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31 years ago today

At this moment, 31 years ago today, you were holding me in your arms for the first time. You were only eighteen and didn’t know then how things would end or even what the next day would bring. At that moment you didn’t know that your baby girl would see you as her hero, that her heart would remain loyal to you, that you could do no wrong because she knew you were loyal to her, that you would always put her before you.

You didn’t know then that today, my 31st birthday, I would be writing this to you because you’re no longer here. I lost you to a disease that our society refuses to acknowledge. I lost you to a pill, the last of many which finally stopped your heart.  It was the one thing you put before me, but I know now that it wasn’t by choice.  It’s too late for you but I know you would want to share our story and what we learned together in this life as mother and daughter, if only for a short time, in hopes that it might light a path for others to follow. I love you, Mom. I miss you.

The most beautiful, loving and joyful woman I knew fell victim to the neurological affects of an addiction and because of a lack of compassion and understanding, she was left to fend for herself against this fatal illness. We would never expect a cancer patient to eradicate their tumors through willpower alone, but for some reason an addict should be able to rewire their neuropaths that have been physically altered by their disease if they really put their mind to it. We expect this of them for several different reasons ranging from how society treats addicts and how addicts treat themselves and others. The result of this is a symbiotic paradox that feeds off of the negative connotations of addiction. It doesn’t matter if we acknowledge that addiction is a disease, yet still punish addicts with jail time and fail to provide proper medical treatment. The victim can’t see through the social stigma to get past the neurologically induced denial. They believe the hype that they should be able to triumph over their addiction mano y mano. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they try and fail repeatedly. Sometimes they try and fail repeatedly until they die. By then they’ve acquired a handful of plastic sobriety tokens as a cheap testament to their efforts that you don’t know what to do with when packing up the last of their belongings. Only then do you realize how hard it must have been to try to defeat this beast that lives within you, that has become you, and in the end, consumes our mothers, our friends, our heroes that we thought invincible.

There needs to be more discourse and we need to demand that victims of addiction be offered the same care and empathy offered to anyone else suffering from a disease. Addiction is a disease, not a character flaw. I feel it’s my duty to share what I’ve learned and how our approach to addiction needs to be taken to another level of understanding. I owe it to my mom, who deserved to be treated with more dignity during her battle with addiction. I can’t blame myself for not being able to save her, but I would be guilty of not avenging her death if I chose to keep quiet.

 

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