We’ve all heard the saying, Life Goes On. It wasn’t until this year that I really felt the impact of those three little words. The day I lost my son life stopped. The 3rd day of the new year. It came to a screeching halt. Spun right off my perfect little axis and shattered at my feet. Not only did I not want it to go on, I wanted it to rewind. To give me a do over. One more hug, one more I love you. Give me time to undo things already done. I wanted it to just stop. As much as I tried to fight, to curl up and stop, life moved on. Dragging me along kicking and screaming. At first I counted the days, the weeks, then the months since Matt’s death. The saying is true, life did go on.
The yearly celebrated holidays came and went. Winter, summer, then sadly his birthday all came like they did every year and forced me to be me. To get up and be that person everyone expected me to be. To be a part of the family that was changed forever. The family missing it’s youngest son. I was numb, grieving and in shock. Trying to hold my emotions in check. Struggling to get through the days, but life didn’t care. It kept coming. Forcing me to put one foot in front of the other and continue to live.
I wake, I breathe. My heart beats. Time has passed. I’m told I made it through all the firsts. I should feel relieved. Like winning the race of a life time. Like the weight of my grief should have lifted. Unfortunately, I feel nothing that resembles relief. I feel a void that will never be filled. I feel disbelief. My mind tells me it has been well over a year since I’ve heard his voice or felt his hug. My heart tells me I’ll never be the same. Missing those precious moments between a mother and her son. The every day conversations sharing the dailies of our lives. Unrelenting grief follows me like a lost puppy looking for a place to call home.
When Matt was alive, I was too busy to think of anything other than his addiction. Saving him became my addiction. Denial became my best friend. His death was something I never saw coming. His loss pushed me into detox and now I’m going through a horrific withdrawal. Learning to save myself is foreign to this mom. To feel needed and useful again like I did when all my energy flowed toward his recovery. So here I am, left behind struggling to find a new path to follow. A mother detoxing from her son’s addiction.
As a nurse, my life has been about saving others. The last eight years focused on saving Matt and other mother’s babies. So how do I survive now? Who do I save? My grief brain keeps me from being that smart girl. The NICU nurse responsible for the tiniest of patients. My mind now wanders. My attention span short lived. My brain wounded, my heart shattered. Ideas fly away and I struggle with “Matt moments” where the grief hits like a wave leaving me a sobbing mess. Everyday is a struggle as I navigate this unfamiliar world. My wounds are invisible. Looking at me you would never see the change. But inside I struggle to find my balance. I have forgotten how it feels to be whole. To laugh and enjoy the little pleasures. When Matt died, a piece of me died too. A mothers heart shattered beyond repair.
During the last years of Matt’s life, I had an eye opening education on how the disease of addiction is treated. I witnessed the phone calls as Matt fought his insurance company begging for approval for admission. I stood by as multiple doctors refused to get involved in his recovery and I witnessed how the other doctors pushed pills and contributed to his disease. The stigma that surrounds the disease that killed my son, lives on and continues to contribute to the deaths of many others. So many parents live in denial. Thinking their children are safe from this cunning disease. Their children live in beautiful homes. Go to the best schools. Excel in sports. Hang with the “good” crowd. Would never experiment with drugs. My son did all those things. I lived in denial and my son is dead.
I’ve found the stigma that surrounds addiction also blinds parents to the reality that drugs have found their way into the best schools and onto the football fields. Drugs are in locker rooms and have snuck into their beautiful neighborhoods. No parent wants to believe their perfect child would ever use a drug. I had a false sense of security, my son was terrified of needles. Most parents aren’t aware that kids don’t start with Heroin. Prescription opioids left over from Mom’s surgery or Dad’s broken leg are the first step into the insidious world of addiction.
Research shows that even though the use of illegal drugs declined in teens and young adults, the abuse of prescription drugs continues to rise. Teens believe in the “it’s just pills” mentality and have no fear of becoming addicted. Percocet being the drug most over prescribed and abused by teens and young adults.
What I did not realize was that crushed Percocet is exactly the same as Heroin. Perfect for anyone afraid of injecting. No telltale track marks, no way for parents to see the evidence that drugs have found their children.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a parent say those three words that make me cringe. “Not my child.” I once had that same thought. I once believed that addiction would never find its way into my family. I was a nurse. My son went to a private school. We lived in a great neighborhood. None of it changed the fact that my son got hooked on Percocet. First legally prescribed, then abused. My son died from an overdose. I have lived every excuse I’ve heard from parents in their denial.
As time and life continue, I have embraced a new path. Still saving other mother’s children but now by sharing Matts story. I tell of Matt’s struggle with his addiction. I educate parents on the dangers of prescription drugs. I share Matt’s struggle for recovery. The hopelessness and chaos that come with addiction. I speak out to educate about the disease that kills more beautiful people than gun violence or auto accidents. This disease that no parent believes will invade their perfect family. The disease that carries a shameful stigma. The disease that is thought of to be self inflicted. The only disease you are punished for having. The disease that insurance companies discriminate against.
In my journey, I hope to open the eyes of parents in denial. By telling my story I hope to reach those who believe that prescription pills are safe. Educating those who still believe addiction only happens to other families. Praying to save other mother’s from my grief and their children from my sons fate. Saving myself by saving others.