The Journey Is A Nightmare But A New Day Will Dawn

by Linda Sherman

A New Day

Anyone who’s lost a child no matter the cause of death will tell you that it leaves a gaping hole inside and catapults you into a no-man’s land and forest of no return. You feel like a carcass thrown to rot on the side of the road and as if shards of glass are cutting you from the inside, out. If your child dies of drugs and alcohol, it sets off a chain of events that compounds your grief.

You feel guilt and blame yourself. You feel “if only I could have changed this or that…”

I was angry for a long time and blamed myself, my son for his choices, the system that failed to reach him and society for not creating an atmosphere that nurtures whole, healthy people. Really now, is that the BEST we could all do? I felt stigmatized and ashamed, as if we were just another family drug statistic. I felt angry because this tragedy has gone on for God knows how long with generations of people before and no one ever spoke out about it. Society never became drug-free, but instead became drug-rampant and science still has not found a cure. It was a foreign culture and one in which I despised and resented being a part of.

It took years of living life to ease off and let go. Time does heal but I love and miss my son, Joseph, who passed at 30 on the Day of Katrina, peacefully— although, thank God—in his sleep. He was a thoughtful, sensitive, ponderous soul who cared about the least of us—the elderly, the sick, children and animals. He excelled at Little League, and all the coaches fought to have him on their teams. Today we honor his memory by having planted a tree and awarding annual bonds to players chosen by coaches for their team spirit.

We sensed he hovered on the border of “normal”, growing up. He had learning disabilities and a high-strung temperament, but it never raised “red flags”—we thought it was his disposition to cry and act out in frustration over what we thought was nothing to be upset over. We thought that he’d grow out of it….

As he got older, the school called and summoned help for him because they sensed problems, even though he was well-behaved and well-liked. The shrinks diagnosed ADD and depression. Soon after he was smoking pot. We thrust him into a two year rehab where he was bored and said it was futile—all the while—stubbornly disregarding help and supplying someone else’s urines for testing. He had a very strong will. Too bad he couldn’t use that strength toward living. I so wanted him to get well!

After rehab, he went to an alternative high school which he graduated from.The teachers were attentive to Joseph and always said he was a polite student who dealt well with adults and was quite popular with his peers. The peers were always on the edge, marginal, but nice enough and some were in trouble with the law but Joseph graduated and stayed out of legal trouble. We thought he was doing well. He got jobs, a driver’s license and a girlfriend. And something else—a seemingly happier disposition—until we found out it was cocaine-fueled. He had been perfectly honest with us when we would check on him and ask through the years if he was still using pot. He wasn’t. What he did not tell us, is that he “graduated” onto cocaine, despite our lectures against drugs, his early stint in rehab and seeing a shrink weekly. Yeah, you get it. He slipped through our fingers like melting butter. Despite in-patient rehabs during the last year of his life and a new beginning out of a sober house with a great new job and a new apartment, we sensed we were running out of time and in the 11th hour, my husband and I literally forced him back into rehab. It was our last chance, our only hope. We wanted to save our son. We hoped that somehow he would want to save himself. He was always grateful for our help but it seemed like he was on his own journey, thank you very much but he knew what was best for him.

I know, from reports of science and medical researchers, who were very kind to me when I reached out to them for answers that addiction is a disease, yet the enigma of rehab, dictates that they can come out of the coma of drugs and return to normal living called recovery. In my mind, the jury is still out on that one. I know that better research is needed and being done. I know that substances like drugs and drink fool the part of the brain that governs the need to survive—like air and water—and this part of the brain is held hostage in lockdown. The switch in the part of the brain that gives pleasure is broken (sometimes by underlying inherent mental conditions before the drugs) and the drugs compound it. Often, some mental disorder underlies the addiction and has come before it. I know I lost a child to drugs. I tried so hard to save him; I could taste it. I was frantic, desperate: Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink, I thought, with all the rehab info out there, what kind of a life is this where we don’t even have control over our own minds? It doesn’t sound right to me! How could that be? I had to face the brutal truth that my son, with his big heart and generosity, his sense of humor and quick wit, gorgeous, robust and loved by everyone around him, failed to thrive.

I do know that being a parent to a drug addicted kid is like being bound and hog-tied, forced to watch your kid take poison before your very eyes—and not being able to do a damn thing about it!!! I’d rather be dead than to live through that threat again.

Today, we have a priest in India who prays for Joseph regularly, who has spiritually “adopted” him and I am eternally comforted. I continue in my helping profession (isn’t it painfully ironic that I can help others in different ways but not my son?) Mother Teresa touched and blessed him as a child when we met her. I have to hold onto to these things.

I’ve stopped being angry. I’ve stopped shaking a stick at God and ranting against our fate.

Today I help other drug addicted young adults one-on-one in my own personal way. I stick my neck out and take risks to help them get the help and encouragement they need. I miss my son terribly, the son who didn’t have a “double life” under my nose and who wasn’t remote and shut away from myself and our family. He was fused to those feel-good substances that were slowly killing him. He loved to get high. Did he have a choice or was he swept away in a brain disease? I stopped asking the questions long ago. There was a time I couldn’t hear another story of an addicted young person without wanting to put my fist through a wall. To me, it was all lies and so unnecessary, this artificially imposed suffering that young people put on themselves! I literally couldn’t stand the story of another wasted, stiff body lying in the streets. I had already jumped out of my own skin as the mother of a lost child.

Joseph passed on at the top of his game, peacefully in his own bed and in his own apartment by his own choice. He had been recently employed thanks to the mitzvah of a good friend who created an unbelievably lucrative and secure position for him, for which I am eternally grateful. We always called him Mr. Lucky. Joseph had won a television once in a contest at school. He had the good fortune of someone knocking on our door because she hit his car, offering to pay for it, instead of driving off and leaving the damage for us. His brother found his lost gold necklace in the dark at a public fair by retracing his steps. When Joseph was four, he loved a small plastic barrel of monkey figurines. They were misplaced for a while, but then we found them. It means to me that his life was not lost, but goes on. The lessons he perhaps needed to learn are between him and God. I trust in God. He knew why and what the reasons were. I have to rest in that.

I was “in the closet” for a long time, but I did emerge to write some articles about losing Joseph. I also support my friends, like Sheryl L. McGinnis, with the publicity for her addiction book and help another bereaved Mom in her efforts to fundraise for depression. The parents in Sherry’s books are a cacophony of laments that merge into One Voice. Our children collectively are One Child. We are all lifesavers to each other, lifting the burden of lost children to drugs high above our heads in the march of grief. The weight is distributed so we can all help one another and that support has been priceless.

As a writer myself, I shocked myself, in that I didn’t want to speak out publically. I so admired mothers who felt compelled to speak out to kill the stigma. My husband also wanted discretion because he didn’t want joseph’s memory “tainted.” I understood and respected the wishes of the man I love—and found out that I also did not want Joseph judged or maligned. I didn’t want to “own” this “thing.” I understand both schools of thought and greatly support in any way I can those who speak out without reservation. I
am now out of the closet and among them.

Unfortunately, there are some addicted people who are violent and steal or commit other crimes for a fix. This is why addicted people are shunned. But that is not all addicts. It is a tiny portion.

Celebrities who have plenty of money have died in recent years from overdosing on pills or alcohol or both. The stigma is one part of this plague; finding a cure or way to reach addicted persons—is another.

I don’t want my life defined by tragedy or by the constant meltdowns I was having from frustration when he was alive, to desperation after he died. I am a fixer; alas, I couldn’t fix this. I finally surrendered. It was bigger than me.

I heard the honks of a flock of Canadian geese one night flying overhead in the cold, grey sky.

They reminded me that once upon a time, I was a mother of a beautiful, playful boy named Joseph, whom I nursed at my breast and who used to love to play Candy Land with me, be read to and who cherished his collection of stuffed animals.

Linda is a freelance writer who lives on Long Island with her husband and looks to the day when every addicted person recovers and chooses life over death.