I never imagined writing a blog post commemorating overdose awareness day; but here I am. In my naivette, I assumed our family would never be affected. After all, neither my husband nor I struggled with addictions; our sons were raised in a loving Christian home, in an upper middle class family where education was valued and encouraged. I was privileged to be a stay at home mom and we were both involved with our sons in sports and cultural activites. We ate meals together and took wonderful, memorable vacations! We played outside, went to Sunday school, vacation Bible school, the zoo, the park, the library; we did all the things Moms and Dads littles one do! We seemed to have to have a good grasp on this parenting thing, until we didn’t. While our son was the real victim, his use of drugs took its toll on our entire family.
Addiction does not discriminate. Lest you be too judgemental, it can happen to anyone at any time. It affects people from all socioeconomic groups, professions, races, intelligence quotients, personalities, and family histories; no one is immune.
Our son was a risk taker. He surfed at Folly Beach when one of the hurricanes hit Charleston! He donned a wet suit and his surf board, and off he went; after all, that is when one gets the “best” waves. I was made privy to this bit of information by his older brother after trying to reach Cullen unsuccessfully for hours. He was invincible; nothing would happen to him, until it did.
Cullen was very intelligent, creative and artistic. We kept many of his drawings and art projects he did while in school. He trained professionally as a chef at Johnson and Wales and was very talented and passionate about his work; presentation was everything to him! After all, we “eat” with our eyes before our food is ever tasted! He also learned woodworking from a friend and many examples of his work are in our home.
At present, approximately 72,000 people die of overdoses every year. Every one who dies leaves a heartbroken mother, father, sister, brother, child, extended family members, and friends. The life of each and every one matters; each person is created in the image of God with a purpose and a plan for his/her life, regardless of how sin has corrupted that design.
For several years before addiction took Cullen’s life, I feared “the call” everyday. Even though he lived away, we instinctively knew his lifestyle invoved the use of drugs….too much money went “missing”, his stories often did not add up, and countless times jewelry was stolen from our home. Too there were accidents, car repairs, tickets, incarcerations, and court costs that were a result of his addiction. Addiction is not only deadly, it is costly as well.
Amazingly enough, many overdoses occur when the person who is addicted has been “clean” for awhile. Cullen had been on MAT in an attempt to get his life back together for several years, and had done well in his efforts. He wanted to be free of the daily clinic visits and insisted that his dosages be reduced over a rather short period of time. In retrospect, this was probably a mistake. He struggled with all the symptoms of physical withdrawal: night sweats, cramping, stomach and digestive issues, depression, insomnia, and the like. While we knew of these struggles, he was still working everyday, maintaining his financial obligations with very litle help from us, and we mistakenly thought he was home free. It was not to be. On the morning of his death, he went back to the clinic and received 25 mg. of methadone and later that day secured heroin from his dealer. He even remarked to his dealer that he was afraid to use it because he had been clean for so long. But use it, he did; and that dose took his life.
When we arrived at his home, having been called by his girlfriend who had found him unresponsive, we had no idea his death was drug related. There was no drug paraphernalia present. It was not until we saw the autopsy report that we realized his addiction had won. It was a hard fought battle and we suffered the most casualties in the war.
Our family will never be the same. We miss him every single day of our lives. I am thankful for the thirty-two years we had with our beautiful boy, grateful for both the good times as well as the bad. I would do it all again in a heartbeat to be able to hug him, run my fingers through his hair, to hear his voice, to enjoy his sense of humor and his delicious food. We were blessed in that our prodigal did come to his senses; he sought the forgiveness of God and of us for his wrongdoing, he attempted to make amends to people he had wronged. He wanted nothing more than to regain the trust we had placed in him.
I wish I could tell others who are struggling on this path what to do, what works and what does not, but I can only share our story and hope that it might be beneficial to some. There are things we did right, and things we did wrong; but if love could have saved him, Cullen would not have died. His dad and I would have gladly given our lives in exchange for his. Cullen knew unconditional love; that was our best and most lasting gift to him.