A grieving mother.
Most people experiment, especially as teenagers. And most will be able to let it go and move on with their lives. But for many, once they open Pandora’s box they can never close it. They aren’t bad people. They aren’t weak. They aren’t worth any less than the kids who didn’t become addicted. They are human beings with feelings and families who wish they could turn back the clock.
Heroin usage and heroin overdoses have become an epidemic on Long Island. Long Island has even been called the “Heroin Highway”. In Nassau County alone there were more than 821 non-fatal heroin and opiate overdoses in 2013, according to the Long Island Herald, of which 119 were fatal. And these numbers have only been increasing.
Of course, knowing that heroin overdoses have increased doesn’t diminish the pain and anguish of grief. As anyone in the situation of having lost a loved one to an overdose knows, the only thing that is more heart-breaking than loving someone who is heroin-addicted is losing them through a heroin overdose.
The helplessness, hopelessness, anger, resentment, fear and devastation that are experienced when someone we care about uses heroin is magnified tenfold when they die from an overdose. And, although most family members and friends know on some level that overdose is possible, it is still shocking and hard to believe when it actually happens.
When we are confronted with the reality of an overdose and lose a loved one – whether it is a relative, a friend, or a child– the grief is complicated. A variety of emotions may be experienced all at once, or even within an hour’s time.
A death from an overdose is unique, though.
Drs. Feigelman and Gorman, authors of a recent study on overdose grief.
Greater grief and mental health difficulties (arise) compared to accidental and natural cause deaths.
Guilt and shame:
One of the most common reactions to losing a loved one to an overdose is the enormous sense of guilt. The guilt around “did I do enough, did I do too much (in terms of enabling), was there something I hadn’t thought about?” is often overwhelming.
- We feel as if we ought to have intervened earlier, or reached out more often, or had “the drug talk” more often.
- We get stuck in the “coulda / woulda / shoulda’s”, and this can be debilitating. Shame, too, can also be very strong.
- We might feel that others are thinking that we “should have” done something differently, and this can be just as emotionally damaging.
Dealing with the grief of a loved one:
As with any type of grief, it is most important to allow whatever feelings to emerge. Often, we are not even aware that we are angry or in pain, especially if that anger or pain is directed towards our deceased loved one.
Instead, we might mask our emotions with shopping, eating, or television. But by burying the pain, we may prolong our grieving. There is no easy way around grief, other than to allow for each emotion. In my article on this topic, I discuss steps we can take to acknowledge our feelings.
My wish for you is that you find compassion for yourself and your loved ones today.