One Hundred And Fifty-Three People

One hundred fifty-two people, plus one, to include my mother. One hundred fifty-three people dead to heroin overdoses alone in Cuyahoga County during 2018. This is not counting the two-hundred and eighty-three men and women dead from similar drugs. Carfentanil, Fentanyl, opium, heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone. Street drugs well-known by addicts and law enforcement alike. Names like these rule the lives of those who were drawn into the power of opioids, either by the overprescribing of drugs, or the allure of the euphoria it gave, people consumed, only realizing too late that there was no escape. That there will be death, relapse, or a daily struggle for the rest of their lives to avoid the one thing that brings them happiness.

The day is January 30, 2018, and I just received the news that my mother has passed. It is a week before my 16th birthday and I realize that I cannot reconnect with my mother after years of separation.

We had stopped talking you see—I was living with her and my brother who was about three or four at the time when everything first started happening. I was 10 for part of the year and 11 for the other part, I didn’t understand what was happening, and I didn’t understand that it was bad until my mother was dragged unconscious into our living room half dead. I had no idea what to do and the people around me didn’t have the physical capabilities to perform CPR, and so it came down to me. I kneeled next to my mother's bluing body trying as hard as I could to remember every step of the CPR lessons I had been taught in an online babysitting program I had paid for months before. I remember going to a beat, listening to the people around me question whether or not I knew what I was doing. My arms ached, as I listened to the dispatcher on the phone give me directions. She said to not stop until the paramedics arrived, but shortly after she said that, my mother gurgled or coughed, and I stopped to grab her. To ask if she was OK. That was a mistake. She opened her eyes but snapped them closed, returning blue. I continued CPR for what seemed like an eternity until someone let in the paramedics. Her heart stopped but she was then revived by paramedics. Just before the last EMT left he told me how brave I was, how I had saved her life, and in that moment I knew that I had to get away. I packed my brother and myself a bag of clothes and asked if we could stay with my father for a while. A while turned into one week then two weeks and three weeks, into a month, but then my father started to get suspicious. I had never spent so much time there before. He did some investigating, asking family members if they knew anything—no one had told him of my mother's illness. And so my entire family was brought into the world that is an addiction.

The truth? I am now 17, my brother 10, and we no longer have a mother. I did not realize it until recently, but I lost the one woman in the world that loved me irrevocably, loved me even when I left her, loved me even when I told her I never wanted to see her again. She loved me as hard as she could—when she couldn’t care for herself in the most basic ways—she loved me. She did not hate me for leaving, she always made sure I knew that. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for her to even go as far as saying she was proud of me for having the strength go away.

The truth? Devastated by the life my brother and I had started leading, and having just relapsed, she hit a wall—I left my mother to heal from the tragedy she had put us through, but did not find peace soon enough before she took her own life.

Is it fair? I miss my mother. I never thought I would, but after growing, and understanding, and researching, I came to realize that she had a disease. I will never regret my decision to move out—the growth I have done in our separation has been vital to the healing process. Fairness is something I stopped thinking about when it concerned her disease. It was not fair, but I had dwelled on that fact for years and it had got me nowhere. I decided that I would view what happened to her in medical terms only. She had a sickness, one she had been fighting since her teenage years, sadly after thirty-four years of life, she no longer wanted to fight. I could never blame her for wanting peace.

The current stigma around addiction is that those who suffer are weak. This stigma perpetuates the idea addicts are lost causes. This is just not true. The lost cause mentality forces the addict to think they must suffer alone, and so they do. They suffer alone and get worse, becoming a shadow of their former selves. Will it build goodwill to shed light on the opioid epidemic in a way that does not vilify suffers? Yes. Drugs as powerful as opioids cannot be fought alone, to beat and win a battle against opioids is nearly impossible. With a more positive light shed on the addiction people might feel more comfortable seeking treatment for the disease.

Will it be beneficial to everyone concerned? Undoubtedly. Mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, guardians, should never have to have the gnawing thought at the back of their mind that whenever their daughter/son leaves for college or their own home, they will meet the wrong person. The wrong person that shows them the wrong drug, and sparks a nearly insatiable craving for a drug until it does not work anymore and they move on to something stronger—eventually becoming a statistic.

My mother gave me a pretty normal life. We had a cat, Markus, black and white, with a pretty big attitude, but it was a good attitude, he had class. We have a dog named Sophia as well, she is a chihuahua, and might I say, the neediest dog I have ever met. I loved them both to pieces, as did my brother, he was always very little, about the size of Markus, making them natural sleeping buddies. I had a PlayStation, I played videogames, and got in trouble for not cleaning my room. I went to school five days a week, (weather/holiday permitting), and played in the pool whenever I could. We would watch America´s Next Top Model, My Strange Animal, or Medium, whatever she was obsessed with that particular week. Occasionally it would be a movie like Labriynth. Those times were my favorite because she would sing all the time. Picking up my brother singing, ¨Dance magic, dance magic, jump magic, jump magic jump…,¨ swinging, swirling him around the house, David Bowie accompanying her in the background. These were the days I missed when we would play Rock Band. Somehow she would manage to play two instruments at a time (one day it was the guitar and the foot pedal of the drumset). My mother was such an absurd woman, but she always made me laugh even on the darkest of days. She never wanted to see me unhappy, working tirelessly to make sure I smiled at least twice whenever I saw her. There was an undeniable light that shown inside of her, on to all of us. A light I will never stop feeling for as long as I live, for as long as my mother loves me.

The truth is I learned perseverance, strength, and empathy through both her illness and passing.

I wish it could have been through a lifetime.

Haley Schultz

Helping, healing, and educating

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 12:58 PM, 03.05.2019