Addiction is a disease like none other. Like a double edge sword. It tears families apart. It bonds strangers forever. I never wanted to play this role in life. I was happy being a NICU nurse. Helping families cope with a premature or very sick newborn was what I did. It gave my life meaning and purpose. I was happy with my life and saw the world through rose colored glasses.
That was until my son became an addict. My handsome, life loving son became a victim to a horrible disease. There were no instruction manuals to prepare me for this journey. No section in the bookstore on What To Expect When Your Child Becomes Addicted. I was left to figure this out the hard way. It was an education I didn’t sign up for but could not escape.
I had no clue that Matt would come to depend on the opioids he was given after back surgery. I believed they were prescribed by doctors educated enough to know the dangers of what they gave to their trusting patients. I believed in the system that I was part of. The system that helped those in need. A system that Did No Harm.
I began to see another side to the system I so believed in. A system so broken that human life no longer seemed to matter. This system is tainted by a stigma that has surrounded the disease of addiction for years.
I found this to be true during my first interaction with a detox facility in my state. My son, Matt finally recognized his craving for the poison pills had nothing to do with back pain. He reached out to me for help. Being a Registered Nurse I foolishly thought that addiction would be treated like any other chronic disease. I thought all he had to do was make the call and ask for help. At first I thought he was lying when he told me they could not help him today. He was instructed to call back in a few days after his insurance approval went through and only then would he have a bed.
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the battle. My education into addiction treatment opened my eyes to a world where I found a lack of compassion or understanding. Addiction is thought of as a “self inflicted” disease and therefore deserves punishment over treatment. I watched as both the medical community and the insurance industry did very little to help my son recover from this misunderstood disease. The medical community had no problem in prescribing the opioids that altered his brain and shattered his life. They had a problem with weaning him off or prescribing medication assisted treatment.
The insurance industry offered thirty days a year of either in-patient or out-patient or a combination of both. Ignoring the research that clearly shows the brain disease requires at least a year for recovery to take place. I found they are really in the business of saving money not lives.
After a seven year struggle my son, Matt lost his life. January 3rd 2015 at 4:40am my son lost his battle to the most mistreated, misunderstood, stigmatized disease I have ever know in my nursing career.
So now I am left behind. My life’s purpose of saving babies and saving Matt both shattered. The one phone call every parent dreads shattered my heart like a glass thrown at a brick wall. So many pieces. Some in sharp shards others smooth like sea glass. My broken heart so full of anger. My brain drenched in knowledge I never wanted to know. Addiction as ugly as it is, is treated even uglier.
I spent the next months trying to remember to breathe. Living in a fog of grief so powerful it crippled my once joyful mind. I could think of nothing other than the struggle my son endured and how the mistreatment of his disease led to his untimely death.
I was told the anger would come. That I would get angry at Matt. The anger did come. Not at Matt but at the misdirected, broken system for the treatment of addiction.