Dear Heroin Addict, I’ve been meaning to write you, but here it is already Christmastime again. It wasn’t a very Merry Christmas for your little boy last year. Hopefully, this year will be better. He said he didn’t miss you, because you hadn’t been much of parent. Yet I knew he was simply trying to be brave the way children do when they feel abandoned or rejected.
Please don’t think I’m judging you. I understand that your addiction didn’t give you a choice in what was more important, taking care of your son or finding your next fix. Heroin is a cruel mistress, and once she has you, tragically for many people there is no going back. Statistics from http://www.healthy.ohio.gov/ report that, “…approximately eight people die each day in Ohio due to unintentional drug overdose.”
Being addicted to any drug is a mental illness, similar to depression, only it’s not as societally acceptable. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug. The resulting compulsive behaviors that weaken the ability to control impulses, despite the negative consequences, are similar to hallmarks of other mental illnesses.”
Remembering that drug addiction is a sickness is vital in having compassion for your plight, because what heroin has done to your child is heartbreaking. I met him at the movie theater last Christmas season. He was seeing Alvin and the Chipmunks, while I went to view the classic Miracle on 34th Street.
It was bitter cold that afternoon, but your son stood outside of the theater alone with no coat on. His T-shirt left his arms bare, and he looked to me to be all of 12 year old. My maternal instincts kicked in, and worried that he could catch pneumonia, I innocently asked, “Does your mother know you’re out here without a coat on?”
“My mother’s dead,” he said matter-of-factly.
Sensing my distress for his unfortunate situation, the tween quickly added, “It’s okay, she wasn’t much of a mother anyway.” He told me his first name, which was a Biblical character, so I wondered what originally made you choose the name? Had you been a person of faith, or did you just like the sound of it?
Then he briefly shared about your drug addiction, and how his grandparents had come to his rescue. He reassured me that one of those grandparents would be picking him up soon, and that he had coats, but he didn’t like wearing them.
After urging the coatless child to wait inside the door in the theater’s lobby, I walked to my car in the parking lot overcome with sadness. I sat in my SUV and watched for a few minutes until a vehicle pulled up and he hopped in. I couldn’t help wondering, if it was your mom or dad inside.
Besides, being concerned about your little guy, I was concerned for his grandparents. By 2015, almost three million children were living with their grandparents as reported in the PBS blog, The Rundown in a Nov. 3, 2016, article by Teresa Wiltz. “Child welfare officials say drug addiction, especially to opioids, is behind much of the rise in the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren … An estimated 2.4 million people were addicted to opioids [nationally] at last count,” writes Wiltz.
Experts say grandparents are the first and best choice, but not every child is fortunate enough to have a grandparent to live with. The PBS article explains, “In Ohio, for instance, the opioid epidemic has grown so large that caseworkers sometimes have a hard time finding any relatives who can step up,” said Kim Wilhelm, protective services administrator for Licking County Department of Job and Family Services.
In closing, I’m sure you did everything you could to try to fight your addiction like 20-year-old Marin Riggs, who didn’t leave any children behind. “Marin’s Story” was posted on YouTube by the Ohio Attorney General’s office, because in her memory her grief-stricken parents have been on the frontlines trying to save other addicts.
For now, I just wanted to write to tell you that your sweet boy seems to be doing okay. He is kind, respectful, and empathetic beyond his years. I am so deeply sorry that you won’t be here to celebrate another Christmas with him.
Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com