“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.}

To Give or Not To Give money to the homeless. That’s not really the question.

A few month’s ago we celebrated my brother’s 40th birthday.  I never in a million years thought we would celebrate that day.  I didn’t think he’d be alive.

My brother is an alcoholic and an addict.  He has a long history of drug and, more specifically, alcohol abuse.  And just for the record, I have his permission to talk about this stuff.

He spent a few different periods of his life living on the streets of Salt Lake City.  He was homeless.  He was making choices that lead to this situation.  We, his family, couldn’t force him to choose otherwise.  And because of those choices, he was not allowed to live with any of us.  It was awful.  For everyone involved.  I won’t go into details right now because that’s not really the point for writing this.

He spent some of the time sleeping at the Road Home.  Some of the time he slept on people’s couches.  “Friends”, I guess.  Sometimes he was at the VOA (Volunteers of America).  Other times he slept in fields, the mountains, the side of the road.  Wherever he passed out sometimes.


And during many of those periods, he panhandled for money.  At grocery stores, on the streets, at trax, in parking lots.

 Our family got pretty good at not giving him money.  Because we knew exactly what he’d use it for. And because we were doing all that “tough love” stuff in hopes it would compel him to make better life choices.  That whole tough love thing was NOT easy for our family.  It was horrific, really.

So when he asked for money on the streets, he was the stereotypical person who begged for money, then turned right around and used that money to buy drugs and alcohol.  He WAS the person people don’t want to give money to because they assume you’ll use it to drink or get high.

But.  He also used that money to eat.  And buy socks.  And a coat.  And a backpack to hold his few meager belongings.  And other seemingly small things.  But those things are what kept him alive.  Other people kept my brother alive when we couldn’t.  We didn’t even know if keeping him alive was the right goal.  Sounds awful to even say that, but it’s the truth.  Anyone who has dealt with addiction on a personal level knows exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s one of the most hopeless situations a person and family can be in.

During one of our many conversations about my brother’s life on the streets, he said to me “The worst part about asking people for money is they acted like you didn’t even exist.  They acted like they couldn’t even hear you.  And they looked right past you.  Like I wasn’t even there.  That was the worst part.  It wasn’t about them giving me money or not.  It was about them treating me like a worthless piece of shit.”  (There may or may not have been some more expletives in that statement that I chose to leave out.)


I thought a lot about that.  And started feeling pretty bad because I knew I was guilty of that very thing. Sometimes acting like those people asking for money weren’t even there.  Walking right past them without looking at them.  Hurrying past them and ignoring they’d even said anything to me.  It was awkward for me sometimes.  To deal with those people.  To not give them money because I assumed I knew what they’d use it for.  And I didn’t want to contribute to their “problem”.  (Truth is, they’ll find the money somewhere, whether you give it to them or not–addicts are very resourceful when they have to be)

And then it struck me.  It’s NOT about whether I give them money or not.  Give them money, don’t give them money.  I’m not saying one is right and one is wrong.  But I could (and should) ALWAYS treat them like a human being.  A person with a soul whose worth is as great as mine.  Instead of asking myself, “should I give them money?” I ask myself “how should I treat this person?”

My brother was hit by a car after stumbling into the road while drunk.  He was life-flighted (not his first time on a life-flight) and in the ICU for 3 weeks, the hospital for 5 weeks.  (You can read the blog we kept while he was in the hospital right here).  He has now been sober for roughly 2 years.  After nearly 20 years of hard core alcohol and drug abuse, he is sober (for various reasons, including a traumatic brain injury).  And people who gave him money, and treated him like a soul of worth, and took care of him at the VOA and Salvation Army, and sheltered him at the Road Home helped keep him alive.

His life is not all sunshine and roses even now that he’s sober.  20 years of uncontrollable alcohol abuse doesn’t just disappear.  And he can still be a complete pain in the ass.  But he’s alive.  And our family wasn’t the only ones who helped keep him alive (though we fought tooth and nail to do that for him).

And I am grateful for that.  Because he’s my brother.  And he’s my parents son.  And he has a good heart.  And he’s taught me more about human compassion and being non-judgmental, and seeing the value and worth in every human soul, than any other person on this earth.

So now when I see someone asking for money on the side of the road, or at a stoplight, or the freeway offramp, or by temple square downtown I always try to remember that is someone’s brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandma, niece, nephew, son, or daughter.  Someone cares about that person.  Someone’s world is shattered because of the choices that person made.  Someone, somewhere, loves that person and wishes with all their heart that person wasn’t out begging for money.  And God loves that person JUST AS MUCH as he loves me.


“I am confident because I believe that I am a child of God.  I am humble because I believe that everyone else is too.”  Glennon Doyle Melton


And so I try to say hello to them.  And I make eye contact.  And I tell them I hope they have a good day.  And sometimes I give them money.  And sometimes I don’t.  But I always try to make them feel like I care they exist in this world.  I SEE them.  And I HEAR them.

I am grateful for the people who did that for my brother.  Grateful for people who reached out to him.  Who showed him compassion.  Who didn’t judge him.  And for the people who gave him money.  I’m grateful for them too.

It’s not about giving or not giving money.  It’s about seeing every human being the way God sees them.  And treating them accordingly.


{Side note.  I am FULLY aware that some panhandlers do it as a “business”.  And some panhandlers are rude and entitled and not very kind people.  There is a WIDE variety of reasons people are asking for money on the street.  I hope we can all be sensitive to those many and varied reasons.  And not lump them all into one pool of people.  And be grateful we’re not the ones asking for the money.  And I want to emphasize I’m not professing whether or not people should give money.  More than anything, I wrote this post for my kids.  To help show them the need for human compassion and love.  I am in NO WAY trying to start a debate on giving money to panhandlers.  Just so we’re clear on that before people light me up in the comment section}

The Road Home

“We envision a community that recognizes the inherent dignity of those who live in poverty and homelessness”

My brother was homeless a few different times in his life.  Our family will forever be grateful to the Road Home for helping keep him alive during a period in his life where we (his family) were trying out that whole “tough love” thing with an addict.

The Road Home saves lives.  And I’m not being dramatic.  It saved my brothers life on more than one occasion.  And though he may not have a lot of nice things to say about his experience there (which is understandable) I personally am thankful he had a warm place to stay when I was unable to provide him with one.  One of the hardest experiences of my life.

Whenever I go outside in Utah winters, I always think of homeless people.

Over the past 3 years, there has been a 300% increase in families needing help from the Road home.
Right now there are close to 1000 people being assisted by the Road Home.  And that’s just the people who go there to stay.  There are many homeless people who find other solutions.

(pulled this image off the Internet.  Not the Road Home, but gives you an idea)

I know there is a lot of judgement attached to a homeless person.  But the truth is, it could be any of us. If you didn’t have family to help you out, and you lost your job and couldn’t find another one (which is a reality), where would you go?  What would you do?

OR (and this seems to be the bigger issue) if there is a mental health issue and no insurance for treatment.  A HUGE problem in our society which I have witnessed first hand when trying to find resources for my brother.  Which often leads to self-medicating (thus the rampant problem of drugs and alcohol among homeless people).

 (image from the Internet)

There are a lot of good people at the homeless shelter.  There are a lot of KIDS at the homeless shelter. Victims of consequences that came from choices that weren’t their choices.

So when I have a chance to give, or donate, I always choose the Road Home.  And I’m hoping to be able to get more involved as a volunteer as my kids get older.

(image from Internet)

A few years ago, not long after my brother had stayed there, my family did a clothing drive for the Road Home in an effort to give back to them.

We posted something on Facebook to family and friends.  That was it.  My front room was overtaken by donations.

First we filled up a trailer.  We ended up needing to rent a UHaul to get all of the donations down to the Homeless shelter.

Every time I came home from errands, my porch would be filled with donations.  Turns out I know a lot of amazingly generous people!

The truth is, most people want to give.  And many of us have the resources to give.  We just need to know WHERE to give.

If you are interested in learning more about the Road Home, please visit their website.  There are a lot of great opportunities for giving.

**You can donate money.  It only takes $9 to shelter one person for one night.  You can do a one time donation (for any amount) or you can have money deducted monthly.

**You can donate “in-kind” things.  On the website, they list what the urgent needs currently are.  Right now this is the list:

Urgent Needs

  • Towels & Pillows
  • Coats & Jackets (all sizes)
  • Jeans & Warm clothing (all sizes)
  • Boots & Shoes (all sizes)
  • Socks (all sizes)
  • Underwear (new, all sizes)
  • Blankets (twin, full, & queen)
  • Diapers (sizes 3-5)
  • Baby Bottles & Formula
**You can also donate to help people who have been moved to the Palmer Court Apartments, a supportive housing development that helps formerly chronically homeless family’s or individuals.  They have different “kits” needed for the apartments.  You can find the list here or through the Road Home website.

There are also many opportunities to volunteer. 
You can find a list of ongoing opportunities here or group opportunities here.

When I was a youth, my church youth group used to drive to the homeless shelter once a year and pick up a bunch of kids.  We brought them back to our community pool and let them swim for a few hours, fed them dinner, and sent each kid home with a backpack full of school supplies.  Now that I’m an adult, I realize what a HUGE logistical task this would have been.  But it was an amazing, and VERY memorable experience for me as a youth.  So grateful for my leaders who organized that event.

It kills me that we live in a world where there a millions of people without a home.  I hope to be actively involved throughout my life in finding solutions to that unacceptable problem.

“To me, Jesus sounded like an ordinary guy who was utterly amazing. He helped people. He figured out what they really needed and tried to point them toward that. He healed people who were hurting. He spent time with the kinds of people most of us spend our lives avoiding. It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus who these people were because He was all about engagement.”  Bob Goff, Love Does

And because words mean little without action, here are some action steps each of us can take:

1.  Donate the excess things you have in your home and take them to the homeless shelter.  If you need some motivation to gather your things, I highly recommend reading “More or Less” or “Margin”.  
2.  Get a group together and do one of the group volunteer opportunities
3.  If your kids are older, consider volunteering AT the Road Home
4.  If you are able to provide food, consider doing a dinner at the Road Home (details on their website)
5.  Donate money to help shelter an individual or family at the Road Home
6.  Do a clothing drive in your neighborhood to take to the Road Home.  This was AWESOME for our kids to be a part of.  They brought in the things from the porch, helped load the trailer, and went with us to drop it off at the Road Home.  Plus we spent a LOT of time during the week we did the drive to discuss homelessness and the importance of taking care of each other.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...