Marc Alberts: Our little brother
A boy from my old neighborhood died this week. He was no longer a ‘boy’, he was 26, but to me he was still one of the kids. They ran around in the summer as a pack. You could tell where they were by looking for their pile of bikes. Scenes from those days of innocence keep flashing through my head – when they went from one house to another, rode their bikes to the playground or to the store- images of boyhood youth. Now he’s gone. Heroin stole him. My heart is breaking for his mother and siblings. They have already been through so much, having lost their husband and father to cancer four years ago. I’m sure Addiction has also stolen years of this family’s life. I know how Addiction takes over a home, because Addiction has been an unwelcome member of our family for the last ten years.
Addiction is stealthy. It hides in basements and bathrooms and bedrooms. It steals children and decimates families under a cloak of silence. The addicts themselves are embarrassed and guilty and are afraid to ask for help. Parents feel inadequate, trying to figure out where they went wrong, what could they have done better. I was a stay at home Mom for God’s sake, and my firstborn is a heroin addict. What does that say about me? Guilt, silence, embarrassment – these are Addiction’s wingmen, giving it the wind needed to kill our kids, gaining strength in whispers at book clubs and coffee shops, ‘he’s an addict you know’.
It’s time to Stop the Silence. It’s time to Speak the Truth. My son is a heroin addict. I want to wear a t-shirt, a hat, a pin, something. I want a suffering family member or addict to see me in the grocery store and be able to walk up and say ‘me too’. I want families to not feel isolated and alone in this hell that is Addiction. It is everywhere, and we are hiding it because we feel guilty and ashamed. I have seen in people’s eyes in the past that they knew my son was an addict. But they also didn’t know if I knew, and I wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops. So the elephant was with me everywhere I went. We lived in a small town. I was sure everyone knew. I was sure my son’s name was whispered when I wasn’t there. Yet I stayed silent.
My son is in recovery. He has been clean and sober for 16 months. It’s a miracle he’s alive. That miracle cost us a small fortune. True recovery is not cheap and it is not easy. It is not five days of detox, have a nice day. It is not a thirty day stint in rehab, have a nice life. It is a slow, slogging, exhausting crawl out of the muddy nasty pit Addiction digs under you. My son spent thirty days full in-patient, sixty more days at the same hospital in a step down program, and then five months in transition housing and treatment. He moved to a sober house where he has been for the past eight months. None of this was easy for him. He dug deep and worked hard. He would not have been able to do this without the support he had along the way. He recognizes that he will need that support for a very long time if not forever. He is beginning to see light and a future, but it certainly didn’t happen during his first thirty days – or even the next ninety. Time is the key, and time costs money. We spent a huge chunk of our life savings to buy him the time he needed. It was a scary gamble for us, but we chose to bet on our son. We’re grateful and thankful he chose to double down on that bet for all he was worth. We were lucky we had the ability to throw those dice. A huge percentage of addicts don’t have anyone (or have burned out the people they used to have) with the resources to get them the help they need.
My son had an Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield PPO plan. It listed addiction recovery as something they cover. It listed detox and hospitalization as something they cover. I have in my possession a letter that states the diagnosis is heroin addiction and can be treated outpatient. Detox, denied. Inpatient rehab, denied. Anthem’s medical plan did not pay one dime of his treatment costs.
Recently my son accompanied someone who asked for help to the ER. He had relapsed and wanted to get into detox. There was not a single bed in any detox facility in the state, for any price. He had to wait almost a week for a bed to open up. In that week this young man stayed safe by staying on the couch in my son’s sober living house and not spending one minute alone. Kicking addiction takes a village, but addicts need a ticket into that village, and they are few and far between – and very very costly.
How are we to deal with this epidemic if we as a society leave these addicts out there to die? We all pay the price of this epidemic. Banks, gas stations, convenience stores are being robbed at gunpoint. Home invasions, car break-ins, shoplifting, and credit card fraud are all ways addicts are feeding their habit. For the families of addicts, we get to go looking for stolen possessions – sister’s jewelry, brother’s amp- at pawn shops, or we reach to pay for something only to find our money is gone. Let’s not forget the children of addicts. They pay the highest price.
The news tells us to worry about terrorists and Ebola and whatever else they think will increase their ratings. I understand that these threats are real, but our society is quietly rotting in basements and bedrooms across America. Opiates and methamphetamines are destroying this country from within, stealing the next generation right out from under our noses. Kids who should be going to proms and football games are stealing from their parents, dropping out of school, and starting on a path that ends with jail or death. They are our future, and we need to start fighting for them.
The front line of this fight is to Stop the Silence. Scream the Truth. Let people know that Addiction is in their own towns. It walks the halls of their schools and sits beside them in their workplace. It is teaching their children, driving their buses, policing their streets, and killing their neighborhood children.
If we stop the silence, people will start fighting this battle together instead of feeling ineffective, isolated and alone. If we speak the truth, society will begin to recognize the crisis we are all facing as this epidemic of Addiction stops hiding behind walls of silence and is driven into the light. If we start the conversation, we as a society can put our efforts toward a solution.
Share your story. Let people know how Addiction has touched your life. It has probably touched their lives as well. Help save our children.
My son is a heroin addict.
Stop the Silence. Speak the Truth. Start the Conversation.
Patricia Byrne is from Canton MA and lives in Westminster CO