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Excerpt: How I Stopped Blaming Myself for My Son’s Overdose Death

Submission Date: October 23, 2019
Attributing Author: Madison Feller

A son’s death and a mother’s love. This is the story of Josh Olt who overdosed on heroin and died at the age of 16. This is the story of the mother he left behind. It is not a story of “moving on,” or “getting over it.” For those of you who have lost someone you love to overdose, you know those things don’t happen. This is, instead, a story of disenfranchised grief, of self-blame, of what-ifs, of should-haves, and how to find a way to let go of that guilt.

This is the story of Dr. Tamara Olt, President of the Jolt Foundation and Executive Director of Broken No More/GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) and how she was able to come to terms with the all the what-ifs and to find a way through the paralyzing self-blame and to channel her grief to help others. In Josh’s name.

The Denise mentioned in this story is, of course, Denise Cullen, the Founder and past Executive Director of Broken No More/GRASP. She has devoted over 10 years of her life, after the death of her son Jeff, to helping others to find a way to live with the devastating pain of losing a loved one to an overdose.

“One of the things I struggled with the most was the guilt and blaming myself. How did I miss it? Why did he use drugs? I literally went back from the moment he was born to the moment he died, thinking, What did I do wrong as a mother?

I was the strict mom who always said, “Don’t ever drink, don’t do drugs, nothing.” Since my kids couldn’t come to me, I thought maybe I should’ve been more open. But I’ve discovered that some people threw their kids out on the street, and they died. Other children died literally in the room next to their parents. Everybody did things differently, but we still ended up in the same place, with our loved ones gone. That helped me to stop the “what ifs.”

“Everything we’re doing wrong with the opioid epidemic is really based in stigma. When I started reading and understanding the problem, and what works and what doesn’t work, I couldn’t refute the evidence. To me, the solution is clear. It’s about harm reduction. You’ve heard the saying, “Oh, they need to hit rock bottom.” Well, we who work in harm reduction don’t believe that. Rock bottom is dead.”

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