I recently had a conversation about opioid addictions on social media—lots of folks chimed in and some told me their stories. Thank you. I never realized that I would find an incredible “Mama” story in there, but I did. Most of the folks who were kind enough to share their stories asked that if I did repeat them, to not divulge their names so I will not. But I’d love to share a quick story in honor of Mother's Day.
Recently, I talked to a lady who told me about her recovery from an opioid addiction. Pills, Percosets. Later on, heroin. We sat down, ate some food and she talked to me for about three hours about the addiction that, in her words, made her into a zombie, had her stealing from her family and living on the streets of her reservation on the northern plains during the brutal winter.
“I wouldn’t talk to anybody for weeks. It wasn’t shame. I just had nothing to say. I had dumbed down my ability to feel any pain and so simple muscle soreness or a cavity in my tooth was too much. I just didn’t want to feel any more pain.”
She was on the streets for over two years. Those were the heroin years; didn’t communicate with her family. She was hooked on pills for about five years before that, when a doctor gave her them because of a car accident. “That doctor must have been trying to kill me. I didn’t need that.”
But opioids—whether hydrocodone, codeine, heroin, etc—are specially designed to create addiction, relieve pain temporarily and then kill. In the words of Sam Quinones, “Like no other particle on earth, the morphine molecule seemed to possess heaven and hell.” Slavery and freedom. Life and death.
According to her, she thought she was going to die. She wanted to die.
What does this have to do with Mother's Day?
Well, after being on the streets for two years, this young lady’s mother passed away. Her mom had an extended battle with cancer and eventually succumbed to it. She tells me that her mom was amazing—a single mother who raised them all (two girls, two boys) to be respectful to other people and to work her. She said her mom wasn’t formally educated but she made them stay in school long enough to graduate. The young lady lived with her mom after graduation and hid her pill addiction from her. Later, when she began living on the street, her mom would drive around looking for her with “food and pop.” She says her mom always maintained belief in her; she told me “You’ll stop. One day.”
“She was my angel.”
Her mom wanted nothing more than for all of her babies to be healthy and happy. The rest of her siblings are doing well. But when her addiction started to become “a thing,” the young lady said that her mother would plead and cry and beg for her daughter to get straight. She said her mom bribed her with anything she could. But her mom never brought up her illness, “She probably didn’t want to worry me.” The young lady says she was too high to realize that her mom was dying. She thought maybe her mom was just getting older or had some illness that would take care of itself. But it was terminal. And this young lady tells me that she missed her opportunity to see her mom in the final months of her life.
Well, the mom died. And the daughter stayed high. And the death became the excuse to stay high. “I convinced myself that I couldn’t deal with the pain and the guilt gave me a constant reason to not want to face reality.” This went on for about six months after her mother passed.
Then one night while “high as a kite,” she says that her mom communicated to her. She says that her mom told her that she was supposed to have children too. Her mom told the young lady that she was supposed to have a relationship with her children as close as hers was with her mom. Her mom told her, “You are supposed to be someone’s angel too. I don’t want you to feel bad about anything you’ve done. Pain is part of loving someone; I accepted that when I decided to be a mother. I knew my babies were going to drive me crazy and make me proud and cause me pain and cause me happiness. Sometimes all at the same time.”
The young lady knew she could not have children in this state. She wanted to make her mom proud and become the mother and daughter she deserved, even if it was in her afterlife.
She knew her mom was still with her. She experienced it. She spoke to her. A mother’s love is powerful enough to change the unchangeable and give hope to the hopeless; they’ve always done that. Saw something that needed to change and offered prayers, support, love and hope until those changes happen. Sometimes those miraculous changes do not happen until after their physical life passes, still those mothers created the change by believing and working toward that goal.
The young lady has been clean for a bit over two years. She says the craving is still there but that her Mother’s love and “God’s grace” is stronger than the pills or heroin. She is working full-time, does not have a child yet but knows that will happen when it’s time, when she “deserves it.” “I was in no condition to be a mom before.” And the young lady’s children will benefit from their grandma’s faith, support and love.
Her mom saved her life from beyond the grave. Moms’ love can change generations.
Happy Mother's Day.
Wesley Roach, Skan Photography
Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories