… My mother, Noreen A. Whalen, passed away on December 20, 2011 …
… I can write that date without a blink of an eye or a second thought …
… I just can’t write anything further about my mom …
… My father, John B. Whalen, passed away on January 23, 2004 …
… I can write that date without a blink of an eye or a second thought …
… I just can’t write anything further about my dad …
… In my line of work, I deal with loss and dying and death on a daily basis …
… People deal and cope with loss and dying and death in different – and their own ways …
… Some write about it … Some think about it … Some bury it … Some ignore it …
… However … “it” never goes away … “it” never gets easier … “it” is always there …
… And your life is changed forever …
… But I digress (as I tend to do) … This post is not about me … This post is from a very good friend of mine (Maria), who did write about her experience with loss and dying and death …
… Fortunately – and as always (at least for me and I hope for her, as well as you also) it has helped me beyond ways Maria can or will ever understand (just as I will never understand how Maria feels) …
… As usual, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have …
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I’m about to share a very personal and emotional personal experience in the hopes of eliciting some deep reflection on a difficult and contentious topic.
The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman rings so close to home for me of a past that to this day haunts me.
There have been many to die before him of a drug overdose but for some reason his story has churned up a plethora of emotions.
You see I am my mother’s daughter and SHE was a rescuer. She began her nursing career as a Psychiatric hospital nurse and then became the Director of a drug treatment center.
I too am a rescuer – a rescuer of animals of all kinds including the human animal. My mother taught me to value every living thing and to understand that none are perfect. We all have demons.
I began rescuing at a very early age. Whether it was to rescue my neighbors dog from an isolated life in a laundry room or my first cat Samantha, who followed me home one dad and I had to keep her, or whether it was my first long and very complicated relationship.
You see that relationship was with a heroin addict, one much older than me, but a life disrupted that I thought I could save. I could not.
His demons were much too dark for a teenager, albeit I was a different type of teenager than your average one, but still the possessive nature of addiction was more than I was ready to tackle at the time.
I had known [him] for years before a relationship formed and was there to help him when his own mother finally took her own life (after threatening to do so many times before). This was really when our relationship grew stronger.
It was a very controversial and difficult relationship for my family to understand.
I knew that, but the bond between us was very strong.
He was – for me – a soulmate.
He was more intelligent than most knew and I – to this day still – have scribblings that he wrote about how things in society should change, and how very much he hated the addict that he was.
These were notes for him not meant for others to read and I found them in his belongings and I have had them tucked away for almost 30 years, after three very long and tumultuous years in a relationship that was understood by very few.
I found him lifeless on the floor of the apartment where he lived. It is a day, a scene and a smell that is burned into my memory for eternity.
It was about 7:30 in the morning and I was stopping by on my way to work to give him some presents I bought him for his birthday. I knocked on the door and got no answer.
He knew I was coming and my first feeling was that of anger. You see, this was an all too familiar thing to have him not be where he was supposed to be or doing the things he was supposed to do. Addicts are not all that reliable.
I peeked in the window and could see him lying on the floor with his back to the door – not that strange really – there were 3 people living in this one bedroom apartment, so often times one would sleep on the floor. I knocked again louder this time and nothing, so I tried the door and it opened.
I went in laid down next to him and put my arm around him. That was the moment I realized something was dreadfully wrong.
There was an odor, an odor I will never forget, one of death.
I quickly sat up and turned him over and he was blue and sputum streamed out of his mouth.
I shook him harder than I had ever shaken anything in my 18 years.
I knew he was gone.
My life changed immeasurably that day.
But it has helped sculpt me into the person I am today.
Oddly my family Doctor wanted to prescribe Valium for me to “help” me deal with the situation. I refused. Even my family wanted me to take them. I would put it in my mouth and pretend to swallow it and get rid of it.
Why are doctors so quick to prescribe drugs to help people deal with trauma? That masks the underlying issue – it doesn’t heal it.
I had never done a drug to that point and had no intention of trying to “fix’ the traumatic events with the very thing that had caused it. I prefer to simply face things head on and deal with the root of the problem instead of bandaging it in the hopes that it will simply go away.
I continue to be a rescuer, which is a continuous source of angst, disappointment, and heartache.
I worked at the drug treatment Center with my mother for 7 years and I became callused and angry with many of the addicts because too many of them seemed to be happy with their lives and “playing” the system.
I too must remind myself that addiction is more than just a weak person’s disease and that for many it is desperate attempt to shield oneself from pain and it sickeningly encompasses and destroys the soul to which it has attached it’s tentacles.
Below are some very poignant points about addiction from an article I just read in regards to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death.
I must say it relates to many addicts but not all, some simply do not want to change and others are desperate to find a way out of the living hell they have created in an attempt to find euphoria.
At any rate some food for thought:
Addicts don’t want to be addicts.
Addicts don’t want to die.
Addicts don’t want to throw their lives away.
Addicts don’t want their children to grow up without parents.
They just want to feel better. They just want to feel normal. They just want to stop feeling everything else for a little while.
Addicts are people, just like you and me.
Addicts come in all forms, dependent on many different things, drugs just being one version of dependence.
The problem is that our system is limited, laboring under the illusion that drug addiction is a criminal issue, a medical issue on the fringes that can be fixed with proper rehab. That all ignores the fact that drugs aren’t the problem…what led that person to drugs in the first place is the problem. The drugs are just a means to an end.
Rehab doesn’t fix addicts. It primarily treats the physical symptoms of withdrawal.
Prison doesn’t fix addicts. It just puts them in a cage for a while.
Even death doesn’t fix addicts. It just leaves the people who love them here, forever wondering how different things might have been.
The only way to really deal with addiction is one that is multi-faceted, one that makes us uncomfortable. It is messy and complicated and takes a lifetime of effort. It sometimes involves relapses and second chances and third chances. It involves support, sometimes sponsors. It involves therapy and counseling until whatever the root cause is has been revealed and addressed. It involves consideration of not just the physical withdrawal, but also the emotional withdrawal, the social withdrawal, the psychological withdrawal. It requires a mental health system with adequate resources, which clearly doesn’t exist. It requires us to do better. It requires support instead of judgment.
And sometimes, even when all those things exist, it fails. It fails because addiction can take people and swallow them whole. It can rob them of everything they value, everyone they love. It can strip them of everything they care about, rob them of reason and logic. It can convince them that they aren’t worthy, that they have failed not just themselves, but everyone else. It tells them that they are broken and irreparable. Then it shoves them back down and does it again.
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Quoted thoughts courtesy of DeBie Hive: Addiction, Mental Health and a Society That Fails To Understand Either
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… Thank you very much, Maria …
Also published on Medium.