One can only imagine what it must be like to live every day with the weight of the world on your shoulders.
There have been times in all our lives when such a burden may have been placed upon us, but very few of us have ever experienced the day-to-day strain like that of Abi Lizotte. Abi was an addict. Abi carried that weight on her shoulders every day with tremendous strength, except of course on her last day, for you see, Abi has died. The loss of Abi is another tragic reminder that even the strongest among us can fall victim to addiction. Abi’s death cannot not be the end of her life’s purpose.
Nestled a short distance from Skyhaven Airport in Rochester, sits Hope on Haven Hill (www.hopeonhavenhill.org). Hope on Haven Hill’s mission statement is simple: “To provide a nurturing therapeutic home environment for pregnant women with substance use disorder who are seeking recovery.” Simple words that can bring joy and pain to those that strive to live them. As simple as the words are in purpose, it is a struggle every day to fulfill the promise. Abi Lizotte was one of the inspirations for the creation of Hope on Haven Hill. Abi became the face, the voice, the purpose for everything Hope on Haven Hill stands for. Her death does not change that; it only makes their mission that much more critical.
Some would say that on Dec. 1, 2017, Abi Lizotte died of an overdose, but the truth is she was killed. Abi fought back, over and over in an effort to subdue her attacker. Abi tried so hard to overpower the assailant that would eventually prevail. At 25 years old, the single mother of a beautiful boy, who was loved by so many and was the inspiration for so many more, perished, another victim killed by addiction. We cannot sugarcoat Abi’s death. It was a waste of a life, but not a life wasted. As Abi’s parents expressed: “Abi was taken from us by this insidious, cunning disease, like so many before her, and unfortunately, so many more to follow.”
For those of us who are not addicts, or don’t know addicts, it is too easy to dismiss them as weak, selfish, reckless and the worst that society has to offer. If you believe this, you never met Abi, or at the very least heard her story. Some might take exception with me calling Abi strong and heroic. But you are so wrong. Abi was a warrior, she looked at death every day and somehow found the courage to resist, to fight back. She had a million little victories, and every second she lived off of drugs was a triumph. We must not judge Abi based on the actions of her final seconds on Earth, but for the million seconds in which she battled her addiction, while at the same time trying to help others.
An addict knows only three states of existence: “in recovery,” using or dead. The addiction never goes away, it attacks you every day, exploiting any weakness that may afflict the addict. Doubt, depression, frustration, self-loathing, bad luck all serve to open the way for addiction to take its next victim. When an addict “breaks through,” we all embrace their “success.” We place them on a pedestal and shine a big spotlight on them. We heap praise and express pride in their victory over their addiction, believing the worst is behind the addict.
We forget that the addiction is still there. The urge to use eats away at the addict. Like tinnitus, the ringing in your ear, it never goes away, it is always there. Sometimes soft, other times loud. However, unlike tinnitus, addiction is not just a noise you can ignore, it takes hold of every part of your body like a demonic possession, a relentless and massive attack on your physical and mental being. The weight of the world on you, every second of your life.
Sadly, for some, Abi will be just another statistic. For as much as we believe we are standing with the addict, they are alone in their addiction. We share in their success, but place their failure at their feet. The weight of the world is hard to carry alone, and the statistics bear that out.
New Hampshire ranks second in the nation for the number of opioid-related deaths relative to its population (West Virginia is first). New Hampshire ranks No. 1 for fentanyl-related deaths per capita. According to the N.H. Chief Medical Office, New Hampshire drug deaths in 2017 are expected to be less than in years past, but year to date, there have been at least 350 suspected overdose deaths in New Hampshire in 2017.
Opioids are one of the most addictive drugs on the planet. On average, 25 to 50 percent of substance abusers will return to using drugs or alcohol within two years of receiving treatment. However, the heroin relapse rate has been estimated to be between 80 and 90 percent during the first three months after treatment. One study found that of 109 subjects who had achieved sobriety in heroin rehab, 99 relapsed. The initial relapse occurred within one week in 64 (59 percent) cases. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states “repeated heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain, creating long-term imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed.”
On Christmas morning, all of us will wake up in a world with one less hero, Abi Lizotte. It will be a sadder world because Abi is not with us. I don’t want to be writing this article, and in the absence of Abi’s earthly presence, we must find some good in her sacrifice. Abi’s death cannot be the end of her life’s purpose. We must carry on the mission that Abi gave her life to support.
Please support Hope on Haven Hill (www.hopeonhavenhill.org/donate.html) and other substance addiction programs.