‘Her addiction stalked her and stole her once again’

There are plenty of big, national problems that are too complex to make a dent in solving. Opioid addiction isn’t one of them.

We know that painkillers are the gateway. We know that doctors overprescribe them. We know that pharmaceutical companies are complicit in flooding the nation with them.

We know that politicians make a lot of money from those companies and that the deaths of people like Madelyn Linsenmeir are acceptable enough to enough people that too many of them are willing to throw up their hands and say, “Hey, what are you gonna do, eh?”

But families like hers aren’t going to let people like us off the hook that easily. So we get obituaries like this one, which appeared on the Vermont news site, Seven Days and the Burlington Free Press this week and which was forwarded to us by readers @fleetssara, Nicki Oliver, and Matt Lutz .

Our beloved Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir died on Sunday, October 7. While her death was unexpected, Madelyn suffered from drug addiction, and for years we feared her addiction would claim her life. We are grateful that when she died, she was safe and she was with her family.

Maddie was born on March 31, 1988, in Burlington, Vt., where she grew up and lived on and off throughout her adult life; she also spent time in Sarasota, Fla.; Keene, N.H.; and Boulder, Colo.

Madelyn was a born performer and had a singing voice so beautiful it would stop people on the street. Whether she was onstage in a musical or around the kitchen table with her family, when she shared her voice, she shared her light. She was a member of FolKids of Vermont, a dance and musical troupe that toured the world.

Maddie visited Russia and Thailand with the group and, as part of their exchange program, hosted kids from other countries at home in Vermont. She loved to ski and snowboard, and she swam on the YMCA swim team, winning medals at the New England regionals.

When she was 16, she moved with her parents from Vermont to Florida to attend a performing arts high school. Soon after she tried OxyContin for the first time at a high school party, and so began a relationship with opiates that would dominate the rest of her life.

It is impossible to capture a person in an obituary, and especially someone whose adult life was largely defined by drug addiction. To some, Maddie was just a junkie — when they saw her addiction, they stopped seeing her. And what a loss for them.

Because Maddie was hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient. She could and would talk to anyone, and when you were in her company you wanted to stay. In a system that seems to have hardened itself against addicts and is failing them every day, she befriended and delighted cops, social workers, public defenders and doctors, who advocated for and believed in her ’til the end. She was adored as a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend and mother, and being loved by Madelyn was a constantly astonishing gift.

Maddie loved her family and the world. But more than anyone else, she loved her son, Ayden, who was born in 2014. She transformed her life to mother him. Every afternoon in all kinds of weather, she would put him in a backpack and take him for a walk. She sang rather than spoke to him, filling his life with song. Like his mom, Ayden loves to swim; together they would spend hours in the lake or pool. And she so loved to snuggle him up, surrounding him with her love.

After having Ayden, Maddie tried harder and more relentlessly to stay sober than we have ever seen anyone try at anything. But she relapsed and ultimately lost custody of her son, a loss that was unbearable.

During the past two years especially, her disease brought her to places of incredible darkness, and this darkness compounded on itself, as each unspeakable thing that happened to her and each horrible thing she did in the name of her disease exponentially increased her pain and shame. For 12 days this summer, she was home, and for most of that time she was sober.

For those 12 wonderful days, full of swimming and Disney movies and family dinners, we believed as we always did that she would overcome her disease and make the life for herself we knew she deserved. We believed this until the moment she took her last breath. But her addiction stalked her and stole her once again. Though we would have paid any ransom to have her back, any price in the world, this disease would not let her go until she was gone.

Maddie is survived by her son, Ayden; her parents, Maureen Linsenmeir and Mark Linsenmeir; her sister Kate O’Neill and Kate’s partner, Marshall Fong; her sister Maura O’Neill and Maura’s partner, Tim Painting; her aunts Beth Dow and Susan Dow and Beth’s partner, Charlie Allison; her beloved cousin Sloan Collins; and many other aunts, uncles and cousins, including the Conants, Cahills and Camisas. She is predeceased by her grandparents, Madelyn and Roland Keenan, Mary Ellen and Herman Dow, and Reginald Linsenmeir.

Please join us for a memorial service honoring Maddie’s life on Sunday, October 21, at 2 p.m., at the First Unitarian Universalist Society sanctuary at 152 Pearl Street in Burlington. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Turning Point Center, a place where Maddie spent time and felt supported. Donations can be made via its website, turningpointcentervt.org.

If you yourself are struggling from addiction, know that every breath is a fresh start. Know that hundreds of thousands of families who have lost someone to this disease are praying and rooting for you. Know that we believe with all our hearts that you can and will make it. It is never too late.

If you are reading this with judgment, educate yourself about this disease, because that is what it is. It is not a choice or a weakness. And chances are very good that someone you know is struggling with it, and that person needs and deserves your empathy and support.

If you work in one of the many institutions through which addicts often pass — rehabs, hospitals, jails, courts — and treat them with the compassion and respect they deserve, thank you. If instead you see a junkie or thief or liar in front of you rather than a human being in need of help, consider a new profession.

We take comfort in knowing that Maddie is surrounded by light, free from the struggle that haunted her. We would have given anything for her to experience that freedom in this lifetime. Our grief over losing her is infinite. And now so is she.

An estimated 44,340 Americans died from opioid abuse in 2017.

  • Thanks for this, Bob.

    >>But her addiction stalked her and stole her once again.<>It is not a choice or a weakness. And chances are very good that someone you know is struggling with it, and that person needs and deserves your empathy and support.<<

    • Are there effective programs for addiction that don’t require a belief in a god? I know when Dubay was first struggling with his addiction years ago, he tried to go it alone because the 12-step programs were all religion based.

      • Carolie

        Yes sir there is… https://www.smartrecovery.org/

      • My wife has an issue with that part as well. She just kind of puts that part of it aside and would just attend meetings. Luckily this has brought her back from her addiction, but there is always that niggling fear that one day it won’t be enough.

      • ec99

        There are several programs which go under the general heading of Rational Recovery. They refute the idea that addiction is a disease. A great introduction to this is Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky, “The Truth About Addiction and Recovery.”

      • JohnO

        Google “A.A. Alternatives”

        Google “Agnostic A.A. Minneapolis”

        Also, “Addiction Busters Minneapolis”

      • Lynne Warfel

        The issue about 12 step programs is that it can be misinterpreted as “religion. They do put some of that terminology on things, but if you’re in the program it isn’t really about religion at all. What Bill Wilson said about addiction and Recovery is that it is ego-boosting at depth. So it is admitting that there is something outside of yourself, something greater, whatever that might be, that you can surrender to. It doesn’t have to be God or even a god. It just has to be something outside of yourself. And ego in addiction takes on a lot of forms. It’s not always being narcissistic, it can also be extremely low self-esteem. Which is just the other end of the spectrum. But the great misinterpretation with the 12-step program is that it is religious, it isn’t. Or it doesn’t have to be. It can be if you want it to be. I don’t hide the fact that I’ve been in recovery for a while now, but I also have seeing what this terrible opioid by prescription epidemic can do. It really ruined the later years of one of my very close family members. The opioid manufacturers and the doctors who prescribe them indiscriminately have a hell of a lot to answer for.

        • ec99

          God is referenced 6 times in the 12 Steps. The 7th Step Prayer begins “My Creator…” The 2nd so-called Tradition mentions God prominently. Any Higher Power you want? How about the line recited at every meeting “and that Power is God, we hope you find him now?” Not to mention Wilson’s declaration that “the purpose of AA is to be of maximum service to God.”

          Not a religion? Seven federal appellate courts have declared it one, and have enjoined government officials (judges, parole officers, wardens) from mandating attendance as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

          It’s interesting that nowhere in the AA liturgy does it ever say “Stop drinking!”

          Addendum: I just noticed who authored the post to which this responds. I think you are great on your classical music shows, and listen to you all the time. So please don’t take my rejoinder personally.

      • Lynne Warfel

        Also the thing to keep in mind that sounds like a platitude, but it isn’t, is that the addiction is only a symptom of a much larger problem. A problem of mind, body and spirit. So in that regard it is a disease.

  • AL287

    Even with amazing talent and adorable children, addiction takes hold and destroys even the most determined fighter.

    It’s allure and attraction is impossible for far too many to resist.

    I truly think the Great Recession created the perfect storm of failure and loss and many are still caught in the undertow despite our idiot-in-chief touting the amazing economy and low unemployment rate.

    We’ve lost so many talented people to drug addiction in recent years, it can make anyone sick at heart.

    There has to be a genetic component that causes artists, musicians and actors to be susceptible to drug addiction. I can think of no other explanation.

    We know about the familial tendency towards alcoholism.

    If there is such a gene how do we fix it?

    • Spence

      Idiot in chief???? WTF??? Alchoholism has been a problem for over 100 years!! It is certainly NOT my problem nor should it be
      ANY TAXPAYER’S problem!!! Let the families with this problem take responsibility and be responsible!!!

      • Yeah, I think we should separate the issue of addiction the politics. Politics just makes people stupid anymore and it’s not worth the time.

        As for addiction, anyone who doesn’t see the public policy need here isn’t paying attention.

        It’s unquestionably and inarguably a public health issue for our time.

      • AL287

        I certainly hope alcoholism, severe mental illness, or drug addiction doesn’t strike anyone you love because when it does it most definitely will become your problem whether you like it or not.

      • chlost

        It already is every taxpayer’s “problem”. We are losing the best and the brightest in our society to this disease, we lose work hours, medical costs are higher, children are left parentless and traumatized, police, firefighters, court and jail personnel, and schools are dealing with the effects of addiction daily. You may wish to believe that it is a family issue, but it goes far beyond families. It is a societal issue, a community issue, and part of our human condition. Your glass house is in jeopardy.

    • ec99

      There exists no empirical evidence that addiction is genetic. Neither is there any that addicts are powerless and insane, and must join a faith healing religious cult, confess their moral defects to a “sponsor”, and demand a deity do all the work for them.

      • Guest

        Except for the evidence of thousands of cases that is.

        • ec99

          Thousands over more than 80 years. Your number comes directly from Wilson’s claim in the 2nd ed. et al of the Big Book. In the 1st ed. he said 100s. Except at the time AA only had about 40 members. And in his eulogy at Dr. Bob’s funeral, he declared that there was only a 5% success rate, i.e., 2…he and Bob.

          All AA did was make Wilson a wealthy man. While the Book has many co-writers, he copyrighted it in his name alone. His will bequeathed 10% of the royalties to his last mistress, Helen Wynn, and 90% to his wife. Ironically, AA does not own the rights to it.

  • Jay T. Berken

    I am fortunate that I do not have an addiction that is life threatening (i.e. tobacco, alcohol or other drug use), but I have friends and family very close to me going through addictions of their own on and off fight. I’m very scared for them and do not know what to do for them. How much to push and how much to lay off? Is the best to show by example and/or give them resources? I see them monthly or so, so I am not with them daily. I just do not know what to do.

    • AL287

      There are resources available for those who suffer with addiction and the friends and family members who are living with them.

      Your local clinic can provide you with information.

      Just don’t give up on them!

  • Guest

    addiction is “Cunning, Baffling, Powerful”……..and patient

  • Angry Jonny

    Oh, that baby…