Shattering 'the Myth of Addiction'

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Shattering 'the Myth of Addiction'

By MaryBeth Cichocki 02/11/16

No one could ever fake the hell that the mind and body experience when the drug or alcohol cravings are not met. 

MaryBeth Cichocki

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a myth is an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true. I’ve found this myth to be a part of the stigma that surrounds addiction. Since I’ve been writing about my personal experience during my son’s addiction I have encountered people who believe that addiction is just that, a myth.  

These people have messaged me telling me that I was a horrible mother. That my son was a lazy liar who pretended to be an addict so I would pay his bills and not expect him to be responsible for much of his life. At first these comments angered me. I wanted to lash out and tell them off. I wanted to scream about their ignorance. I wanted to message them back and hurt them the way they hurt me. I was angry and ugly when I thought about how people with no experience or education in addiction could be so bold in stating what they felt to be true about addicts.

I gave myself time to cool off. I didn’t want to come across as someone like them. Someone who speaks about a subject they know nothing about. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing how deeply they upset me. In my years of being the mother of an addict, I have learned to control my words, my hate, my emotions. I have learned that stating facts as I’ve lived them would have the greatest impact on those who need to be educated about this horrific, chronic and deadly disease.

I’ve experienced addiction at the very beginning of life. I was a NICU nurse. Taking care of the littlest beings who know nothing about addiction. Opioids or other narcotic drugs pass through the placenta. The baby becomes addicted along with the mother. After birth, the baby is still dependent on the blood supply of drugs that has now been cut off.  According to the addiction myth, addicts fake their symptoms. However, newborn babies have no capacity for faking anything. They are the innocent ones, the casualty of their mother's addiction. They experience a withdrawal so profound that many days I would shed tears as I held and swaddled and rocked these precious victims of this horrible disease. Within hours of the cord being cut, their supply of drugs ending, these little beings would start to experience uncontrolled tremors, they would sweat like they had just run a baby marathon, scream like the skin was being ripped off their bodies. They would vomit any nutrition we had fed them and suck uncontrollably on the pacifiers we would give to calm them. Their monitors alarmed constantly alerting us to hight heart and respiratory rates.  

Faking, really? I lived it. The withdrawal experienced by these innocents is as raw and ugly as any I’ve ever experienced with my son. Their little bodies going through a hell they could not control and their minds had no way of understanding. Faking it, I think not. The only humane thing we could do is to give these infants morphine. Yes, that’s right. Give them a narcotic to help minimize the hell that is their first experience with life. Helping these infant addicts by giving them what their bodies crave and hoping to be successful in allowing them to be babies. Hoping that in the weeks to come we would slowly be able to wean the drugs. Sound familiar? Just like an addict going through detox. Reality sucks, but it is not fake.

For seven years I watched as my son went through the same hell. Trying to get himself off the pills his body craved more than life itself. Tired of fighting his insurance company, we decided to detox at home. I'm a nurse and foolishly thought, "How hard could this be?" If the insurance company and the detox unit could tell us to try again next week when he would be eligible for another 72-hour admit and by the grace of God they just might have a bed, I was convinced this would be a piece of cake. After all, if the so-called experts could blow us off when we called for help, just how hard could it be?  

Nothing in all my years of nursing could have prepared me for the medical horror show I was about to witness during my son's cold turkey withdrawal. Foolishly, I flushed his pills thinking I was doing the only thing to prevent him from getting his hands on them when the going got tough. Like I said, I'd been given a false sense of security after being turned down by our local detox. Their nonchalant attitude found its way to my brain. I continued to think, "Just how hard can this be?"  

The first few hours weren't so bad. Some sweating, shakes and nausea. I kept thinking of the babies and how their bodies reacted exactly the same. At least Matt knew why his body was starting to turn against him.  

Then, time became our enemy. As it passed, the horror increased. Blankets were on and off as chills then sweats took turns wreaking havoc on his body. He screamed that his skin was on fire. Nothing helped. I tried to calm and comfort him with cool cloths  and warm blankets. The hours passed bringing uncontrolled vomiting and violent behavior. He was out of control and I was out of my mind. Thinking his skin was crawling with bugs, he scratched until he bled. My God, what was I thinking? If I had the pills I would have handed them over to stop the torture that I was witnessing him suffer.

The de-poisoning of the human body is no myth. No one could ever fake the hell that the mind and body experience when the craving is not met. I look back and am horrified that I thought this was a safe way to get Matt off the drugs his body needed so desperately to live. We are lucky he survived. 

As a medical professional who has witnessed the horror of addiction from the very beginning of life and through the years of my son's addiction, I can say with no uncertainty that there is no truth to the myth of addiction. Addiction is a disease like no other. It's a brain-altering, life-changing monster that knows no boundaries. The only myth of addiction is that anyone from a newborn to an adult could fake the powerful response the human body exhibits when it deprived of the drugs it has come to require for survival.   

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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