"There is no instruction manual for mothers of addicts," writes MaryBeth. Her letter is heartbreaking. I told her I'd post it here, so others can respond. - David Sheff
"We have all the information about what to expect when you are expecting and of course there is always the go to book by Dr. Spock. There are books written by parents living the nightmare that addiction brings along for the ride. As Matt's mom I tried to educate myself on addiction. An Addict in the family, Stay Close, Beautiful Boy all became my bibles. My go to reference books that made me feel like I wasn't crazy or a horrible mom. The only problem with those books is their addict survived. My son did not.
"Matt's addiction became my addiction. I was addicted to saving him. Yes, I know, I've heard it all. Only the addict can save himself. Unfortunately, I saved people for a living so I foolishly let my self think that I had the power to cure Matt's addiction. To me, he wasn't an addict. Matt just had a problem. He had scripts for the Percocet and Xanax from what I believed to be a pain management clinic that cared about Matt's well being. Denial helped me survive those years we battled his addiction together. There were times I felt like I was strapped to a roller coaster blindfolded. Never knowing or truly seeing what was coming next.
"I did't talk about Matt's addiction at work. Addiction is a dirty word. Parents are afraid it's catchy and if they allow themselves to think even for a minute this nightmare could invade their perfect family they run and shut you out. You are the mother of an addict, their dirt is now yours. I look back now and realize how blind I truly was. I wanted to believe the lies. I'm just tired. Yes, I went for the interview. No, mom I'm not abusing my drugs. Matt lived with me the last seven years of his too short life. We battled many days. Screaming at each other after me coming home from a 12 hour shift to find him slumped over on the couch with white residue on his nose, his list of chores undone. Still I denied he was that addict.
"Being a nurse I had contacts in the treatment world and believe me I exhausted them. There wasn't a rehab in Delaware that I haven't visited with Matt in tow. Getting him admitted and finally being able to breath even just for 28 days felt like the weight of the world left my heart. Knowing he was safe gave me the false security that my son would also be one of the survivors. Matt's coming home was always a mixed bag of emotions. Yes, I was happy to see him but at the same time I was scared to death.
"I had to keep a roof over our heads and that meant Matt was once again afforded the freedom to live in his world of euphoria. When I had exhausted the rehabs in Delaware, we went to Maryland then Pennsylvania. Through this entire 7 year journey I never thought he would overdose. Denial became my very dear friend. "Tough love didn't work for us either. I finally told him he had to go after he stole from me and then called the police on me for hiding his drugs. You see, I was tired of the rehab stuff and was going to detox him myself at home. He left and I cried and constantly worried. I let him come home to shower and eat, I felt like a piece of dirt. "Me living in a great house and Matt sleeping on whatever couch he could find for the night. Tough love just about did me in so Matt came home and the cycle started all over again. I became the mom police, checking his phone and emails. Searching through his room and things.
"My friends, tired of the same Matt stories started to avoid me. My life became a place I didn't want to be anymore and I would dream of selling everything and running away, but I had to save Matt. Our last Thanksgiving together was spent at Rockford, a mental health facility. We were given one hour. Knowing what I know now I would have signed him out and run like the wind. My son eating with strangers and me crying my heart out as I left him behind. The last time I saw Matt he was in Bowling Green, a rehab in Pennsylvania. He ended up there after another screaming match with me coming home and him stoned again. I told him it was rehab or the streets. I drove him there on a Monday night and held my breath in the waiting room as the staff did their assessment to decide if he would be admitted.
I praised God all the way home in joy that maybe this would be the magic time as all the books tell you, don't give up one time he will get it. I fooled myself into thinking we finally did it. Matt was saved. The last time I saw Matt was a beautiful day in May, so full of promise. Matt looked great, speech and eyes clear. He told me he was so happy to get the monkey off his back and was ready to start his new life at a sober living house in BocaRaton, Florida. The Boca House was recommended by Matt's counselor and was actually a place mentioned in one of the books I'd read. If only I had known what Matt was heading into I never would have bought that ticket.
He left for Florida on June the 2nd. We spoke twice a day. He told me he felt blessed to be so close to the beach. You see, we are beach people, me and Matt. I felt good knowing he was on board for his recovery and breathed a sigh of relief. We did it. I so foolishly believed that 28 days in rehab had prepared Matt to face the world again. A world where Mom wasn't there to pick up the pieces and get him to safety. I was flying to Boca on February 10th to spend the week with Matt. To celebrate his new life and meet his boss, as Matt finally found employment. How foolish I was. With a job came a paycheck. Drugs cost money and Matt had money and no mom on 24/7 watch. Matt overdosed on January 3rd and my life stopped. I live in a world of disbelief. How did this happen. Every time we spoke he sounded normal, my ears, trained to pick up the changes in speech failed me. We spoke at 6:23 p.m. on Friday night. He died 5 a.m on Saturday morning. My last words to him were I love you Matt, stay safe. I love you mom, I'll call you tomorrow. That call never came.
"Now I live in a state of profound grief. I question everything I did during his addiction. Guilt has become my constant friend. I replay the last 7 years and try to figure it out. What did I miss, what could I have done differently. When Matt's life ended a part of mine did too. I spent so much energy on saving him that I am lost. I walk around looking at his pictures, always smiling, no hint of the demons that controlled and finally took his life. I used to think I was a smart girl, a critical care nurse who saved other mother's children but could not save her own. : (
This was my response:
Reading your story was like reading my current situation. Everything you said is currently playing out in my life. My son is still alive and fighting. However I feel like I’m losing this battle. He just got out of detox and he is still haunted by the devil. I too am the mom police, investigating everything he does and says. I TOO am addicted to my son’s addiction. How do you turn it off? I can’t, I love him! I want so badly to save my son too… but the demon that has him won’t let him go. I find myself taking deep long breaths every time I think of him. My heart is broken and in disbelieve that this is our life. No one tells you about these things when you have a baby. No one tells you how this could happen without warning.
We are currently in our 7th year of chaos and the future looks bleak. I wish there was a magical cure, but there isn’t and society doesn’t care. Don’t beat yourself up! That’s what they all say, but we still do; don’t we? Why? Because they are our children. I don’t talk to many people anymore about my son because they all think they have the answers which is abandon him or they pretend to listen or they just slowly distance themselves from me. So I just exist, trying to get through each day. I’ve come to the realization that my son my not make it. He doesn’t want this life but he’s doesn’t know how to overcome his addiction. It’s too powerful to even try and comprehend.
My heart aches for you. There is nothing I can say to ease your pain. But just know you are not alone. There are so many mothers out there just like us, crying in silence. - Ana (Mom of Al)