A different kind of thank you letter

“Everything I touch turns to shit.” These are the words no mother ever wants to hear from her son.

But I did, over and over again. His words kept repeating. Even when my son had left our home, when he had gone back to live in the toxic environment that created him; his words kept playing over in my mind; between the images of fireman, police officers, red cross members and friends and neighbors who were concerned for our well-being as well as their own.

April 13, 2016 is the day my husband and I hit rock bottom. Anyone studying addiction can attest to the fact that an addict must hit rock bottom before they are ready to quit using. What many text books don’t teach is that parents often hit rock bottom before their child with drug addiction disease does. 

Watching my home burn was enough for me to know that something had to change- and it was out of my control to change it. Letting go of the idea that I could somehow get my son to quit using heroin has been a greater challenge than letting go of all the material possessions that were destroyed in our apartment fire. He wasn’t nodding or high when the fire started, but the addict inside him, the person who stopped caring about living, about himself, and about everyone around him, is responsible for a careless choice that cannot be changed. The clock cannot be turned back to the moment when he did not ensure that his cigarette had been put out. At least that is a possibility he will have to come to terms with when he is ready to feel again. Drug addiction is about just that…it’s about not feeling. It’s about not caring, because caring and feeling are too painful, and drug addicts cannot cope with pain. But those of us who love the person, the person who was there before the addict took over do feel the pain, and we have to live with the consequences of the addicts choices.

I don’t blame him for the fire, I blame the disease. But mostly, I blame myself.  

My son had a very hard childhood. It is a fact that many people who experience early childhood trauma cope with the pain with drugs and alcohol. It began with parties and party drugs: alcohol, molly, cocaine, pain killers, until eventually the only way to numb the pain was with heroin, and now heroin owns my son. Heroin also wants to own our family. That is the part of addiction most users don’t realize as they are slowly becoming dependent on opiates or alcohol or any of those fun party drugs that people of college age may be experimenting with. Heroin not only takes over their lives and controls every waking hour of their being, heroin also reaches out like an invisible entity from the addict to the family, wanting to get its claws on everyone in the addict’s life. Everyone!

The fire….the fire did a lot of damage to the outside of the building, but what was inside was far more damaged. My father’s stamp collection that was a family heirloom is destroyed. I have nothing to pass on to my three sons that my father (their grandfather) wanted them to have. Sure we had expensive televisions, radios, furniture and all that, but none of that matters as much as the pictures, the paperwork, the tangible items from our memories that cannot be replaced. The heat from the fire was more destructive inside than the actual fire was outside. When I look at what is left of our apartment, I not only see how the fire destroyed our memories, I see how heroin is just like that fire. What it does to a family on the outside pales in comparison to what is hidden inside. People can drive by our home and see the damage, but no one really knows everything we have lost. We smile and nod and act like we are all ok…but will we ever be ok again?

When word got to the Castleton community; my school, my other sons school… the outpouring of support was overwhelming. We had so many people asking us what we needed and how they could help. We made it through these past two weeks with everything we need because of the generosity of the staff and students at Castleton University. No one there knew what happened, everyone just saw a family who had lost everything and wanted to help. That makes me proud to be a Spartan. An old Spartan, but still a Spartan.

When I think about what we could have lost, and what we still could lose I shudder. I think about my husband not reaching for the door handle and feeling the heat and what could have happened. I am so grateful that we all got out of the apartment and the building and no one was hurt. But worrying is not over for me. We are all safe for now, but I wonder every second of every day how much longer my son has to live. How long will he be safe?  I wonder when or if he will overdose on heroin or some other drug. I hope every day that he reaches his rock bottom, whatever that may be, and that he is able to finally quit using drugs. I used to worry about him getting arrested and worry about feeling embarrassed about his name being in the paper, but I don’t even think about that anymore. I would much rather have him arrested than dead, and I don’t care who knows.

Why this story? Why do I feel the need to make a thank you letter so graphic, so personal? 

I want people of college age to see what drug addiction does. I want you all to understand that addiction is not a personal problem, it is a family problem, and I hope that my story reaches someone who might need to hear it right now, and I hope it saves another family from having to ever live this nightmare.

Drug addiction is like a cigarette that smolders in a can. With the right conditions, it destroys everything in its path. It may start out small and harmless, but that is not how it ends. 

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