I knew when I first started conceptualizing this blog I would talk a lot about addiction on here. The world of addiction has been a huge part of my life and my story, taught me many valuable life lessons, and has played a critical role in how I view the world and other people. And this is MY story with addiction. My opinions. My experiences.
I realize addiction comes in many shapes and sizes. And the experiences are varied. My experiences, heartaches, triumphs, and lessons learned were largely shaped through the world of addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Addiction seems to be accompanied by a lot of shame. Brene Brown has done large amounts of research about shame and says the difference between guilt and shame: Guilt is “I have done something bad”. Shame is “I AM bad” Shame is a focus on Self. “I AM a mistake”. Guilt is a focus on behavior. “I made a mistake” She says if you were to put shame in a petri dish, there are 3 things that will make it grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment.
I don’t like the shame. I think it’s a huge reason why so many addicts never recover. Or why they become addicts in the first place. And according to Brene, the antidote to shame is to douse it with empathy. Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We can’t fight shame unless we talk about the things that are causing the shame.
Addiction runs in my family. On both sides. My brother is an alcoholic/addict. He tried alcohol for the first time at a very young age at a neighbors house. He was caught with marijuana at school for the first time in the 8th grade. He slowly spiraled out of control with drugs and alcohol throughout high school until he eventually became a non-functioning alcoholic/addict (unable to keep a job, have a place to live, provide basic means for himself, etc.) . His drug of choice is alcohol, but he has also abused nearly every drug you can imagine, some of which I’m sure I don’t know about (and don’t want to know about).
He has been through countless rehabilitation programs (I honestly lost track). I’ve thought about taking him to Pacific Ridge in Salem, Oregon but I gave up trying with him. Some more effective than others but none able to keep him sober for any significant amount of time. He has been in and out of jail over 50 times (mostly for public intoxication charges). This does not count the nights he was put in the “drunk tank”. His longest stay in jail was about a year. I was grateful he was in jail (oh the irony of that). Because I knew he was “safe” and he was alive. Very telling that I felt he was more safe in jail than he was out of jail. Even the time he was locked up in jail with significant and debilitating injuries after being beaten badly on the streets (he claims by cops). I still felt he was safer in jail. My sister and I showed up at court one day and literally begged the judge to put him in jail. My brother was, understandably, pissed. The judge complied.
He has been transported by ambulance to nearly every Emergency Room in the Salt Lake Valley, has been in the ICU at least 4 times I know of, and has spent several weeks (on more than one occasion) in the psychiatric ward. His medical history is pages and pages (and pages) long. He was also homeless for a period of time, spending time at the VOA (Volunteers of America) detox center–God bless those people, as well as the Road Home, a shelter for homeless people. Or just passed out on the streets in whatever city he happened to be in.
In June of 2011, my brother was drunk walking/staggering in the dark, tried to cross a busy road (at least that’s what we presume), and was hit by a car going approximately 40 miles an hour. He was life-flighted to the hospital. Two police officers showed up at my parents house late that evening and told them Burk had been involved in an auto-pedestrian accident. “He has head trauma and has been life flighted to the hospital”. That was all they could tell them.
My sister called me with the news. She was on her way to the hospital. I told her to call me when she got there to tell me how bad it was. This may sound shocking to some people. You’d think that when a family member has been life-flighted to a hospital in critical condition with head trauma and multiple broken bones, everyone would jump in their cars and be on their way. But this wasn’t the first (or second) time he had been life-flighted. Nor was it the first (or third or fourth) time he had been transported to ICU. So I was waiting to see how “bad” it really was. He has literally cheated death dozens and dozens of times.
That’s what addiction does. It slowly desensitizes the people around you. So injuries or events that once seemed traumatic start to become “routine”.
My sister called me an hour later and said “It’s bad. You should probably get down here“. At that moment, I didn’t know whether to pray for him to live or pray for him to die. Yet another horror of addiction. If the addict you love is “bad” enough, sometimes you want them to die–for all the pain to end. For their sake. For your sake. I’m not proud of those feelings nor am I ashamed. Just being honest. When it feels like there is no hope for recovery, and your addict apparently has no “rock bottom”, death feels like the merciful solution for everyone.
He lived (after a 3 week stay in ICU and 1 week stay on a regular floor with a 24 hour “guard”–for his safety and the safety of the medical staff). His months and months of recovery after the accident was nothing short of hell. For him AND for all of us who helped him live.
I’ve felt nearly every emotion possible for my brother through his decades of addiction. Anger, frustration, disgust, pity, as well as love, empathy, and compassion and every emotion in between. Oh the anger. For the hell he put my parents through. For the hell he put our family through. For the hell he put himself through. Oh the compassion. For the worthlessness he felt, his lack of control, and the torment and utter misery he went through.
I’ve stopped to pick him up off the side of the road, face-down in the dirt, waving people off who were trying to call 911 (or the police). I’ve also turned him away when he showed up at my door in nothing but a hospital gown and his ICU bracelets. I didn’t even know he had been in the ICU. And he had nowhere else to go. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Depends on the day. The hour. The moment. The situation. My tolerance level. The other people (or kids) I need to “protect”. There never seems to be a right answer or an easy road. And ultimately, all I could control was how I let it affect me. I couldn’t “fix” him. I couldn’t make him stop. He was/is broken. But I guess we all are in some way or another.
But I can say I have never been embarrassed of him. I have always proudly claimed him as my brother even during his worst moments. And I have always believed in his ability to DO more, to BE more. I have told him this countless times throughout the years. And I meant it with every fiber of my being.
I think I can attribute this to two things. First, knowing my parents love him (and all their kids) NO MATTER what we did/do. That doesn’t mean they approved of some of his life choices, but I have never doubted their love for him (or me). And second, I know every person has worth no matter their actions. I believe in second chances (and third and fourth and fifth chances too).
Something my brother often said when we begged and pleaded for him to stop using: “You have no idea what it’s like to be an addict.” My response was always “And you have no idea what it’s like to be the person who loves the addict.“
I hope to use this space as a safe place to talk and educate others about addiction. A safe place for the addicts. And a safe place for the people who love the addict. I plan to share more stories and experiences I have personally had with addiction and my brother. I have also asked several other people to help me as well. Stories from people who love addicts.
And if nothing else, I hope we can build a community of people who can support each other and help each other through the often unbearable world of addiction and life in general.
To read more articles about addiction, click the “real stories” tab in the menu at the top of the screen and scroll down to the “Addiction” section. You can also sign up for periodic newsletters to stay connected to the blog by entering your name and e-mail in the sidebar.
If YOU or someone you love suffers from addiction, first of all, do NOT watch the show intervention. More importantly, I get it. I do. You are NOT alone. Hang in there. Please hang in there. And find help. Addicts do NOT get better on their own. For any hope of recovery, they need to have effective treatment from somewhere like a rehabilitation center in california. The people who love them don’t either.
This is something I really needed to read today. It’s good to hear honest, human responses to these kinds of issues. I am sorry your brother has gone through so many years of this suffering, and that you and your family have had to suffer right there along with him. I don’t have any close family who struggle with addiction, but I related a lot to your emotional experiences with your brother. I have two younger brothers who were adopted into my family after I was already an adult and out of the house. They started as foster children and were adopted as teenagers. Both came from tragic situations and broken homes with stories of addiction, mental illness, and neglect. Both wanted to be adopted. My parents have done everything they can to give the boys as normal and safe an adolescence as possible, but from an outside perspective, I have a hard time dealing with the absolute hell these boys unleash on my good parents. I have so much anger about the things they say and do to my parents, the way they treat the house they were welcomed into, and the way they seem to blame the people who have given them a second chance for all their problems. I am admittedly weak and do not know how to deal with this. These boys will be a part of our lives forever, and I don’t know how to be okay with that. I am so consumed with anger about it that it makes me sick sometimes. I don’t know how to deal with other people’s criticism about my parents’ approach to raising kids with baggage, because I know my mom and dad have good hearts and have done nothing less than give everything to help. I feel guilty for not being more understanding, but I can’t figure it out. This is different since these are not my biological brothers, and I can admit that I am not proud to call them family, but I know that is wrong. How have you dealt with your anger towards your brother? How have you been able to deal with other people’s assumptions and opinions about the situation? Do you ever feel the need to defend your parents or your family as a whole?
Adriana! THANK YOU so much for taking time to read this and for sharing your story. I would LOVE to e-mail you more about some of your questions. Can you comment with your e-mail or e-mail me directly? My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Beautifully written. And no wonder you are such a strong woman- I have always sensed that strength in you. Thank you for putting to words your experience. I can’t wait to read more. I feel more able to move forward in my own trials as I read the detail of yours.
Thanks so much for taking time to comment Caren! I really appreciate it. Life trials are sure sucky but man they teach us SO much.
Linds as always you hit the nail on the head. So many types of addictions and so many of us who find the love and strength for them that they can’t find themselves. You are by far the most amazing example to everyone of continual patience and love. Trials come in so many varieties it amazes me any of us sometimes survive them. Addictive behavior is by far one of the worst and scariest to deal with. You gave great insight and inspiration to all of us to continue to live despite it all! Love you
You have a great way of expressing your thoughts through writing in a very candid and honest way!
So happy you are addressing this issue, and giving others a place to come to for support and to share! I have alwYs despised the stigma given to addicts, yet have found myself well aquainted with many of your emotions. Addiction had destroyed some of my dearest friends, mental illness and chronic self medication ultimately took our son home at the age of 23.
Addiction is an active issue in several of my friends families including ü own extended family!
The hell, guilt (when we turn them away, refuse to believe yet another story), and watch our other loved ones battle crushing sadness and the helplessness they feel as they ‘try to fix’ the addicts they love feels unbearably heavy at times.
I love that you have shared this, I’m going to recommend a few of ‘my people’ even just read what is written… Just to receive some validation regarding their lives, secrets, and shame.
Love you dearly! Your family had Always bee. A source of great hope, an example of unconditional love along with refusing to enable! It’s been huge to me to have had your parents jnu life through our own battle, and ultimate loss.
Deb. I am just BARELY seeing this comment. AHHHH. THANK YOU for taking time to comment. You understand this world on a level most people will never understand. It’s a hard world to be in. And you are one STRONG woman for all you’ve been through.
What a beautifully written and brave – very brave – post. I commend you. If only more people were so honest, the world would, I’m sure, become slowly more understanding, tolerant and compassionate.
Thanks so much Helen! I think being honest is much easier than hiding. It maybe doesn’t always feel that way, but in the end, just being who we are and feeling how we feel makes life a little less heavy.
I can relate to your words on so many levels. With many addicts in my family I have dealt with some of the same situations. My father, brother and sister were all addicts (and several other family members). They all spent time in jail and, like you, that was a relief to me because at least I knew where they were and that they were alive. My dad actually died in prison when I was a teenager. It took me years to get to a point where I could forgive him and remember him with love instead of anger. Being the baby of the family, my older siblings addictions affected me greatly. They were such fun to be with when I was a child and it hurt so much to watch their slow deterioration over the years. I had so much anger at them for what they put my mom through, and at her for letting them. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I finally began to understand why my mom wouldn’t give up on them. Both my brother and sister fought and struggled for many years. Sometimes going long periods being sober, but always returning to the addiction. Often, when I heard stories on the news of someone being killed, or a body being found, I would watch closely to see if it was them. Seeing homeless people on the street corners, I always did a double check to see if it was my brother or sister. By some cruel twist of fate, or by God’s mercy, they both ended up with lung cancer and died about 3 years apart. During their respective illnesses, they needed us (brothers and sisters) to care for them. And we did, because we loved them. I wish life could have been different for both of them. Truly great souls lost to the horrible disease of addiction. If I have one regret it is that I could have been kinder to them, but that is hard when you are in the middle of it. I miss them. Losing a sibling is like losing a little part of your self. I pray your brother is able to beat it for good this time. Thanks for sharing.
I don’t know how to express what is in my heart right now, so I will just say, Thank you and Bless you for spending your time and heart on this.
Thank YOU for taking time to comment. I assume addiction is part of your world in one way or another. I’m so sorry. I’m here if you ever need a safe person to talk to.
My husband is an addict. His drug of choice was alcohol but it has switched to narcotics since I have had medical problems and am prescribed Vicodin and adderal. I made the unfortunate mistake of giving him some for his “pain” and it has turned into a nightmare. Now I wind up giving him so much of my medication that I don’t have enough for myself. I know he cares but the “addict” part of him doesn’t. All it can think about is the next fix. I know I am co-dependent. I have attended AA, Al-anon, Celebrate recovery and other groups for my own addiction (food/bulimia) which I have overcome by the grace of God. I want so badly to help him and when he gets so mad or depressed when I don’t give him drugs I almost always cave in to make him happy or keep the peace. I have issues as a previously battered woman and I can’t stand it when someone yells at me or is in “need” of help like my daughter was in my awe full relationships.I get so mad sometimes I think I am going to explode. I do have anxiety attacks and migraines which makes everything even worse. He has had two strokes(he is a medical miracle-cognitive damage but basically nothing else and the left lobe of his brain is almost entirely dead)
Some close friends and family want to do an intervention. He has been in rehab several times and has been successful for up to a year or a little longer and then the addiction rears it’s ugly head again and we are back to zero. I know we can’t force him to seek treatment and I really think he wants to overcome his addictions. It makes him miserable and he is aware how much he hurts others in the process.Does this EVER stop? Do people really recover. He had a sponsor in AA that was clean and sober for seventeen years and when his wife left him he went back to drinking. I also suffer from depression and some days I just don’t want to face any more challenges. I try to keep a good attitude with humor and helping other people but sometimes I can’t help but get overwhelmed. I have even contemplated suicide when I was hallucinating after I had a stay in the hospital.
We have gone to several types of counseling and he always stops for some made up reason or another. I am currently seeing a psychiatrist for my meds and a counselor for my depression. What a mess. What do others do in this situation?
Where do I even begin. I am SO sorry for you and what you’re going through. Addiction is ugly. And often feels so hopeless. I know people manage addiction (it never goes away–once an addict, always an addict). But some people DO live healthy, successful lives. It sounds like you recognize giving him meds isn’t the answer. But when you’re IN the situation it’s much easier said than done. I have no right answer. That’s what’s so ugly about addiction. It feels like there is NO good answer or right answer. It’s awful if you help them. It’s awful if you don’t.
What I will say is YOU are worth living a good life. A life where someone doesn’t treat you badly. You don’t deserve that from anyone. I hope you know your value as a person and always keep that in mind.
If you ever want to e-mail me directly, that might be a better forum to have a conversation.
Hang in there. Do what your gut tells you to do. And don’t let ANYone treat you badly. You don’t deserve that. No one does.
Oh my gosh…I had no idea of this with your brother. I saw Natalie Richards post an article you wrote about her and just clicked more on your blog. It is so crazy what drugs and alcohol can do. I did not know Burk as well as Shane, but I just had no idea. How is he doing now? I hope better? I live in Idaho Falls now and one of my very best friends first husband died of a drug overdose. He started doing drugs and alcohol in Jr. High and just could never stop. A lot of this story reminds me of hers. I am sure she knows what you have all gone through. Anyway, I have enjoyed reading your blog and I hope your brother is doing better.
Thanks for being here Susannah! And for reading. Burk is….Burk. There are a lot of residual effects from his years and years and years of hard drug/alcohol abuse along with the traumatic brain injury from his pedestrian vs. automobile accident. He’s still hard just in a different way. But he’s taught our family a LOT. Mostly about being less judgmental and more compassionate. Thanks for asking about him!