MaryBeth Cichocki’s son, Matt, died of a drug overdose. She is determined to do whatever she can to help another child, another parent, another family, which includes working to extend insurance coverage for 90 days in residential treatment/rehab (vs the current 28 days) and to promote and support efforts to regulate sober living homes in Florida. She also writes a blog, MothersHeartbreak.com, to help others whose child has a drug use problem and welcomes your emails: firstname.lastname@example.org, and phone calls: 302-561-4619.
And now for MaryBeth Chichocki’s guest post…
Coping: A Mother’s Point of View
Everyday across this country there a thousands of mothers like me trying to pick up the pieces of our shattered world. The fallout from addiction they call it. Our children taken from our lives by their demons. Heroin, Percocet, Xanax, Cocaine became the love of their lives and all that mattered. No amount of love, tough or otherwise, could have saved our kids, we know this. Yet, we continue to beat ourselves up with the whys and what ifs. I rethink every decision ever made during my son’s battle. I am an educated woman. A nurse who became more educated by attending conferences and reading everything I could get my hands on about addiction. Still my addict son stayed in his world of chaos, deception and drugs until those demons took their final toll on his body and mind and ended his life.
So now I am left behind. There really are no words to describe the toll addiction takes on the non-addict. The fixer, like me. I’m a nurse. I fix people for a living. I, like so many other mothers, place the blame on myself. What did I do wrong? Why did my child become an addict when everyone else’s child is living a productive life? These questions have no answers. At least none that can ease the pain that fills my heart and mind everyday as I try to figure out a way to cope with this ending I never imagined. I’ve read that childhood trauma can lead to addiction. Matt’s father left when he was 5. I often wonder if that caused him to choose a world where pills could make you forget pain. I have two sons. The other married with a child spent ten years serving our country. Two different boys raised by the same mother puts a hole in that theory for me. In my wildest dreams I never thought my son would die from an overdose. Every admission to a rehab was filled with such hope. He believed just like I did that we would beat this demon back to the hell it came from and become that happy family once again. Every relapse was a break in my facade that life would get better. But denial kicked in and life returned to the chaos we knew as normal.
Now he is gone and I’m told I have to accept and go on. How does a mother learn to accept the death of her youngest child? There are no magic pills that will make my shattered heart whole again. Believe me the medical professionals have tried to shove pills down my throat. I’ve been given Xanax, my son’s favorite go to pill when the going got tough. I’ve thought about taking them, then my little voice of reason says no way. They are just a mask. Stay away. I’ve been told I’m depressed and need once again to take those magic pills to make it all go away. Really, we have become a pill pushing society. No one wants to feel pain. Some doctors run clinics just for the purpose of keeping people pain free. They have a license to create addicts. Matt was one of their victims. I felt the pain of giving him life, and I need to feel this pain of losing his life. This pain is part of who I’ve become and there is no covering it up.
We aren’t allowed to be in mourning. People aren’t comfortable when you cry in their presence. No one wants to hear your story, even though saying it out loud makes you feel like maybe you did do everything in your power to help your addict. Reliving the horror is a way of coping, knowing you went through such a hell and are still breathing is a powerful thing for us Moms. Society wants you to get over it. Hey, my son is dead. I’m allowed to be sad. It’s a way to cope. Some days are better than others. Some days I can get through the day without too many Matt Moments, where a memory hits hard and the tears start. People don’t want to hear about your dead son. They are afraid the pain you live with will invade their world and they will become you. Like addiction is catchy and you are the carrier. I don’t expect anyone to fix me. I know there is nothing anyone can say to make this better. Everyday is a challenge.
I know people mean well but there are days when someone will call and offer advise. Now I haven’t heard from or seen some people for months but they are just so full of great suggestions. Really, your children are alive, you have no clue. Why can’t people just call without an agenda to make me better? Just say you care, you’re thinking of me. That’s what I need. Not the you should be…..that comes out of their mouths. Yes, your right, I should be working, eating more, having fun. My mind turns ugly as I think you have no clue of the struggle it is to cope with my reality. My son should be alive.
Throughout my journey I have found many blessings. There are mothers like me who sadly get it. We have a support system that not one of us signed up for, but we are joined together by grief. These strong women who started the journey before me have listened while I screamed, cried and told the same story over and over. They do not judge or tell me what I should be doing. They listen, they shed their tears with mine. We have a bond that will never fade. We have experienced the heart breaking, life shattering death of a child. I never knew these women existed. They knew nothing about me. Yet I feel a closeness to them I can’t explain. I want to comfort them when they cry out on the birthdays that have ceased to be. When they have the gut punches that only profound grief can bring. When holidays come and break our hearts again. Together we hold each other up.
This journey has shown me who my true friends are. The women who admit they can’t imagine my pain, but aren’t afraid to hold me when I cry and just show up on rough days.
My husband. I believe God put him in my life knowing Matt would be leaving me. He is my rock. I was a smart girl. A critical care nurse who made great money. We had a great life. No money worries for us. Today I have no job, my smart girl brain lost in this world of grief. No worries he tells me. You take care of you.
Mike, my firstborn. Matt’s big brother. The inseparable boys until the demon came between them. Always there when I need him. We cry together, his only sibling gone. He shares my grief. He reassures me when the guilt seeps into my brain and I second guess every decision made during Matt’s addiction.. He is my voice of reason. He lived the nightmare of his brothers addiction. He gets it.
Comfort comes in all shapes and sizes of furry bodies and paws. My pups all rescued have returned the favor and rescue me everyday. No judgement when the tears are falling just four pairs of knowing eyes all running to cuddle. Sensing my pain and instinctively knowing how to comfort. We take long walks, they give me a purpose. The best therapists have fur and four legs. I have recommended to Moms who have no one left to find a rescue and save a life. Many have responded sending pictures of their new furry kids. Saving lives in a different way. It’s how I cope.
Writing. Before Matt’s death I couldn’t write to save my life. Term papers were my only experience. Now I sit and the words come as the story unfolds in my brain. I feel Matt next to me as I close my eyes and remember. Writing has become cathartic. My personal therapy. Writing it down makes it real. Sharing my story and having other mothers respond so positively assures me I am not alone on this journey. Moms who have lost their addict identify with my words and moms who’s addicts still struggle tell me they are learning from my experience. Helping others through my pain comforts me. This is how I cope. From God’s mouth to my ears is my new motto. I ask for help in telling my story, in choosing my words to touch hearts and minds.
The gift of time. I never realized just how much I was missing. My world was the hit the ground running one. Out of bed, scrubs on, dogs out and fed. Twelve hour shifts of stressful NICU life saving babies and calming parents. Day after day I ran the race. When I wasn’t saving babies I was saving Matt. Never thinking about my needs. It’s just who I was and how I lived. Now, my life has done an about face. My son and my career both gone in the blink of an eye. Calm, quiet days now greet me. I am learning to stop and smell those roses. I was stressed out of my mind and never realized just how out of control my life had become. I worried about Matt, his addiction became mine. Now I sit and breathe. I hear the birds and spend time in my garden looking at the beauty I planted but never took the time to enjoy. I take time to talk to God. Not just a quick prayer when I could fit it in, but real conversations about Matt and why our journey ended this way. I pray for acceptance, for guidance. I pray that when I’m ready I will find a new path where once again I will be helping.
Coping with this new life is as individual as a fingerprint. Everyday is a painful reminder of loss. I will never be the same woman I was before my son lost his battle. Life is different. Nothing is taken for-granted. Moments of joy are found in unexpected places. Life goes on, one day at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time.