A Mother's Battle Against The Stigma Of Addiction

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A Mother's Battle Against The Stigma Of Addiction

By MaryBeth Cichocki 05/11/17

Why is the disease of addiction a target for people who have no clue? 

MaryBeth Cichocki

I hate the disease of addiction. The only things I hate more are the words used to describe those who suffer from this disease. Words like “junkie,” “coke head,” “dope fiend” and “druggie” are just a sample of the names I’ve come to hate. They make my blood boil when I hear them used by people who have no clue. People who have never walked in my shoes. Ignorant people who, rather than try to gain knowledge before opening their mouths in judgment, choose to spout off ugliness against a population of people they know nothing about.

You might wonder why I feel the way I do. My son was one of those people. Prior to his addiction he was a successful mechanic. He owned his business. Owned his home. He worked. Paid his bills and taxes. He was a loving son and brother. He was an amazing man with generous heart. The guy who would help the homeless and bring home a stray dog. He was everything except a “junkie.” 

His addiction started at the hands of a trusted physician. Prescribed post-op opioids led to a path of darkness and despair. Matt followed doctors orders and became one of the millions of Americans who start their addiction by taking prescription pills. Never thinking that by following his doctors plan he would lose everything he loved including his life.

Being the mother of an addict was tough. Combine that with being a registered nurse (RN) and it becomes a nightmare. You watch the struggle to get clean. You see the roadblocks that stop the possibility of recovery in its tracks. You witness the neglect of the insurance industry. You feel the bias against the disease. You live the stigma along with your child.

Matt's battle ended on a cold day in January of 2015. He lost his battle and I lost my purpose and my heart. I thought I could deal with my grief and let addiction become a part of my past. I thought I could bury the pain of the disease along with my son and move on. What I didn't know was that once you lived with and loved someone who suffered from this mistreated disease, it becomes a part of who you are. It courses through your being like the blood flowing to your heart. Once you've lived the stigma and witnessed the hate addiction becomes inescapable. 

I never planned on becoming an advocate. I wanted to disappear and guard my heart against further pain. I wanted to live a quiet life remembering my son. The last thing I wanted was to live addiction again. That feeling stayed with me until I saw a post on Facebook. February of 2016. A firefighter in Weymouth posted his feelings for all the world to see.  

“Narcan is the worst drug ever created, let the shit bags die..." I could feel the anger burning in my soul. What! My son was one of those he would have considered a shit bag. How dare this first responder spew his hate on social media. How dare he judge without knowing how impossible it is for those "shit bags" to get help. I found myself reposting his rant calling him out. I called the Patriot Ledger giving them my opinion. I called the Weymouth Fire Chief and the Mayor. I demanded this first responder be held accountable. To my surprise, they listened. Mothers like me all joining together letting the world know his behavior was inexcusable.

Next came the multiple disturbing videos of overdose victims. Law enforcement officers, paramedics and civilians all taking the time to post video of people in various stages of unconsciousness on Facebook. Sensationalizing victims of a deadly disease. Taking a video before administering aid. Fueling the stigma and giving the public a place to comment their ugliness.

Being a registered nurse, this behavior stunned me. Do paramedics take video victims of heart disease or motor vehicle accidents? These first responders fueling the stigma over rendering aid. Why is the disease of addiction a target for people who have no clue? Those who’s lives have never been touched by the disease. Those who never watched their love one suffer from the most mistreated, misunderstood, stigmatized disease.   

As if seeing the pictures weren’t heartbreaking enough, things being said were unbelievable. Raw hatred for those men and women were spewed in comments that made me want to scream. People crawling out of the woodwork letting the world know that addicts deserve to die. All I could feel was pity for these unknown victims and horror thinking about their loved ones having to deal with the ugly aftermath these photos created. Does society really believe you can shame someone out of their addiction? Is the general public really that naïve? If shame was the answer, we would not be losing 144 people every day. If shaming was enough my son would be alive.  

As if things weren't bad enough for those impacted by addiction, the fashion industry jumped on board with the Capsule Collection. The Italian designer, Moschino promoting addiction with their pill themed collection. Backpacks, handbags and shirts covered with life like capsules. Small clutches resembling the exact pill bottle my son’s opioids lived in.   So now in the midst of the stigma and hate this company is glamorizing addiction. Making pill bottle purses the "in thing" to add to your accessories. Children carrying backpacks covered with colorful capsules. My mind is screaming, "What the hell?!"  

The last straw for me was when I stumbled across a prescription shot glass collection while shopping on Amazon. That surprise was short-lived as my anger hit the roof. “Take one by mouth and repeat until intoxicated” was typed on the fake label. The fake prescription was written by Dr. Harold FeelGood. Again, my brain screamed, "What the hell?!"  

So let's get this straight. First, we have a society crucifying those suffering from addiction. People who have no first-hand knowledge of the hell that addicts live through. Next, we have an industry glamorizing and promoting drinking and drugging. Giving impressionable minds the idea that being high and doing drugs is really no big deal. What the hell is wrong with this picture? Addicts are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  

It was on that cold winter day that this grieving mother changed gears. No more slipping quietly away. No more silent tears. My grief gives me a strength I never knew I had. A drive to make things right in this broken world. Being the voice my son never had the chance to be. This grieving mother lost her heart but found her purpose.  

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 mothersheartbreak.com 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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