Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis


“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to hear was that my child died.

The hardest thing that I’ve ever done is to live every day since that moment.” Anonymous

As I sit in my chair pondering what 2014 might bring, the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song, “A House Is Not a Home” begins playing its mournful melody in my head. I hear it being sung as if just to me though by Chris Colfer of “Glee” fame. This young man’s voice is so beautiful that it allows me to focus on the sheer beauty of it, and let the words flow over me knowing I am not alone in this
journey of grief.

How did they know what was in my head when they wrote that song? How could they have known the depth of despair that I’ve felt since 2002 when our youngest son, then 31 years old, died of a drug overdose?

I could not have put my feelings into words as masterfully as they wrote them, nor could anyone ever soothe my soul as gently as Colfer’s dulcet tones washing over me.

“A chair is still a chair
Even when there’s no one sitting there
A room is still a room
Even when there’s nothing there but gloom
A house is not a home when the two of us are far apart and One of us has a broken heart”

There are so many of us out there who feel the same as I do – from mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, spouses to friends and everyone who has known and loved an addicted person. I try not to use the term “addict” because it is so limiting, so defining when in reality addicted people are so much more than their disease. They’re humans with many facets to them. We run the gamut and I don’t like to put just one label on someone.

My son was a Paramedic and an RN and a handsome, loving, kind young man who rescued helpless animals, who was a wonderful son, extremely musically talented with a brilliant, keen mind but he also suffered from the disease of addiction. So why does society want to label him as just an addict? The word describes the worst part of him, the disease that took over his life. And yet the good that was him was still there battling what I call “The Addiction Monster,” struggling to stay on top so people could see the real person and not the disease.

But all the world could see was the Monster so they forgot all his endearing, charming, kind qualities and instead focused on the one thing that was not him. It was a disease. Would we describe a person with diabetes as just a diabetic? “Hello, there’s Mr. X, he’s a diabetic.” No one would think of taking a single descriptor of a person’s life and defining them as such. Not so with a person who has an equally deadly disease – addiction. Instead it seems that is the only thing most people can focus on. He is no longer anything but an addict.
Some people say that the addicted person chose addiction therefore his disease is not worthy of sympathy or even understanding. The person who suffers from diabetes or heart disease due to an injudicious diet and lack of exercise is deemed more worthy in society’s eyes.

Yes, addicted people chose to do drugs…in the beginning. When they took that first line of cocaine or snort of heroin or Oxy they had no idea of the hell they were sliding into and the rapidity of the descent.

All they knew was how good the drugs made them feel. As my son told me, speaking about the first time he did cocaine when he was a child of 17 and knew it all, that it made him feel like what he thought normal people felt like!

What a blow that was to us, to think that our handsome, talented, popular son didn’t feel normal. Just like so many addicted people, he suffered from low self-esteem. He hid it with bravado that some thought to be arrogance but was instead a mask hiding his true self.

Ours was an extremely close, tight-knit family, who could talk openly about anything. Our two sons knew we were always there for them and they knew how much they were loved and adored. Our oldest son was not cursed with the addiction gene and he has a normal, healthy sense of self.

Perhaps as more light is shed on the disease of addiction, more answers will surface along with better treatment and hopefully one day, a cure. In the meantime we must speak out – loudly – about this scourge and shatter the stigma.

In the meantime addicted people will continue to fight an uphill battle, fighting their brains every day, doing their best to slay the monster and suffering from unwarranted guilt and shame.

Some will succeed. There is hope and my hope is that one day all of them will win this battle and no one else will feel the sting of “A House Is Still a Home…”

“Now and then I call your name and suddenly your face appears

But it’s just a crazy game and when it ends, it ends in tears.”

Sheryl has written 4 books on addiction and drugs. Her best-selling book “The Addiction Monster and the Square Cat” is aimed at children ages ten and up. For more information on the author and her books please visit her website at www.sherylletzgusmcginnis.com