My Journey Through My Son's Addiction

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My Journey Through My Son's Addiction

By MaryBeth Cichocki 08/25/16

Matt lived with me the last seven years of his too-short life. We battled many days but he was always my beautiful boy.

My Journey Through Matt's Addiction
via author

Have you ever met a little towheaded guy with a crooked smile and the most beautiful eyes? A little guy that stole your heart and made you think about having a baby? That was my Matt. People would stop us on the street and comment about the beauty of my youngest son. Some would jokingly say he should have been a she with those eyes and long eyelashes. Matt would just smile his crooked smile and continue to cast his spell on perfect strangers. That was Matt.

As Matt grew, he just became more beautiful except now we called him handsome. "Oh, what a handsome son you have," became the normal ice-breaking conversation between moms during Little League games.

Along with his great looks came his daredevil attitude. He was the boy jumping into the deep end during swim lessons, showing the coach he was no longer in need of instruction. He was the 16-year-old on his BMX bike flying through the air with that now-famous smile while his mother was holding her breath and saying a silent prayer.  

I guess it was that daredevil attitude. The feeling that he was invisible that led to his first brush of experimenting with drugs. I came home unexpected and early from work to find Matt and a friend relaxing and casually smoking a joint on the deck. Talk about deer in headlights. I thought Matt was going to pass out. Back in the '90s there was so little information about gateway drugs or the brain changes caused by marijuana that I truly thought “this too shall pass.” Little did I know this was only the beginning of Matt’s struggle with addiction.  

I, like many parents, had no idea that this period of experimentation could be the start of a life-long struggle. Thinking I was doing the right thing, I took Matt to rehab. I had no idea at that time that he was one of those unlucky kids who had a predisposition to drug abuse.

He came home after his 30 days and I foolishly thought we were in the clear. No more problems with experimentation. Life went right back to the way I needed it to be. Graduation came and he continued on to trade school becoming a mechanic. There were no signs of drug use.  Just the smart, handsome Matt I knew and loved.  

Life found a rhythm. Matt found a job and began a new life. His looks, attitude and work ethic opened up opportunities that led him to the sea. We are beach people and now Matt was given the chance of a lifetime. I'll never forget that day.

"Hey Mom, guess what? I got a call. I'm moving to the beach, going to be a partner in a new business."  

"Wow Mom, my own business doing what I love, living where I love."  

I remember his handsome face. Those beautiful eyes full of anticipation. New beginnings for the son who was the homebody. Leaving what was familiar and taking that giant step into his future. 

Matt’s new life was amazing. Opening his business brought him a sense of satisfaction and pride. He was the boss. Doing what he loved and living by the sea.  

I was going through the empty nest period. Adjusting to a life where my only concern was me. I was so proud of Matt that never once could I have ever imagined the horror that would start the crack that would shatter the foundation of our lives.

It started with a phone call.  

“Mom, I’m hurt. I was lifting an engine and something popped. I went to my doctor, he gave me Percocet. Told me to take it easy and take the pills.”

I remember a cold chill running up my spine. A mother’s intuition or nurse's training. A gut feeling I could not shake. Flashbacks of the young boy leaving for rehab haunted my brain.  

Matt’s addiction crept into our lives quietly and slowly. Like the steady pounding of waves on a sandcastle, the power of his addiction began washing away everything he built. We were both in denial. He kept taking the pills as ordered and I continued to think he was under the care of a physician who had Matt's best interest in mind. That was until I started my education on the overprescribing of prescription opioids in our state. 

At first, the changes were small and unnoticed. Missing days at the office, unpaid bills and unreturned phone calls. Our once close relationship was starting to feel strained. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was horribly wrong. 

I would always call to let Matt know I was coming for the weekend. Not this time I thought to myself. This time I'm going to see things as they truly were.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I found. Matt soundly sleeping on the couch. Unaware that I was standing over him counting his shallow breaths. His color was pale, his skin clammy. Unopened bills piled on the table. Unwashed dishes in the sink. A refrigerator full of spoiled food. His dogs looking at me, their brown eyes pleading for help. His opened bottle of Percocet left on the kitchen table half empty. I searched it for dates and milligrams. I felt the earth shake, my world shattering at my feet. Matt had become one of them. Matt was an addict. 

My brain flooded with the questions every parent must face. How could my son be an addict? His mother was a nurse. He knew better. He grew up in a good home. He went to a private school. He owned his own business. Denial was much easier than this reality. Matt’s addiction had resurfaced. Matt led a productive life until that back injury and surgery led him to a path of opioid addiction.  

So now my adult son was back where he started from. His addiction stealing everything he worked so hard to achieve. I became addicted to Matt's addiction. I foolishly thought I had the power to save him. I was a nurse. I saved people for a living. How hard could it be to save my own son?  

Matt lived with me the last seven years of his too-short life. We battled many days. I needed to believe his lies.

"No mom, I'm not abusing my drugs."  

"Yes, I went for the interview."

My medical brain knew his body was broken. The scars standing out for the world to see. I knew he had rods and screws stabilizing his spine. I knew he suffered from chronic pain. What I didn't know was the grip the demons had on his soul. 

Living through Matt's addiction was comparable to being blindfolded and strapped tightly in a rollercoaster car. One day we were climbing to new heights as he began a treatment program. Praying that this would be that "magic time" where things would click. Getting him admitted even for just a few weeks would fill my heart with hope and allow my mind a much-needed break from the fear.

He would return home as the old Matt. Our conversations changed from focusing on his addiction to plans for his future. Matt's coming home was always a mixed bag of emotions for me. I was happy to have my Matt back, but at the same time I was scared to death.

Then, without warning, we were spiraling downward as the demons once again found their way to his soul. Life became filled with constant ups and downs. My solid ground no longer existed. Life became unsettled and out of control.  

No amount of nursing education prepared me for the power of addiction or the stigma that branded the addict and his family.

Addiction is a dirty word and Matt's became my dirty little secret. I didn't talk about Matt's addiction at work. I would sit and listen to my colleagues brag about the accomplishments of their children, all the while wanting to scream! Parents are afraid that addiction is contagious. Even my closest friends, those I let in, began to tire of the same Matt stories and started to avoid me. My life became a place in which I didn't want to live anymore. I dreamt of selling everything and running away but I had to save Matt.  

Our last Thanksgiving was spent at Rockford, a mental health facility. We were given one hour. Matt was once again present. Clear eyed and so handsome. Glimpses of the Matt he used to be once again filled me with false hope that we finally achieved that "magic time." 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 it was a beautiful day at the end of May. He was in Bowling Green, a rehab in Pennsylvania. He landed there after another screaming match with me coming home from work to find him stoned. I told him it was rehab or the streets. The years of battling his addiction had taken its toll on my sanity. I had to get off this crazy, uncontrolled ride. I had to get him well.  

Matt looked great. Beautiful clear eyes and speech. His handsome face showed no signs of the years he battled for his life:

"Mom, I'm so glad I got that monkey off my back."  

We hugged as he told me of his plan to continue his recovery at The Boca House in Florida. We are beach people and I was thrilled to finally see Matt excited about sober living. His counselor recommended Florida thinking that a new environment away from old contacts would be just what Matt needed. If I only knew what Matt was headed into I would never have bought his ticket and kissed him goodbye.

He left for Florida on the second of June. We spoke twice a day. He told me how blessed he felt to once again be living by the sea. We never spoke of losing the beach house. It was a painful, ugly reminder of the power of his addiction.  

I felt a sense of peace and gratitude knowing he was finally on track in his recovery. I breathed a sigh of relief and started to rebuild what was left of the pieces of my life. I foolishly thought we did it. I allowed myself the luxury of becoming normal again. I foolishly believed that 20 days in rehab had given Matt the tools necessary to face the world again.  

I was flying to Boca in February. Matt and I were going to spend the week together by the sea. We planned to celebrate his new life. No more demons coming between us. Just me and Matt. Just normal. Normal never happened.

Matt overdosed on January 3. That day, my life spun off its axis and shattered at my feet. How did this happen? Every time we spoke he sounded normal. My ears trained to pick up changes in his verbiage failed me. My last words on that Friday night:

"I love you Matt, stay safe."

"I love you Mom, I'll call you tomorrow."  

That call never came. 

Matt became one of the 44,000 people who lost their lives to opioid addiction in 2015.  Matt became a victim of pill-pushing doctors. His brain and body were never given the time needed for recovery. The broken system that punishes those who suffer from addiction failed him. 

I'm in the process of rebuilding my life. Picking up the pieces of my broken heart. I have been changed forever. Normal will never be how I refer to life. I witnessed Matt suffer from the most misunderstood, mistreated disease ever known to man. I witnessed his isolation, the stigma and the roadblocks to treatment. Addiction is the only disease that society punishes you for suffering. 

I hope to be part of the solution. To change the perception of those who suffer from this disease. To speak out against the stigma and lack of treatment that continues to kill our children. To join the thousands of other parents who share my grief. To fight for Matt, my son, my hero.  

MaryBeth 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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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 3, 2017. 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. You can follow MaryBeth on Twitter.

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