A mile in my shoes is nothing like a mile in your shoes. While there may be similarities in our miles, they are as different as they are similar. We all have different stories to tell…our lives have taken twists and turns that we never imagined were possible, and we have all experienced similar situations from our own, unique perspectives. I’ve often thought about Aaron’s mile. I’ve never walked a mile in the shoes of an addict, but I’ve watched my son walk that mile. His mile affected my family’s mile…and anyone who was close to him. I remember Aaron telling me so many aspects of his addiction and I just couldn’t understand why he just couldn’t quit. That was before I really understood the disease of addiction. I used to get so frustrated that he couldn’t muster enough will power to turn away from his struggle.
One thing I found hard to believe…Aaron said that when he took opioids, he felt alive and extremely focused. In fact, I remember one time in particular when Aaron had come home from school and was sitting on the couch getting his homework finished and was organizing his work. I was in complete shock. Aaron never cared for school…he was a very intelligent person, but he just never cared for school. So, to see him focused on getting some school work completed was somewhat odd…but I was happy to see that. Several months later, when he was in rehab, he told me that on that day, he was high on pain pills. I was in shock. Most of us think that pain killers knock you out and make you like a zombie, but for some it does quite the opposite. He also said that when he had taken some pills before work, he could do his job very well. And he often got praised for his performance, which further reinforced the notion that what he was doing was a good thing for him. How tragic that seems to me.
I don’t think Aaron ever intended to become addicted, I mean…like I said before, no one’s child says that they want to grow up and be a drug addict. I think he found something that helped him self-medicate and to focus his thoughts so that he could be productive. From that simple act, he slowly grew to be fully addicted to synthetic opioids. No, he wasn’t someone who got his pills from an injury…unfortunately they were readily available to purchase at his high school. He had no idea at the time he was in high school that it would someday overtake his life. He had no idea that he would some day be willing to do whatever it took to get what he needed to just make it through the day.
I remember Aaron talking about the withdrawals from opioid addiction, and he talked about how awful it was…”dope sick” was what he always called it. Those withdrawals were the catalyst to continue using. He talked about how he felt sick…almost like he had the flu. He talked of his stomach and how it hurt and convulsed during withdrawals and how his muscles ached. According to The American Addiction Center, withdrawals from synthetic opioids begins 8-12 hours after the last high. After 12 hours the withdrawals peak between 12 and 48 hours and typically lasts between 5-10 days (The American Addiction Center). In addition to those flu like symptoms, the advanced addict experiences nausea, vomiting, chills, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, agitation, fever, hypertension, racing heart, dilated pupils, depression, and drug cravings (The American Addiction Center). For him, and all of the others that suffer with addiction, it’s a constant dance between using and not using. The addict within them searches to constantly feed the beast of addiction….and that is constant. I can remember seeing Aaron experience these symptoms many times, but at the time, I didn’t know that it was withdrawal symptoms.
Aaron, several times, talked about how he hated his life the way it was..constantly fighting the cravings for a drug that seemed to entrap him in its firm grasp. He was tired of fighting the battle every single day. No one ever wants to be in that position…whatever others might think about our loved ones and the judgment they place on them because of the continual “choice” to use….I have lived watching a loved one experience withdrawal. And it is a horrible thing to watch. You watch your loved one vow to stop…that this is the last time they’ll use….you see the sincerity in their eyes and their voice. You KNOW that they want to quit. But then, the demon returns….the cravings are relentless and they give in. After they give in…you can see the disgust they carry for themselves because they gave into the demon. It’s a viscous cycle that steals our loved ones from us. It is a horrible thing to watch and I know it’s even more horrible to experience it firsthand.
I never walked a mile in Aaron’s shoes…but I walked that mile beside him….hurting with him, worrying about his safety, and watching how this disease was affecting our family. It’s a mile that I hate to see any family travel…but there are so many families walking the same mile my family has walked. We understand what their family has experienced…we get it. People outside of our circle just don’t get it and often judge our loved one and us, because surely there was “something more we could have done” or “the parents didn’t raise them well…if they had, this wouldn’t have happened”. For those who make those statements and any other statements of judgment….it’s best to hold you tongue…because addiction can strike anyone…no matter their social status, their race, their age, or their gender. Addiction crosses all social lines…affecting the wealthy and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, and the average everyday person….ones you would never “categorize” as and addict.
So, before you judge my son….or any other parent who has lost a child to addiction..it would be best for you to step back and pick the mote out of your own eye. I will never be ashamed of my son and his struggle. If anything, I am so proud of the fight he put up…the days that he endured that were almost unbearable. Just because he died from a drug overdose doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to be honored. He was one of the most caring people on this earth…so empathetic…so willing to love…so willing to give…so willing to love the outcast. He was a good person and so were the sons and daughters of other families who have lost their loved ones to addiction.
One last thing…before you judge any addict or their family….remember…in order to understand their experience, you would have to walk a mile in their shoes.