I first heard the word “addiction” when I was 9 years old. I remember so vividly because the reaction the word brought. We were on an overnight trip for girl scouts and we were sitting in a classroom at a school where we were staying the night, and we were having a bedtime snack. Some kind of chips, I think. My friend said, “These are so good! I think I’m addicted!” Then, her sister shot her a look and said, “No, Brooke, addiction is bad. You just like those chips.” I remember her sister took the bag and that was the end of the conversation.
My mom is a hairdresser. My dad was a welder. I grew up smelling hairspray, metal, and cigarette smoke.
When I was 5, I had my first sip of beer.
My grandma & grandpa would come to visit from out of town when I was a kid. When I asked to have a drink of their “juice” my grandpa would chuckle and give his favorite line to my brothers and I: “You’ll wet your pants if you drink that!” Good thing I never accidentally drank their whiskey and water.
When I was 10, my other grandpa started having problems with his liver. He drank every day of his life. He died a month later.
When I was 12, I heard my dad collapse while he was in the shower. I thought he was dead. That would come later. He just passed out drunk.
When I was 13, my aunt died of a prescription drug overdose.
When I was 15, I walked in on my brother smoking his first cigarette; coughing like he just tried to swallow a football.
In high school, I dated a drug addict. It’s been four years since we broke up and my heart still hurts for him and his family.
When I was 19, I laid next to my brother on the living room floor, monitoring his breathing, watching him shake, and trying not to look at the track marks. I still see that picture in my nightmares; can still feel his muscles seize as he clawed at the carpet.
That same year, I woke up to sirens at 1am. I got up and ran outside still half asleep to see my neighbor on his knees in the yard sobbing. He came home and found his girlfriend dead of a heroin overdose. While we waited for the coroner, he took shots of vodka to calm down.
One month later, heroin made my brother’s pulse stopped pounding. “We almost lost him.” CPR was barely his savior, and the next day I wrote him a poem that I still read to him when he relapses. I will always be here, cheering for you, knowing you are more than your sickness. I am for you. I will never stop being for you.
When I was 20, my brother overdosed two more times and went to rehab. My dad tried to be supportive and go see him. My dad got kicked out of rehab for being shitfaced. I ignored his calls for six months. My brother relapsed.
After six months and many missed calls, I hopped a fence in my dad’s backyard, expecting to find him dead. When I got my phone to call the cops, my stepmom pulled in the driveway screaming “overdose.”
I learned later that his blood alcohol content was the highest they had ever seen in anyone alive. “We almost lost him” they said. Again. It took him an entire week to dry out.
Two months later, when I was 21, my stepmom called me sobbing, saying an ambulance just took my dad, and he wasn’t going to make it. When he collapsed, he had a bottle in his hand.
My dad died at 3am with too many tubes connected to him in a room that was too dark. His death certificate reads, “cardiac arrest as a result of alcohol poisoning.”
Right now, one of my cousins is in rehab somewhere in California and the other cousin is in prison for 20 years for drugs. At least they’re sober.
These are not pretty stories. Addiction is not a shiny subject.
These things hurt like hell. My roommate held a trashcan to my face while I was on my hands and knees and sat directly in front of me, all barely 5 feet of her ready to catch me if I passed out. I passed out in ICU, waking up with nurses around me telling me to “just breathe.” I sat on the floor next to my Dad’s dead body at the funeral home, unable to open my eyes and unable to stand up. Finally, my older brother and mom scooped my deadweight off the floor and carried me to the nearest chair. Sometimes my grief in my bones gets so heavy my legs stop working. I wish I didn’t know that.
The truth about addiction is that it is never just ours. My dad was addicted to alcohol, but his addiction was not just his. It sat with me for years, and his alcoholic tendency runs in my veins as I type this. What I know about loving someone with an addiction is that the pain they feel isn’t just theirs. It’s ours too.
Sometimes I still wake up, heart pounding and sweaty, wondering where my twin brother is and if his veins are running clean. Sometimes my oldest brother drunk dials me, crying, asking me if I think he drinks too much and if he will end up like dad. Sometimes I find my mom up way past her bedtime, chain smoking and drinking, wondering where my brother is and why he hasn’t called. Always, there are tears.
Deadbeat. Useless. Loser. Waste of space.
Do you think these things about the people I love? Because I see them as faithful protector, constant caretaker, heart-5-sizes-too-big.
The problem here is that we see people for their problems, but not their hurt. When you look at cancer, you don’t see how the pain medicine makes your loved one mean or how unflattering they look with no hair. Instead, you talk about their bravery. You talk about the fight in their bones. You talk about how beautiful their heart is, even in their sickness. You memorize their smile, just in case.
Typically, when someone describes an addict, they describe a “liar, thief, deadbeat, waste of space.” But what they don’t mention is the sweat that beads on their foreheads as they say no for the first time. They don’t mention how much courage it takes to stay alive. Bravery is a word that doesn’t make sense in the context of addiction. Did I mention that my brother is the bravest person I know? He’s still fighting and sweat is still beading on his forehead. I memorize his smile, just in case.
ADDICITON IS A DISEASE.
My family is sick. This world is sick. Addiction is a disease, and I will never stop taking preventative causes to stay healthy. I am trying to eat my apple a day. I am biting my nails and fighting the urge to buy a bottle of wine. I am chewing my lips and ignoring the temptation to put a cigarette between them. I am hurting, instead of taking a pain pill. I am having a panic attack instead of taking another xanax. I am feeling it and it hurts like hell.
If you love an addict:
I’m sorry. Seriously, I empathize. But you WILL get through this. The last words my dad said to me were, “Don’t you dare give up on me.” Don’t you give up on them.
If you are an addict:
Please know that Jesus came for YOU. You’re not too far from the Father’s love to be okay. Healing is possible. Recovery is an option. There is always someone loving you. God didn’t make you because he was bored; he wanted you here with us. Stay here with us.
**Addiction Hotline (available 24/7) : 888-982-5198