The Buildup, the Letdown and ????
I lost my son in 2006 to OUD. As I have become more of an advocate since then, I understand how much time and energy (physical and psychic) people like us have put into the battle to eradicate this epidemic. It is worthwhile for us to be introspective about what we do and why we do it, especially after IOAD (International Overdose Awareness Day). We have to be aware of our emotional health and well-being.
In 2006, there was not much of a “movement,” largely due to the fact that OUD was not as widespread as it is now. To put it plainly, OUD was not even considered a disease and it was happening in mostly lower socioeconomic areas, especially to people of color. This goes back to the 1960’s and before, especially where I lived in New York city. Those affected people did not have any political clout. Some people who lived in suburban and rural areas attributed the OUD epidemic back then to the moral character of those afflicted. Indeed, mostly everyone, including middle and upper middle class people thought the same way. Pity that society did not study the problem as much as it is now. Perhaps thousands might have been spared that fate.
As I charged into this IOAD -and it is now almost a week later- I realized what has been going through my feelings. During the buildup to Aug. 31, I noticed I was feeling charged up as I looked at all the activity on major social media. We all were striving to make known the extent of the OUD epidemic and exhorting all of our contacts to like, follow and share our efforts. I felt pretty positive about all of us using one voice to advocate for a better response to this plague. I actually felt good about what our community was doing and even in my own way, what I was contributing.
For those of us who have been around long enough, we know what goes up must come down. I liken the “what goes down” part to the weeks and years after my son’s funeral. The days when I was left alone with my own thoughts and the quiet settled in. The days when I could only think about the magnitude of the loss. The ensuing days and months when I went to work and did not think about the loss only to come home and ruminate about all of the things I should have and could have done differently. You all know what I am referring to. And then came the guilt years after his death when I had moments not thinking about his death nor thinking about his life.
After this IOAD, I tried to figure out my feelings about this day. What I can take away is the following questions this experience has left me with. What are we proclaiming to the world?
What are we virtually screaming to the world? In some ways might it be the anger we had felt and perhaps continue to feel? Are we exposing our vulnerability saying, “Look what happened to us, to our family? What kind of a world are we left with? Is this world dark and foreboding without any silver linings? Is it an egocentric view we are sharing, i.e. is it about our loss? Do our efforts on IOAD actually do anything to heal our wounds? Will this day compensate for our loss in any emotional or practical way? Why do we do what we do?
The biggest question to think about, and the answer to why we participate in IOAD, is the following: does this day heal us and the world in any way? Not an easy question to answer nor is it answered soon after the loss.Has this day healed me in any way? The answer is, yes. I say yes, because after about 7 years of going on with my life after the loss, I felt my life was missing something. It came after I awoke in the middle of one night. After therapy and being involved in GRASP I came to a realization.
I had gone through many stages while dealing with the worst loss a person can suffer. I have come through it while suffering physically and emotionally. Then I asked myself a question that I had heard during the film, The Candidate, starring Robert Redford, who plays the candidate seeking election (yes, I’m an OG). The character wins his election and while he’s being whisked away in the back of a limo he says, “Now, what do I do?” Like the candidate, I asked myself the same question at some point after going through my grieving. What do I do after I have grieved? You are reading my answer.