Note: I wrote this post weeks ago, but keep procrastinating hitting send, because there is always that stigma to admitting your family has a problem. Why would I share this? Why would I disgrace my mother’s memory? To those, I say, this isn’t me disgracing my mother. It’s me loving my mother as the person she was—a wonderful human who struggled with addiction.
Few people care about “addicts” until they know one. Until they have a personal connection, an “addict” is nothing more than a drain on the system. I know very nice, otherwise very thoughtful people who barely bat an eye at saying we shouldn’t revive people who overdose. Their death saves resources.
When I hear things like that, I cringe. I know only too well that addiction can happen to anyone and just because someone has an addiction doesn’t mean you stop loving them. Or fighting for them. Get angry? Yes. Worried? Absolutely. Heart-broken? Many times.
But you never stop loving them. Their pain becomes your journey.
Years ago, my family had a bad run of luck. Within a few months, from March to August, both my dad and my brother were both diagnosed with terminal cancers. My dad’s was slow-growing; my brother’s a rapid spreader with no known treatment. One died, then the other.
While our hearts were breaking, no one noticed that my mom was taking far too many pain killers. She was a seventy-year-old woman whose medical history read like a novel, so getting a script from a doctor wasn’t difficult. No doubt her pain was legit, but it was compounded by stress and the natural desire to make this harsh reality go away.
Not one doctor suggested grief counseling or a support group. The darker her life got, the more she hurt and the more pain killers were prescribed. Pills masked the sharpest of the pain, temporarily and at a very high cost. I could talk to my mom on the phone for an hour, call back five minutes later and she’d forget she’d just talked to me.
She was elderly. People assumed it was dementia, but it wasn’t. It was the Vacadin from primary care. Oxycontin from orthopedic care. Klonopin from the neurologist. It was a poisonous cocktail. It took years of battles with plenty of yelling and tears, but finally she admitted the pills were a problem and would get help.
Years later, long after my dad and brother died, Mom’s health was winding down and she asked me if I was ashamed of her for what she’d put our family through. My answer was and still is, an emphatic no. My mother was a hero. She was a professional-life-saver all of her adult life. She was a rescue diver, a first-responder, and an EMT instructor. People mattered to my mom.
That’s why I wrote this. If one life could be saved by admitting that a seventy-year-old grandma whose favorite hobby was spoiling her grandkids could become addicted, then anyone can. If you or someone you know is struggling, call (844) 435•7498. Visit the Help4WV website. Don’t let shame keep you or someone you love from getting help.
Elizabeth Seckman is the Wetzel County Family Resource Network Director.