The Mother Behind The Mask
Updated: Apr 6, 2019
A few days ago someone replied to a post of mine that made me really think about how the #stigma of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) not only exists for those that struggle with SUD, but also the loved-ones of these individuals. In particular, parents and #mothers like me.
I am the mother of four adult sons, two with SUD. Although both sons are in recovery today, the journey has been extremely difficult and painful. For years I beat myself up every day, thinking that in some way it must have been my fault. I knew I wasn't a bad parent; if anything, I had done TOO much for my kids. But regardless, my never-ending search for what I had done wrong consumed my thoughts, night and day.
When this journey first began, only my very closest friends and family members were aware of our family struggles. And even amongst these very close friends and family, many would avoid discussing the topic at all costs. I recognize that it's not the most comfortable of conversations; however, the #silence was painful and the #isolation even worse.
For more than a decade I went to work everyday trying to hide the pain. I may have gone completely without sleep the night before, but I put on my best #mask each day and did the best job I could. Some nights when I was consumed with worry and couldn't sleep, I would dress and go into the office at some ridiculous hour of the morning (like 3:00 AM), just to get some work done before others showed up and the mask went on.
When my youngest son was diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, things really got difficult. What already seemed to be the unbearable situation now presented the almost impossible task of keeping it all together. Sadly, the people I thought I could rely on the most, became the very people I could rely on the least.
Considering the circumstances, I did quite well at keeping all the balls in the air at any given time. Maintaining an executive level position for one of the largest employers in Houston and dealing with the anticipated and unanticipated challenges that each day may bring, all while trying to love and attend to the needs of two sons with SUD; one with co-occurring disorders.
Then came the day that I had to put my priorities in order. Things had escalated to a critical level with my youngest son, and I needed to be there for him. I needed to be there for him in the same manner in which any mother would be there for a son with cancer or any other serious medical condition. Something that every employer should support. Sadly, my employer was not supportive, and after 25-years of exemplary service, we parted ways.
I needed to be there for him in the same manner in which any mother would be there for a son with cancer or any other serious medical condition.
Being able to freely focus on my sons was the most liberating feeling ever. My youngest son's co-occurring disorders were dealt with and are for the most part non-existent today. Both sons are in recovery! And I have used everything I have learned throughout our years of pain and turned it all into a purpose.
My husband and I have made considerable sacrifices and investments into helping other families and individuals who struggle with SUD. Opening and running a sober home for men, becoming an interventionist, 2 AM phone calls with hurting mothers, community involvement, and networking to help to create a path forward for families just like us.
So, what was that post that I referenced in the beginning? It was this...
"Most people are still caught up in the informational pattern of Nancy Reagan's 'Just say no!' era, even though the knowledge base of addiction science has grown so much since then. However unfortunate, true wisdom with regard to addiction has to come from experience. It's just the way it is. You cannot teach somebody about how a well-adjusted, great person can become a person of addiction without witnessing it first-hand.
I've had conversations about you - how impressed I am with you - and many still give me the 'well then what happened with her kids?' reply. My answer has been: 'Then you've never been through it. And you should consider yourself eternally fortunate'."
Friends, this is mine and so many other parents' story. This is what people say and think about us. It is the STIGMA! As I said earlier, would someone say these things if my sons had cancer, or any other terminal illness?
My heart goes out to the over 72,000 moms, dads, and family members who lost their loved-ones to drug overdose in 2017. That could be me, and it could also be YOU. According to Maggie Fox, NBC News, drug overdose deaths in 2017 increased almost 10 percent (a record high), while deaths related to cancer fell by over 2 percent. Please stop judging! Please start caring!
Many thanks to the person quoted above (name to remain anonymous) for the very well-stated response to those that were judging me. He is exactly right. If you don't understand SUD, you have probably not been through it...yet! And when you do experience SUD firsthand, you might see how a well-adjusted, great person, who came from a good family just so happens to also have SUD.
News anchor Angela Kennecke of CBS affiliate KELO-TV in South Dakota has covered the overdose crisis for about 10 years. Listen to how Kennecke lost her own daughter to the epidemic.