I’ve contemplated writing this post for months, but fear has kept me from doing so. It’s not an easy thing to discuss with anyone, much less the entire internet world. You see, what I have to reveal has a stigma attached to it…one of shame, guilt, blame, and judgment. Why is it that we humans are so quick to point out the flaws of others, to judge their vices, and to point fingers as if we have no shortcomings of our own? Sadly, the pride in our human nature elevates our image of ourselves to be above others. We cast our eyes downward and snub our noses to heaven on the “heathen” and “lowly” while boosting the flawless image of ourselves. It’s a sad reality of the human spirit…one that stifles truth and honesty. We’ve all been guilty of it…it’s something we all do, but it surely isn’t one of our most redeeming qualities. Even as I sit and type these words, my heart races, my palms sweat, and my hands tremble with anxiety and fear. You see, it’s not only others that I worry about. I also fear the reaction and judgment of family members who seem to have such perfect lives. In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned that I had something to share about Aaron, but I wasn’t quite ready to do so….And I’m still not quite sure that I’m ready. But, I’m going to follow through with it in hopes that it can help others and their families.
I know many people have wondered why Aaron died at such a young age, and I’m sure there have been many speculations and whispers about the cause and what happened. There’s no more need to question or whisper, because I’m going to tell you what happened. Aaron had a good life on this earth, but he also had a troubled life. He struggled with severe anxiety and suffered with a racing mind swirling with a cyclone of of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. He often explained it as, “When a door opens, my mind goes down the hallway. It’s focused on all the other sounds and things that are going on.” We tried medication for his ADD, but they drastically changed his personality. He even told me once that he had started hiding the pills anywhere that he could, but would act like he had taken it. He said that he hated the way they made him feel. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Aaron wasn’t happy. He was often very happy, but his moods could shift rapidly. Aaron was a person that felt every emotion to the extreme…when he was happy, he wasn’t just happy…he was elated. When he was down, he wasn’t just down…he was very depressed. It seemed that there was no in between. He was also very impulsive and most often didn’t think about consequences until after the fact. I tell you all of this, just to give you some of his history.
As Aaron got older, he took a turn down a road that eventually led to his death. You see, Aaron struggled with addiction, and it was that addiction that took his life….more specifically, heroin. See why I’m so scared to share? I know that many people that read this will judge Aaron and me. They will judge my parenting skills and decisions…they will judge his actions and his choices. They will point fingers and whisper behind my back about the cause of my son’s death. But on the other hand, I know that there are many out there who understand what our family has been through, and there are others who directly understand Aaron’s struggle. I know that for every whisper uttered, that there are many shouts of support. If you have never dealt with a direct family member that suffers from addiction, you have no idea what the addict goes through and what the family members experience. And it’s even worse if it’s your child. Everyone seems to have the answers for you and seems to know the decisions you need to make, while they have no idea what hell it is to watch your child spiral down the path of addiction….knowing you have no control. And the addiction just doesn’t affect the parents and the addict…it affects the entire family. Siblings have to watch in helplessness as they see their brother or sister morph into someone they don’t know. They suffer just as much, because they want to fix it for their parents and they want to fix it for their sibling. The entire family lives in hell on earth. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Addicts have often been viewed as lowlife humans that came from bad homes with no parenting or direction. They were and still are called “junkies”, “drug heads”, or “druggies”. What most people don’t understand is that addiction is no respecter of persons. It reaches across all social circles and affects both the rich and the poor…the educated and the uneducated…those who come from good homes and those who come from poor homes. If you had told me when Aaron was little that he would some day he would be an addict, I would have vehemently rejected the mere possibility. And I know that Aaron never had the goal of growing up and be an addict. No one ever says that they want to be a drug addict when they grow up…my child didn’t want that anymore than your child. Yes, I know that he made a choice in the beginning, but what most people don’t understand is that their brain changes after they become addicted. It no longer functions as it once did…and the rational decisions that you and I can make with ease are a daily battle for them. See, the brain of an addict is different from mine and yours. The drugs take over everything and your child does become someone you don’t know. It’s almost like a Jekyll and Hide. I’ve heard other addicts explain it that way. And it’s easy for me and you to sit on the outside and to say, “Just don’t do it…Just make the right choice.” The difference is that you and I don’t struggle with that demon. We have no clue the pull addiction has on their mind and on their bodies. Addiction does things to good people that are mind boggling. It’s a powerful vice that is displayed in their loss of control over using, in the physical effects of the cravings that wreak havoc on their mind and body, and in the continued use of drugs despite the disastrous consequences. We have no idea of the battle they face on a daily basis…or on a moment to moment basis.
Aaron when to rehab several times, and sometimes he didn’t try to stay sober. But after several rehab visits, he became more intent on coming out and staying sober. But the pull was too strong…it was more than he could handle. And I was oblivious to the magnitude of the situation when he told me that he was addicted to heroin. An overdose death didn’t even seem possible to me, because you know…It never happens to you or your family. As Aaron was released from rehab the last time, he was the happiest I had ever seen him in his adult life. And he was more intent on staying sober than he ever had been. He told me after he got out of rehab that he knew that if he didn’t quit, that it was going to kill him. Aaron was released from rehab Jan. 12, 2016. Less than a month later, he was dead from an overdose.
I tell you this to bring awareness to others…to help parents see that it can happen to anyone. It could, just as easily be you or me. I know that some of you are saying in your mind…”Not me or my family”. Well, that’s what I said too…and it did happen to me and my family. It can touch anyone and I would venture to say that it affects more people than we know.
So, remember the next time you call an addict a junkie, a low life, or a druggie…remember that they are someone’s son or daughter….someone’s mom or dad….someone’s sister or brother…someone’s cousin…someone’s aunt or uncle. They are a human being, and they are loved deeply by their family. And it could be your child that is the junkie, and it could be you feeling the judging stares of the righteous.
And remember this…just because my child died from an overdose, doesn’t mean he chose to die. It was accidental…and I refuse to be ashamed of my son because of a problem he couldn’t beat. I refuse to let the judgmental words of others shatter the beautiful person that my son was.
Remember this…his addiction didn’t define his life and it wasn’t his legacy. His legacy lives on in the love he shared for others and the passion he had for life. His legacy is shown in the way his friends speak about him. He was a good soul with a fault…just like you and me.
15 thoughts on “Not Ashamed”
Thank you for your honest sharing. As a bereavement counselor, I work directly with families who are grieving the deaths of loved ones from drug (heroin and/or fentanyl) overdoses. My best friend’s daughter is addicted to heroin and my next door neighbors lost their son to heroin. We live in an affluent area – where for many years there was much shame and hidden struggles. Finally it seems the stigma is being erased and honest sharing, such as you have done, helps all of us learn more about this insidious addiction and the toll it takes on countless families and communities. I follow your blog and appreciate all of your heart felt words.
SWall…thank you so much. This is my outlet…this is one of the ways that I express my grief. I’m hoping this blog helps other families experiencing this hell.
Thank you for this- I have lost both my children to this disease and my daughter was the known ” druggie”. Since my son came home as a war hero with PTSD and a TBI he is honored and talked about, but no one mentions my Mary- she started heroin after she lost her brother. You are so brave to write about the stigma and shame because it is so true!
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Thank you for this beautifully written expression of the torment the stigma of addiction can cause. Your son would be so proud of the words you have written here. This takes courage to attempt to get people to understand our children should not be defined by something completely out of their control. Yes, it was their choice initially but no one realizes the changes in the brain. The person we love changes into someone we don’t know. I lost my son on June 29th 2017. This is the first time I have written this date. Never would I have imagined it would happen to me. As you said, we think it only happens to others. He was so loved and adored by so many. He was an extremely talented self taught guitarist who played in several bands and performed on many stages along the jersey shore. He was a loving son, brother, grandson, father and nephew. He was very handsome, funny, smart and kind-hearted. But the demon took over. The guilt I feel will never leave my body. I know in many years to come it will remain. As mothers, you know we MUST protect and provide for our children. Its our job. And when we fail its very difficult to not blame ourselves. This blog I will read many times over. I know its baby steps to find small moments of peace. Perhaps I will take my first step one day.
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All I can say is wow. We lost our son at age 40 July 6 of this year. He struggled longer than most. I have yet to be able to say these words that you have said. My family has been hit with a double bam. My daughter is also currently in jail because of addiction. I have been to Al Anon for years but I find it still very difficult to wrap my head around these drugs. I always used to wonder how they got started in the first place. I mean my husband and I both worked and had a decent life with the kids. We never got high and rarely ever drank. So my big question was how solid they get so involved with drugs and we were not aware? I now know that it wasn’t our fault. But I spent many years thinking I wasn’t a good enough mom or the “if only” thing. I now know it only takes one try and that the behavior to hide it is learned very quickly and very effectively. I have also learned that God is a very big comfort when you are trying to figure things out and your head is just spinning. Thank you for sharing your son with the rest of us.
I relate so much to what you have written. I lost my son November 6, 2016. I best myself up constantly, wondering where I went wrong as a mom. I had 3 kids, Ryan, who we lost, was the youngest, but all 3 used at some point. Ryan was very smart, liked by everyone that met him, and had a very compassionate heart. He graduated from college with a double engineering degree. But drugs changed who he was. I know he could have done great things with his life, but addiction stole that. My heart is broken.
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You are right that you should not be ashamed. You should be proud of how much you loved your son, who happened to have an addiction, a severe illness.
Those who would judge you or him are ignorant about addiction and lack a fundamental capacity for empathy.
I don’t know you, but your love and protective instincts shine through your words and I can tell that he never doubted how much he was loved.
I hope you are able to take comfort in that you did the best that you could and you loved as hard as you could. Many children don’t get that from their parents in all their life.
I knew and worked with Aaron. He was a great person. I had just recently seen him before all this and he seemed a bit down, but OK, which made me feel I should have seen something. I was his supervisor, so I was proud of all the things he had accomplished lately after leaving where we worked together. I’m so sorry, but so glad to hear someone come out and tell the world that there should be no shame in this, just tragedy. It does him and the world a service.
Thank you so much for your kind words Elle.
I used to say all the time that my daughter was like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde…somewhat like your son…accept that she was at times the loving, happy, giving daughter I knew and loved and then others she was the lying, thieving, conniving, immoral, drug addict…I knew there was a battle within her to be what I wanted her to be, but the pull of evil was strong and she was not…eventually she hit rock bottom and lost everything…her freedom, her home, her husband, her children and she cried out to God…He was right there to lift her out of the mess…but she went right back to it…until she went back to jail a second time…and found out she was pregnant…somewhere she found the strength to get off meth and stay off..she just last wk celebrated one yr sober.
I too struggled and still struggle with addiction. Luckily I put down drugs and al cohos at the age of 32. I have 34 years living a clean and sober life. But I too struggled with racing thoughts and mercurial moods. 21 years into my recovery I was losing another job due to personality factors. So I went into rehab sober. They had a dual diagnosis program and they began to medicate me for my depression which had plagued me since childhood. Six months into the treatment with antidepressants the racing thoughts started up with a vengeance! I went to my doctor the very next day and asked Could this depression I have suffered with all these years have been masking some other disorder? The therapist showed me a video with some big name Hollywood Stars who have suffered with my disorder. It’s called Bipolar type 2 and it manifests more as depression, until the manic cycle hits. The addiction Psychitrist informed me that twenty years ago when I had first gotten sober all they knew was “ put the plug in the jug and don’t take any mind altering substances” Thank God I listened to them and hung in with the program to live to get 21 years sober and still recognize I needed more help! I took the medication that was recommended and have had improvement steadily for 13 years. The addiction psychiatrist informed me that since I got sober research has shown that 40 to 60 percent of alcoholics and drug addicts have an underlying mental illness that they are seeking to self medicate with drugs and or alcohol! Wow! I knew they said sobriety was like peeling the layers of an onion, you peel away some and then you cry… I am so grateful to AA Al Anon and O A for being there for me all these years through thick and thin!
Thank you for being transparent with your grief and all of the other emotions you are feeling over your son’s passing. I have read all of your posts since my 19 year old son was tragically taken February 26th of this year (2017). I had noticed the fact that you had never mentioned how Aaron had passed away and wanted to ask, as we all grieve over the way in which our children left us and it is always so hard to talk about. My son was diagnosed at an early age with ADHD. His case was so extreme I had to homeschool him (happily) because his behavior was “disruptive” at public school. The most painful thing I had to do was see a doctor about getting him on those meds. I carried feelings of guilt and failure for years about that decision, keeping it a secret from family and friends. Jacob too hated the meds…he said the same thing as Aaron…didn’t like the way they made him feel :(. In his mid-teens, Jacob made the decision to stop taking them, but then turned to other drugs to self-medicate. It started with marijuana (which seems harmless now) and ended with him becoming an intravenous user of Methamphetamine. He used Heroin at times too and even combined the drugs, but his drug of choice was Meth. It changed him so much…became someone I did not know. He spend 8 months in a juvenile rehab center, We had such high hopes it would help him. But within weeks of returning, he was back into that life, worse than ever. It was so painful and I laid awake every night wondering if I was going to get “that call”. I even became someone I did not know….stalking him and his friends, driving around in the middle of the night looking for him.
In early October of 2016, after finally making the decision to “let go and let God”, I got a call from my son asking if he could come home. We were leery at first, thinking he would steal or use us in other ways to get the drugs. When we asked him his plans, he said “I heard God tell me I needed to go home or I would die out here”. My mother’s heart was so thankful he responded to that. For the next five months, we helped him through the detox and getting back on his feet. He attended church with us, made amends to those he had wronged and made a complete turn around in his life, even planning on started aircraft mechanics school the following summer. Our family seemed complete and healthy again,….I let my guard down and was no longer a frantic mother. On February 26th he went snowmobiling with friends and had an un-explainable tragic accident that took him from us. We were in shock and disbelief. Why this way, why now? I was angry at God, He had told him to come home! The medical examiners report stated that Jacob had no drugs in his system at the time of his death, for which I was greatly relieved, but it doesn’t take away my past, present and future pain of a promising life cut short. I reached out to his friends who he used drugs with and asked forgiveness for my crazy behavior. Most of them have used Jacob’s walk as a reason to get help for their addictions. That’s the only thing I have left is to keep my son’s memory alive as someone who didn’t ever want to be considered an “addict”, but wanted those who struggled to be looked upon with compassion and mercy. My heart is with you my sister….our lives are changed forever. Love and virtual hugs to you ❤ Dawn Harris, Wasilla, Alaska
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Dawn…your story sounds so very familiar. We have walked almost the same exact journey. I am so sorry that your son was taken from you in such a tragic way. I completely understand the anger with God. I’m still working through that….just when I think I’ve overcome it…it hits me again. It doesn’t matter how our children leave this world….when they pass away…we lose so much. Like you said we lose their present and their future….and it doesn’t take away our pain…no matter how they pass. That pain is the deepest pain I have ever felt in my life. Thank you for your compassion and empathy….my hear is with you as well. And you are right….we are sisters in this journey.
Carmen Maples – Tennessee
Amazing courage… fantastically, honest, humbling piece.
I have been fortunate that my children were not lost to this horrible evil. It does not mean I have not been affected. During my girl’s teenage years it was literally a nail biting daily fear. They dabbled in some serious drugs. One did try heroin apparently but never picked it up again. Nothing I said or could have done would have changed their decisions. I tried to teach them the dangers of drugs and addiction when they were kids since their father is an alcoholic and was also a sometime user of cocaine and acid. I tried to live an exemplary life as a single mother to be an example. I was so naive. My choices will never be there’s and my words and fears fell on deaf ears. I’ve learned it is all a crap shoot.
I took in one of my daughter’s young friends 5 years ago who had been turned onto heroin by his aunt at age 11 and was now, at age 17, trying to get his life together. I thought my love and nurturing would get him through and I truly believed it was a choice that he would make to stay clean for me. It was 4 years of betrayal, lies, disgust, and then finally, understanding. It rarely has anything to do with ill parenting or lack of love as I have learned that this horrible, evil drug crosses all lines – race, creed, color, financial status – anyone can fall prey. It was a rude awakening for me, who was, at one time, more ignorant than most about drugs. I was high and mighty on my proverbial white horse and the Lord saw fit to enlighten me. The 4 years of raw, unadulterated emotional mountains brought me to a better understanding and an unfortunate knowledge surrounding many drugs. I immersed my emotional and mental self to the point of obsession, blaming myself, feeling angry at this incredible boy/ man for his seeming choices to deliberately betray me. He is the son of my heart and I was a wreck and heartbroken.
He tried to commit suicide 7 times. 3 times declared dead. The pain is like nothing explanatory in words.
He is currently clean (from heroin) 10 months but every minute of every day is his struggle.
This awful drug called heroin stripped away his dreams, his goals, his abilities, and of course, his health. I felt helpless watching this beautiful blue eyed, brilliant boy disappear, being replaced with a manic, vacant shell who no longer wanted to live despite my pleas and prayers.
He is currently living out on his own but this ‘ride ‘ never ends for the loved ones (and of course, himself) who dread that phone call.
My heart goes out to all the courageous loved ones who’ve experienced this loss; who persevere moment to moment in dazed disbelief and grief insurmountable and unexplainable, who still manage to get up, get dressed, and stumble through their days, wondering how life goes on for so many when yours has just stopped. EVERYTHING is different. EVERYTHING is affected.
I apologize to all those I judged so ignorantly, so vehemently, so stupidly all those years ago and I pray the comfort of the LORD will wrap It’s arms around you to sustain you in those moments you can’t take another second. Peace to all.
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Angela…I appreciate your support and all of your kind words. I was so worried about people understanding, but I have received tremendous support. Addiction is a horrible disease and it steals our loved ones from our families. I’ll be thinking of you in your current situation. Thank you again!