Grief & Stigma – When the Opioid Crisis Hits Home
I lost two friends to drugs and alcohol recently. One of them I’d known since high school. We weren’t close anymore, but my memories of him are fond. He was a good kid, and he was far too young to die. The other one really hits home. He was the best man at my wedding. Our kids have grown up side-by-side and were born within months of each other. He was a generous and kind man who put everyone he knew before himself. He chose drugs and alcohol to cope with struggles he had throughout his life and there was a moment where he took it too far and lost sight of what was most important. I chose to support his wife and kids over him when things got really bad. But he was lost and needed help, and now I don’t know how to feel.
Drugs are a powerful thing and so is grief. Growing up, I witnessed my mother head down that dark road with alcohol, and my husband’s mother died due to addiction when he was young. I’ve been down those roads before myself, and luckily, I found meaning in my life and I have learned my limits. I know for certain, though, that if I were to give myself permission to do drugs or let alcohol get the better of me, I wouldn’t be too far behind those friends or my mother. There was a time in my life that the possibility of that happening was forthcoming.
The thing is though, it is you who takes that first hit. And once you’ve taken that hit, nothing will ever feel like that again. So, you go on chasing that first one, over and over and over again, until nothing can stop you, but the drug itself. But I digress. I know that this is the grief talking and I feel angry and sad and confused. I look at his kids and my heart aches.
One hundred and thirty-four people died from fentanyl overdoses in BC this past July. I knew 2 of them personally. That’s what gets me. I’ve been following, reading, and researching addiction and the opioid crisis for the past year working at SCHC. I have felt empathy towards those that have lost loved ones because of this. At SCHC, we know loss first hand. I never thought that I would find myself so close to it, and the hardest part is knowing how easy it is. It’s things like this that make us here at Sunshine Coast Health Centre work harder to break down the stigma and barriers so that we can help stop more people from dying or becoming lost in their addictions.
There is a quote I read recently from Washington Irving that says, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep connection and unspeakable love.” I think in this current battle the world is facing against drugs and addiction, against stigma and against lack of meaning, we have to embrace the feelings we feel when we experience grief and use that power to our advantage to make the world a better place.
Where do we go from here?
So, what can we do? Where do we go from here? If you have a loved one who is struggling, if you are struggling, if you’ve lost someone close to you because of this, there can be a lot of mixed emotions. It can become very overwhelming and there are always more questions than answers. You should know that even though there is this crippling stigma surrounding addiction, you are not alone on this journey. We have written before about what you can do if your loved one is struggling and have resources available for family intervention. There are also many available resources for yourself if you have experienced loss or are just having a rough time dealing with the pressure of loved ones struggling with addiction.
The thing that I recommend (FYI I’m not a professional), is to talk to someone—a friend or close family member, a doctor, a counsellor, or a support group of other individuals that have experienced something similar. The best way to reduce the stigma surrounding all of this is to talk about it. When we talk to others about the things we are feeling, people begin to feel less shame, seek guidance and help, and feel less alone on this journey. That, I believe, is a solid first step.
When I spoke to others about my friend and his struggles, about the guilt and the feeling that I had let him down as a friend, I learned that they felt it too. We all agreed that we didn’t know what to do to help or if we could have done anything at all. We all wish we had known how bad the situation was. Hindsight can hurt, but now I feel like I can look the shame and stigma of addiction right in the face if I see it rise again in anyone else I know and do whatever it is I can. I guess all we can do is the next right thing.