Coping: A Mother's Point of View

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Coping: A Mother's Point of View

By MaryBeth Cichocki 07/16/15

Helping others through my pain comforts me. This is how I cope.  

MaryBeth Cichocki

Every day across this country, there are 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, and 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 was living a productive life? These questions have no answers. At least none that can ease the pain that fills my heart and mind every day 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 five. 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 10 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. Every day is a challenge.

I know people mean well but there are days when someone will call and offer advice. 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 feel 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, you're 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 heartbreaking, 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. 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 brother's 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 every day. No judgment 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 have addicts still in the 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" type. 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. Every day 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...


MaryBeth Cichocki is a registered nurse living in the state of Delaware. She lost her son, Matt, to an overdose of prescription drugs on January 3rd of this year. Unable to return to the world of taking care of critically ill babies, she now devotes her time to raising awareness of the dangers of these drugs. She writes a blog called telling the story of her battle during her son's addiction. She remains in touch with lawmakers in Florida, where her son lost his life, pushing for regulation of sober living homes. She plans to begin speaking through different organizations, educating the public about the dangers of unregulated pain management clinics. Her dream is to one day have her blog published and set up a scholarship fund in memory of Matt to provide adult addicts the financial means to remain in long-term rehabilitation until they are both physically and mentally ready to return to a productive life.

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