Last week a former student of my Mom passed away. Although not completely unusual-- after all she taught for over 30 years-- the circumstances surrounding this death left her profoundly saddened. He was beaten and left for dead. His body was discovered, but he later succumbed to his injuries and passed away. He was in his early 40's.
My Mom taught at my high school. The area is boringly middle class. My graduating class, like those before me and those after mine, were filled with optimism about the world. Our school corridors lacked the violence and gangs which plague so many of the inner city schools. Metal detectors have not been installed and are still unnecessary. It was a safe place to learn, void of many of the dangers affecting student's today.
Unfortunately, addiction, like so many other diseases, transcends social barriers. This man graduated with the optimism and excitement for the world like all of his fellow graduates. Alcohol addiction interrupted his dreams and, ultimately, took his life.
Like so many families, ours struggles with issues around addiction. We still love our family members, but I have to admit that I don't necessarily like them when they are engaging in addictive behaviors. It becomes difficult to separate the addict from the essence of the person. Perhaps only a family member can remember the person behind the addict, and maybe that is why friends eventually drop away but the family always remains.
I have been inundated with advice from well-meaning friends concerning the addicts in my family. I have been told to turn a blind eye, essentially removing the person from my life. I have been encouraged to confront, to yell and to scream. I have been told that I need to host an intervention similar to the television show "Intervention." All of the solutions seem so simple--until you actually know an addict.
It has been 20 years. I can assure you that there is not a strategy that I haven't tried. If yelling and screaming or tears and love could fix the problem, it would have been rectified a long time ago. It simply isn't that simple.
Ultimately, the solution for overcoming addiction lies within the addict. Nobody aspires to grow up and become addicted to drugs or alcohol. For some people, life is interrupted by the chemicals.
I am writing about this for two specific reasons. I want to honor the life of my mom's student. Ty was not simply another drunk on the side of the street. He had a family, friends, a job and a promising future. His family, as a last resort, attempted to jump start his sobriety and preserve their sanity by implementing tough love. Sometimes, self-preservation is the only option.
I cannot imagine the guilt that Ty's parents must be feeling at this time. It is little solace to offer my condolences and assurances that they did not cause his death. As somebody who loves an addict, I have lived the pain of watching the addictive behavior eat away at the soul of the person. There are no words for that pain. I can only offer my prayers and sympathy.
I want to honor Ty's life by breaking a "dirty little secret" that is lived by too many amputees. I received little advice before my amputation, but one warning from an amputee resonated with me. She warned about the dangers of becoming addicted to the pain medication prescribed after the surgery. She explained that the new amputee is in a vulnerable state which is a breeding ground for chemical dependency and addiction.
Because of her warning I was careful about the amount of medication I used after the surgery. After surviving the surgery and its aftermath, I agree with her warning. An amputation is a body altering and life changing surgery. Many times the patient feels lost and hopeless. I have seen many new amputees turn towards their pain medication not only to numb the surgical pains but also to dull their emotions.
Addiction to pain medication following an amputation is often swept under the rug. It is not unusual for the amputee to utilize pain medication for years following the surgery, despite the physical ailments having long healed. Phantom and nerve pain are often treated with prescription narcotics. For many doctors, it's an "easy fix" making the drugs easy to obtain and perpetuating the dependency.
I am writing about this not to cast accusations but to bring awareness. I stopped taking my pain medication several weeks after my amputation because I didn't want to risk addiction. Nerve issues and phantom pain can be treated with non-narcotic methods. Masking or numbing emotions never solves the problem, it only makes them more difficult to address. Ignoring the risks of becoming addicted after limb loss only perpetuates the problem and its stigma.
If you find yourself reaching for a chemical substance in an effort to escape, please seek help. Don't be afraid to discuss your suspected dependency with your doctor. Many of these drugs pose dangers if quit cold turkey. Seek help, ask questions and know that you will be surprised by your own strength. Nobody deserves to die like Ty- violently beaten by those who believed themselves to be superior. RIP Ty.