Amy is the mother of Steven, a heroin addict who recently almost died from an overdose. Steven is now living in a sober house after completing an inpatient treatment program. Amy is hopeful for her recently-turned-18 son. She is committed to his recovery no matter how he chooses to go about it. Amy also struggles with the delicate balance of helping her son and taking care of her other children. She believes in talking about addiction and spreading the word about the current opioid epidemic. Amy wants no more shame attached to the disease of addiction.
Here are excerpts from her story. The names have been changed for privacy reasons.
I don’t remember April 4th one year ago but if I did, I would hold on tight and never let it go. It was the last day that I had any innocence regarding the level of my son’s addiction. It was the last day before I knew he had progressed to heroin. I bet we all feel like that after we experience a profound tragedy or horrible news. We just want to go back one day and stay there. I knew it was bad, but nowhere in my wildest dreams did I believe it would ever progress to heroin. The worst of the worst.
The thing that makes heroin so bad is that addiction comes fast and once addicted, the user must continue to use or they will become violently ill. They begin to feel sick and it gets worse and worse and the only thing that will bring relief is more heroin. The other big problem with heroin is that relapse rate is so high. While days of sobriety mean everything, sometimes weeks, months, and even years mean nothing as the grim reaper calls the addict back. OD deaths after years of sobriety are not uncommon. As a parent of a heroin addict, this is the worst possible knowledge to have and I know that my son has to put his sobriety first every single day of his life. That is big, especially at age 17.
Two of the most important men in my life are recovering alcoholics. My dad (who died in 2008) and my brother. My brother has been sober since he was Steve’s age. I am used to seeing that side of recovery. I am not used to this other dark side. This dark side. When Steve went into rehab, I felt like he would just grab hold like my brother did. And, just like my brother, he would get back into school and begin to do great things. And, again, like both dad and bro, he would be wildly successful in spite of his addiction. Unfortunately, that is not how it works for everyone.
To be completely honest, I have it better than so many. My son is still alive today. He has another chance. Another choice. I believe addiction is a disease but once you have the tools and support, you can make a choice to recover. I hold onto hope that my son makes that choice. As my dear friend says, “Where there is life, there is hope.”
No one wants to be an addict. If they could foresee the hell that they would put themselves and their loved ones through, (as well as many outside their own circle when they lie and steal), they might have made a different choice. When I say that, I simply mean they may have chosen not to use the first time. For many addicts, it is the first time they use that seals the deal. From that time on, they are hooked on disappearing from reality. People talk about gateway drugs. I believe that in Steve’s case, the gateway drug was the first one he used. For him, I believe it was alcohol.
He was in 7th grade when he got suspended for taking a thermos with Jagermeister and lemonade to school. I have never tasted Jagermeister but I have smelled it (which is why I have never tasted it) and the thought of it with lemonade seems repulsive to say the least. I really thought he had learned his lesson after his suspension. If only I had been right.
After alcohol, I believe it was nutmeg. I would pick him up from a friend’s house and he would reek like nutmeg and Axe. Nutmeg taken in large doses is a hallucinogenic. I don’t know the order of everything else but he has literally done everything else, in every way possible. He has inhaled, snorted, smoked, needled and gotten high other gross ways. He is an equal opportunity addict, whatever drug he has the opportunity to get he will use. The best method is the one that gets him the highest. The best drug is heroin, followed closely by meth. I never thought it would get this dark.
A couple of years ago, I mentioned a Facebook group called The Addict’s Mom. I had been a part of that group. Shortly after I posted, I left that group simply because while it was full of love and hope, it was also so dark. There was so much about heroin and overdose and jail and death. I thought I didn’t need to be there. Steve’s problem wasn’t that bad. Yes he was an addict, no he would never touch heroin or meth. Since I left that group, the founder of the group lost her son to a heroin overdose. Since I left that group, my own son became a heroin addict. How ironic. How horrible.
I got a call from Dr. Adams today. He is the medical director at Hazelden/Betty Ford in Plymouth. As he started talking, I could tell he was steering me towards meds – Suboxone to be specific. I told him unequivocally no. No way, no how. Dr. Adams became very stern with me. He told me in no uncertain terms that although it is not the best way, it may likely be the only way at this point.
Dr. Adams made it clear that we are running out of time. He told me we cannot look back when it is too late and wish we had tried this one last thing. He told me it might buy us the time we need to get Steve healthy enough to really work at his sobriety. I told him I had to think about it and call him back. I called Steve’s dad, who is very much against using drugs to treat heroin addiction. This is a position which I fully agreed to up to this point. He told me to clarify a couple of things and then give Dr Lee my blessing if we were comfortable with the decision. So we did. We are willing to try anything at this point.
(You can read Part One of this series here.)