Post Series: A Mother's Heartbreak

This blog is a guest contribution from MaryBeth, one of the members of the My Recovery Helper Facebook community. MaryBeth is a mother who lost her son to the disease of addiction, and wants to share her story with our readers. To read more of her story, visit

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance or person. My son was an addict. Addiction is by far the most stigmatized disease in this country.  I must say as the mother of an addict I had my own stigmatized view on who an addict was and I let my thinking be controlled by my misguided perception.

My son wasn’t one of those people. He wasn’t dirty. He didn’t live on the street. He didn’t sell his body to get his supply of drugs. He didn’t shoot up in alleys or live under a bridge. Oh God, how foolish I was not to realize that my son was one of those people.

Denial got me through the tough times and allowed me to believe that my son had a problem, but was not an addict. My own stigma, like a set of blinders, kept me protected from seeing the chaos life had become. My denial allowed my son to abuse his drugs in the loveliest of places. A safe, warm home with a mother who would believe the lies told and turned a blind eye to the horrific tragedy unfolding right before her.

My son didn’t have a problem. He was in control of his addiction. He was so good at convincing himself that he convinced me too. He wasn’t that addict; the one who steals and lies; the one who can’t hold a job because he showed up stoned to work; the one who lives at home and lets his enabling mom pay his bills, buy his clothes, provide a roof and three meals a day without expecting anything in return. He was my loving son from a good family. I was a nurse: how could my son be an addict?

Being the mother of an addict is like being handed a life sentence for a crime you didn’t commit and probably never saw coming. You constantly question what you did, didn’t do, or should have done. Life now becomes caught up in lies, excuses and isolation. I worked hard to keep our secret safe, locked away, afraid of the stigma that would brand us forever.

Living with an adult addict is the most helpless, hopeless journey. You, the parent have no control. You scream, cry, bargain and threaten. There is nowhere to hide. Guilt somehow always found a way to seep into my mind. Was I a good mother, always looking for something to blame. I thought of a million excuses for behaviors. My stories conflicted with these behaviors now witnessed by family and friends. I never realized it then but I was battling the stigma as the blinders were slipping from my eyes.

The stigma I believed regarding addicts was kind when compared to the public’s view. Once I tried to get help for my son I found most people really don’t care about addicts. They are unworthy, disposable, unproductive people. When I finally came clean and revealed my son’s addiction I was shocked at how many so-called friends no longer called. How many dropped me from their invite list like I was a leper. After all no one wants to hear about someone’s addicted son. Too close for comfort. Not worthy of dinner conversation. If I told them my son had cancer I would have gotten support and offers of sympathy. Mothers of addicts get stares and whispers like we are dirty and unwanted, the elephant in the room that no one sees and would never acknowledge.

Experiencing the stigma firsthand made me angry. It also made me realize that addiction, as ugly as it is, deserves to be treated as any other chronic disease. I became an advocate for my son. Little did I know the medical community has its own bias against addicts. Finding a physician willing to treat an addict was like looking for a rose in six feet of snow. No one wanted the responsibility of having an addicted patient, except the pain management clinics who are responsible for turning their patients into the addicts—now dependent on the pills they hand out like candy with no remorse in wrecking lives.

The insurance industry I found is also biased regarding the treatment of addiction. Most insurance providers’ allowable stay is 28 to 30 days. Really, how generous. For most addicts

28 days is like spitting in the ocean. At 28 days, my son was just starting to feel human. Yet he was told treatment was over. It’s time to move out of the safe, supportive environment and get thrown back into a society that will not support or hire an addict. Addicts are set up to fail. Relapses happen frequently. When I called for help I was told he had to wait months to be able to return to treatment. It was like I was speaking a foreign language. I felt so helpless, knowing I had to get him into a program quickly while he was agreeable and willing to go, before withdraw and panic set in.

In all my years of nursing I have never heard anyone ask a cancer patient what bad habits caused their disease. No one accusing them of smoking too much, drinking too much, or eating unhealthy. Yet, I had to defend my son’s disease. I was told that addiction is a self-inflicted disease. The stigma strikes again. Addicts use because they want to get high, loving the euphoria that only drugs provide. The public has no clue about altered brain chemistry and how your body turns against you after the first hit of heroine or a few days of opiates. I heard too many times that if my son wanted to stop he would. Yes, at first I believed that too, until I watched him try to stop. It was a medical horror show. His body fighting his will to change. He didn’t want to live the life he was trapped in. Cravings consumed his mind and pain wracked his body when those craving were not met. It’s just too easy to blame the addict.

Treatment centers are run by professionals that need to step out of the comfort zone and fight for the addicts. Counselors need to have the power to ensure the addict receives adequate time in treatment. Insurance providers need to become educated. Research confirms allowing stays up to 90 days have been proven to decrease relapse events and help provide the addict necessary time to learn new coping skills and self-esteem, and to restore their bodies to a healthy state. Cancer patients are never told they will get 28 days of treatment, then good luck you’re out the door and if you get sick again you must wait for your insurance provider to approve another treatment admission.

Addiction is a life-altering, chronic disease. It needs to be treated with the same respect as any other disease. Addicts are dying every day because no one gets it. These addicts are people just like you and me. Sons and daughters, husbands, fathers, mothers all deserving of life-saving, affordable treatment that knows no time frame. My son lost his battle, but I will continue my fight. This stigma must come to an end before the next generation is forever lost.


This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. lauren Johnson-Lavender

    I too am a mother of an addict. He never started using until he went away to college….he never graduated to heroin, but he didn’t have to ….the opiates destroyed his life….and a 28 day program is NOT the norm….most insurances only allow a 5-9 day stay at an acute detox……a spin dry as we call it…..the month long programs cost $15,000 a month and up……my son died almost 5 years ago after 9 months clean and sober….it is a disease that is regarded as dirty, not only by the community but by the addicts themselves…..they sequester themselves off from their friends that don’t use…….there is a tremendous amount of ignorance regarding this disease… is epidemic in proportions here on Cape Cod. I am a nurse practitioner, and an alcoholic/addict in long-term recovery…..I still could not save my boy…….There is a group called NOPE (narcotic overdose prevention) in Florida….I am trying to start a chapter here on the Cape….both children AND parents need to be educated……

    1. Marie Mobbs

      I lost 2 sons 2 weeks apart to heroin addiction and have been trying to keep my remaining son alive for the past 16 years. In all this time I have virtually given up on getting help for him, all talk by politicians and no action. What medicos and politicians don’t get is when an addict decides he wants help, he needs it now whilst he is in the right frame of mind not in 2 or 3 months time. I would not wish being a parent of an addict on anyone, the addiction is all consuming but being a mother I can never give up.

    2. Jennifer

      I have not lost my son entirely but everyday I watch more and mo%r of him disappear. I’ve begged him to get help. I’ve asked people for help @@nd seem to get know where. I’m so sorry for your losses. Each story is the reason I know I need to fight.

  2. Krystal Gonzalez

    I was a addict since the age of 12yrs old but weed to me wasn’t a drug till it worsend to heroin and crack then lost my kids for 8 yrs had a another baby but born addicted to methadone did I recover and get treated now 14mnths olater and 4 overdoses did I get my kids back and my self will and family and im so sorry for your loss it wasn’t your folt its the addiction your story helps people like me and my mom relies how important it is to spread the word thank you god bless

  3. Mary Giroux

    I could not agree more. I ran into the same things trying to save my son. He lost his battle too. May God Bless and help all the families still struggling. Thanks for all you do.

  4. Doreen Clark

    This is like you took a page from my book of life.
    No can truly understand what an addict does to
    their families unless they have lived it. I lost my
    son in June of last year. My heart will forever be
    broken. My inside tears are always falling … So
    I pray that God will bless you and keep you safely
    wrapped in His arms…..I know exactly how you are feeling, let Go and let God is meant for us too
    as well as the addict.

  5. Kimberly rusher

    I am a mother of a heroin addict. He has been in active addiction for almost 8 years. I am tired of worrying all the time, I used to be glad when he got thrown in jail I could sleep until they released him. As of recently he was throw into county jail on a misdemeanor receiving stolen property, he pled guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 6 months in jail. I wrote a letter to the judge asking her to at least put him into a drug rehabilitation center, amazingly she did. I just seen him this past Sunday May 3, 2015, at this point he has been in rehab for 1 month and jail for 1 month 60 days sober. They have ordered him to stay for 90 days before being released. So in 60 days what happens, he told me he likes it there because it is state ran and very structured, he needs the structure. I just don’t know where he will go once released. I lost my home back in July of 2014. He has burned every bridge. I don’t want to lose him. I’m looking into a sober facility that will take him in. My heart goes out to you for the loss of your son. I wish I could drive more to change this system. I don’t want this generation to disappear. This disease does not discriminate, most people do not understand addiction so they all think it’s a lack of morals, where I know this is no t true. I live outside the Cleveland Ohio area, they are don’t a walk for change addiction now on May 16, 2015. I pray all the time for him and all the other people stuck in this revolving door of addiction. Government needs to step up and change this NOW!!

  6. Jacqueline Rosario

    im soo saddened to not only read the article but everyone’s comments. I buried my brother yesterday, at 32 years old from an overdose. My heart is broken. He was my best friend but for him I will continue to fight. Just want to encourage everyone not to give up and put your faith in God cause he loves us. My brother is at peace now and his fight is finally over.

  7. Shannon Gazze

    Your words are painfully true. Few get it. Those who do are fighting an uphill fight. But you believe your son’s pain and death is worth sharing in order to help others. You are right. I am going to use your words to help my case in front of one of the highest drug and alcohol authorities in PA. You capture the heart of what is wrong with our current treatment systems. You will help me uncover the problem. I will present a comprehensive yet inexpensive system of care that is infinitely better than what is currently offered. Chances are it won’t get far, but we both can sleep better knowing we are doing everything in our power to save lives.

    May God bless you and give comfort to your son and your family!

    1. Maureen

      It started with my son in high school, hanging out with the (cliché) popular crowd. Parties, alcohol, pills, these kids never ever imagining what was waiting around the corner for most of them. You see my son was not the only young person who would have a full-blown drug addition before they graduated from high school. Some have passed on, some are still using and some are in recovery. My son’s story – when I first suspected, he was 17. I had no idea what to do. I could not inquire with my family, they would not understand, think badly all those feelings I was going through. I did the only thing I could think of, the back of my health insurance card from work had a phone number to call for alcohol / addiction. I called and all I got was my insurance would not cover this. I was on my own. It was a horrible feeling, what the hell was I going to do? I ended up looking things up in the phone book, calling private rehabs, facilities, what ever I thought could help. I did end up recommended to a place in Brookline Center in MA. It was basically a house that was used for “clinic” and that is being nice. On our first visit we met the doctor who runs the facility, my son at this point has not used and is physically sick, leg shakes, pale as ghost, abdominal pains the works. This doctor takes out a box that truly looked like a treasure chest and that is what he called it. In this chest he had bottles and bottles of pills. Keeping in mind, this is a new world to me and I have no idea what is going on. He gives my son one pill, second pill, third pill. Tells me these will make him feel better. Gives me prescriptions for all these pills and more and come back every week for another prescription. I had to get up 6 times every night/morning to keep my son on his pill regiment. I had them in baggies with the times marked. This went on for weeks but I felt that this doctor was just dopping all these kids up…at least that was my perception. One day at the clinic for our weekly visit and mandatory drug test my son passed. The doctor called us in the office, myself, son, and my husband. He accused my husband of taking the test for my son. My husband always went into the bathroom with him to make sure he was not pulling a fast one. I flipped out, raving maniac…I asked why my husband who is my son’s step father do such a thing when he is not even his dad..he has invested his time and love into a child that was not even his…why would he purposefully ruin this? I went ballistic…and we left and never returned. The doctor by the way years later was convicted of insurance fraud…It was now validated that I knew this man was keeping these kids dopped up for money. Anyhow, I spent thirteen more years fighting this battle with my son but he is my son and I was not about to give up on him. I think we live in a disposable world these days, divorce, kids, animals, trash etc…I refused to give up on him…An addict loses all faith and hope in themselves due to their addiction if everyone loses faith in them they then truly have nothing to hold onto…everyone needs someone to hold onto them and never let go. I made that promise the day he was born. I kept it. After 15 or so years, I can proudly say, today is the two year anniversary of his sobriety. I am also so sorry so anyone who has lost their loved one fighting this battle. Prayers to all.

  8. Sparla McCann

    We lost our loving son Rory McCann on Jan 4th to an accidental overdose. I have lived this life as well and I am also doing what I can to raise awareness and funds to help overcome the stigma of addiction and help with recovery. Together will will make a difference and be our childrens voices. The hole in my heart will never heal but I will do whatever it takes to spread the word in hopes to save another Mother / family from suffering with this tragic loss. God Bless to all those who have suffered and are still suffering.

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