Mother's Heartbreak

A Story of Addiction & Loss

Category: grieving mother becomes advocate

Come, Sit, Grieve…..Repeat

Matt,   I could never have imagined the impact your death would have on every aspect of my life.   Never did I ever think my grief would turn me into a leper.   It seems people are terrified of those who are grieving.   Scared to death of contact with me or have that famous opinion on how long grief should last.   I’m guessing my time is up.  Even strangers run when I bring up addiction and your death.   It’s almost that I carry a contagious disease and if they get close enough they will carry it home to their family.   Like the flu, only worse.

Unfortunately, your disease still carries an ugly stigma.   I see the look on peoples faces when they learn how you died.   They can’t get away fast enough.   Quickly changing the subject as they scurry away.   I feel like I have that huge A branded on my forehead.  Except my A stands for Addiction.    I still find it mind boggling that even today as we continue to lose people from all walks of life  Addiction is still thought of as a dirty mans disease.

Experts on grief tell you to find a support group.   Sounds easy right.  I had a better chance of being struck by lightening.  You see Matt,  my grief comes with a ton of baggage.   All those what if’s and I should have’s cling to my heart and take turns tearing little pieces away.   Death due to overdose comes with such regret.   Things said and done dance with those things not said and not done.   Until you have lived that rollercoaster with your child one could ever understand the helplessness and hopelessness parents feel as we struggle to save our kids.   Death from overdose is unlike any other loss.   Not only do we struggle with grief but the stigma continues to rear its ugly head throwing daggers in our direction.

My attempts to find that group where I would fit in was futile.   Believe me I tried for several months.   I sat next to mothers who lost their children to cancer and felt the compassion ooze around the room.   I remember sitting there feeling that all familiar tightness grip my throat.   Then it was death by car accident.   Once again compassion.   I wanted to be Alice and slide down that rabbit hole.   I wanted to be Jeannie wiggling my nose and disappearing into thin air.   I wanted to be anywhere but in that room when I said that ugly word and felt the compassion wash away with the breaths of shock and stares.

Then it was off to another group that actually dealt with addiction.   Oh I had such high hopes.   Finally a group that got it.   Imagine my surprise when I was subjected to another parent beaming with joy.   My mind whirling as I realized this group was largely made up of parents who’s kids were either in recovery or still active in their addiction.   My mind whirling, my gut revolting as I heard her voice praising God for saving her child.   I felt like I’d been slapped.   How dare God save her child and not mine.   I remember wanting to run.   Wanting once again to disappear.   I made myself sit for an hour hearing more stories of recovery.   Stories of continued struggles that I knew too well.   I left sobbing and defeated.

I hid for months, licking my wounds feeling isolated and alone.   I scoured bookstores.   My shelves now lined with books on grief and grieving.   Reading the stories of other parents whose children also died from addiction gave me the push I needed.   I once read that when God closes one door, He opens another.   As a nurse I’ve spend many years holding hands and shedding tears with people who have lost their loved ones.   As a NICU nurse I’ve also helped grieving parents say goodbye to their child.   I remember praying asking God what my purpose was now that you were gone.   I spent the last 7 years fighting to save you.   Now I had all this time to discover my new path.

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Support After Addiction Death (SAD) was born on a rainy, bitter day.   Sitting at my computer I designed a pamphlet.   Explaining how and why I was starting a support group exclusively for parents who lost a child to the misunderstood disease of addiction.   Our pastor offered our church.   The same church I said my final goodbye to you.   The same church where your ashes were scattered in the garden I tend as we celebrated your first birthday in Heaven.

Today I have a new family.   Mothers and fathers who know and live the same grief that envelopes my life.   We gather together and shed our tears.  Our eyes mirror images of unfathomable  pain.   Lifting each other on those dark days when one of us is drowning.   I look into their eyes and know no words are necessary.   We have lived the nightmare.   Our ending is not the one we dreamed of but together we find strength in the blessing of finding each other.   There is no shame, no stigma.   Sharing pieces of our broken hearts we begin to slowly heal.   Our children gone but never forgotten.   Pictures are shared.   Birthdays are remembered.   Names are spoken.   Many tears are shed.   Memories are cherished.

God did close the door for me when it came to saving you.   God also opened a new world where I can once more reach out, offer a hug and just show up.   Grief doesn’t scare this group.   Grief is a part of who we are.  Grief is the unwanted, unspeakable place that bonds us more than blood.  As long as I live I will be grateful for the people who say your name, offer a hug and stay……….

 

 

 

 

There Is No Black and White In Addiction

 

 

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Matt,   Today is my birthday.   My third without you.   I still have such a hard time believing that there will be no phone call or card signed Love Matt.  You won’t be hiding in the house to surprise me.   Once again I try to get though another milestone without you.   I’m in New York.   Funny you know I would have rather spent my day at the beach walking on the sand listening to the sea birds and the crashing of the ocean.   But my article about your addiction was featured in a magazine and I was invited to attend the reveal here in NY.  This humbling experience was something I could not miss.

Since your death, I have become an advocate for the treatment of addiction.   I write and speak about how horribly you were treated by the Insurance Industry and treatment facilities.  I speak out about the ugly stigma that follows addiction.   I work to make changes in our state laws.   It’s the only way I survive.  Your death rocked me to my core.   Everyday I struggle to find my new normal.   Everyday I pray that you are finally at peace.   Everyday I wake to this empty house.    My regrets about letting you go to Florida smack me swiftly in the face.  I feel so guilty about your death.   I still can’t believe I didn’t see how wrong it was for you to leave home and go so far away.   The thought of you being dumped in a motel to die kills me more and more each day.   My guilt beats at my soul.   My brain questions what kind of mother lets her son go so far away?

I wanted you to have a fresh start at a new life.   I was tricked into believing that new people, places and things would cure you.   All those books written about addiction by people who think they are experts in the field led us down the path of no return.   Parents who talk about tough love and disowning their kids because of addiction.   So much misinformation published by people who think they have the answers to addiction.   Don’t they know that every family is different?

There is no black and white once size fits all in this ugly disease.   Misleading parents like me that if we follow what they did our story would have the same happy ending.   Looking back I should have followed my gut.   I should have known you would never survive without your family close by to support you when you fell.   I knew you better than anyone and still I let you go.   Those books have been trashed as they should have been so long ago.

It’s ironic.   I wrote the truth about us.   The ugly, horrible, brutally honest truth about how your addiction stomped our family to death.   How your addiction shattered us to the core.   How I became addicted to your addiction and turned into a person I no longer recognized.   Funny, the editor I sent it to told me it was too ugly to publish.   That both you and I were horrible people.   That no one would want to read my work.

At first her words crushed me.   Then reality hit.  The reason this epidemic continues to have such power  killing far more than any disaster or war is because many people don’t want ugly.   People want pretty.  People want fairy tale endings.   People want to think that if we continue to ignore addiction it will go away. That it won’t affect our families.  That addiction is something that happens to others.  That addiction is something we can walk away from and never look back.   We only want to hear about beautiful children from perfect families who go on to lead successful lives.

I blame myself.   I should have never let you go.   I lived the ugliness with you.   Yes, there were a few glimpses of pretty.   The few times you came back as the Matt I knew before.   Times when the possibility of our fairy tale ending played tricks with my mind.   Your addiction was more powerful than even I could have ever imagined.   Your addiction won.

Now I live with regret.   I live with guilt.    The joke was on me.  I live knowing that birthdays, holidays and life in general will never hold the same meaning.   Oh how I wish I read how brutally ugly the true reality of addiction could be.

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..

 

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