Feeding the Heroin Machine: That Mess Was Our Father, Son, Ex-Wife
Colleen Singer, family photo
The much-reported heroin crisis lurches on, daily taking new victims. What's new, and albeit faintly heartening, is the willingness of those affected to be forthright about addiction's ravages inflicted on individuals, families, communities, to publicly proclaim the awful "scratch and claw" of loved ones' lives until the inexorable day they left them in the faint hope of moving toward ending the epidemic by naming it. Many of the dead are unknown except to those who suffered with them, but their stories have begun to be told in newly honest obituaries.
Thus do families describe agonizing over each stolen piece of jewelry and padlocked bedroom door, each debate about when to turn them out, each hopeful but then devastatingly failed stint in rehab. "You still love this person, but you know you better lock up your (stuff) if he's coming over,” says one mother. "You're dealing with a machine that will do anything to get what it needs. It’s hard because this machine looks like your child and pulls your strings, and goes, ‘Mom, Mom,’ and they work you and work you, and they’re master manipulators.”
Many obituaries also increasingly call out not just the addict's failings, but our own. When Coleen Sheran Singer, a young Maine woman, died last Christmas, her ex-husband wrote a furious ode as "a last act of love for someone whose illness didn't allow her to love herself the way she needed to." In her death from an overdose, he wrote, "She was a victim of herself, of (Gov.) LePage's politics, of our society's ignorance and indifference to mental illness, and of our society's asinine approach to drug addiction." Lamenting her loss, he declared himself someone "whose life was made more difficult but also much better for having known her."
That recognition of both gift and burden is echoed in the searing open letter in Rolling Stone written by the ex-wife and teenage children of Scott Weiland, frontman for Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, who for years struggled with drug abuse and was found dead on his tour bus last week at age 48. While many online messages cited the mythic "demons...of a rock 'n roll heart," Mary Forsberg Weiland focused on the gritty, entirely unromantic reality of a paranoid, tormented, falling down sick artist "unable to recall their lyrics streaming on a teleprompter just a few feet away." The date of his death, she said, was simply "the final step in our long goodbye to Scott...the last day he could be propped up in front of a microphone for the financial benefit or enjoyment of others." In truth, her kids lost their father years ago; what they lost at his death was hope he would keep trying: "Noah and Lucy never sought perfection from their dad.... Progress, not perfection, is what your children are praying for." Also husbands, mothers, siblings, friends. Too many.