My heart is in my throat, tears stream down my cheeks, hand softly placed on my chest as I sit with my emotions. Thoughts of my son play on the projector in my mind. I wish the love in my heart could reach him and he could take the strength I have to lift himself back up. I keep reaching out but my hand goes through him, he is a ghost of who he once was. He is slowly becoming someone else. I see glimpses of my boy but it’s not the boy I raised, the streets have changed him, drugs have rearranged him, making him believe the poison he ingests won’t hurt his brilliant mind. His struggle is shared by far too many. He looks numbed by the pain he must be feeling in his heart to walk down the path he is on. Something must be tormenting my beautiful boy deep inside to be lost, to want to dull the pain. His path is not a path anyone with a clear mind would choose. To the unafflicted mind, it makes no sense. They say he has a choice to live his life at risk. He is barely an adult and shouldn’t have to face this struggle, time and time again falling through the cracks of the medical system. This has taken him deeper into the darkness. Addiction is not a choice, it is a disease just as Cancer is, taking over our once healthy bodies and as Dementia takes over our once healthy minds.
My door bell rang, I knew it wasn’t my son because he usually incessantly presses the door bell until I holler, “I am coming”. Two Police Officers stand waiting, one on the landing a few feet away and the other at the patrol car. It felt as if everything was in slow motion as the Officer asked if I was the Mother of my Son. My heart raced as fear pumped through my veins. He was barely auditable and nothing made sense. In one motion he stepped inside my home and touched my arm gently. I was confused and stepped back, he continued to speak but by then my world was starting to spin out of control. No matter how hard I tried to understand I couldn’t. All I heard was “he didn’t make it”. I tried so hard to put the pieces of the puzzle together but nothing felt real. My brain couldn’t grasp what my ears were trying to decipher as I continued my descent. I tried to focus on the officers face as I spiralled downward, grabbing onto his arm to steady myself. I felt like I had been drugged. The sadness on his face overtook his stoic expression. His heart broke through his eyes as he spoke to me. I dropped to my knees as my body let out a cry I had never felt before. I felt the life being sucked out of me all in one breath, a force that emptied my lungs. He tried to break my fall but I went limp in a split second. I lost my conscious mind, my body went numb as I barely hung onto my soul. The pain was so strong I wanted to exit my life as I knew it in that moment. I collapsed to the floor.
I woke myself up startled, sweating profusely, breathing heavy, heart palpitating, crying out. The grief I felt was overwhelming. It took a few moments to realize I was in my own bed, it was a horrific nightmare. I started to sob in relief that my son still had hope. That deep dark place in the psyche where a Mother’s worst fear resides cannot be controlled when we close our eyes. For weeks I was afraid to fall sleep…
The purpose of my writing is to share my journey as I walk with and try to navigate his addiction, in hopes I can help someone on a similar path. Addiction and Mental Health are not unfamiliar, this trail has not just been blazed, it’s paved with a sidewalk. Men in hoods hide in the darkness waiting like the Grim Reaper around every corner. If we don’t start paying attention we will find ourselves too far down the road, with no way back. We need a lighthouse, a beacon of hope for those who are lost. They need help getting back to where they feel loved and supported no matter how lost they feel. We need to walk with them where they are at, and let them know it’s okay to not be okay.
There is a fork in the road. One path goes to treatment and recovery and the other leads to a dead end, literally. Unfortunately the path leading to government funded treatment has so many gaps it’s like navigating a maze blindfolded. It’s a race against time with the feeling of impending doom to get what is required put in place before your loved one can get the help they need. The help they courageously reached out for, finally. There is the option of private programs but they come at a hefty cost most families can’t afford. The exorbitant fee for this treatment still has no guarantee that your child will be able to navigate their addiction successfully after the 3 month program is complete, it’s simply not long enough. If you are willing to spend upward of $100,000 for a year, your child may have a fighting chance. The window of opportunity for a user to get help when they surrender to their addiction is tight. Addiction treatment is not mandatory (GAP in the system) even though addicts are not able to make informed decisions due to their disease. We need to be able to exercise our rights as parents to help our children when they can’t help themselves, regardless of their age. Our system requires the user to be ready and have a clear mind which is not reality.
The user needs to be go to detox for 10-14 days and can walk away when things get tough, and they will, lots do and the cycle repeats itself. Imagine your worst flu with the intense craving of wanting to ingest what made you sick in the first place. You have no control of anything, your mind, body and spirit are all sick at the same time. Even if you want help, the urge to use again pulls harder.
The intake process for detox is challenging. If you don’t fit into their box of preset questions, you may not get the help you are asking for. The questions are done over the phone, impersonal and vague with the users caseworker, family member or parole officer in the room. It’s not an environment that makes anyone want to be vulnerable or honest with their current mindset. The user naturally admits to less, ashamed, erring on the side of caution not sure of the consequence and detox is potentially put off for another day. (GAP)
The user need to be on medication until they have a dose that meets a certain criteria in their system or they are not able to go through the intake for most government treatment programs, each centre has a different policy which can be confusing. (GAP) If the user is not already on social assistance, they don’t qualify for government treatment. (GAP) Private treatment has no guarantees just like the government programs but at least your child gets in right away and is given access to addiction counsellors and there is a medical team on site, money talks. 65% of treatment facilities have accreditation, which makes you wonder who is helping your child and what their educational background is. Are you willing to lose everything you ever worked for when the system doesn’t always present itself as qualified? This is thankfully not something most of us have had to navigate but necessary information to keep the window of opportunity open, which could potentially save a life.
The system doesn’t keep our children safe from the drug dealers who sit outside elementary schools waiting to prey on those who suffer in silence, kids with no self confidence, low self-esteem, unpopular, popular, kids who have been undiagnosed with mental illness who don’t understand what is going on in their precious minds. Kids who come from broken families, wealthy families, middle class families. ALL kids are at risk, and yes even your star hockey player, boy or girl! Our kids are befriended, sometimes by a stranger, more often than not someone they know, promising to numb their silent pain or give them what they think they lack. Most are too young to know how to navigate this pain alone and don’t know where to go to find the answers. Kids really just want to escape their internal struggles, sometimes they simply succumb to the pressure of their peers they think they can trust, so they take the pill of promise and that is the first step into the black abyss. For some it ends here. If you think elementary school kids are not at risk, you are blind to how deep this crisis has gone. Sesame Street has identified that kids as young as 5 are dealing with Mental Health and Addiction in their own homes. We need to get on the right side of this before our kids future is lost.
We are willing to hang a 4.8 million dollar chandelier under a bridge just blocks away from where we have sons and daughters struggling with addiction, mental health and homelessness. I can’t help but wonder how many lives could have been impacted by those funds, a chandelier, a great reminder for those on the streets of the value they have in the communities they live in.
There is a dark ominous place deep inside our psyche waiting for us. If you dare go there, it will break your heart. You need to keep the faith and be strong for your child. Try to be the light in the darkness that follows them. We have all had a glimpses of this darkness when we attend a services for those who have lost their battle with addiction or mental heath. Fight the paralyzing fear of losing your child when the wind of addiction blows you in its direction. Addiction wants to weaken your heart and soul, it wants to take your breath and strength and fade your hope. I use all my strength as I lean into the door in my mind that has the thought of death waiting behind it, bracing my legs and shoulders to counter the force. I am safe for now but soon I will tire. You can’t be strong for your child if you are not. No one can do this alone for long without affecting their own mental health, it’s a vicious cycle.
Addiction paces outside like a black wolf wanting to take our loved ones from us. They need to be stronger and work harder than the wolf to overcome the urge to use. We need to help them find the strength to get through it, navigate it together with love and support, to help get them through another day chasing that manufactured high that will never be the same as the first time. When you connect with others and lay your bricks down, then you begin to heal and see the beauty that surrounds you each day.
“Run to the Rescue with love and peace will follow.” River Phoenix.
I feel the anguish fill my body when I think of the reality of Mental Health and Addiction. It comes in waves without warning. My heart is not calm and beating as it should, it is reacting to the pain my eyes see when I look at my fading son walking the streets with no shoes, numb. I barely recognize him. I am not asking for help for myself, but for all sons and daughters who are suffering from addiction and mental health, some in silent, some in plain view, society is teaching us to turn away. It’s becoming far greater a battle than we anticipated.
With the grace of God our loved ones will take the right path and find their way home. The reality of the Opioid Crisis and the War on Drugs is, far too many don’t. Addiction affects all of us. It comes at a cost greater than any of us realize. Our loved ones battle to overcome something that is much greater than them, no one can do it alone. The emotional battle becomes harder and harder making it almost impossible to lift themselves up from the depth of their fall. It is possible and we can’t lose Hope!
I will never give up on my child, even if the system does. No matter how far he drops below the surface I will stand strong advocating for him and every other son and daughter because they are not well enough to do so themselves. My hand will forever be there waiting for him to reach out. I pray each day he will. He will!
Brothers and Sisters pack traumatic images everywhere they go as they move forward in their own lives trying to find a sliver of normalcy. Grandparents who have done their tour of duty in parenting, watch their own child try to navigate the complexity of parenting a child addicted to drugs, their grandchild. It’s not right. Fathers struggle along side of Mothers wanting to ease the pain they see in their child’s eyes. There is nothing worse as a parent than having your child not be well, their age matters not. Uncles and Aunts have sleepless nights worrying about their nieces and nephews, they too feel the pain of addiction. Friends stand strong by our side helping to keep us steady, walking with us through the uncharted territory. Some share the experience, some fear it. Partners help us heal and set boundaries so that we have a life outside the walls of addiction. Our child has become their child. Their support and love keeps us strong when we feel incredibly weak behind closed doors, holding us in the darkness as we weep through many sleepless nights. The love our support system gives us, keeps us going, we could be here for a while. I am eternally grateful to all who stand at my side as I navigate the path of addiction and mental health in my family.
Communities are losing the battle to keep their streets safe from the drug users who are littering them with their addiction. The families they are affecting just want neighbourhoods to be safe from the epidemic they face outside the comfort of their own homes. Some families face this epidemic within the walls of their homes. We have a common goal, to keep our kids safe. Your innocent child who you are trying to protect from the addicts who roam the streets, could be in their shoes in the blink of an eye. This is the truth, even if you don’t want to hear it.
Addiction grows in the fear based silence of our communities.
The Police are fighting the war on drugs, only to be defeated by a technicality in the court system and the cycle starts again. It’s so out of control they can’t do it without the support of government resources that are depleted because of the size of the crisis. First Responders attend over and over without judgment for twelve hours a day, trying to save someone’s son or daughter in hopes that they will see the light and get the help they need. They are worn down with no reprieve to refill their own cup. Nurses are overworked and somehow keep calm in the storm they step into on every shift. The Addiction and Mental Health workers on the front line know first-hand the extent of what we are really dealing with. They are plugging holes in a sinking ship, trying to navigate the endless gaps in the system. They try to move the pieces around until they fit, until their clients get the help they so desperately need. They see what we don’t have in place and where the gaps keep opening, wider each day.
We are all impacted by the negative effect of Addiction and Mental Health in our Communities.
It doesn’t matter what side you are on when it comes to addiction and mental health, the bottom line is we need to collectively do something to save the lives of those who can’t think clearly for themselves. Yes, they do the drugs and there is free will and it is a choice to use, but it is much more complicated and messy than that for most. Some were first prescribed their drug by a physician. If we are going to delve into the root of the addiction to find the source of the pain to help the user, we should also delve into the source of the drugs and where they come from and why they are so accessible. We have all made poor choices in our lives at some point, we can only begin to help understand, if we remove judgment. They belong just as you do and only with the proper care and attention can we find a solution to the problem that faces all of us. If we are not willing to at least show some human kindness towards those who are struggling, then we as humanity are far more lost than they are, we have control of our minds, they do not.
It’s unacceptable how many lives are lost due to addiction and mental health. Change is needed to help get government regulated mandatory treatment for those who are suffering. We need to eliminate the gaps in the medical system and have detox, treatment, recovery and transitional housing all working together. There should be no gaps between these medical services. It is the gap that sends the user back to the street while they wait for an available service and are put at a higher risk of death if they are not monitored. It will make you cry, as it did me. No matter where you go it should be government regulated so families don’t get turned away when their child is ready for treatment but presents rough without the proper medication in their system. Imagine that, a twenty year old young man who has been homeless for 10 months with a clean urine test, presenting rough at intake after waking up on a mat at the local shelter. Those who work in the treatment centres need to be better educated in passing on vital information to the families trying to navigate the unfamiliar path of addiction with their loved one.
I have tried to navigate the system and can tell you first hand it is impossible! There is no hope for the addict who does not have someone advocating for them to get the help they need. It is no longer frustration, but panic because of the impending doom. It’s deplorable how we treat those who are vulnerable and at risk. Beds are open and available but treatment centres have so many stipulations the beds stay open while a youth is sent back to the streets to get a maintenance dose of medication they are going receive in treatment, under the guidance of a Doctor. It makes no sense!
We all need to step up and do our part to help stop the landslide of youth dying from substance use and mental illness. We need to force our government officials to change policies and advocate for those who are unable due to addiction and mental health. How many lives do we have to lose before change is made?
Pressure government officials in your community to take action to help our most vulnerable get the medical help they need before it’s too late. Addiction and Mental Health needs to be addressed more effectively and efficiently, what we have in place is not working.
When we open the conversation and share our stories we lessen the stigma and help those who are not strong enough to step forward on their own just yet. Please join me in the fight against the opioid crisis by taking a stand and using your voice to make a difference! If you don’t think you can make a difference, you are wrong.
“Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” ~ Dalai Lama