Our Stories Are Our Strength
COLLECTIVE JOURNAL: JULY 17-23, 2021
My son struggles with clinical depression and substance use disorder and has been in ongoing therapy for many years. As a result of the trauma I have experienced while going through this with him, I sought out counseling for myself. These services are extremely expensive for our family and our insurance covers little to none of these costs. While it has not been easy, sometimes, my family has been able to cover the costs of these sessions and, as a result, much progress has been made. I am deeply saddened knowing that there are countless families in our same (and worse) situation that do not have the option of paying for these services and are therefore not able to get the assistance that they need. I have often wondered how different my family would be today if we had not had the ability to pay directly for the care we needed. EVERYONE should have equal access to Mental health and SUD services, not just families who can afford it. To ensure equality for all, we need FUNDING from our legislators to help ALL families in need.
Hearing the story from the parent who shared was incredibly powerful. In the most awful way that only another parent, who has gone through struggles with their child, can relate to. It doesn’t matter at what age they are struggling, being their parent–the one who is supposed to protect them and make it better, is universal. For me, there is such shame in this from a parent’s perspective. I should know what to do. I should be able to help him. I shouldn’t feel like I have to keep this a secret. I should know who to connect with in the same situation. All of those things. It is the hardest thing to go through when your child is struggling with addiction and mental health challenges. And the pain cuts to your core in the times that you feel like there is nothing you can do. The fear when the phone rings and not being able to breathe, because it might be THE call you’ve been dreading. That something happened to them. Nobody tells you when you decide to become a parent that you can do ALL the RIGHT things raising them, and your child can still get sucked into addiction. This is a truly horrible disease and I wish more than anything that we could have more help along the way and that prevention and good parenting worked for everyone. But most of all, I just want my child to be ok.
I have sat with my thoughts and feelings for a little over a week now and really debated if I should write this blog because, well some would say I lack a little couth or refined, well mannered language and I respect what Sarah is trying to accomplish here professionally. Honestly though, in my opinion beating around the bush and being so polite to avoid offending someone’s ears from harsh brutal truths has gotten us nowhere but continuing the vicious cycle. I feel it’s time for us outspoken, spicy language speaking folks to say it just like it is because it in fact is exactly what we need for true change in this state.
Let me first introduce myself and all the hats I wear. The one that must be worn and cared for the most before any of the others is, I am a person living in long term sustainable recovery of a little over 14 years. I must put this part of myself first because none that follows would matter if I don’t. I am a mother to an amazing teenage son, I have a degree in Cosmetology, I have an AAS in Human Services Honors, I am a Recovery Coach, I have completed everything but sent in my application to the state for my NCPSS credentials, as well as someone living in lifelong chronic pain from a spinal injury.
Bear with me this may take a minute. In my 20s I fell off a skimboard at the beach and cracked my tailbone all the way to my hips. September 2017 I not only just a few months before celebrated 10 years in recovery, I also celebrated my 31st birthday. October 17, 2017 I woke up to a life that would be forever changed. After all those years standing on hard, concrete floors with just a thin mat and slinging hair with a cracked spine, it finally broke. I woke up to a fluid swollen leg, blue toenails and could barely walk. I cried for hours, not just from the pain but because I was fearful of going to my local hospital’s ER. You see someone like myself whose DOC’s that alter my perception of reality, which are opiate pain pills and cocaine, going to the ER can surely become a death sentence. I finally couldn’t take the immense pain and ocean waves of muscle spasms down my back and leg any longer. I went to the local ER, scared but hopeful things were different now. The optimism and hopefulness faded quickly. Over the next couple of weeks I would have to make several trips back, because each time they would not tell me any of what they found on the 4 very expensive MRI’s they performed, but hand me release papers stating I was searching for drugs with a cocktail variety of prescribed drugs, asinine, I know! My medical records state I’m ‘allergic’ to Opiates and all its analogs, because sometimes it’s just easier so they can’t prescribe them instead of saying, “Hey look a here, I love them little things a little too damn much but can’t take them without a trip to the plug for an 8 ball of cocaine so don’t give them to me.” I chose to be strong and honest with these doctors and begged each of them not to give me opiates. I finally after 5-7 trips to the ER came across a young new PA who was floored by the neglect to tell me my L5 was herniated a minimum of 60% and it had compressed the sciatic nerve causing little to no circulation down my left leg. She was beyond compassionate and empathetic and did what she could to help me. I was referred to the local Orthopedic across the street, where I was berated and belittled not only for being a woman who gave birth 11 years prior –that’s why he said I was in pain– but all those drug searching labels and verbal abuse from doctors was over. After a decade I choose to smoke a bowl of weed to ease and tolerate my pain to avoid taking those very percocets I once loved so much. He attempted to give my 100 lbs soaking wet self a script for 120 mg of methadone for pain, needless to say I called that man everything other than a child of God and hobbled my broken back self out his office. The next 8 months were hell to say the least. From struggling with horrific pain, not sleeping because of pain, not walking and peeing on myself, I struggled with fear that I wouldn’t make it to my 11th year of sobriety. Fighting with the state for assistance with insurance and doctors not only continuing to verbally abuse me but also neglecting me because of my substance use and trying to give me opiates, dismissing the real debilitating pain I was in. After months of struggling and fighting I was referred to a Neurosurgeon who compassionately sat down with me and developed a plan of care that supported my whole well being. While performing the surgery, he found 3 large bone fragments that had broken off from the crack, lodged under the L5 and actually began to saw at my sciatic nerve. I now live with nerve damage down my left leg that makes it difficult to do what I love; hair full time. February 2019, 8 months post surgery, I had just received an epidural and thought I was having an allergic reaction to the change in steroids injected. I was in fact not, but learned in the coming days I would soon need a full hysterectomy. I have only had one OBGYN my whole life as a woman, so I knew that I would have to have this surgery in the very hospital that had mistreated me so badly before. I trusted my OBGYN with my sobriety because he had not only seen how far I had come, but he had commended me for my strength to stay on my path of recovery throughout these series of unfortunate events. The day of surgery I spoke with the anesthesiologist as I had done for my spinal surgery and explained why he couldn’t put me under with narcotics. The first anesthesiologist had no issues with putting me under with benadryl, but this clown gave me opiates anyway. You see I’m strong in my recovery and very honest about it because if I am not it is a quick death sentence if I slip into a relapse and I got way to much life ahead of me to allow the complacency of a doctor who perpetuates the vicious cycle of addiction in so many to take any of my future away. What about the individuals who are not strong yet, the ones new to sobriety and still navigating those baby steps of what recovery looks like for them? What about the ones struggling every minute of every day, that are sick and tired of their own crap and can’t function without using? It’s doctors like these in my hometown who are condemning individuals to death instead of doing exactly what they vowed not to do in their hippocratic oath “I will remember there is an art to medicine as well as science, and the warmth, sympathy, and understanding outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug…. I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to ALL my fellow human beings, those in sound of mind and body as well as the infim.”
I have put a part of my life for the public eye to see not in any concern that I care if you judge me, I do not, but I said all this to say this. The treatment I received at my local hospital, even after having a decade of sobriety, of being treated less than human or as if my life did not matter or was worth their time to adequately care for because I had a history of substance use, goes on every damn day in not only this state but across the nation. I’d like to think that the neglect and abuse to individuals with SUD and mental health is not because of lack of education because it’s not, the education is there. My opinion, it is the lack of empathy because of the desensitization ER doctors have gotten to because of this epidemic, it is the lack of implementing the over 3000 NCPSS in environments such as our ER departments throughout our state, it is the doctors who down right do not give two rats booties to be empathetic towards someone like myself whole well being, and it is most certainly the outdated, oppressive for people of color, people who use and women policies that are killing my generation with no cares in the world about it. There are some great individuals in the medical field, I found a few I can trust with my life but I fought like hell to find them and I shouldn’t have. I know there are amazing people fighting everyday in this state to change the narrative and give all of us the right to equality and adequate care and for those people I am beyond grateful, y’all literally save my life everyday by helping change how we treat individuals with SUD and mental health in this state. These people give me hope for the future that things will change and my son will never know what it’s like to live in a time where people don’t care about others’ well being. So for those fighting and advocating for change, thank you, you are greatly appreciated, and for the ones in the field who want to stay stuck in the moral model and not change how they treat individuals, go screw yourselves, you can not have this life!
Signed, A warrior forever fighting while in recovery for change!
My son Stephen was due on Christmas day and ended up taking a few more days to get here. He arrived on December 29, 1987 and he came home from the hospital in a stocking. He was my first and my Christmas baby. I always took off the 29th of December so we could separate Christmas and his birthday and keep it special. On his last birthday on earth, when he was 24, we toasted his birthday at the Angus Barn in Raleigh surrounded by beautiful Christmas decorations, lights and trees along with his Step Dad, girlfriend and brother, Michael. As life would have it, this night was Stephen’s last Christmas, last birthday and our last supper. The magic of the evening ‘turned to rain’ as he was murdered on January 26, 2012. This tragedy symbolizes the last ‘toast to innocence’ in my life.
My son, Michael, and I were able to spend four more Christmas’ together after the murder of his brother. We cooked Stephen’s favorite food, broccoli casserole and mac-n-cheese and we placed a new ornament in his memory on the tree each year. One of Michael’s favorite things was to burn a candle for his brother on Christmas Day. It meant so much he posted on his lasting legacy site, “…we kept a candle burning for you all day bro..”. On Valentine’s Day of 2016, we lost Michael to a drug overdose and once again my life was forever changed.
I’m reflecting on what I have done, who I have loved and what moves me forward. What I have done was being a mom to two boys I loved more than life itself. They are my greatest teachers. The biggest gift Stephen gave me is when he got the tattoo, KNOW HOPE. It wasn’t the tattoo, it was his explanation for why he chose it. “You gotta know hope mama”. Today I know he was teaching me everything I needed to know.
Michael struggled with depression, particularly after the death of his brother. Unfortunately drugs took him from us. We had many magical moments and one which stands out in the last month of his life was when he took my hand in rehab as we read, “Just for Today” together. He said it was his favorite reading. “Just for Today, I will do a good turn and if anyone knows it was me it will not count”. I know this way of thinking will move you forward. Know Hope and Just for Today are powerful messages for all those who have or will experience tragedy in their lives. Thank you Stephen & Michael.
I am a Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist in North Carolina. I have been in the addiction field for many years. I have had wonderful professors and attended great Universities that taught me many things on the science of Addiction and the things necessary for success in addiction treatment and counseling. The neurobiology of addiction and the many theories and techniques that allow me to help the individuals, who I have been blessed to serve in my career as a therapist and also as a friend and sponsor.
Perhaps the only thing that taught me more about the disease of Alcoholism/Addiction was the fact that I am an alcoholic/addict myself.
I know what it’s like to be broken and hopeless and I also know that recovery is possible.
After working with clients many years I found myself being successful with those who were willing to recover. I felt that God at times worked through me to help those who suffer.
I was enjoying my success and was hired at one of the premier centers in the southeastern United States.
On a day that I remember quite clearly my ex-wife called and told me my son had got into trouble and it was serious. She stated that drugs were involved and she was sure that I could help because I was a substance abuse counselor . I remember thinking that this could not be true. After all the discussions my son and I had on drugs, how can this happen?
My son went to treatment after some time. It was not because of anything I said, it was because he used a drug that was laced with something he had never used and this event scared him enough to seek help. I arranged for him with the help of a friend who was clinical director of a 28 day program to be admitted at the treatment center. When he came out of this episode of treatment, he seemed to be the kid I knew before his drug use started and my hope was that he would realize the truth of his situation and would not relapse. However this same scenario would play out over and over again.
I did what had worked for me and refused to let him live in my home or give him money. He would do well for short periods of time and then relapse with worse consequences than the previous relapse.
I was seen as the bad guy, the bad parent and a heartless person by his mother and my family. During this time of insanity, it would be me with my heart breaking who would refuse to enable him. In doing so I would endure the wrath of family who were confused and scared. They loved him the only way they knew how.
My son died of a drug overdose on April 1st 2020 over a year ago- but it seems like it was yesterday.
I found him and I held his cold/stiff/discolored/swollen body. An image that is ever present in my mind. I learned that my son’s friend had left him there dead or dying and lied to police and others saying that he had not seen my son.
I have watched my family and those who loved my son. I have seen how they have lived and struggled to accept his death. I see their pain and I understand that our lives will never be the same.
I have always worked to be strong in my faith, however my son’s death has taken a toll. In the months following his death what I felt was anger, depression and disbelief.
I was forced to be isolated by the pandemic, I don’t know what I would have done if I had not had the love of my life and the people in recovery who reached out to me. Some had suffered the same loss of a child while some had lost family members. All of them were aware that what happened to my son happens everyday.
Since my son’s death I have witnessed first hand the stigma and ignorance that our society carries about the disease of Addiction and those addicted.
They look at addiction as a choice and those addicted as very bad people. Many feel the same about mental disorders and consider those who suffer crazy or stupid.
My son does not fit their description. He was smart and funny, with a sense of humor well above the average for someone his age. He loved sports and excelled in basketball and football. He loved music and was a talented musician. Even though they did not know him, his death was treated as just another addict that died. Another weak and sinful drag on society.
As I have moved through the stages of grief I have taken action and began building my own counseling practice named after my son. One of our goals is educating our community about the disease and the stigma that exist while providing help to those individuals who may not have the resources for treatment anywhere else. Another goal for me is to realize that many times, families and loved ones of those addicted need help also, but will be reluctant to come forward.
We make the effort to help them understand they are not alone.
At this time statistics show close to an average of 7-8 individuals die of an overdose each day in just our county. What is interesting is the fact you rarely hear of this epidemic. A local law officer told me that most families say nothing to avoid the stigma and prejudice of their loved one being addicted to alcohol or drugs of any kind, much less that overdosing was the cause of death. This stigma is present in law enforcement, the courts and in many churches.
I feel that I was a selfish man. While it’s natural to hurt and be angry over the death of my son I must ask myself; why were you not angry and hurt over those people who never got it or those who never reached out because of fear, stigma or the grasp of power addiction can have?
A Clinical Director and friend once told me “This disease wins more than it loses.” If this is the case we can’t let our ignorance and beliefs allow the truth of this devastating illness a place to hide.
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