By Hayley Mathews, July 15, 2018
When you’re in recovery, your friends die.
Your friends die, a lot.
That may seem brash, or cold, or dehumanizing; But I promise it isn’t. It’s a truth that I came to live with, the reality. Each death, while still heartbreakingly tragic- became less and less shocking. I was growing increasingly complacent. Until, that is, I decided to do something about it.
I went through a period in early recovery, where the heaviness of substance use followed me. The severity of the opioid epidemic in particular, was a prevalent and unavoidable weight; It was unshakable.
My friends were dying. My friends were dying of overdoses.
Once the levy was broken, a flood of deaths and bad news bombarded my life. I couldn’t open social media without a new homage to a dead friend. Phone calls with old friends, turned into disclosures of lives lost. Suddenly, a normal response to, “You okay?” became, “Yeah. Just another friend OD’d today.”
Cody’s death was not the first to pass through my scope. It’s unfortunately not been the last, but was significant to me nonetheless. Cody’s death has inspired a miracle, a miracle that is still impactful and life changing today. Not only for me personally, but for the families benefiting from the charity created in his name.
Cody’s death was different.
Cody, Jackie and I brushed shoulders in a few different recovery circles. The two entered and left my life, always at the right time and always with great compassion. Cody was not what you imagined, when you thought of someone in recovery. He appeared normal by every definition of the word, and even happy. I can’t recall an experience with Cody where that striking smirk didn’t creep across his face. But that’s the deception of substance use- it doesn’t discriminate.
Despite us never being significantly close, Cody and Jackie were welcomed faces in my recovery. Cody always offering meaningful support in moments of weakness, an overwhelming space of non-judgment. Jackie has seen my at my most vulnerable, and my best. Always determined to be the best version of herself, inspiring others to hold themselves to higher standards.
Even in their darkness, they shone through the recovery community as leaders.
I was thousands of miles away in Nevada when I heard the news of Cody. I was in that stage of early recovery, and the news of his death came after news of at least three other friend’s deaths. My mother mailed me the obituary a few days later. With that scrap of paper in my hand, Cody’s sly smirk looking back at me and a tangle of incomprehensible words- I cried. I cried for the first time in weeks.
The weight of grief dislodged itself from my gut, and I wept.
I cried for Cody, and for Jackie’s grief. I cried for all my friends, that I would never see again. I cried for the ones still using. I cried for the ones that were grieving them. I cried for the helplessness- stacked against an epidemic out of my hands. I cried because I made it.
Why them, and not me? That could have been me.
Cody’s death brought an awareness. It was suddenly unavoidable, this was an epidemic. Something had to be done, and complacency wasn’t helping. It reminded me too that, I am not the only one who has these stories. It is with good confidence that I can say that most Americans have been touched in some way by the destruction of substance use, and even the Opioid Epidemic in particular. I can compassionately confront the grave reality of the situation, while still contributing to movement to make change.
I am not the only one who was inspired to make light and positivity out of the current state of the world. Cody’s mom Mary and Jackie, have set up Cody’s Fresh Start, which raises money to help get people in active use the treatment that they need. Their commitment to helping others is an inspiring one. As people in recovery, with every moment that we have survived this battle, we must help the ones that are still struggling.
The miracle of Cody’s death, is that it moved people. It personally moved me from a place of victimhood, to an empowered desire to help others turn their lives around. It moved Cody’s most loved to battle an epidemic. It has moved a community of people, to begin to speak up and talk about it.
People are dying.
But if we have the courage, we can make the choice to do something about it.
Hayley Mathews, July 15, 2018