I have never felt such intense love until the births of my children, Kelly and Matthew. A unique bond was instantly formed and from that day forward, everything in my life had changed. I loved being a mother, and I especially loved being THEIR mom. No two children are alike, each having their uniquely wonderful qualities, and my children were no exception. Matthew was a typical boy: inquisitive, energetic and always moving. Matthew struggled academically in school, while Kelly excelled. I knew Kelly would eventually move on to college and I pictured Matthew learning and mastering a trade. Both are equally honorable paths and I knew I would be happy if they were fulfilled in their chosen careers.
After Matthew graduated high school and started working as a security officer, I believed he was on the right road to leading a successful life. That illusion ended on a cold December evening when I was awoken by the police at my door. Matthew jumped off a local bridge into the freezing cold water in an effort to avoid the police. The officer proceeded to tell me two of the worst sentences I could imagine: They didn’t see Matthew come out on the other side of the water and my son was a heroin addict. I remember sitting on the floor crying in disbelief and the officers were looking at me like I should have known this. I had not been aware, and shock was an understatement. I kept saying they must be mistaken. I had been an employee of the Connecticut Judicial Branch for many years and I have seen addiction. I could not have missed this, but my focus quickly turned to finding my son. After a night of horror, he walked through the door the next morning. That was the beginning of a 12 year nightmare.
Matthew was taken to the hospital via LifeStar more times than I can recollect. I could share many horrific stories of Matthew’s battle with addiction, but instead, let me tell you what Matthew didn’t want. He didn’t want to be addicted to drugs. He didn’t want to battle unemployment and he definitely didn’t want to cause hurt to his family. I felt his pain, I felt his frustration, and most importantly, I felt his shame. It stripped him of everything including his dignity and self-esteem. I, too, heard whispers of judgement and ridicule.
When you love someone suffering from a substance abuse disorder, you feel helpless and out of control. You dread holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings. Either Matt would not show up at all, or he would often arrive high after everyone had already gone. It broke my heart to see my son this way and I know he didn’t want his family to see him like this. Matthew felt the stares from some of his less supportive family members and it isolated him even more from the people who loved him unconditionally. I was spending my days and many sleepless nights learning all I could about addiction and what I could do as a parent to help.
Matthew suffered from the stigma associated with addiction which not only made it difficult for him to acquire gainful employment, but I believe it also kept him from seeking treatment. He couldn’t bring himself to admit that he had a problem that wasn’t going to solve itself on its own. Addiction had a hold and impact on Matthew that I could not imagine. His world consisted of chasing drugs so he could get up in the morning and function without getting sick, and so he could somehow sleep at night. Matthew always wanted me to believe that he was doing well and he was really good at it. Yet he was so far into the world of addiction, he could not see a way out, and felt ashamed asking for help. Addiction leads you down roads you never thought you would traverse, and rarely can a light be seen at the end of that dark tunnel.
When I first learned of Matt’s addiction, I didn’t know where to turn. The opioid epidemic was still largely being ignored and there were no community action groups or other policies in place to manage this. After Matthew lost his battle of addiction in November of 2015, I found support and comfort in my family and friends, and I vowed to turn my grief into enacting change. In the months following Matthew’s tragic death, I started “Matt’s Mission – End the Stigma of Addiction” in my son’s memory. Matt’s Mission had their first Walk and Fundraiser in 2016 with the support of friends, loved ones and the community. Our goal is to raise awareness of this ever-growing, ever-evolving epidemic, to end the stigma of addiction, to change the way we face addiction, and to start treating addiction as a disease, not a criminal offense. I strongly support non-arrest diversion programs where individuals can reach out for help and treatment without shame, blame or the threat of arrest. We humiliate and shame individuals for having a disease. They are sick people who need help. A compassionate approach leads to less addiction and I will continue working with local communities in hopes that more of these programs will be put into place.
Matt’s Mission is in the process of achieving their nonprofit status; our 501(c) is currently pending. We will continue to pursue our mission and raise funds to help those who suffer from the disease of addiction. We are planning a “Matt’s Mission Celebrates Recovery” event at Veterans’ Park in Jewett City, CT on September 8, 2018 from 10am – 2pm. Please stop by to this free event; all are welcome! There will be speakers, resource tables, and more! Recovery is possible! With the proper support, resources, treatment and continued care there is light at the end of this tunnel!
Written by Kathleen Dufficy