Hey, I have a question for you. Yes you! You know who you are. You’re the one who hates. The one who goes around bashing people and spreading the stigma about a disease you know nothing about. You belong to a group that posts on social media terrible opinions about people you have never met. You are the person whose words break the hearts of mothers like me. Your ugly words break the spirits of those struggling with the powerful, misunderstood disease known as addiction.
What I want to know is, can you spot the “addict/junkie”? Please, I want you to look closely at the pictures above. Can you spot that person you refer to by those hurtful words? Is she the beautiful blonde with the incredible smile, or, perhaps the handsome young man in uniform? How about the “dirt bag”? You know, those people you refer to after you find out they were revived by Narcan and given another chance at life. You felt it necessary to post on social media that society would be better off if we let the “dirt bags” die, and that Narcan was wasting money on a life not worthy of being saved. Which one of these beautiful people would you consider a “dirt bag”? Which one of them deserves to die?
Now, let’s talk about the dirty homeless person. You know, the one you point fingers at and laugh at when you are approached by them. Who in this picture looks homeless and dirty to you? Can you point to the homeless person? Which one looks anything like the ugly picture you paint when you speak or post on social media about them? You know the ones. The people who don’t bathe and live under bridges. People who can’t hold a job and eat out of trash cans. Is it the man riding a tractor with his son or the boy holding the baby? Or maybe it’s the boy in the blue shirt who just so happens to be my son.
I want you to look closely and see beyond your stigma. I want you to look into the faces of everyday people. The college kid, the cheerleader, the uncle, cousin, brother, sister, mother, aunt or father. I want you to imagine what it feels like to be the brunt of your hate. I want you to understand that these pictures represent the hopes and dreams of parents left behind.
I want you to understand what it’s like to be them. To have to fight for your life with every breath you take. To battle a system that created your disease, but refuses to provide treatment to fix you. Can you imagine living and knowing that there are some people that think you are better off dead? Small minded people who mock, ignore and kick you to the curb whenever you cry out for help. This unfortunately, is the burden they have to endure and overcome.
I want you to look into these beautiful faces and know that one day your picture could be among theirs. One day, your life could spin out of control. One day, your doctor might give you a drug that will change who you are. One day, it might be you that people refer to as “junkie/addict”. One day, it might be you who’s homeless and begging for food in the streets. One day, it could be your mother spending time visiting your grave or defending your life.
So, you couldn’t find that “junkie/addict” among these beautiful souls? You couldn’t put your finger on who’s dirty and who didn’t deserve to live, could you? That’s because they are no different than anyone else…they just unfortunately struggle with the disease of addiction. But, like you ( hopefully), have families who love them and will go to the ends of the earth to help them.
These are the beautiful faces of addiction. The smiles, the amazing eyes. These are the faces of those who paid the price of stigma. These pictures are the hearts and souls of grieving parents like me.
Next time you feel the need to hate, I want you to remember these faces. These beautiful faces of men and women, and remember, that even with all your hate and prejudice, you couldn’t find the “junkie/addict”.
MaryBeth Cichocki is a retired registered nurse. She lost her youngest son, Matt, to an overdose of prescription drugs on January 3rd 2015. After his death she was unable to return to her world of taking care of critically ill babies in the N.I.C.U.
She now spends her time advocating and writing about the disease of addiction. She started a blog shortly after Matt died titled “Mothers Heart Break”, ( mothersheartbreak.com ) which tells the story of Matt’s addiction, and continues into the present as she deals with complicated grief. MaryBeth also facilitates a support group for those suffering the loss of a loved one due to the disease of addiction. (Support After Addiction Death). She played a pivotal role in the passing of 6 Bills in Delaware related to treatment for those suffering from Substance Abuse Disease.
MaryBeth is passionate about saving other mothers from her grief. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and dog rescuer. Her book, Letters To Matt was recently published. It shares her struggle to survive after losing her son Matt.