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..