As a mother, I think it’s safe to say that the loss of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. I have not suffered this particular tragedy, so I can only imagine the grief that accompanies losing your child in a stigmatized way, such as a drunk driving accident where your child was driving, or of a drug-related problem like a heroin overdose. Because of the epic opioid crisis in our country right now, the latter issue is one that too many parents are facing today. Losing your child from a heroin overdose comes with extra grief because your child’s death is seen as his or her fault, and those addicted to opioids are often written off as worthless.
But here is the truth: all life is precious, even the lives of those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. One mom, Bonnie Sesolak, is on a mission to make that truth known, and help others from succumbing to opioids. I recently read her story on The Voices Project, and I found it to be so compelling that I just had to share it.
Bonnie’s son Cody died of a heroin overdose at age 21. She wants everyone to know that he was more than just the cause of his death.
In her essay about Cody on RyanHampton.org, Bonnie writes:
Our family’s life was forever changed by an unspeakable tragedy when we lost our beautiful boy, our 21 year old son Cody, to a heroin overdose. This monster stole his dreams, our dreams, and the wreckage left behind is un-navigable.
She goes on to describe how Cody was far from what we typically think of as a “drug addict.” The truth is, no one is immune to the powers and dangers of opioids. Cody, she says, was as typical and gifted as could be. He wasn’t an “at risk” kid.
What does addiction look like? Surely not my gifted, gregarious, smart, compassionate son? Cody was the athlete that everyone wanted to be. Cody was talented, and smart. He had a beautiful girlfriend a family and friends that loved him beyond words. He loved his little brother, his dog, and He was one of the most caring, compassionate people on this planet. I truly believe that his caring, loving soul was too good for this world. He died in our home, in his bedroom.
She goes on to say that despite his talents and loving support network, Cody suffered, as so many of us do, from anxiety and depression. That isn’t what led him to use opioids, but it most likely led to him liking the way they made him feel. She goes on,
Like so many, his decent into addiction began with prescription drugs resulting from several sports injuries. After his one and only stint in treatment, he was clean and we had our boy back. Then, at a job he loved…..the worst scenario for someone in recovery, a horrible near death accident. Seven surgeries and daily doses of the strongest opioids available, for nearly 12 months. He struggled with the pain and tried to manage the medication. He knew he was in trouble, I knew he was in trouble.
For those doing the everyday hard word of recovery from opioid addiction, and accident or injury can be what pulls them back into active addiction. In Cody’s case, the injury with seven subsequent surgeries in a year was just too much. Bonnie describes the terrible day her son left them forever.
The day my boy left us, I walked out of my body and never went back. I remember hovering over my body, seeing myself sitting on the floor, seeing those around me talking-but not hearing a word. I thought to myself, “thank god, I’ve died too.” Then, I remembered my other son, my only other child, he would be getting out of school, I had to get to him before he saw all the commotion at our home. Just then, as if he knew, he called. “Mom, I’m done with practice, can you bring me a sub.” I told him he needed to come home. He said “why, is it my brother?” Before I could get a word out, the phone went dead. I will never forget the look on his face as he ran from his car to sit beside me, he took my hand, cried, and I knew at that moment, he was no longer 16, he was thrown into a nightmare that will haunt him forever.
Although again, I’ve never suffered this tragedy, Bonnie saying, “Thank God, I’ve died too,” when she found out her son was dead rings totally true to me. That’s something only a mother could feel, I believe. And her coming back to herself for the sake of her other child—that totally rings true as well.
Cody’s death from a heroin overdose nearly caused Bonnie to check out of life as well.
But, her own support network loved her too much to let her go. With their help, she found a way to go on, and to give those suffering from opioid addiction a voice, in Cody’s name.
After 3 months in bed and a family intervention, I knew I had to be Cody’s voice. I refuse to let my beautiful boy become just a statistic. I became an advocate in our state. Meeting with our lawmakers, creating a foundation in his name to help those who cannot afford the gift of recovery. And most importantly, educate anyone and everyone who is convinced this could never happen to them.
Cody’s life goes on through her work, but his death is a tragedy. We must all use our voices to erase the stigma that comes with opioid addiction and support those in active recovery instead of vilifying anyone who has fallen prey to these drugs. The truth is, this crisis is so widespread that all of us know someone it has touched. These souls are our family, friends, classmates, and neighbors. If you know of someone struggling with addiction, don’t ostracize them, LOVE them. Your support may give them the courage they need to seek help and make a change.
For more on fighting the opioid crisis, visit RyanHampton.org.