This wasn't the first time I was summoned to the hospital. I had already planned my lecture. I was angry with Kyle, and I couldn't wait to express my disappointment. It was routine as usual—the administrator asked for my insurance information and I was placed in a family room. Then I saw my younger son, Kyle's brother. He was stressed beyond belief. I immediately became panicked. No more anger, no more thoughts of lecturing, now I was scared. I shot up from my chair and, in a desperate attempt to refute everything my gut was telling me, I snapped at the doctor.
“What is going on with my son?!”
“Please, sit down," the doctor reasoned.
"No! Tell me what is happening to my son?!"
"I’m sorry," he said coldly, "I did everything I could.”
After those words were spoken, I couldn't hear anything else.
I stood suspended between reality and disbelief. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
My son was in recovery for 6 months. He was a merchant marine. He wasn't an addict anymore. How could this happen?
On March 22, 2013 at 3:15 A.M., my son lost his battle with addiction. The heroin took his life in his dad's house and in front of his younger brother during a family visit to Connecticut. My fears had become reality and I was in a living nightmare.
What I Learned in the Aftermath
It may be hard to deal with, but the symptoms of addiction grip the hearts, minds, and spirits for generations to come. Even after death, loved ones are forced to accept the presence of addiction in the absence of a family member. During my time reflecting and grieving the death of my child, I learned some cold hard truths about addiction that has forever impacted my life and family.
1. Addiction is a disease.
"Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. So once addicted, the person becomes an empty shell of someone who is powerless over dopamine. As a seasoned mother of two heroin addicts, it is important to advocate for them, as many are not well enough to make these decisions on their own.
2. Addiction varies from person to person.
If your loved one suffers from underlying mental health conditions, I recommend you seeking out a dual diagnosis facility. Insurance companies deem the time a person will be allowed to recover. The best case scenario is 28 days. In takes at least 90 days for heroin to completely leave the brain, but can be up to 18 months for it to recover from residual effects. Unfortunately, my experience with Kyle has also shown that treatment facilities are big business in the United States. In many cases, the addict has a resale value. To have the best chance of a successful recovery, know what other factors play into the addiction and seek out places specializing in these specific areas.
3. Addiction does not go away unless treated.
Some people are not in their right minds to make decisions for themselves, and thus leave the facility only to be thrown back into the crazy cycle once again. State funded programs such as Medicaid do not offer long term care; unfortunately, if you do not have over $50,000 cash on hand to get your loved one into a high-end facility, you will be hard-pressed to get effective care. Commercial insurance also has limitations on the type of care that is accepted. Insurance companies deem the time a person will be allowed to recover. The best case scenario is 28 days.
4. Addiction affects the whole family.
As a parent it's in our nature to prevent our children from hurting. We want to "fix" them. Unfortunately, this theory doesn't work. Instead, what a loved one of an addict should do is seek professional help for themselves. One of the ways to help yourself stay mentally and emotionally healthy is to join a support group. There, you will learn practical tools on how the better love someone who is struggling with addiction. By better loving yourself and your loved one, you can become the voice they will need during this difficult time. In addition to suffering the loss of their brother, my living children have also been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What We Can Do
Although my baby is gone, I refuse to empower addiction with inaction. If you are a parent like myself who has lost a child, or are a parent who is in constant crisis and turmoil with dealing with an addict, know you are not alone. Seek professional help to deal with the crisis, reach out to support groups such as Nar-Anon, and become a voice in your community to motivate, encourage, and guide others on their way to healing.
Through this, Kyle’s story lives on. And in a way, so does he.