There is no instruction manual for mothers of addicts. We have all the information about what to expect when you are expecting and of course there is always the go to book by Dr. Spock. There are books written by parents living the nightmare that addiction brings along for the ride. As Matt’s mom I tried to educate myself on addiction. An Addict in the family, Stay Close, Beautiful Boy all became my bibles. My go to reference books that made me feel like I wasn’t crazy or a horrible mom. The only problem with those books is their addict survived. My son did not.
Being a nurse became a curse. Matt’s addiction became my addiction. I was addicted to saving him. Yes, I know, I’ve heard it all. Only the addict can save himself. Unfortunately, I saved other mothers babies for a living so I foolishly let myself think that I had the power to save my own. I let myself believe that I had the problem under control. I was a nurse, how could my son be an addict. He grew up in a good home. Went to a private school. He had a mom who set a great example of work ethic. He owned his own business, he paid his bills. Matt led a productive life until a back injury put him on the path of opioid addiction. To me, he wasn’t an addict. Matt just had a problem. He had scripts for the Percocet and Xanax from what I believed to be a pain management clinic that cared about Matt’s well being. Denial helped me survive those years we battled his addiction together. There were times I felt like I was strapped to a roller coaster blindfolded. Never knowing or truly seeing what was coming next.
I didn’t talk about Matt’s addiction at work. Addiction is a dirty word. It was my dirty little secret. I would sit and listen to my fellow nurses brag about the accomplishments of their children, all the while wanting to scream. My child is an addict and I need to be supported, not shunned. No amount of nursing education prepared me for the power of addiction or the stigma that branded the addict and his family. Addiction is the most misunderstood disease. I remember wishing Matt had cancer, sick I know, but at least I would have gotten support and sympathy.
Parents are afraid addiction is catchy and if they allow themselves to think even for a minute this nightmare could invade their perfect family they run and shut you out. The stigma lived in the NICU as I kept my mouth closed afraid of the reaction I would receive from my educated colleagues. You are the mother of an addict, their dirt is now yours. You are a nurse, how could your son be an addict. You are a horrible mom.
I look back now and realize how blind I truly was. I though being a nurse would protect my child from the deadliness of addiction. After all I should know the signs. I should have been able to handle the health crisis that addiction and withdraw threw in my face. I wanted to believe the lies. I’m just tired. Yes, I went for the interview. No, mom I’m not abusing my drugs. Matt lived with me the last seven years of his too short life. We battled many days. Screaming at each other after me coming home from a 12 hour shift to find him slumped over on the couch with white residue on his nose, his list of chores undone. Still I denied he was that addict.
Being a nurse I had contacts in the treatment world and believe me I exhausted them. There wasn’t a mental health facility in Delaware that I haven’t visited with Matt in tow. Unfortunately for us my state had no rehabs so it was always a fight to find him a safe place out of state. Getting him admitted and finally being able to breath even just for 28 days felt like the weight of the world left my heart. Knowing he was safe gave me the false security that my son would also be one of the survivors. Matt’s coming home was always a mixed bag of emotions. Yes, I was happy to see him but at the same time I was scared to death.
I had to keep a roof over our heads and that meant Matt was once again afforded the freedom to live in his world of euphoria. When I had exhausted the resources in Delaware, we went to Maryland then Pennsylvania. Through this entire 7 year journey I never thought he would overdose. Denial became my very dear friend. Tough love didn’t work for us either. I finally told him he had to go after he stole from me and then called the police on me for hiding his drugs. You see, I was tired of the rehab stuff and was going to detox him myself at home. He left and I cried and constantly worried. I let him come home to shower and eat, I felt like a piece of dirt. Me living in a great house and Matt sleeping on whatever couch he could find for the night. Tough love just about did me in so Matt came home and the cycle started all over again. I became the mom police, checking his phone and emails. Searching through his room and things. I was becoming someone I never wanted to be.
My friends, tired of the same Matt stories started to avoid me. My life became a place I didn’t want to be anymore and I would dream of selling everything and running away, but I had to save Matt. Our last Thanksgiving together was spent at Rockford, a mental health facility. We were given one hour. Knowing what I know now I would have signed him out and run like the wind. My son eating with strangers and me crying my heart out as I left him behind. The last time I saw Matt he was in Bowling Green, a rehab in Pennsylvania. He ended up there after another screaming match with me coming home and him stoned again. I told him it was rehab or the streets. I drove him there on a Monday night and held my breath in the waiting room as the staff did their assessment to decide if he would be admitted.
I praised God all the way home in joy that maybe this would be the magic time as all the books tell you, don’t give up one time he will get it. I fooled myself into thinking we finally did it. Matt was saved. The last time I saw Matt was a beautiful day in May, so full of promise. Matt looked great, speech and eyes clear. He told me he was so happy to get the monkey off his back and was ready to start his new life at a sober living house in BocaRaton, Florida. The Boca House was recommended by Matt’s counselor and was actually a place mentioned in one of the books I’d read. If only I had known what Matt was heading into I never would have bought that ticket.
He left for Florida on June the 2nd. We spoke twice a day. He told me he felt blessed to be so close to the beach. You see, we are beach people, me and Matt. I felt good knowing he was on board for his recovery and breathed a sigh of relief. We did it. I so foolishly believed that 28 days in rehab had prepared Matt to face the world again. A world where Mom wasn’t there to pick up the pieces and get him to safety. I was flying to Boca on February 10th to spend the week with Matt. To celebrate his new life and meet his boss, as Matt finally found employment. How foolish I was. With a job came a paycheck. Drugs cost money and Matt had money and no mom on 24/7 watch. Matt overdosed on January 3rd and my life stopped. I live in a world of disbelief. How did this happen. Every time we spoke he sounded normal, my ears, trained to pick up the changes in speech failed me. We spoke at 6:23 p.m. on Friday night. He died 5 a.m on Saturday morning. My last words to him were I love you Matt, stay safe. I love you mom, I’ll call you tomorrow. That call never came.
No amount of nursing education could have prepared me for this ending. Matt became one of the 44,000 people who lost their lives in 2015. He never touched heroin. He never had to. He became a victim of pill pushing doctors. His brain and body betrayed him as they craved the poison more than he loved life.
As I look back I remember all the mothers in the NICU. Holding them as they said goodbye to their babies who were born too soon or too sick for even the latest technology to save. I remember crying with them feeling like I let them down by not being able to save their babies. I remember the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness as we sat together. I remember saying it will be ok. I think back in horror. How could I have uttered those words when I had no idea of the heartbreaking pain these moms were feeling as they held their dying babies. I am ashamed that I thought so little of their grief as their dreams were shattered and their lives were changed forever. I now get it. Losing a child is having your heart ripped from your chest. Having the breath sucked out of your lungs. Having your world spin off its axis and shatter at your feet.
I now live in a state of profound grief. I question everything I did during his addiction. I replay the last 7 years and try to figure it out. Dissecting every decision I made or didn’t make. What did I miss, what could I have done differently. When Matt’s life ended a part of mine did too. I spent so much energy on saving him that I am lost. I walk around looking at his pictures, always smiling, no hint of the demons that controlled and finally took his life.
My NICU days are over. I could not handle the loss of another mothers baby. My days are spent writing Matts story in my blog called mothersheartbreak.com. I offer support to other mothers who share my grief of losing a child to addiction. I speak out against the stigma that prevents addicts from getting the treatment they need and deserve. I pray that someday I will find peace knowing that Matt is safe and I hope to forgive myself. I used to think I was a smart girl, a critical care nurse who saved other mother’s babies but could not save her own. #Voicesinrecovery