My dear, dear Opioid Addict – I do you love you so. From the minute I first met you over 24 years ago, I vowed to protect you from pain and misery. Recently though, in an effort to keep that vow, I now know, I have perpetuated your misery and suffering. I am an enabler.
And I am so, so sorry!
Looking back, over these last 10 months, picking apart each event, it all seems so clear – now. But isn’t that the case for most unexpected tragedies and tribulations – when you are in the midst of it all, the clues that seem so apparent, were just swirling in the vortex, like debris picked up by a tornado.
At first, when you returned home, from your job up north, we thought you were tired, we thought you had the flu. You were pale and gaunt, and looked so different from the day you left. When we stood in the driveway, the day of your departure, you were a picture of health, standing tall, full of vigor, happy to be embarking on a new adventure. Upon your return, the life had gone from your eyes, the energy from your body – as though the Dementors from Harry Potter had drained your very life force.
We talked in whispered conversations about depression – maybe that was it. We agreed you would snap out of it, turn around and return to your bodybuilding, your healthy lifestyle, you would smile, and say stupid things, make silly jokes, spend time with your friends. But none of that happened. You just pulled further into yourself. You wern’t turning around at all, you were slipping further and further away.
And then COVID – 19 reared it’s ugly head, and the world came to a screeching halt.
I tried to talk to you, as we had always done. I didn’t think we had secrets. You said you were depressed becaue of the pandemic, becaue you had no money, because the gym was closed. I believed you. I gave you money, for gas, for groceries, for little things you needed here and there. And with the infusion of cash, you perked up, and we all sighed a collective sigh of relief – perhaps things were improving. But the money I transferred into your account would be pulled out at the ATM, within the hour. I asked you about that – I said why aren’t you using your debit card, did you lose it? And you said no – I just pull it out because I have so many subscriptions to games and apps, I don’t want the money to be gone, I am just using cash. I believed you – but in the back of my mind – things weren’t adding up. My mother’s intuition shouted – things are bad, but my mind ignored those proclamations.
I don’t know what was more shocking and heartbreaking through all of this – when I first realized you were blatantly lying to me, to all of us – or your rapid personal and physical deterioration. Of course, it all adds up now.
There was the sudden change in personal hygiene. The laying around for hours, watching anime, under blankets, and dressed in heavy sweatshirts and pants. The time you vomited in the driveway and just left it there to bake in the California summer sun. The time a young man, who I had never met before (and I thought I knew all of your friends) came to our front door, asking for you. I asked you who he was, and you said he was old friend. I later learned, he was your drug dealer – I hated him, with every fiber in my body.
Or the time I got up to go to work, and you were up, bouncing around, completely manic. I smelled alcohol on your breath at 5 in the morning. You disappeared after that, and I realized you had driven off. In a panic, I called you, you never answered. I waited, drinking my coffee, chewing on my thumb nail – preparing myself for a call, the call to inform me you had been in accident, injured yourself, or worse – injured someone else. And while waiting, I discovered a text from you, sent at 3:00 in the morning, with a video – showing a huge gash in your hood. In the video, you were looking wide-eyed, horrified at this gash. You said some guys had done this to your truck. But it wasn’t some guys, it was you.
I waited with a heavy heart, for you to return from your early morning foray. About 20 minutes later, you came through the door, paler than ever, with terror in your eyes. You had been in an accident, a little fender-bender in the Mcdonalds drive through – and driven off because you were scared. The man had your license plate number, and reported it to the police. They arrived 20 minutes later. We stood in the driveway, at 6 o’clock in the morning, talking with the police, I in my bathrobe, and you with tears in your eyes. The policeman were young men, both very pleasant, they knew you were impaired – I thought it was just a lack of sleep. But they didn’t issue a citation, they only warned you – you needed help. And I realized at that point you were in a terrible, terrible predicament, and we were too.
You complained of severe insomnia, and anxiety. Your bowels were a mess. I sent you to the doctor, several times. She prescribed medications – Trazadone, Remeron, and other medications I had never heard of. None of them helped.
It was your brother that finally spoke up. He was tired of the whispered conversations in the laundry room, on the patio. And like a bull in a china shop, he called you up, and accused you of being a drug addict, and you needed to get “your shit together” because you were bleeding the family dry, emotionally and financially. I felt he was being too harsh, he said I coddled you. And for a week or two – things seemed to better. You had more energy, you were eating a bit. We gave you money to go out to lunch with your girlfriend, for groceries for her house – you said she didn’t eat that much and it wasn’t right for her to pay for your groceries. I gave you money to help purchase a TV for her new apartment – because watching shows on her computer was annoying. I believed you over and over. None of it was true.
But after a month or two, of you vomiting, sneaking your Dad’s vodka, hiding the tell-tale glasses in your closet and your room, of staggering down the hall in the middle of the day – falling asleep on the sofa while eating cereal, and letting it spill between the cushions – we could no longer ignore the fact we had a huge and very serious issue.
I called a rehab facility in town, after I discovered they accepted our health insurance, and spoke with the owner. He was a former heroin addict. I told him our story. And he said – your son is an opioid addict. And I remember I gasped, like someone had punched me in the stomach – I will never forget that sound. He knew all the tricks – he had done the same things to his Mom. He said I was an enabler, and I felt like I had been slapped across the face. He said go get a drug test – one that includes a test for Fentanyl – and confront your son. He told me to make you take the drug test, and if it came back positive, I was to call his rehab facility and he would have a bed ready for you in his detox unit.
Opioid addict, rehab, detox unit – your son has a drug addiction and will not live to see 30, all I could think – was how have we arrived here, listening to these words. He told me – there are no old drug addicts these days, because the pills on the streets are all laced with Heroin and Fentanyl, and an accidental overdose because of these additives, is the cause of today’s addicts’ demise. After ending the conversation, I cried and cried and cried. I knew it was bad, but I had convinced myself it was manageable. But hearing these words, in reference to you – each word was like a stab in my heart. Opioid addict – stab, detox unit – stab, rehab facility – stab, overdose – stab, stab and stab.
I relayed everything the rehab facility owner and I had discussed to your Dad. I could see him sinking further and further into the patio chair, deflated, not believing these words. And when we were able to summon the energy, we went searching for a drug test. We went to Rite-Aid, to CVS, to Walgreens – all the shelves which held the home drug tests were empty – except for one. It occured to us, we weren’t alone out there.
I waited for you to come home with trepidation in my heart. And when you did – I sat you down, at the patio table, and said I had spoken to a drug rehab specialist, and from what I had gathered, what we, as a family had seen over the last 8 months, was you have a serious drug addiction. I tried so hard to be strong, to keep back that ache welling up in my throat, and keep the tears at bay as I uttered those words. You sat back in your chair, as if someone had sucker-punched you and denied it. You said – why does everyone think I am a drug addict, and I said, how could we not think that. I said, you need to take a drug test, and if it is negative, we will never say another word, but if it is positive – we need to take action.
And for the first time in months, the truth came rolling out, hesitantly at first, and then in a torrent. You said – you don’t need to test me, I will tell you everything I take. I was relieved you were finally being honest with me, but truly horrified by the words that followed. You told me, while at your new job, the pressure to perform had been so overwhelming, you purchased Adderall to keep going, to be more productive, to work longer. For two months, you took these pills, every single day. But then you began to feel bad, when you didn’t take them. Your performance was slipping, you couldn’t focus – unless you took the pills. And after some research, you discovered these pills you had bought from the dealer off the streets – were laced with Fentanyl and Heroin, and you realized you were an addict. To counteract the horrendous withdrawal symptoms and after some more research, you discovered that Percocet and Oxycontin would minimize the symptoms – make you feel normal and bring you back to baseline. And that was what you had been doing all of these months. Trying to get back to your baseline, trying not to feel like death. And when you couldn’t find the pills, you drank, but that was like putting a little, tiny bandaid, on a huge gaping laceration. Nothing helped the anxiety, the nervousness, the insomnia. Nothing but the Percocets, and the Oxycontin. But you said you were taking only pharmaceutical grade pills, nothing that came off of the streets, you said you were being careful.
I told you I had spoken with the owner of a drug addiction facility in town, and the recommendation was we send you to rehab. You cried when I said that. I cried when you cried. You swore you would do better, you could fight this yourself and I said – okay. I was so wrong. I was so naive.
I called the owner of the rehab facility and told him about our conversation. He said – he can’t do it by himself – the withdrawal symptoms are so painful, so horrible – the sweating, the nausea, the chills, the muscle and bone pain – a drug addict will do anything to not experience the withdrawal, to not feel like that. I said, we will see how things go, maybe he can kick this. He said – I will be hearing from you in a couple of weeks, because there is no way for him to get better by himself. I felt like he was being a naysayer. But again – I was so terribly wrong.
You seemed like you were doing better after our conversation. But you weren’t doing better at all, you were just more accomplished at hiding what you were doing. It wasn’t until your Dad, who has recently retired, and stays home all day – mentioned things were definitely getting worse – you were getting worse – that we realized something had to be done quickly. You were wearing sweats, while it was over 100 degrees outside, you were laying around, watching Anime all day. I was giving you money, for gas, for groceries, and it turned out your Dad was also giving you money for gas and groceries. When you seemed perkier, more like yourself, it wasn’t because you were improving, it was because you had managed to get some more pills, enough to keep the snarling hounds of withdrawal away from your door.
And so while you were out, my Dad and I had a discussion. Your brother and hid girlfriend were there, and your best friend, also happened to be visiting. They had all noticed things weren’t getting any better. Your brother said you were never going to get better if we kept giving you money, as if this was all our fault. Your friend said everyone in your circle of acquaintances had noticed how withdrawn you were, how thin you were, and how irascible you had become. They all knew you had a drug addiction. And I cried out, why didn’t you say something. Was it some sort of millenial code of honor, some code of silence, to watch your friend slip away, to not snitch them out to their parents, to save them. He said – we thought you knew. And I said, what kind of parents do you thihk we are, to knowingly let our son just slip away?
And when all of the fingerpointing had died down – we came up with a plan. We would have your girlfriend bring you home, we would all be there, and we would get to the bottom of this. You were going to go to rehab – one way or another.
I called the rehab facility owner. I could tell by his voice, he had been expecting my call. He said to be strong, but not confrontational. He said we should say you had to go to rehab, or else you were no longer allowed to live with us. I knew in my heart, I would never send you out on the streets, so this had to work, it absolutely had to.
We waited for you and your girlfriend to arrive. I paced, I folded laundry, your Dad played endless games of Candy Crush. We were all so nervous, not knowing what your reaction would be. Would you storm out of the house, would you accuse us of plotting against you, behind your back, involving your girlfriend?
It was your brother – he spoke first. He said – you have a problem, we have known that for a while. We know you are an addict. Those words – when they came out, just hung in the air. Drug addict, drug addict – those words, words that I thought would never be said in our house, had finally come out for everyone to hear. At first you looked horrified, hurt, you looked at me, pleading with your eyes, to make this stop – but we barreled on. I said – there is no denying this, it is not a secret – you need help, and you need it immediately.
And that is when you sunk further into the sofa, defeated, And you cried. The story came out, about the Adderall pills you had bought on the streets, that unbeknownst to you, were laced with Fentanyl and Heroin and in trying not to withdraw – you had turned to the Percocets, and the Oxycontin. And you were so sorry you had lied, and been so untruthful for so long. You had tried to get off this stuff by yourself, but had become so violently sick, you had no choice but to get money, get more Percocet – the Percocet made you feel somewhat normal, somewhat functional. But it was a merry-go-round from which you couldn’t escape. And you cried, and cried and cried. There was so much pain in that room, months and months of being controlled by a drug. Months and months of misery which had infiltrated our home and broken our family. You cried from despair, you cried from relief and you cried from remorse. And we cried right along with you – from guilt, from feeling so helpless and ignorant, and from the pain that whirled around the room.
You agreed to go to rehab. I contacted the rehab facility owner, he was awaiting my call. He asked how you were doing, I said you had been crying for about an hour, you couldn’t stop. He found you a bed in southern California. I took you to a detox center south of Los Angeles, we left at 5 in the morning after a sleepless night. The trip there was long, made longer by watching you begin to feel bad, about an hour outside of Los Angeles. The trip home, by myself was even longer, as I beat myself up over all the mistakes I had made over the last 8 months, about the fact you had suffered all of those months in silence and you hadn’t trusted us enough to help you.
I was angry about the lies initially, but have since realized it wasn’t you at all – it was the drug, it was trying to avoid the withdrawal symptoms, and feel normal. There was no pleasure derived from taking these pills, you were only trying to survive. I realize all of that now.
When I finally summoned enough energy to tackle the job of cleaning your room, while you were in rehab – I could feel the torment you had suffered, splatterd across the walls, folded up in the vomit laden blankets sitting in the bottom of your closet under a massive pile of dirty clothes. The pain you had suffered alone hung like a thick fog in the air of your bedroom. I found all of the empty glasses, stashed away in the back of your closet, sticky with the dried vodka you had drank. I scrubbed and scrubbed the walls, and washed everything over and over. And cried again and again – not only because I could feel the residual of your suffering, but because I now knew you had suffered alone, in the hours when everyone was sleeping – you were fighting this raging demon by yourself. And that broke my heart.
I am so sorry. Sorry that we didn’t help you sooner, sorry that you felt you couldn’t turn to us for help, sorry that I tried to brush this all away, pretend your drug addiction was not a problem.
With all my love,