.   I need to feel you wrap around me like the ocean breeze.   I need to hear the seagulls cry your name.   I need to sit and hold onto myself while allowing my mind to go there.

I will allow myself to remember past Mother’s Days spent together by the sea.   Sitting close as the sun kissed our skin with warmth.   Walking together with the pups.   The surf soaking our pants as unexpected waves hit.   Laughing as wet, sandy dogs ran barking and biting at the surf spray hitting their noses.   A mother and her youngest son spending time together at their peaceful place.   A son, a man fighting a horrible disease.   A mother who refused to give up.   A mother now grieving your loss.   Her heart shattered into a million pieces never to be whole again.

Those days full of hope and dreams.   Sun, surf and a love shared between a mother and her son.  You were never too old to say I love you Mom.   Never too old for hugs.   A little boy in the body of a man.  My forever towhead running on the beach squealing with delight as the waves rushed to pull you in.   Reaching for me to be your anchor, pulling you safely ashore.   You and I had something special.   A truth, an honesty that few shared.   I was never afraid to tell you how much you meant to me.   How much your addiction changed my life.   How badly my heart ached for you and how helpless I felt in your battle.

This Mother’s Day,  I will allow bits of reality to find a path through my fantasy.   Memories now so painful and precious are what I have left of us.   Those precious days we shared by the sea.   Like a film projector, I will control how much my heart can handle.   I will protect my sanity while allowing those memories to keep you alive.   I will look for signs that you are there walking by my side.   I will close my eyes and hear your voice.   I will see your smile in the clouds.   I will pray that you know I’m here in our special place looking for the missing piece of my heart.   Be my anchor my beautiful boy.   I need you to keep me sane.  Until we meet again I will always look for you.

Anger Transforms Into Advocacy

 

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Matt,  there are days when all I can do is sit and think about your addiction.   Days I devour every article I can find trying to understand what went so horribly wrong.  I disassemble your entire journey in my mind trying to find that missing piece.   The piece that somehow got overlooked during your struggle with addiction.   Since your death, I find myself immersed in your world.   I feel like a detective always searching for answers to questions that dance through my brain.   Educating myself like I’m about to take the exam of a lifetime and if I fail I will disappear.   Trying to understand the power of cravings and how your prescribed pills changed the chemistry of your brain.   Changing you into someone I only recognized from the outside.  Your looks didn’t change.   You were still handsome with those eyes that melted my heart.  Your changes were  in the depths of your soul.

I remember calling your addiction our dirty little secret.   I wanted to keep it safe and sound protecting both of us from the ugliness and stigma that surrounded your misunderstood disease.   I remember those brief periods of time when we were given a glimpse of normal.   Those too short periods when treatment brought you back from the abyss that had become your life.   I think back on the struggle to find that perfect place.  The one that would keep you safe and provide me with a much needed brake from the endless worry that danced through my mind.  Watching your struggle taught me that helping an addict is like matching fingerprints.   You must continue until that perfect match is found.

We were never able to continue.   Never able to find your perfect match.   Too many roadblocks set you up for failure.   People were trusted and money was wasted.   I’ve heard addiction referred to as chasing the scream.   My version was chasing the dream.   The dream that we would bust through the roadblocks and you would be a survivor.   The dream that life would return to normal and your addiction would ride off into the sunset.

That dream now lay shattered at my feet.   I am the lone survivor of your addiction.   I wanted to deal with my grief and let your addiction become a part of my past.   I wanted to disappear and lick my wounds.   Guarding my heart like a mama bear.   No more pain for me.  I wanted quiet times and precious memories to fill my broken heart.   I thought I could bury the pain with you and move on.   What I never understood before your death slapped me in the face and shook me to my core was that once you have witnessed the struggle and have lost your child to this mistreated disease it becomes a part of who you are.   The pain and loss course through your being.   Once you live the stigma and witness the hate, addiction becomes inescapable.   I was not the addict, but I’ve learned how society hates those who suffer.   I’ve learned that stigma lives long after the addict dies.

I never planned on becoming an advocate.   I craved some type of normal.   For seven years my life was a rollercoaster ride.   During that time all I wanted was to get off and find stable ground.   Now, that ride has ended and it’s the only place I crave to be.  I have nothing from the only world I knew.   No Matt, no career, just endless time to think about what should have been.

I’ll never forget the day my life found a new path.   I read an article about a first responder.   This man felt using Narcan was a waste of time.   He felt addicts should just die.   I remember my body starting to shake.  My heart beating like a war drum.   Anger burning in the depths of my soul.   You were one of those people he wanted dead!   I was out of control.   He never knew you.   He had no idea that you were the victim of a pill mill practice.   That by following doctors orders you became addicted.   He had no clue how hard you fought for your life.   Yet, here he was someone in uniform wanting those suffering from addiction to just die.

With shaking hands I called his Fire Chief and then the Mayor of his town.  I felt a calmness envelope me like you were there wrapping your soul around mine.   A sense of peace that I hadn’t felt in such a long time.   Your spirit was with me on that cold winter day.   You guided my words and calmed my heart.   I told our story.    A beautiful man and his grieving mother.    The battle for treatment.   The struggle for compassion.   I felt that by sharing the reality of your struggle I could open the eyes of people who have no clue.   By sharing the grief of loving then losing you, I could strike back at the stigma that continued to fuel the hate toward your misunderstood disease.   My call was met with compassion and concern.   A man who understood your mothers grief.   The firefighter was relieved of his duties.   A victory for all those impacted by addiction.

On that bitter winter day an ember caught fire.    My soul experienced a rebirth.   A new passion burning for truth and justice.   Staring into the star filled sky, I could see your smiling face.  Your beautiful eyes.  The whisper of the icy wind saying your name.   Matt,  as long as I live you live.   Forever connected by the bond that even death can not break.   Forever in my heart…….Your grieving mom has put on a new hat..

 

Grief and Guilt My Constant Companions

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Matt,   Grief is defined as keen mental suffering over loss.   It encompasses sharp sorrow and painful regret. Grief and Guilt take turns pounding pain into my heart.   Each hitting me when I least expect.   Sweeping me up in emotions I can no longer control.   I never knew that Grief could physically hurt.  I never knew that Guilt could be so cruel.  My body feels beat up. Every muscle and bone feels the pain of loss that no one can see.   This incredible anguish cannot be described.  I could never imagine that this type of pain existed until it crept into my soul the day you left me behind.

My books on Addiction have been replaced by books on Grief.  Books that no mother should ever have to touch or read.  Books on the stages of grief and how to survive each one.   Titles lining the shelves that bring tears to my eyes.   The Bereaved Parent, Transcending Loss and When A Child Dies From Drugs have replaced Stay Close, An Addict In The Family and Beautiful Boy.   Those books gave me a false sense that you like their children would also survive.   Those books met their demise on a snowy, grief filled night as I tossed each one into my roaring fire.   These books made me feel like I failed to be that perfect parent who did everything right.  You know the parents who can brag that their child beat the demons and now leads a productive life.   My jealousy rears its ugly head and  my Guilt slaps me like a foulmouthed child.  Where were the books that had our ugly ending?   The books that would have warned me that endings are not always answers to our prayers.   The books warning of middle of the night phone calls that bring parents to their knees..

Guilt then replaces my grief.  The what if’s and I should haves wrap me up in a tight cocoon refusing to let me go.  Feelings of failure course through my veins replacing my grief with powerful emotions of hopelessness and regret.   Flashbacks dance through my brain .   Things done and said in anger and frustration whirl through my mind.  Knowledge I have now eluded me then.   Trying to save you and survive life changed my rational mind into a crazy, calculating one.   Your addiction became mine.   Staying a step ahead of your demons took every ounce of my being.   Now, in a calmer state I see things clearly.   My mind in a rational state sees things I should have seen when I was losing it.   I have become someone I do not want to be.   My soul caught in a perfect storm.   Tossed between two painful emotions.   Grief and guilt holding hands as they dance over my heart.

Some days weathering the storm is almost impossible.  There are days I want the storm surge to carry me out with the tide.   To drown my grief in the sea we both so loved. To stop my pain, to sweep me away allowing my pain to dissipate with the sea spray.   Sadly, I have become a swimmer.   I am the one pulling parents out when I find them struggling to stay float fighting the same storm surge that has consumed my soul.    I throw the life preserver forgetting how soaked I am in my own grief and rescue those drowning in my sea.   Still there are days that even rescuing another has no impact on my heart.   I fall into the abyss of the perfect storm.   I wonder why your grip kept slipping from the life preserver I continued to throw in the midst of our storm. Why were you swept so far away from my attempts to save your life?   I look at the sea and remember holding tight to your small hand.   So tiny, but fitting perfectly into mine.   As you grew, your hand became harder to hold slipping away again and again until you disappeared.

There are days the grief storm is manageable.   Putting on storm shutters and hunkering down, I survive. There are days the power of the grief and guilt pulls me into the undertow of reality sucking the breath from my lungs.  This sea of grief and guilt ever changing is where I live since you left me that cold January day.    Navigating through the powerful waves on a daily basis.  Some days the waves hit gently and I can walk through without falling down.  Other days a wave hits without warning knocking me to my knees.   Learning to weather the unpredictability of my storm takes practice, patience and self forgiveness.    Navigating through this storm is tough.   Attempting to hold myself together while I slowly pick up pieces of broken sea glass that used to be my heart.

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