“Hi my name is……” Let’s talk about addiction

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.

(the helicopter that brought him to the hospital)

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.

(took this right before he was rushed into emergency surgery for a shattered leg)

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.

{Disclaimer: My intent is not to exploit addicts or the people who love them. My intent is to hopefully help dispel some of the shame associated with addiction. To empathize with those who love the addict. And to help addicts understand their worth and inherent right to be loved. My brother is aware I am writing about him and has given me his express verbal permission to do so. I am also fiercely protective of my brother, so if you have something unkind to say about him specifically, please keep it to yourself. He’s his own worst critic. Trust me.}

There ARE good strangers in this world. I have proof.

Here’s a story worth telling.  And remembering.

We spent the weekend at Starvation reservoir camping and boating.  Despite the hurricane force winds for 48 hours and buckets full of dirt Caleb managed to scatter around the tent, we had a great time.

We of course stayed out on the lake longer than we should have and were in a rush to get back home for Father’s day dinner at my parents house.  

But we were “way low on fuel, Mav” (more like coasting on fumes) so we had to stop for gas about 20 minutes from home.  Mike filled up the tank while I walked around to figure out how we were going to get the boat back out of an awkward gas station driveway.

We got back on the road and headed home.  After backing the boat into the driveway, I was pulling kids out of the car as cups, crumbs, clothes, and toys toppled out with them.  

And then a man and a woman in a silver SUV pulled up in front of our house.  I didn’t recognize them. The man got out of the car and said “Where’s your husband?” in a cheerful voice.

Mike came out from the back of the boat and the following conversation took place.

Man:  “Hey.  I saw you on the freeway.”
Mike:  Blank stare.  Thinking “oh great, I cut him off and he chased me down”.
Man:  “We saw you pull out onto 800 and something flew off the top of your boat.  We realized it was your wallet so we stopped.  Everything went flying out everywhere, but we think we got it all back in.”

Now Mike and I were both just staring.  Completely surprised by what he was saying.

Then we just kept saying “Thank you.  Thank you so much”  Over and over and over again.

I was honestly so surprised I didn’t even know what else to say.  We certainly should have given him some cash for his trouble and asked his name and baked him some cookies and taken him for a boat ride.  Something.  Anything.  But we just stared.  And said thank you.

When Mike filled up the car, he must have set his wallet on top of the boat and forgot it there.  A very uncharacteristic thing for Mike, completely normal for me. 

Here’s the thing.  If I’m being completely honest, and I had witnessed this happen to someone else, I would have thought “Oh man, what was that?  Looked like a wallet.  That super sucks”  and kept driving.  On a really good day I may have thought “I should probably stop and pick that up for them” but then I most likely would have come up with a dozen excuses why not to.  The road is way too busy.  I’ve got a sleeping kid in the back.  I’m in a hurry to an appt.  How would I even get it back to them?  And on and on and on.

But not this man and woman.  They saw Mike’s wallet.  They were on a large, incredibly busy road.  They must have stopped traffic.  They were obviously headed somewhere.  For all I know, they were headed in the opposite direction headed to a Father’s day dinner of their own.

But they stopped.  And they chased down all the cards and cash they could find.  And put it all back in the wallet.  And found our address from Mike’s drivers license (at least I assume that’s how they found us) and DROVE THE WALLET TO OUR HOUSE and gave it all back to us.

In situations like these, I think we often say God was watching out for us.  But even more accurately, these PEOPLE were watching out for us.  They stopped.  They gathered.  They drove.  And there was nothing in it for them.  No reason to do it other than they obviously know WE ALL BELONG TO EACH OTHER.  And God watches out for us by expecting all of us to watch out for each other.  To take care of each other.  To help each other.  To stand by one another.  And make life just a little bit more bearable.

My faith in humanity was restored a little last night.  After a particularly hard week and feeling as though kindness towards one another is crumbling beneath our feet, this couple proved otherwise.  
I’ll never forget what they did.  It changed my heart.  It restored some of my hope and faith in other people.

This wasn’t about a returned wallet.  It’s just a wallet.  And we could cancel the cards.  Sure it’s a hassle, but not that big of a deal.  

This couple obviously knows love doesn’t just say things or think things, LOVE DOES THINGS.
A seemingly small thing made a huge impact on my heart.  They did what we all should do.  What would this world be like if we all made a little more effort to watch out for one another?

And the best part, it all happened right in front of my kids, who were able to see first hand there are GOOD people in this world who do good things for one simple reason:  we should take care of each other.  It’s always the best use of time.

Why it’s so hard to take “good” pictures of your own kids

There’s a reason, well several reasons, why professional photographers tell you not to attempt taking certain types of photos of your own kids. 

The every day stuff is one thing.  But when you try to gather them in one place and have them look semi-normal and do what you ask them to do, that’s entirely different.

My kids will never behave for me like they would for someone else.  And my guess is, yours won’t either.

These photos should speak for themselves.

My kids:

Her kids:

Next time I’m hiring a professional.  🙂

More details on the reason behind these Funbooth photos in a future post.

Sorrow that the eye can’t see.

Here’s something I’m sure of.  Everyone has their “thing”.  Or multiple things.  Those things that make their life hard.  Everyone’s life is hard.  Life itself is hard.  

And one person’s “thing” isn’t any more significant than another person’s thing (or things).  We all suffer.  We all grieve.  We all hurt.  We all struggle.

We all long for connection and love and acceptance.

In a discussion about suffering with my friend, Natalie, she said:

“God doesn’t ask us all to walk the same paths or suffer in the same ways.  He only asks that we walk in unison, together, bearing another’s burdens that they may be light.”

In one of my favorite hymns we sing at my church it says:

“Who am I to judge another
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can’t see”

We all suffer.  We all grieve.  We all hurt.  And more often than not, we can’t always see that suffering in others.  But it’s there.  I promise you that.  Sometime’s we think someone has it all together, or their life is easier than ours.  Or we don’t understand why people act the way they do, or say the things they say.  But I’m sure they have their “things”.  And they don’t have it all together.  And they don’t have an easy life.  We all have sorrow that no one sees.

So we walk together.  And lift each other up.  And bear each other’s burdens and lighten the load.  Because whether we see it or not, it’s there.  Sorrow, that the eye can’t see.

It never gets old.

Sometimes if we’re having a particularly grumpy day, we have the Monday blues, or we just need a good laugh, we play around on the Photo Booth on my computer.  

I die laughing every time.  
It never gets old.

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