Today marks my 160th day walking through the East coast’s backyard up the Appalachian Trail. It also marks 353 days since we lost our Matt, my best friend and the love of my life, to an accidental overdose on 9/12/17. For those who don’t know, August 31st is overdose awareness day, a day to remember those who lost their lives to addiction and open up about this devastating epidemic that all too often is forced behind closed doors due to the still pervasive stigma to those afflicted and their loved ones.
When we lost Matt, we decided to go public with his story. As one of the most loving and genuine people many of us had ever known, we felt his story would humanize the statistics, and flip misinformed views on how and who is affected by addiction. And so, on March 24th, I set out with Matt and my little dog Theo to walk through all these mountains, connect with people affected by the epidemic, open the conversation and learn all that I can while sharing Matts story.
Matt‘s struggle with opioids began after an incredibly turbulent and difficult childhood and young adulthood. Like many, he started with prescription pills which then spiraled out of control. Years later, Matt reached out for help, got clean in rehab, and hopped on a bus to Colorado with a backpack, and only $20 to his name.
And after some time, Matt had built the beautiful life he always sought, a loving family and home, a career as a microbrew connoisseur, a circle of amazing friends and people who supported him. Matt was a man of deep integrity and always lit up the room when he walked in. He’d made it to 30, a year he told me he never thought he’d reach. And he was thriving. But recovery is a daily battle, and tragically, he relapsed. After three painful days waiting for him to wake up from his coma, we were told he would not be coming back, shattering my heart and our life into a million pieces.
After losing him, strangers would often reach out to me telling me stories of when Matt reached out to them in their darkest moments, either helping them with their own recovery or mental health issues. I’ve had multiple people tell me he saved their life. He’d been through so much... trauma, pain, judgement but he always stayed hopeful and he never became bitter or mean. God that boy was a giver. He is the best man I’ve ever had the honor of knowing. I’ve never felt so protected, loved and understood by anyone, and so many others in his life feel the same.
Heroin, opioids, fentnyl, benzos... no one and no family is immune. What I’ve learned from Matt is addiction does not descriminate and it can and will take some of the most beautiful people in this world. I’ve also learned how painful the shame and stigma is for someone who is struggling, or has struggled as well as their families. And though my journey ends on September 12th, I hope the people who’ve gotten to know our Matt through me and all my stories are moved to show compassion for those struggling with addiction and help turn the shame and stigma around. Last year 72,000 people, up by nearly 15% from 2016, were lost to overdose, outnumbering casualties of the entire Vietnam War or any other cause of death under the age of 50. Something has to change, and it starts with acknowledgement and understanding.
On September 12th, I will have hiked nearly 1,950 miles, and Brittany an additional 120, in honor of Matt and his legacy. We are hoping to raise $2000 over the next ten days while we hike through the 100 mile wilderness, one dollar for every mile, to benefit the Matt Adams Foundation, a fund we’ve set up in his name to provide financial resources for those needing help affording recovery programs. Thank you so much for your support on this journey and through this difficult, but also moving past year. I’ll never be the same, but I hope that Matt is proud of all we have tried to do in his honor.