This is a question often asked by those with a loved one who is struggling with an addiction. In both my personal and professional journey(s), I have witnessed so much devastation and loss – especially from loved ones who are left to pick up the pieces after someone dies of an overdose. There are simply no words to express the depth of pain, anguish, and despair that they must endure. It can quickly spiral downward leaving them in an unshakable state of depression. Recently, however, I’ve seen a few examples of people who, through their own tragedy and loss, found a way to use their grief to help others. I recently was asked to help a mother in Nantucket who lost her 27-year-old son just this past Christmas Eve. He had just come back home after being in treatment for several months in California. “He was upstairs in his room and I was on the phone with my daughter.” The woman explained. “For a split second, I thought, ‘He’s been up there too long – I should check on him.’ But he had asked me not to dote and to give him space… so, I did. Just a few, short minutes later, I hung up the phone, walked upstairs and found him on the floor. It was too late…he was gone.” I couldn’t help but to cry with her… but then she said something I will never forget. “It’s all my fault.” My heart broke into a thousand pieces. I don’t think there exists a greater pain than the loss of a child – except, maybe, the relentless despair of believing it was your fault. I tried in every way possible way to get her to see it differently, to convince her that there was nothing she could’ve done, however, there was no amount of logic or reason that could assuage her suffering. Feeling altogether useless and defeated, I finally asked, “What can I do to help?”
It seems these days that everybody knows at least one person who has been impacted by the epidemic of addiction. But when you hear stories like this, you wonder how they ever learn to move on, will they ever experience joy again and, most importantly, how can I help? When I asked her this, the woman said, “I wish someone would’ve told me what to expect when he came home. I wish there was a booklet or pamphlet that listed things like warning signs, numbers to call, how to maintain your own boundaries, and a reminder to have Narcan with you at all times.” I agreed and wondered if such a document existed or if treatment centers/sober homes already do this for their graduating clients. Even if they do, I figured if she didn’t know how to get it, I’m sure plenty of others don’t either. So, I asked what she thought about possibly spearheading such a project, noting that her efforts could potentially help other mothers and families in similar situations. We could distribute it to Al-Anon, Learn to Cope, and Community Outreach Programs throughout the Cape & Islands, the Northshore, and even throughout New England! Needless to say, she loved the idea. By the end of the discussion, she was looking forward to getting started on an outline for the content.
There is something about channeling one’s pain and suffering into something positive for the greater good that tends to help people heal. Maybe it’s the fact that it gets them out of their head for a little while, or gives them a new purpose, or they feel needed because sharing their experience can truly help someone who is still struggling… Whatever the reason, finding a positive and worthwhile outlet for grief can be the catalyst for letting the healing process begin. For more information, please feel free to reach out to Brady’s Landing or check out our podcast on YouTube.