I was 10 and he was 16. I remember looking up and my long-haired, Billabong t-shirt wearing brother was sitting on the bed with my mom, knees bent to his chest, crying. His face was blushed and the tears were flowing, I had never recalled seeing him this way before. This one moment in time that I look back on and remember so clearly is the first time we realized drugs had taken a hold of our family and would leave a stout impact for years to come.
It has been almost twelve years since then and what a story I now have to tell. The roller coaster has been full of ups and downs, and it has moved forward, but also zoomed backwards numerous times. I decided to write this piece to shed a light on what happens behind the closed doors of an addict’s home. As the addict finds refuge in filling their body even more with their wicked poisons, the others are left watching soberly as the one they love slowly becomes a stranger. My brothers turned into people I didn’t know and would have never chosen to associate with, as they became liars, thieves, cheats, and slaves to the devil’s venom. Yes, I did say brothers- plural. Eventually the disease would take hold of both of them.
I am not writing this to call out their flaws and shortcomings, but for others who have been in my shoes or theirs, to know they are not alone. There are others out there who have done the same messed up stuff. My middle brother took the typical path they warn you about in school in your health classes. “Don’t smoke weed, because it will lead to other things.” We always laughed and thought it was a joke, what was the harm in smoking a beautiful plant that sprouted from the Earth. Eventually he did move on and want more, taking to ungodly amounts of pills. The oldest brother, well who can say. We never knew he had a problem until he broke down and begged for help, moved back to the burbs from his dream life in Savannah, and gave all of his belongings to the now a bit richer homeless people. His eventual downfall would also be the drug that is currently plaguing much of metro Atlanta, heroin. So much heroin that he was often found fading in and out and we feared the time we would find him dead.
I prayed for years that sobriety would come and they would get help. Often times it felt we were living in this endless hell where we were constantly gasping to come up for air, wishing we even had some clue of what we could do. I took knives from their hands, often slept on the floor of their rooms making sure they didn’t wake to make a decision they would regret come morning. I went on numerous drug deals, without evening knowing what was actually happening. But, as I got older I was fully aware of what was taking place. I contributed to their nasty habits by giving in and believing their lies and giving them whatever money they needed, even if I was in high school and only making server pay. When my oldest brother was kicked out of his second rehab, I made the haul to go get him. We all experienced endless nights of yelling and my parents and brothers equally telling the others how worthless they were. Covering up for them and playing into their lies so they wouldn’t see trouble happened on the reg. At the end of the day, I knew that at the core of their bodies was the heart I once knew, and I could only pray that the black tint that had engulfed it would be removed one day.
At 18-years-old I moved to downtown Atlanta and began school at Georgia State. My middle brother would stay with me often, always saying he was looking for a job. Here I was working my a** off at school, working crazy hours at the bar down the street, and I would come home to my living room turned into a massive cloud of smoke, and him in the same position as when I left that morning… on the couch. He became depressed. The drugs had torn him down to thinking he was helpless and hopeless. He didn’t know where else to look but the pills, but at the core he knew he wanted more, was more. It was April 2014, years of addiction later, that my mom brought him to my house to say goodbye. He had finally made the decision he needed help and even made the call himself. I watched him walk away for the final time I would ever see him as a boy, as the next time I would see him, he was finally on the path and making his first moves to becoming a man. I collapsed into my then roommate’s arms crying, joyful yet fearful of the unknown. It was almost as if I could suddenly breathe a little better, but I was hurt knowing of the insecurities and fears my brother would be taking on as he stepped into a very harsh and new unknown.
I have heard him referred to as “Captain Sobriety” and watched him change from the shy, quiet boy, into to trustworthy leader of the pack. The guy that couldn’t talk about feelings now is emotional and a go-to therapist among his friends for advice.
He will be three years sober in April 2017.
My oldest brother, he is something else. One of the smartest, most wise guys you will ever meet, but his head is made of concrete and has the hardest head I know. His journey has not been a one stop shop like the other, which makes sense because everyone has their own journey with its own story to tell. He is at his fourth rehab, or halfway house, but is ten months sober. He has never been one to follow the path laid out and ultimately chose to do things his own way. Last year he was living at my parents and working for a great company and making good money, but it was money he couldn’t quite seem to keep a hold of. It was magic, it ALWAYS disappeared. One day, at almost 29-years-old he discovered he couldn’t do it anymore. He nearly lost his sister and his family, as we couldn’t do it anymore. His job was wavering and his co-workers were beginning to notice his impulsive actions at work. He broke down, hopefully once and for all. The next day I made the five hour drive to take him to the home where my other brother became sober and changed his whole life around.
Today is a day I long awaited to see, but here we are. Life is at a blissful peace.
This is the longest he has been sober in years, and he genuinely appears happy. He feels stuck and like he is not filling his potential, but knows this period of his life is necessary in order for him to move onto the next part of his life as a man. His heart is back, he actually cares again. I want to be around him and look forward to his calls and hearing about his day. His phone calls are no longer screaming threats and begging for money, but conversations of golf, friendship, and an actual semi- normal life. The water wavers at times and sometimes we want to abandon ship, and to be honest I did at one time, but it was the right time and the right thing to do. But, when the time came I hopped back in and we paddled to shore together.
Doc’s Place in Brunswick, Georgia is something I will always be grateful for. From the outside it looks like a bunch of striking fellas chilling and getting sober together, but it is so much more. Its walls have seen great turmoil, the rooms have held in some of the greatest pains the boys will ever know, and the porch has been home to some of the deepest heart- to hearts. I can’t say much as I was only allowed in the living room once for a minute, but the stories I hear let me know that Doc’s is a safe haven and a saving grace. It saves boys and turns them into men, but not only that, it saves families. It’s the prize I prayed nearly ten years for and came when I least expected it, in a way I least expected.
It’s a lifelong disease that my brother’s continue to battle on a daily basis, and I fight for their lives alongside them. Not only is it their struggle with addiction, it has become mine, too. It made me a stronger person and showed me the deepest ruts I hope I never have to see again. I grew up fast, moving from baby sister to the wiser go-to of the three of us. I learned that the age old saying is true; it is not what happens to you in life, but how you handle it. My brothers, though… their eyes and hearts have been opened to life again and they are more in touch with themselves and the World around us then most (thanks AA).
Never give up on those you love, hope is always just around the corner.