Have you ever met a guy who’s smile would light up a room. Who made you feel like you found a long lost friend. The kinda guy who would give you the shirt off his back. That guy who would bring every stray dog home and make it a member of our family.
That was my son, Matt. He had that happy go lucky personality that drew people in and made them fall in love. Unfortunately for Matt he never loved himself enough.
Matt experimented with marijuana in high school. He loved that high. He ended up in his first rehab while in high school. He spent 30 days as an in-patient in NewPort News, Virginia. I foolishly thought that we beat his disease.
Matt went on the become an excellent mechanic. He moved to the beach, bought a home and opened his business. His adult life appeared free of drugs. He was an adult. He was successful. I took that deep breath and started to relax. Matt loved life and was living it to the fullest.
The beginning of his end began with a back injury. He was lifting an engine and felt a pop. The next day he could barely walk. He called to let me know he had been to his doctor and was given Percocet and told to take it easy. I remember a cold chill running up my spine. Call it Mother’s intuition or a flash back to his younger days. Being a nurse, I knew the dangers of any form of opioids and warned him to try to stay away. I knew his pain was real. I also knew his predisposition to become addicted.
Months passed and the signs were all there but I was in denial. Missing days at his office. Unpaid bills. Not returning my phone calls. Our close relationship was changing as the disease found him again. I felt like I was living in Groundhog Day, except this time Matt was an adult. My hands were tied.
Matt struggled with his addiction to Percocet for 7 years. During that time he lost everything he had worked so hard to gain. His business closed 6 months after his injury. He was abusing the pills and trying to continue to work on cars. It was obvious to his steady customers that something was terribly wrong and they took their business elsewhere. Mortgage payments were missed and his beach house was repossessed by the bank. Everything he loved now gone. He came home to me.
During those 7 years Matt was in and out of rehab. I referred to that time in our lives as “The revolving doors of rehab” I felt like we were strapped on a roller coaster holding on for the ride of our lives. Due to his insurance he was never permitted to stay for the length of time needed to learn how to handle life without pills. He would come home clean and I would look into clear eyes and thank God that Matt was back. He was such a joy to be around. He never wanted to be that person who was tortured by cravings. Our life would just start to feel normal again but my joy was short lived as he would return to his world of numbness within weeks of returning home and the cycle would begin again.
Matt had a horrible fear of needles. This gave me a false sense that I never had to worry about him graduating to heroin. Little did I realize that crushing Percocet and snorting it was just as deadly.
His last attempt to getting and staying clean took place at Bowling Green. A rehab close to home. I watched him struggle with the demons that plagued him most of his adult life. I was so proud and hopeful. Matt was coming back. His clear eyes and beautiful smile greeted me each visit. I remember sitting together looking out over the water. Matt was headed to a recovery home in Florida. I was unsure about his decision but remembered every book I read always spoke of different people, places and things being the best choice for new sobriety. Matt left for The Boca House on June 2nd 2014. He wrapped me up in his big bear hug and told me he was so happy to have the monkey off his back. Little did I know that monkey would find him in Florida.
We spoke twice a day. I was going through withdraw from Matt and he was starting a new life. Once again he was living by the sea. His happy place. He found a job and his self esteem returned. I allowed myself to believe that this was his ah ha moment. That finally he was in a good place in his life.
Our last words were spoken on a Friday night. My ears trained to pick up cues found none. I love you mom, I love you Matt. For reasons my heart will never understand, Matt relapsed. I heard the words that shattered my world. Matt is dead. Matt lost his battle on January 3rd, 2015.
Since Matt’s death I have been trying to pick up the pieces of my life. I started a support group for parents who like me have lost a piece of their hearts. I began writing letters to Matt and started a blog called Mothers Heart Break. (mothersheartbreak.com. I share our story and educate about the addictive properties of prescription opioids. I started a FaceBook page in his honor. Breaking the Stigma of Addiction: Matt’s Story posting educational articles related to prescription drugs and their potential for abuse.
I would give anything for a do over. To rewind time knowing what I know now. I would have held on tighter and never let him go.
Jennie, 30 years old, tells me she is used to strangers asking her when her baby is due. She is used to the stares. Her stomach mimics that of a full-term pregnancy, but Jennie is not pregnant – she is recovering from nearly dying at the hands of alcoholism.
Today, she wants to share her story to educate others on how quickly one can become addicted to alcohol and the harrowing affects alcohol has on your body, even a young person’s. She urges anyone who drinks heavily to go to a doctor immediately and ask for blood work and a liver (hepatic) function panel, a blood test to check how well the liver is working.
“I was being told every day by doctors that I was going to die without a liver transplant,” she recalls, with clarity and clear eyes, as she munches on pre-portioned almonds, a stark comparison to the last time I saw Jennie, one summer prior to her six-month hospitalization.
The swelling in her stomach is a direct result of Ascites. Ascites is the accumulation of protein-containing fluid within the abdomen. Many disorders can cause ascites, but the most common is high blood pressure in the veins that bring blood to the liver, which is usually due to cirrhosis.
Jennie has cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis is a complication of liver disease, which involves loss of liver cells and irreversible scarring of the liver. It is the last stage of liver disease.
When I meet with Jennie at my home, she is dressed in layers, and I watch as she meticulously measures a tablespoon of light cream for her tea. Believing she has over poured, she dumps the spoon and starts over.
“I can only have 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day, and one tablespoon of this has 15 milligrams,” she explains.
Sodium restriction is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dietary restrictions and health regimen she must adhere to on a daily basis in order to — in Jennie’s case – stay alive.
Every day, Jennie must also stay under 64 fluid ounces. Upon waking up, she takes 40 milligrams of Pantoprazole, and collagen and Biotin (for her thinning hair).
Once she has food in her stomach, she takes 550 milligrams of rifaximin; 25 milligrams of Inspra; 20 milligrams of Citalopram (for her depression); 4 milligrams of Ondansetron (for nausea); 500 milligrams of Keflex; 1 milligram of Folic Acid; 220 milligrams of Zine Sulfate; B12; Vitamins C, E, and D3; Quercetin and Bromelain; cranberry; Citracal; 5-HTP; garlic for circulation and cinnamon for sugar metabolism; Coenzyme Q10; and Lactulose.
Her “lunch meds” include more Citracal, 5-HTP, cinnamon, Vitamins C, E, and B12, Quercetin and Bromelain; 40 milligrams of Furosemide; a multivitamin; Serenelle (for stress); and more Lactulose.
Her “dinner meds” include even more Lactulose, Citracal, 5-HTP, Quercetin, and Bromelain; B-complex, Rifaximin, Furosemide, Echinacea; and Melatonin.
That’s nearly 50 pills. Every. Single. Day.
In a culture that has been overtaken by the opioid epidemic, alcohol overuse has been overshadowed, even though it remains a persistent public health problem and is responsible for more deaths, as many as 88,000 per year.
While the whole country is collectively locking up their medicine cabinets, they sometimes forget a lock should be placed on their liquor cabinets as well.
“Alcohol is socially accepted poison,” Jennie says, and I am inclined to agree. “I’ve always enjoyed the taste, the smell. I’ve experimented with other drugs, but nothing compared in my eyes.”
Jennie remembers always being around alcohol and sneaking drinks from kegs before the age of 12. She began regularly drinking her freshman year of high school. And by “regularly,” she means every single day. Eventually, she would drop out of high school her junior year, and earn her GED the same time her classmates were receiving their diplomas. An idea that came to her when she was tripping on mushrooms on a surfboard in the ocean of her hometown.
By this time, Jennie, who wasn’t old enough to vote yet, was already a full-blown alcoholic, needing to stay intoxicated in order to avoid withdrawal.
“I was making false bottoms in my pillow cases to hide bottles on family vacations so that I wouldn’t get sick,” she tells me, sharing a memory from before she was 21 when she went to Florida for her cousin’s wedding. She drank before and on the plane, then once they landed, she couldn’t find a drink for five hours. She went into withdrawal and experienced what those addicted to alcohol call “the shakes.”
But withdrawal from alcohol is far more life-threatening than other substances, including heroin. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be severe; sudden withdrawal can cause brain damage, seizures, heart palpitations, and other effects that can result in hospitalization or death. Unlike alcohol or benzodiazepine (this includes the popular pill Xanax) detox, heroin withdrawals don’t explicitly cause death.
Her parents insisted she go to rehab. So she did. Six days of detox wasn’t enough. 30 days wasn’t enough. She completed rehab still in withdrawal.
“I only went to shut up my parents. I knew at that particular time, I wasn’t going to change. I knew I wasn’t going to stop drinking.”
Jennie, in total, would enter ten different detox facilities, some voluntarily. She also went to rehabs, some of which she did not complete. She had plenty of stints with counselors, all of whom wanted to unearth the deep-rooted trauma behind her drinking problem. To this day, Jennie says there isn’t any underlying reason for her drinking.
“I just like to drink, and I became physically addicted,” she says. “I drank on the best of days, the worst of days, on mediocre days, it didn’t matter.”
For years, Jennie was a self-proclaimed “functioning alcoholic,” holding down jobs successfully while simultaneously drinking those same seven hours. She went in early, stayed late, and even made and sold jewelry on the side.
“When I got really bad, I pulled myself up enough to appear better for a few months. I was good at hiding things,” she says to me, as she munches on an apple.
Jennie has one DUI.
“The cops thought the breathalyzer was broken,” she starts. I ask her if it was because she was clearly drunk but blowing an acceptable number. She chuckles.
“No. They thought the breathalyzer was broken because I blew a .42. They had never seen someone blow that high of a number. They couldn’t believe I was still standing and conversing with them.”
Another “really bad” moment was when she dropped too much acid in conjunction with drinking and walked in a stranger’s house, barefoot and in a bathing suit, and scared their child.
“The cops brought me home that day,” she says.
By 2015, Jennie’s body was shutting down. In November of that year, her father passed away, devastating both her and her mother. In February 2016, her beloved dog died.
“I don’t remember much of the summer of 2016. Dad passed away before that, and I started drinking even more because I couldn’t deal,” she says. “My body was shutting down. I don’t remember a lot at this point. I was gone.”
Her mother and friends kept telling her that she was sick and that her skin, eyes, and hair were had turned a deep yellow color. She still insisted she was not drinking and was not sick and fought against seeing a doctor.
Summer 2016 is when it truly began to unravel for Jennie. She was so weak that she could not resist being admitted to the hospital. Jennie hasn’t had a drink since August 2, 2016, the day she went to the hospital. That’s also the day she began fighting for her life. She was 28-years-old.
“I know I drank that day, straight out of the bottle,” she begins. Let’s pause here to note that Jennie’s drink of choice was not beer and not diluted with any mixers. She was drinking cheap vodka, straight. Bottles of it. “I vaguely remember being in the hospital. I shit myself. I had no control of my body. I couldn’t walk. I had a catheter in at one point. It’s all a blur.”
She was admitted for one week, then at her mother’s persistence, entered rehab. She still couldn’t walk without help. By the third day at rehab, she was admitted to the hospital again, this time with a fully expanded stomach. A doctor asked if she was pregnant, the first of many times she would go on to be asked this same question.
She spent three days admitted, only to return to rehab and be brought back to the hospital that same day, this time the ICU.
“I had a ton of blood transfusions. My blood was so thin, I had to get four FFP (fresh frozen plasma) transfusions. They conducted my first paracentesis,” she explains.
Paracentesis is a bedside or clinic procedure in which a needle is inserted into the peritoneal cavity and fluid is removed. In other words, they were draining Jennie’s swollen stomach.
They removed 7 ½ liters of fluid from Jennie that day, about 15 pounds of fluid.
She stayed in the ICU for two weeks then returned to rehab.
Jennie developed diabetes at this time due to the steroids she was prescribed to aid in the inflammation of her organs. Her kidneys were shutting down. She still could barely walk. Then, she had a seizure, the second in her life. The first occurred when she was trying to detox on her own.
“All of this was happening as I was still detoxing,” she adds.
The seizure landed her back in the hospital, where she would continue to have seizures throughout the entire night.
“That was one of the nights the doctors told me I was going to die,” she says to me.
She remained there another two weeks and then learned the New Jersey-based rehab considered her too high of a “health risk” and would not take her back into the facility. Her mother found another rehab in Pennsylvania that had a medical facility.
Upon entering the new rehab, the specialists there told her they didn’t like her blood work and told her she was “crashing.” Jennie then found herself in the Emergency Room on a morphine drip.
“More paracenteses. An MRI. A CT scan. A massive amount of blood transfusions. My hemoglobin and INR were so low, that if I hypothetically got a paper cut, I could bleed to death. And I had an endoscopy.”
An endoscopy is a nonsurgical procedure used to examine a person’s digestive tract.
After two and a half weeks, her blood work came back well enough for her to return to the rehab, but she knew something was wrong.
“I kept telling them I didn’t feel good, so the next day I was rushed back to the hospital,” she says. “Once there, the doctors told me in the waiting area, that if they don’t get me in right then and there, I was going to die.”
Once again, her kidneys were failing, and she had to be drained again. This was her third paracentesis; she still needs to take 500 milligrams of antibiotics a day just because of that.
She was released from that hospital on November 10, 2016. She tells me she didn’t fully detox until December of that year.
Finally home and with her dogs, she was happy but far from healthy.
“I was watching my diet. At that point, I was on strong diuretics, about 280 milligrams a day. This was just to bring the fluid in my stomach down. I was up and down five pounds literally every day.”
She met with a liver doctor, where she went for evaluation for a liver transplant, about two weeks after leaving the hospital. Her blood work came back reflecting a dead person’s blood work.
“The doctor told me, ‘you’re going to the hospital. Right now,’” she begins. “They tried for three hours to get a needle in me. They kept telling each other that I was going to die if they couldn’t get the IV going. They had all given up, it sounded like. Except for one guy. He saved me.”
They finally successfully hooked her up to an IV. And she spent three days in the ICU. She considers this particular hospital trip her “bottom.”
“It was a disgusting place. People were dying all over. I was in a communal room that held a ton of people. The blankets were dirty. There was no real bathroom.”
After the ICU, she was admitted as a regular patient and another catheter was put in. She had her blood tested every hour, which resulted in a permanent pick-line scar on her arm. Her fever spiked to 105 degrees due to an infection in her body.
“That was another time they told me I was going to die,” she says, knowing I am keeping count.
Just before Christmas 2016, she was released and returned home.
Jennie knows every day is an uphill climb to stay alive, but she knows it’s not her time yet.
“I am finally free. I don’t miss alcohol. It controlled my life for too long. All those months in the hospital, I was hallucinating a lot. I swear I saw my father and he told me that it wasn’t my time yet. He told me to fight.”
She has adopted meditation practices and holistic healing methods. She sticks to her routine and walks ten miles a day.
“I am paying for what I did to myself. God wasn’t cruel to me, I was cruel to me. I knew I was never going to heal if I didn’t heal my mind.”
She has been on the liver donor list since February 2017. Her last stomach draining was in July 2017, when her stomach swelling finally started to subside. She credits this to acupuncture.
“Everyone wants this quick fix. Recovery is not quick. It’s something I have to put 100% into every single day. But I still have fun!” she says, with a smile. “The last five months of my life have been nice. I’m re-teaching myself how to do things sober.”
It’s important for readers to realize that Jennie is still sick, and will be until and if she receives a liver transplant. She still has cirrhosis and has Amenorrhea, which means she does not get her period and doesn’t know if it will ever return. She has been diagnosed with “wet brain,” a form of brain damage that results from repeat and heavy exposure to alcohol. This is also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. She has Hyperkalemia, caused by high potassium. This causes shortness of breath, and if untreated can be deadly. To combat this, she must stay around 4,000 milligrams of potassium per day, which has proven difficult since it is in almost all fresh fruits vegetables. She has Hepatic encephalopathy, a syndrome observed in patients with cirrhosis. This can cause her to become disoriented and completely forget things due to the continual buildup of ammonia. She no longer is able to drive a vehicle due to this.
“Every day I am still in a lot of pain due to the trauma my body went through and is still going through. I choose to see the light through the darkness. Every day I’m alive is a good day.”
That’s not to say that she is not improving her health through her diligence. For example, the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) is a reliable measure of mortality risk in patients with end-stage liver disease. It is used as a disease severity index to help prioritize allocation of organs for transplant. MELD is a numerical scale that ranges from 6 (less ill) to 40 (gravely ill).
During her hospitalization, her MELD score was 38, and she was told she had an 80% chance of dying within three months. Today, it is 7.
“When it’s my time, I won’t be able to say I left behind an empire. Hopefully things I’ve done for others will be what’s remembered,” she affirms. “I am telling my story today in hopes that another young person puts down the drink and goes to the doctor.”
Toward the end of our chat, she repositions herself on the chair, and I catch a glimpse of a tattoo by her ribcage, it reads, “from this day onwards, I will walk easy on the earth,” a line from M.J. Slim Hooey. I ask her how many tattoos she has.
“I have 12 tattoos. I got all of them while I was drunk,” she answers. “I look forward to getting my first sober tattoo soon.”
It’s going to be a watercolor elephant. The elephant is symbolic of strength, honor, stability, and tenacity. To the Hindu way of thought, the elephant is found in the form of Ganesha who is the god of luck, fortune, and protection.
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.” ~Henry Cloud
According to A Guide to Psychology and Its Practice, “A boundary is anything that marks a limit.” Personal boundaries consist of limits, rules and guideline that keep an individual safe from the toxic and damaging behavior of others. They are messages of what conduct we will or will not tolerate.
Seems pretty cut and dry, right? Sounds like it couldn’t be easier. If I set a boundary, based on self-protection, others should and will respect my limits.
Why is it then, that setting and maintaining boundaries is so difficult to do? Nowhere does this breakdown become more apparent than when we are confronted with life’s difficulties, feeling lost in chaos and despair. For me and many families I have had the privilege to be able to support, we’ve experienced our deepest, darkest days while trying to cope with a Loved One with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). This is a time when we are most in need of these self-preserving strategies and yet, our limit-setting abilities are likely at their weakest!
Although I often write of my experiences coping with a Loved One with SUD, I have found that much of what I have learned can be applied to all aspects of my relationships with others, including setting personal boundaries. In fact, I have become more confident in my ability to take care of myself, while still having compassion and respect for others. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but most everyone I speak with finds that determining, setting and upholding healthy boundaries are some of the most essential yet difficult protective mechanisms to implement.
It was critical in my learning process to identify what was driving my boundary setting and why it wasn’t working.
How can a person improve on a weakness if they are not aware of its existence? It was also imperative to understand past experiences, feelings and emotions that contributed to my actions. I am not a professional, but based on the struggles I went through to improve my ability to set careful boundaries, and working with other families and observing their struggles, I have a few thoughts on what some of the causes are and why boundary setting is so difficult:
1. We were not taught how to set personal boundaries when we were growing up, or maybe setting strong personal limits backfired, making us vulnerable to even more extreme abuse.
Creating personal boundaries when there is emotional or physical abuse by an adult can be tricky because of our inability to control the situation and enforce our limits. This might inspire a brutal response from the abuser, forcing us to learn to manipulate as a self-saving strategy. We might thus lie and hide our actions as a protective tactic and carry this learned behavior into adulthood.
2. We may view our Loved One as not being able to live up to the boundaries we set.
Maybe we see our Loved One as too sick or weak, or fear that they could ultimately be damaged by our boundaries. For example, a Loved One may suffer co-occurring disorders with SUD like mental illness, leading us to believe that it is more difficult or even impossible for them live up to our standards. Not setting personal limits for these reasons insinuates that my Loved One needs me to do things for him/her. It helps make our Loved One dependent on us and can lead them to feelings of helplessness.
3. This is a BIGGIE, and a barrier I myself have had to work to overcome, the FEAR of what a Loved One might do in response to boundary setting.
For those of us dealing with SUD, FEAR is an immense obstacle to overcome. I call it the Ultimate Fear: unique (although not completely) to SUD, the fear that our Loved Ones will not comply with our boundaries but instead will go and use. The possibility of use opens the floodgates of terror: they could overdose and among other serious consequences, they could die. Once our Loved Ones learn that this is our weakness, they inevitably use it against us. They learn to manipulate us so we will not stay firm in our boundaries. Moms and dads have told me their sons or daughters have demanded cigarettes, money, food, rides, and made many other requests, threatening to use again if their parents do not provide. Worrying, and trying to prevent them from returning to use, drives us from making logical healthy decisions.
4. Sometimes we are just so lost in our own emotional and mental anguish that we can barely make it out of bed and face the day.
The thought of drumming up the mental capacity to determine and set confident, realistic boundaries can feel impossible. I am not talking about self-centered, feel-sorry-for-myself, pity. I am referring to the repeated shock and mind/body changing anguish that can paralyze a person into action. Fortunately and unfortunately, we cannot allow ourselves to stay there. After months of no mental improvement, I had to put the work in to make my life better for myself, for my struggling Loved One, and for all of the other people (the people we often take for granted or neglect) I am blessed to have my life. Truthfully, it does not have to be an earth-moving change; just a little shovelful at a time will yield positive results.
Take the time to dig deep and identify the forces within you that may be a barrier to creating healthy boundaries. Are you able to identify with any of the categories listed above, or is there something else?
*Next week, read part 2, in which I suggest guidelines for setting effective boundaries.
Imagine for the first time in your life feeling completely and utterly “Comfortably Numb”, a point of just absolute relaxation. No feelings of pain or worry, just pure contentment. This was quickly followed by a feeling of nauseous, watery eyes, and my skin crawling with goosebumps. Then I feel the knots in my stomach like someone is punching me over and over again, my legs are just aching and aching, head is throbbing. It is not like “the flu”, I can tolerate the flu, this is debilitating, this is opioid withdrawal. That, what you just “imagined” is real life for any opioid addict.
Nobody wakes up one morning and says “I want to be an addict”, at least no one I know.
However I do know after having that first feeling that everything is absolutely wonderful in life, I somehow knew deep down inside there was no turning back. I also inherently knew that I wouldn’t be able to feel the level of comfort for long. I was right.
Day after day, night after night it’s a constant chase to find the ultimate high, the temporary “fix” to the problems in life that seem unfaceable and continue to pile. Sadly for us addicts you can chase and chase but you never get that first feeling that you had the very first time. It’s a constant feeling that takes you further down a to a deeper and darker ditch. For many it’s a point of no return, we just wish we could return to life before we ever touched that drug in the first place.
For myself the thought of death isn’t enough to stop me from chasing the high for the feeling of relief. Even though life is miserable at that time you just keep thinking to yourself “just let me get high one last time”… “I’ll get clean tomorrow”… unfortunately tomorrow turns into the same song and dance day after day and month after month. Waking up early in the morning in pain (dope sick) and full of anxiety as reality starts to creep back in. As soon as you get the indescribable combination of physical pain and emotional anxiety, you think of just one thing, how to get your next fix, and how to get it fast. Other than that, the only thing you can think of now is how to get my legs to stop aching to the bone, what to do with the sweats you get even though you are freezing cold. I have to get something in me somehow, someway to get up and move and feel like somewhat of a normal person, at least physically. My brain is being pushed by my body to do whatever it takes to get that feeling of relief. I’m on autopilot. I am no longer me.
I need heroin and I’ll do anything at that point until I get it. It’s as if heroin is the water i’m out of in a hot and blistering desert. And this repeats every day. Of course I am usually looking for anyway to procure money to quench that thirst. But even then there are other variables at play. Is my dealer going to answer the phone? How many times will I have to call them repeatedly to get a answer, where will we meet, and how will I get there? And this too repeats every single day.
Sometimes, somehow, the universe, God, or family intervene, and offer you help, but for many, this brief reprieve of sobriety is followed by relapse. For me, it took 22 rehabs, 19 detoxes, and finding a new community.
Somehow today I do not worry about waking up at the break of dawn dope sick because the heroin wore off. Today I wake up in the morning, every morning to a cup of coffee and a deep breath of fresh air, and the novelty doesn’t wear off. How can I not be grateful for today, or any day that I no longer have to suffer. How can I not be grateful for having someone by my side who believes in me, which helps me believe in myself?
Today is one year free of opioids, and I am just as grateful today, as when the pain and misery ended.
It’s not always gingerbread, eggnog and Santa for the holidays. For many, this holiday season will be packaged with heartbreak. The bird may be filled with stuffing, but many hearts will be filled with angst, uncertainty, tragedy, and loss.
Heroin, and painkiller abuse, in general, will hijack the holiday spirit for far too many. It will cripple both the person addicted and their loved one’s ability to celebrate with family and friends. Instead, it will serve as a stark reminder that life’s leftovers aren’t all that appetizing.
Multitudes of family members and friends will have no idea of their addicted loved one’s whereabouts. Many will remain ever hopeful for a surprise visit or call that never comes; left to wonder whether their loved one is safe or laying half-dead somewhere needing assistance. For others, whose loved ones will be in attendance, stress remains at a high level for weeks beforehand wondering whether they’ll show up and/or anticipating the all too familiar random outbursts and inflammatory comments that often go hand in hand with family get-togethers and substance abuse of any kind.
Many will go through the motions of the holidays – but not with joy in their hearts – because their hearts are broken.
This might be the first holiday season without your child, spouse, relative or friend due to incarceration for crimes committed resulting from drug or alcohol abuse. Some will be in rehab – which is where my son was during one holiday season – trying to piece their life back together. Still others, sadly, will have lost their chance to ever celebrate another festive event on this Earth – departing all too soon due to the perils of addiction.
For those of you who recognize yourself in this writing, my wish for you is a moment of peace and comfort. I acknowledge the hole in your heart where only an empty outline of your loved one or their memory remains. The pain can be excruciating.
You are not a failure. Your loved one is not a failure, and neither of you is worthless. Take some time to nurture and forgive yourself for not being able to change others or affect outcomes. Grant yourself some grace for not handling everything perfectly – you are not that powerful.
Honor your needs. Change up your holiday traditions, if necessary. Minimize or forget about Christmas cards and cookies, family photos, decorating, or creating a façade for the outside world if you aren’t feeling festive. Mourn if you need to mourn. Cry and scream if you’re angry. Drop to your knees and ask God where He is and why He isn’t intervening if you feel abandoned. It’s okay.
“Silent Night” takes on a different meaning when someone you love is lost in the darkness of heroin.
As we approach this holiday season, let us be mindful of all who suffer as a result of addiction. May our hearts come together, in a spirit of support for one another to help ease the common feelings of isolation and shame and to remind each other that we are not alone. We all need connection. Only love can ease despair.
Namaste – The divine in me recognizes the divine in you.
Cyndee Rae Lutz, Author, “When Your Heart Belongs to an Addict – A Healing Perspective”
What qualifies one to truly be someone’s hero? I’m ditching the norm like most of my thinking and telling you that you are my heroin super hero. You’ve unequivocally become one of the strongest and bravest people I know, because you’ve been to the depths of places most of us will never go or see in our lifetime, in 33 short but lived out years. You’ve stood up and fought back with more will power then all the times you let heroin steal your will power. And for that you are my hero.
I look back and have bunched together all the qualities in which you have truly become my hero. How you’ve become my biggest source of strength. Have kept me so teachable and humble and how you have helped me and so many others grow. It’s truly beautiful and unapologetically magical how so much pain and suffering has birthed so many positive things for us. And for you and your future, God willing.
You’re my hero because you let heroin rob you and us in so many ways but you never cowardly backed down in your multiple attempts to get back to a place where heroin didn’t steal from you anymore. You always fought in one way or another to ultimately survive the greatest fate by allowing heroin be interwoven into our story and making it shine brightly for our glory. Your superhero strength of bouncing between addiction and sobriety has not only glued our family together but beautifully unglued it for the better of everyone in such an amazing way.
You let something tragic and traumatic teach us all and inform us of your hero like persona by showing us all that you would either not quit letting heroin take or that you would continue to fight back. And to me that’s the bravest thing. You have come back over and and over and pleaded for forgiveness and redemption. To me that’s the true definition of “Suiting up and showing up”
You have looked all,
Your family in the eyes and asked for help time and time again. To which I imagine isn’t easy for you to do, I’m sure it’s painful and makes you feel worthless and unwanted. However you have always been wanted by us. You are someone’s someone, someone’s brother, father and son.
You have stood in front of those who you have lied, cheated and stole from and truly with love and respect asked for forgiveness and begged for mercy and grace. All while battling your own soul and demons, might I add pretty flawlessly if you ask me. You have never been afraid to ask for help at your worst, even when in most likely cases your told no. You have somehow found a way to adapt and improvise when needed.
You’re my hero because you have been to places inside your mind either high and along for the romantic ride with heroin or sober and doing the deal that most of us will never have to go. The torment and hurt and sadness you feel I can only understand parts of it. Your strength unwavering through it all. You have never ceased to amaze me over the years with your determination and tenacity to ride both sides of the fence. But truly wanting to ride one side. Sobriety.
Your honesty when the fog clears and when heroin has left you is by far some of the most honest conversation I’ve had with a human being. So thoughtful and genuine, often times the reflection in your tone makes me weep with such rawness and real ness. I feel privileged and honored that you would ever trust me with your demons, your truths unpopular or not. I’m grateful for the soul that pours out of you when you hang heroin up and you tell me how much you love us.
The pain that you have inflicted and how it didn’t define me but refined me, makes you my hero. Everything we have been through could have easily been used to play the victim card but instead I chose to use it to help. To help me, to help you and to help others. The pain you caused so big that everyday I chipped away at it. I taught myself though all your mess that I would also become my own hero. That I would use our story to help others, to tell the truth about how addiction affects families and you as a whole. How it changed our lives, mine included. Our story shared with hundreds of thousands of people who relate or understand the pain of watching a loved one suffer from addiction. That my friend makes you my hero.
You aren’t my hero because you wear a cape and save the universe. You are truly my hero because you took me to places I would never go if it wasn’t for you. You are my hero because through your addiction you taught us all so much about how not all heroes wear capes, but some stick needles in their arms. Come back and live to tell the tale.
Thank you for being my hero and allowing me to be apart of your story and journey, it’s surely made life interesting and rich and meaningful. Don’t ever stop being my hero.
How Silicon Valley can help win the war against America’s Opioid Crisis.
by Jason Smith
Recently Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat down for an interview at the University of Kansas to discuss his observations on the American political and social landscape following his visits to all 50 states. When asked what stood out to him most, if there was some kind of unifying theme, he responded that one thing did indeed stand out, glaring back at him regardless of where he found himself: the opioid epidemic.
The biggest surprise by far has been the extent of the opioid issues. And it is really saddening to see… Now, I do think that the opioid crisis is starting to get more attention. From my perspective and what I saw this year, it’s still getting nowhere near the attention that it needs. But the good news, if you can call it that, is that you can look at other countries that have had serious heroin and opioid issues, like France, for example, in the early 2000s, and there is a roadmap for how you deal with this. It’s not going to happen overnight, and I think the issue will likely get worse before it gets better, but if we do the right things as a country — and more often actually at the state level — there is a roadmap for how we can improve this situation.
Over the past year I’ve watched the community here at Addiction Unscripted utilize the tools offered by Facebook to strengthen the bonds of meaningful dialogue to produce happiness from misery. AU’s use of Facebook to foster online communities that then strengthen real-world communities, has been incredible to watch.
These new communities are comprised of the formerly-shamed, jaded, embarrassed-into-silence individuals. The word “addiction” spent most of the last century on the ‘things we don’t talk about in public’ list. The word was used to verbally paint ominous societal portraits of the worst parts of ourselves, huddled in dark corners wrapped in our vices with dirty faces and filthy fingernails.
And I watched as AU used Facebook to take the word “addiction” and turn it upside down.
That’s why I couldn’t be more proud to have been a co-founder of this site. You guys came together and told your story, even though doing so scared the hell out of you. By sharing your experiences, you provided support for one another, and look at the result – you turned “addiction” into something from which strength can be drawn by others, that assists those who are drowning in life, by using your own as a flotation device until they’re strong enough to swim on their own.
The world used the word “addiction” in such ugly ways, for such ugly reasons, and you reclaimed it. You took it back and reformed it into something beautiful. A word that once embodied isolation and loneliness became the foundation for a community built upon connectivity and friendship.
Dying of thirst in the middle of an ocean
Last summer, I was at a book signing in Northern California. I was scheduled for the entire evening, and I was excited. I’ve always enjoyed hearing others share their stories, or describe how they took something I wrote and used it in a way I’d never even considered when I wrote it. But on this day, things were different. There was a line across the room of parents of dead children, and children of dead parents. Some had family members still in the grips of addiction, some were noticeably in the grips as they stood before me. After waiting patiently, a woman approached the table, towing an eight year old little girls behind her. The woman told me she wanted to buy my book for the little girl, who she introduced as her niece. The woman explained to me how her sister – the little girl’s mother – had died of a heroin overdose two months earlier, so she was buying the book for the girl, hoping it would help.
I was lost for words. My book isn’t that book. I’m certainly no recovery expert, and I’m fairly certain there’s some content in those pages that most people would might find unsuitable for an eight year old. But what was I supposed to say? “No, don’t buy it?” “Ok, buy it, but don’t expect too much?” Shit, I don’t know. Yet, one person after another wanted me to tell them where to get help. What could they do to get their child to stop. Where could they send their father when he gets out of jail so he could get the help he needed.
There I was, neck-deep in this thing, connected, networked, familiar with the various treatment options, the array of models and philosophies, the costs. I’d read the studies, compared the data, I knew which treatments were showing promise, which were outdated, and yet when asked point-blank by a mother whose eyes were welled with tears because she knew her kid was going to die, “Where can I go for help?,” stared at her, frozen and speechelss, because the truth was, I did’t have a goddamn clue what to tell her.
That night I sat in my car in the parking lot and stared into the night sky. Angry. Frustrated. Hurt. Confused. I’ve spent the past year staring into the same sky, every night, and I still don’t have an answer to her question.
There are resources. There are services. There are assessments. It’s not a lack of information that’s the problem. The problem is there is no systemic infrastructure in place to plug it in, to connect it all. There’s nowhere to send someone who needs help. And what good is help, if people can’t access it?
In War Logistics Beats Strategy
When you picture Operation Overlord, aka D-Day, when allied forces stormed the the beaches of Normandy, I’m guessing you picture something like the scene in this picture. What you see in the photo is overwhelming force, as wave after wave of young men from all over the world were sent in by their governments to take back mainland Europe from the Germans.
However, that’s just what you see in the small sliver of time captured in the photograph. What you don’t see are the two years of preparation and planning it took to design, construct, implement, and supply such a massive undertaking. You don’t see the construction of naval bases, warehouses, industrial and housing facilities, and hospital space. You don’t see the 11,590 allied planes supporting the ground troops.
What you do see however, is the logistical support and infrastructure that was already in place, years before the first boat landed, which facilitated the 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies that it took to to pull the whole thing off.
In 1943 Eisenhower completely restructured allied command because he knew that the logistical operation leading up to the invasion would be the deciding factor of whether or not the operation was successful. None of it mattered – not the number of troops, or planes, or supplies – if there wasn’t a system in place to plug it all into when they got there.
Imagine an operation of this size, minus the infrastructure. Eisenhower was meticulous, ensuring that flow of information and resources between battalions was seamless, and operational procedures were fully understood. Otherwise, all you were left with was chaos.
Systems Don’t Fail
When a system produces a failed result – meaning it produces anything other than the desired product – then it’s because that system was in some way designed to fail.
They do what we design them to do.
Systems don’t fail. People fail at building systems. And the current system is producing precisely the result it was designed to produce. Let’s have a look at its greatest hits.
In 2015, 52,000 people died from drug overdoses. In 2016, that number rose to 64,000, three-quarters of which were opiate overdoses.
But here’s the kicker – there isn’t a system in place to accurately track overdose deaths in the United States. That number, one would think, would be important. Year-to-year, that number would give us valuable data as to what’s working, and what isn’t. So if we have no accurate data capturing the number of overdoses in this country, what data are they basing their decisions on? Are they basing decisions off of collected, quantifiable data, or are just picking whatever round number polled well?
Billions of dollars are being spent to fund a system of prevention and treatment, despite nobody having a clear understanding of the true scope of the problem they’re preventing and treating, because the data doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t exist because there’s no system in place to gain compliance to such a degree, that data collected in California can be compared to data collected in South Carolina, providing insight into what’s working, what isn’t, and why.
Some county hospitals here in California record overdose deaths. Others do not. Some face political pressure by county boards of supervisors to not record overdose deaths because they fear it’ll have a negative impact on the community’s reputation. Others over-report their numbers because they know that an increase in overdoses will trigger emergency funding, which is true. It’s also a concept – essentially, hey, what we’re doing isn’t working, so could you please give us twice as much money so we can double the number of people we’re not helping? – that’s illogical, counter-intuitive, mind-fuckingly stupid.
In an interview I conducted recently with the head of a Northern California narcotics task force, the agent told me that he suspected the actual number of overdose deaths was double the reported amount.
This is one example of where the system is unable to meed the the demands we’re placing upon it, that is affecting the every part of the system down-line.
How someone died, especially in a hospital, should be like that ‘first question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.’ And if the powers that be tell you, in the condescending tone they often take with the public, that it’s just not possible, that it just doesn’t work that way, that it’s just not that easy, that change takes time, then you tell them to go find another fucking job where they won’t have to do things like “problem solve” or “think” and where their intellectual laziness won’t kill people.
When they tell you that the system isn’t built to do whatever you’re asking, tell them that’s a good sign that it might work.
Again – this is the collection of causes of death. It’s basic basic data with zero subjectivity. If the system can’t get this right, then what chance will we have to capture accurate data to assess programs and models, so we can determine whether or not something should continue to receive public funding? How can we find innovative approaches if we can’t assess the outcomes? What in the hell data are they currently using to determine whether or not to continue funding for something?
This is the very best the current system can offer, so don’t let them tell you the system isn’t working, because they’ll try. If a girlfriend walks in on my neighbor and me naked, and asks what the hell is going on, I can’t hide behind, “Oh, well, honey, see, our relationship just isn’t working.” Umm… Yeah. No shit. Don’t deflect.
The system is so termite-infested, in so many places, at so many levels, that one must question whether it’d be best at this to leave the oven on, burn it down, and file an insurance claim.
We’re asking the government to get us out of a mess they created. It’s one thing to fail. It’s another to fail and then use that failure as proof you aren’t failing.
If that’s what we’re waiting for, to come and save us, then very simply:
We. Are. Fucked.
However, maybe not. Maybe what we have right now is an opportunity to make changes that are so substantial, and so sweeping, that only a mess like this would provide the opportunity.
The bad news is, we have a very, very big problem.
The good news is, there’s not another time in history I’d rather have access to the minds of, than America today.
Tapping into America’s greatest natural resource: Human Ingenuity.
American ingenuity is unparalleled historically. Look at the start-ups, small businesses, entrepreneurs, angel investors. In all my travels, I’ve yet to see another people with such an inherent drive to create something from nothing to fill a need that’s not being met. We are inventors. We’re the used car salesman’s biological father. We hustle. We’ve never been a people who accepted the status quo, just because. If we think there’s a better way to do something, we’ll do it. We change the world because there was nothing good on TV. Facebook was created in a dorm room. Other civilizations would have kept the ability to share information anywhere on the planet with an invention like the internet to themselves, for personal gain. Not us. We gave it away and introduced the world the cam model.
We identify problems, and we solve them. We’re not always right, and we’re not always innocent, but at least we can say we tried.
That audaciously brooding self-confidence in Thomas Jefferson’s voice as you read through Declaration of Independence is the music we were conceived to. It’s belief in an individual’s right, but a faith in the collective experience. And to win the war against the opioid epidemic, this is what we’re going to have to tap into.
What do you think Facebook would look and feel like if it were run by people who run your local Department of Motor Vehicles? How appealing would the landing page be? How clunky would the whole operation feel? What would the UX be like, how often would it update to keep up with the ever-changing needs of its users?
What would happen this holiday season if Amazon were taken over and operated by the good folks at the VA? How long would your order take to ship? Return?
Think what Medium would look like, if instead of Ev Wiliams, it had Betsy Devos.
Twitter, eBay, Apple, just think where they’d be today if Silicon Valley was run like any one of these bureaucratic agencies?
My guess is 2018 would be the year of the floppy disc. Not the small square one. Slow down there, time traveller. I’m talking big, black, square, Oregon Trail floppy disc.
You think I’m lying?
In 2017, the system in Placer County, California to take residents who’d been approved for county funding for inpatient care, and get them into a bed in a treatment center, is to hand them a piece of paper – mind you, they’re more than likely entering the early stages of withdrawal, so patience won’t be a strength – and told to go home, an call the numbers on the sheet every morning until a bed opens up.
Seriously. That’s the system that’s in place, not only in Placer County, but in many counties across the country. A 2013 study found that the average national wait time with this system is 30 days. A 2007 study found that nationally, 50% of those who go for help and are approved for funding, never make it to treatment. The primary reason, was this system.
This is the bed management system found on the front lines of this epidemic.
The system used by the counties to place addicts into beds so they won’t die, is the same system used for being caller number 9 for goddamn concert tickets.
Once again, call me crazy, but I think there might be a better system out there.
What if we enlisted the minds behind this century’s greatest innovations to help us find it? What if we asked the men and women behind the scenes who took Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and made them run more smoothly, more efficiently, more cost effectively, and asked them to help us win this fight. To help us design a better way to do the things, because the current system is collapsing under its own weight.
How long do you think it would take the minds that Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg rely upon to keep things operating, to re-design that phone-in bed-management system? To scrap the whole thing, and build new one, complete with risk assessment, cost-benefit analysis, with built in data collection, wait time assessment, the whole thing?
The study I referenced that found 50% of those approved for treatment never get to treatment. That was published in 2007. Ten years later, we are still using it, despite overwhelming existence proving it’s harmful. Why?
Coincidentally, 2007 was the year of the very first iPhone. While Placer County has done nothing to fix their system, here is a shot of the iPhone over the same time period. This is how often they were willing to assess and evaluate their product, then fix what needed to be fixed to meet the shifting demand.
Do you think the engineers at Amazon would accept it if 50% of what they sold, failed to ever arrive at the destination?
Ask yourself why the current system was, and why Amazon was not. Whatever that answer is, that’s what we need their help embracing.
I’m not suggesting we privatize it, I’m suggesting we don’t know what the answer is, and if you think then you haven’t understood anything you just read, because how do you know what would work best, when you don’t have accurate data to base it on?
What I’m asking for is the open sharing of ideas to benefit the collective good. I’m not suggesting Google open up a detox on its Mountainview campus. I’m suggesting we invite the Mountainview Campus team down to shadow a detox facility, then share what they see. How can they offer what they’ve mastered in their industry to us, to help win this war. How can we use their systems to meet our needs? How did they create a functioning workplace culture, that embraced new ideas?
Picture Amazon making availible to HHS departments executives for two weeks, who shadow, observe, and watch. And after that week, they sit deliver their findings, and work toward fixing what’s broken. They help us see things they way they see them.
I’m calling on captains of 21st Century American industry to help us win this war. I’m calling on policy makers to lean heavily on their staff to help make this happen, because you know as well as I do how reluctant they’ll be. And I’m calling for a third party non-profit to handle the interaction, so that government doesn’t just add a layer of bureaucracy and so there’s no appearance of conflict of interest for financial gain by anyone participating.
To leaders in these industries, I’m sure you’ve learned lessons the hard way, I’m sure you have a wealth of resources at your disposal , some of which I’m hoping you’re willing to share to save lives. Nothing proprietary, I’m talking systems, ideas, culture. Help the leaders in our community be better.
We saw American industry mobilize to fight wars before. Help us figure out a way to make this work. I don’t know what it should look like exactly, or who it should include, but I do know something needs to change, and the system isn’t going to change itself.
Does this sound like a crazy idea?
Shit yeah. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
My call is to Silicon Valley, to the leaders of business and industry across the country who feel like they something they’ve created, improved, replaced, something in a way that’s unique and efficient and can be retrofitted into the fight against the drug epidemic on some level, somewhere. It could be leadership, structure, hiring, seminars, culture, growth, planting the next round of leaders, presenting seminars on new advances in medicated withdrawal, literally you have to offer that’s of value, that you need to teach because nobody does it better than you do.
Think of is at the same opportunity granted American industry during the second world war, because those industries benefitted from the partnership as well. Mobil used the resources it was given to increase their overall capacity which continued after the war. Here’s an opportunity to work alongside the public sector, to give back, and teach, to partner, and ultimately, to save lives.
We need you. We need help building an infrastructure that can handle what D-Day.
Any sucker can can change the world once. Who’s willing to try for a second time?
I write about my struggle with heroin often for a few reasons.
For one, I need to remember where I came from. Two, I’ve learned that self healing through getting gut wrenchingly honest about my pain is the answer to get me through another day. And three, most days I have no idea what exactly I am feeling until I go back and read my own words.
My father struggled with his own demons and heroin addiction, so growing up I always swore I would never touch the shit. That was disgusting, it made you a dirtbag junky, and I was going to be bigger and better than that. Ironic.
See that’s the thing with addiction, it’s doesn’t matter how motivated you are as an individual, it doesn’t discriminate. I went to a private prep school, scored a very high score in my entrance test into the military and was given the opportunity to an amazing school and job in the military. I was going places. I decided against the college of my choice in up state New York to go serve my country selflessly.
Funny how the selfless decision I made to dedicate my life to my country is the exact thing that turned me into an entitled, cocky, arrogant asshole I was after my enlistment.
Anyone who follows my stories knows that after returning home from the military and losing my grandfather and soulmate, I turned to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain and fill the void I felt in my life without the military and love of my life. I had a really hard time transitioning back into society as a normal civilian.
I’m Irish, Italian and raised in the North so my temper is ridiculous and you can catch these hands at the drop of a hat. Needless to say, my attitude sucks and I’m always in the defense because I needed to be to survive my current situations as a soldier and growing up in my neighborhood. Where I am from you don’t take any shit from anyone. If you are not from our neighborhood, you better get the fuck out or we will run you out. That’s how we lived. That’s all I knew, and it all seemed so normal to me.
Heroin entered my life and truly was the kiss of death I has always been looking for. When I took my first shot the feeling was so unbelievable.
I could actually sit with myself and feel peace.
I could sleep, I could give two fucks if the rest of the world blew up around me cause I was nodded out in my lap probably burning a hole in my hoodie with a cigeratte in one hand as my body gave in to the neurotransmitters that slowed me down. Luckily they didn’t slow me down to death, which is the literal reason that opioids end up killing people, it slows your respiratory system to a halt.
Heroin made me not give a fuck about anything. All my worries and problems, gone in one shot of brown substance. The only problem: I just needed more, more and more, and it consumed my every action, every thought and every motive throughout the day. Immediately I was hooked. In my eyes heroin was fucking heaven on earth packed in a little wax paper bag.
If you are an addict like me, one bag is too many and a thousand is never enough, so I went from 0-100 real quick and I’m sure you can relate. Before I knew it, I was sitting alone in my room with track marks up and down my arms and begging someone to come over to hit me because I was shaking too bad to find a vein.
Before I knew it, I was not showering for days on end. Before I knew it, I was stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down and if it was nailed down I was damn sure still trying my hardest to get it. Before I knew it, I lost all my morals and values. Before I knew it, I believed in nothing besides the dope man. Before I knew it, I was waking up sick every morning. Chills all down my body, sweating, sitting on the toilet with a garbage an in front of me cause any little movement I made I was making myself so sick. Legs cramping, mind racing, and all I had to do was get one more to feel that ease and comfort again. The kiss of the devil.
Heroin took me to some places I never thought I’d go, in years prior I stood on a flight deck in my dress whites saluting Pearl Harbor from the great USS Nimitz. I’ve woken up in psych wards wondering how the fuck I got there. I’ve woken up in abandon apartments searching for a needle, not even caring who used it before me. I’ve woken up fully clothed in a freezing bathtub left for dead after an overdose. I’ve woke up in a flipped car dazed, confused and dope sick. I’ve woken up in rehab days later not even remembering walking into the place.
I’ve woken up in jail but oddly enough that was never really that bad for me, I always felt peace in jail and some sort of freedom, which goes to show how sick I actually am that I feel the freest when I’m locked away in prison. Because at least in prison, I knew I could’t get my drug of choice, it wasn’t an option, out of site out of mind.
Moral of the story is my first kiss with heroin was everything I ever could have imagined, but with my last kiss I lost it all. Material things, my marriage, my family, my friends, my sanity, my dignity, respect, career, relationships, money and self respect. My kiss with heroin was really just a complicated kiss with the devil that I’ve fought for years to get out of.
My wife and I met in 1980. We did not know the exact date because we were addicts at the time. To this day her family does not know she was an 89 pound drug addict when I met her. We got clean together, grew up together and had a great life. We replaced drugs with exercise and became very involved in the ultra running, Ironman community.
I was involved in a work related accident that ended that for me on the last day of 1989. It was a tough time but somehow I stayed clean after going through so many surgeries and procedures. I was put on anti-depressants to help with the depression I suffered and all seemed OK.
Skip ahead to a day when I was driving my car after picking up flowers and bug spray, both for my wife when my phone rang. It was a hospital and I hung up. I thought we owed money or something.
They called right back and said “Your wife was in a serious accident and you need to get here ASAP”
I don’t remember much accept the ICU and next few hours were pretty horrific. I had to make the decision to pull the plug that ended the life my wife of 24 years who suffered a skull fraction after being hit while riding her bike. Only ten days before we took part in the RAAM, Ride Across America biking from California to Maryland in 8 days, raising money for the Make A Wish Foundation.
Somehow I managed to not revert to drugs to escape but I do remember considering it. The next 2 years were a drawn out trial for the person who had fled the scene after running her over. It was very hard as it seemed to not just let her go but rather kept it fresh in my mind for so long. After the trial I was just numb for a long time. I just sat at home for a long time and when people asked how I was I said I was OK.
I remember seeing the DA who prosecuted my wife’s case on TV in a video fleeing the scene after crashing his car while intoxicated. At the time I justified in my mind that is why he did such a bad job in the case. Then I got a scare about a blood condition I had. I had to go through lots of test. At the time I quit taking the anti-depressants and over the course of 8 months I lost the 80 pounds I gained since taking them. That was it for me, I gave up. I thought I was sick and there were no rules, what was the point. For the next 18 months I made up for the 31 years I had been clean. Pot, Benzo’s Heroin, Crack, you name it I did it. I barely remember 2015 at all or most of 2016. Because Of my blood condition I had to spend 5 days in the hospital twice in two years. Both times I got clean before I went in but used as soon as I got out.
In April 2017 I found out my blood condition was in check and with the help of some good friends I went into rehab. I almost find it hard to believe I did what I did but I know I hurt a lot of people an accept responsibility. I am clean 6 months as I write this and feel pretty good. It took a while as going off the anti-depressants like I did was really a strange time. I got PTSD as well as substance therapy for 6 months and seem to be back to my “normal” self. In hindsight none of what happened to me seems like a good reason to to relapse.
I was clean for years but not really in recovery. That was the real problem and I see that now. They say when we die we will see our loved ones we lost. I’m not sure if that is true but if it is my wife is going to kick my ass.
I’ve always felt lucky that I never had to face the struggle of addiction. I’ve just been cursed with watching most of my loved ones battle with it. I lost my mother at the age of nine. My father raised me, he was the best dad in the world. Once I reached 18, he didn’t feel the need to hide his addiction from me.
I watched the terrible drug they call meth turn my father into a person I didn’t even know. I walked by my sister’s side on her road to recovery. I went to AA and NA every week with her, just so I knew she didn’t feel alone. I learned so much in those meetings. I saw addicts differently after learning from addicts themselves. I watched my aunt go through every phase of addiction. From an occasional user to a regular user to a basically junkie to a recovering addict.
I look back at my families history and I’m thankful yet regretful. I’m thankful God showed me the worst side of addiction. The day I didn’t even recognize my dad was the day I vowed to myself I would never touch a drug nor alcohol. I’m regretful I missed a year of my dad not being in my life, I’m thankful he got clean and got to meet my son before he passed away. I’m thankful my aunt went through every phase of addiction, so she knows how far she has came and the place she’ll never go back to. Addiction is easy for an addict, you get high and forget about the world.
Addiction takes the worst toll on the families. They watch helplessly as the drug pulls you further and further away from them. They watch you become a stranger, a heartless stranger. They watch you go through recovery and all they can do is pray you never relapse. Then they usually watch you relapse, and it crushes them all over again. The only thing that helped me growing up was my Granny. Knowing that she dealt with addiction in her family and she never even picked up a cigarette, helped me to know that you don’t need drugs or alchoul. You need love and the power of prayer. And faith. A whole lot of faith. People say addictions come from environmental externalities and/or genetic predisposition. Coming from a person who grew up with a sibling in the same environment, it’s about perspective. My sister is a recovering addict and I’m a sober hardass. She felt that was all she knew, I felt that was the one thing I’ll never do.