Have you ever met a guy whose smile could light up a room? Who made you feel like you had found a long lost friend? The kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back? That guy who brings every stray dog home and makes it a member of the family?
That was my son, Matt. He had that happy-go-lucky personality that drew people in and made them fall in love. Unfortunately for Matt, he never loved himself enough. He experimented with marijuana in high school and after graduating to pills, ended up in his first rehab. He spent 30 days at an inpatient facility in NewPort News, Virginia, and I foolishly thought we had beat his disease.
Matt went on the become an excellent mechanic. He moved to the beach, bought a home and opened his own business. His adult life appeared successful and drug-free. I took a deep breath and started to relax, only to discover soon after that he was hiding his addiction. At first it was just casual use--a Saturday night party or coming down from a busy week of work. But he was slipping back into the deadly mindset that made him believe he was in control.
The beginning of the end began when he suffered a back injury; he had been lifting an engine when he felt a pop. The next day he could barely walk. He called to let me know that the doctor gave him a Percocet and told him to take it easy. I remember a cold chill running up my spine. Call it “Mother’s Intuition” or a flashback to his younger days, but being a nurse, I knew the dangers of any form of opioids and warned him to try to stay away. I knew his pain was real and I also knew his predisposition to becoming addicted.
Months passed and the signs were all there but I was in denial: missed days at the office, unpaid bills, unreturned phone calls. Our close relationship was changing as the disease found him again. I felt like I was living Groundhog Day, except this time Matt was an adult and my hands were tied.
Matt struggled with an addiction to Percocet for seven years. During that time he lost everything he had worked so hard to gain. He tried to continue working on cars while he was abusing pills, but it was obvious to his steady customers that something was terribly wrong and they took their business elsewhere. His business closed six months after his injury. After missing too many mortgage payments his beach house was repossessed by the bank. Everything he loved now gone--he came home to me.
During those seven years Matt was in and out of rehab. I refer to that time in our lives as ‘The revolving doors of rehab.” I felt like we were strapped on a roller coaster holding on for the ride of our lives. Due to his insurance he was never permitted to stay for the length of time he needed to learn how to handle life without pills. He would come home clean and I would look into his clear eyes and thank God that Matt was back. He was such a joy to be around. He didn’t want to be tortured by cravings. Our life would start to feel normal again but my joy was short-lived when, within a matter of weeks, he returned to his world of numbness and the cycle began again.
Matt had a horrible fear of needles. This gave me a false sense of security, thinking that I never had to worry about him graduating to heroin. Little did I realize that crushing Percocet and snorting it was just as deadly.
His last attempt to get and stay clean took place at Bowling Green, a rehab close to home. As I watched him struggle with demons that had plagued him for most of his adult life, I was proud and hopeful. Matt was coming back. Each time I visited I was greeted by his clear eyes and beautiful smile. I remember sitting together looking out over the water. Matt was headed to a recovery home in Florida. I was unsure about his decision but remembered every book I read always talked about how different people, places and things are the best choice to support new sobriety. When Matt left for The Boca House on June 2, 2014, he wrapped me up in a big bear hug and told me he was so happy to have the monkey off his back. Little did I know that monkey would find him in Florida.
We spoke twice a day; I missed him terribly and meanwhile, he was starting a new life. Once again he was living by the sea, his happy place. He found a job, his self esteem returned, and I allowed myself to believe that this was his “ah-ha” moment, that finally he was in a good place.
The last night we spoke was on a Friday. My ears--trained to pick up cues--found none.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, Matt.”
For reasons my heart will never understand, Matt relapsed. Eighteen months and eighteen days ago I heard the words that shattered my world: Matt is dead. He lost his battle on January 3rd, 2015.
I would give anything for a do-over--to rewind time knowing what I know now. I would have held on tighter and never let him go.
Since Matt's death, I have been trying to pick up the pieces of my life. I started a support group for parents who, like me, have lost a piece of their hearts. I began writing letters to Matt and started a blog called Mother’s Heart Break (mothersheartbreak.com) where I share our story and educate readers about the addictive properties of prescription opioids. I also started a FaceBook page in his honor: “Breaking the Stigma of Addiction: Matt's Story” where I post educational articles related to prescription drugs and the risks of abusing them.