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Addiction. Is it a choice?

Guest column: Addicts fighting battle of heroic effort

Courtesy photo Cutline: Vicki Williams Jinks, with her son Seth.

Editor’s note: Vicki Williams Jinks is a 1978 graduate of Muleshoe High School. This excerpt is from a speech she’s written in hopes of helping those who struggle with addictions.

In November 1993, I looked at my third baby and saw a face of pure sweetness.

Little did I know all that I would learn from Seth and his life.

And if I had known in 1993 what was to come, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to walk out of the hospital with that baby in my arms.

My beautiful boy, Seth, died from an accidental drug overdose in December  2013, just a few days after his 20th birthday.

• • •

Many different images and impressions may come to mind when you hear about addiction, depending on your own life experiences and exposure to this problem.

I can tell you that what came to my mind when I heard “addict” 20 years ago, and what I think of today, are vastly different.

Some may know much more than I do, and perhaps even more intimately, about substance abuse. I only share from the perspective of a mother whose life was turned upside down by this consuming beast.

I’ve come to realize that my assumptions about addiction were poorly informed and that I was naive to think my family would never be touched by this issue.

From the time Seth was 15, we had him hospitalized three times, in and out of two rehab centers. We went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and Alcoholic Anonymous meetings with him, and watched the daily struggles created by a lifestyle of drug abuse.

But there is still much I don’t understand about addiction.

I have more questions than answers.

There is no one-size-fits all definition just as there is no one-size-fits all treatment. The one constant is that when a person’s life becomes consumed with substance abuse, it wrecks havoc on the lives of those who use, as well as the lives of those who love them.

Addiction crosses all socio-economic boundaries, all age barriers, all races, and all religious beliefs.

Approximately 10 percent of any population — teachers, plumbers, business executives — is addicted to drugs or alcohol.

• • •

I cringe when I hear someone say using drugs is “a choice.”

I cringe because there is truth in that statement. But it is not the whole truth. It is much more complicated.

I’ve watched loving mothers with substance abuse disorders lose custody of their children; I’ve watched men crippled by shame because of the heartache they bring to their families; I’ve seen some continue to use drugs even as they grieved losing loved ones to drug-related deaths.

I know beyond a doubt that none of them would have chosen the life they now live. But, yes, there is that choice to pick up that drug, to try it, to enjoy the high.

And one of the frustrating things about this health issue is that the only way addiction can be fought is if they choose themselves to fight it.

It was about four years into the battle to save Seth’s life when it finally sunk in that this was a problem I could not solve — not by force of will, not by money, not by all the love a mother’s heart holds.

It was not up to me.

I could, however, choose to love Seth unconditionally — even when he acted in very unlovable ways.

It’s heartbreaking and sickening to watch someone you love become desperate to get what they crave even though they know it can completely destroy them. The kind, loving, honest person you know can become so desperate that they will lie, steal, do anything they can to quiet the craving.

As difficult as it is to witness the devastation, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the person who is living with the shame and sense of helpless drowning.

I know it broke Seth’s heart every time he realized how much his actions hurt those he loved and the shame and the regret drove him even deeper into despair, ironically feeding his desire to use.

One thing I learned over time was that adding to his shame and sense of self-disgust did not help him toward recovery.

• • •

As a mother, I naturally want to paint the best possible picture of my son and there are many wonderful things I can truthfully say about Seth. But the harsh truth is I learned I could not trust nor believe anything from someone who is abusing drugs.

I wish I had realized much earlier on not to listen to stories that I knew deep inside couldn’t be true, and promises I knew couldn’t be kept.

It’s a hindrance to facing reality when you so much want to believe the person you love. Accepting the fact that you cannot trust someone when they are using, can be critical in moving forward with making hard decisions that have to be made.

• • •

I was once asked, “Where did he get the money for drugs?”

We learned quickly the danger of giving Seth cash for any reason. His school lunch costs were paid directly to the cafeteria. My guess is he would get an ice cream bar or something and sell that to another student.

We gave him gifts for his birthday and Christmas, the same as we did with our other children. In no time, the guitar, the cross bow, the Xbox, the bike all ended up at a pawn shop.

Seth never stole from us but he was incredibly resourceful. I wouldn’t give him money to go to a movie, but part of trying to help someone recover is trying to help them find healthy entertainment. I gave him a movie-theater gift card. He sold it to someone as soon as he got to the theater.

So, my answer to the question: Where do addicts get money for drugs? They are incredibly resourceful.

• • •

Drugs are everywhere.

We read in Seth’s journal that he was offered Xanax by a schoolmate when he was 12. He once told us himself that when he walked into Arlington Heights High School as a freshman, it was like walking into a pharmacy. We enrolled Seth in five different high schools, even moved him to another city, and always, within a matter of days, he found drugs available to him.

I’ve come to learn that many people immediately think of illegal street drugs when they hear about addiction. It’s true that our society is greatly impacted by meth labs, street heroin, crack cocaine, the cartel, and that all of this illegal activity is a big part of the overall addiction issue we face as a country.

However, many, many of the drugs destroying lives are coming straight from your doctor’s office and the pharmacy on the corner. Many of the teens in high school simply have to look inside their parents’ medicine cabinets to get what they want to get high.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the pharm parties.

When someone has an image of a street junky shooting up with heroin, and they think that’s the face of addiction, that’s a dangerous misconception.

Please don’t blame our society’s problems completely on the “drug cartel.” We’ve got to wake up and realize all of the sources of this problem.

• • •

One word that came to mean everything to me was HOPE. It didn’t help to hear horror stories of overdose, prison, or life on the streets.

At every rehab and AA meeting we heard the same — that the future held three possible outcomes: cleaned up, locked up, or covered up.

I knew the risks and lived in constant fear of losing Seth so when someone wanted to share a story with me about a friend who’d lost their child to drugs, it only deepened my desperation.

It did, however, help to hear the success stories.

There are people living full, healthy, productive lives in recovery. Are they forever freed from the risk of relapse? No. But there is always hope.

It may take innumerable nightmare experiences, it may take more than one rock bottom, but if someone is ready to get sober and can reach out to a hand willing to help, there is always the chance of recovery.

An addict is not just “an addict.” Just as a person who has cancer is not “a cancer.”

That person we call an addict is a person, a person who is loved and treasured by someone and who is in the grips of a battle few of us can ever truly understand. I learned to say, “my son struggles with addiction.” Not, “my son is an addict. He was much, much more than his addiction.

• • •

Our Seth passed away after six months of hard-won sobriety. He was the happiest we had seen him since childhood and was finding it rewarding to work as a mental health tech with a hospital in Denton, Texas.

I will forever be grateful to a sober living facility in Denton for giving us those six months of enjoying a sober Seth and seeing him healthier and happier than we had in years.

He gave in to his struggle with insomnia and probably a desire to quiet the craving for opiates one more time, and it was the fatal dose. He died peacefully in his sleep and his struggle ended there.

I now focus on the gratitude I have for having had such a special, beautiful son and for the privilege of being his mother.

Seth was charming, sweet, loving, funny, and kind. And he struggled with a devastating deadly problem.

But I refuse to say he was simply “an addict.”

I spend much of my time these days volunteering at a recovery center in Fort Worth.

My hope is that in sharing some of our experience, there will be a little light shed on this struggle and an increased amount of respect and understanding for those fighting the battle. Keeping it in the dark under a cloak of shame and sadness is not going to help any of us move forward in finding solutions to the problem.

When you hear someone say they’re celebrating X number of days of sobriety, applaud them. Celebrate with them. Cheer them on.

They’re fighting a battle that takes heroic effort and they need support and encouragement.

And they can win.

Vicki Williams-Jinks can be contacted at:

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