08.17.12 Truth & Wisdom
Life in a small seaside town has its upsides. There’s a real sense of community amongst those of us who stay here long after the tourists have fled for more urban climes. While there are about eight thousand people who live in my town year-round, it actually feels like much less.
I live in a small town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In the summer, our beautiful shores are brimming with tourists who come here to escape their real world for a while. They come here and we gratefully accept their hard earned dollars in exchange for some relaxation, fried clams and t-shirts.
There is a problem here though, one people don’t really like to talk about because it doesn’t look good for the tourists. I am sure the chamber of commerce does its best to sweep it under the rug because it’s not pretty. It may be hard to believe, but out here, amongst the lighthouses and sandy beaches hides a dirty little secret – in the last ten years, opiate addiction has increased 800% not just here, but in the rest of southeastern Massachusetts, as well.
It somehow seems incongruous that children who grow up spending long summer days corralling hermit crabs in tidal pools on bayside beached would grow up to become heroin addicts, but more and more are. It’s something I know a lot about. I am the mother of one such child.
When I was coming of age, no one did heroin. I grew up here and while there was certainly a lot of pot smoking and drinking, no one, absolutely no one used heroin. I found out my oldest son, then 26, was a junkie the day one of his friends died of an overdose. That night, his friends began calling me fearing he would be next. I had no clue. He was living in my house and I had no idea.
I didn’t tell anyone for the longest time what was going on. I couldn’t. I told my closest friends but no one else. News like this travels fast, especially in November when the gray and the cold begin to really set in.
My son’s road to recovery – he now has almost five years clean and sober, was fraught with all the ups and downs you can imagine. Overdoses, rehab, homelessness, detoxing and him going missing became a part of my life, and it became harder and harder to hide.
There is nothing like having a child become a junkie to make you face your own insecurities and need for approval. I felt so embarrassed, both for having failed as a parent, and for feeling ashamed of my son. He was sick, he needed me, how could I feel ashamed? Over time and with education, I changed. The more I learned about addiction the more I realized I didn’t cause this, and that there was nothing to be ashamed of.
I am a journalist who writes for our daily paper here, The Cape Cod Times. Mostly I write about happy topics like pop culture and fashion (yes, there is fashion on Cape Cod), but three years ago, I took a bold step. I outted us.
By the time he had two years sober, I had begun to talk about our journey openly amongst friends and people who were struggling as well. He and I went to speak before a panel of state politicians who had convened here to learn about opiate addiction. My son was articulate and focused as he talked about the ease in obtaining first, prescription medication and then heroin. I spoke of the difficulty in finding and paying for treatment of a loved one. I knew I needed to write about it.
With my son’s permission I wrote an op-ed piece for the paper about our journey. I felt fine about it, until the day it ran. Suddenly I realized everyone was going to know the very thing I’d spent so long trying to hide from the world at large. I feared being judged and ridiculed and thought of as a terrible mother, and person.
But a funny thing happened. When I exposed my vulnerability and opened myself up, people responded in kind. People who I had never known to have struggled with alcohol and drugs opened up to me and shared their story. By taking that leap to tell the truth I’d given them permission to do the same.
What I’ve come to see is that true strength isn’t in always having it together. It’s being brave enough to expose your delicate underbelly and trusting you will be safe. We are all fragile, and we all struggle, it’s what makes us human, and it’s what binds us together if we let it.
When we dare to allow our shadow sides to be exposed it frees us. And it frees those around us to be imperfectly human as well.
Featured image via DanielGordis.org