Submissions and Stories from Those Whose Lives Have Been Affected by Substance Abuse
Each author remains anonymous unless stated otherwise
Holidays tend to be happy ones in my home, full of family traditions that I have come to appreciate as I grow. With all the happiness, it is often difficult to put the difficult memories that come about at bay.
For those struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, the holidays tend to be the worst. There is so much happiness just shoved down your throat, and holidays that exist for the sole reason to ‘be thankful for your life’ or ‘celebrate another year of living’, yet someone that does not much value their own life, it can be a constant reminder of the nothingness inside.
My brother has dealt with mental health issues for as long as I can remember. Some of the worst memories of these issues, the ones that I have tried with all my power to bury as deep as I can, come crawling back up as the end of the year serves as a reminder of the shame, resentment and as much as I hate to admit, the embarrassment I felt of him for much of my teen years.
An episode comes to light of our family, gathered all together with our closest friends, ringing in the new year. As the cheers ring out, the kisses begin, and the clock strikes midnight, we celebrate, he resides locked in his room, getting high and self-harming. That night we ended the party early, no one felt much like celebrating this ‘incredible life we are so thankful for’. The next morning, we drove him to a facility.
Being in this situation made me feel helpless, I remember wanting to grab him by the shoulders and shake him to make him understand how much I loved him, how much I wanted him to stop, how much anger he created in me, and how many years of resentment I had built up against him that I didn’t think would ever subside.
These past two years, I have celebrated nothing more than the wonderful, strong, and successful person he has morphed into, the fact that he pulled herself out of an intensely dark situation I cannot begin to understand, and especially the fact that I had gotten my brother and best friend back. Reflecting on the horrible times he endured comes with every holiday and serves as a reminder to check in on your people and hold your loved ones a little tighter.
Far too many of us experience our family members, friends, and loved ones lose themselves to substance abuse – inevitably leading to a number of addicts who are lost altogether. Those of us who get to experience our loved ones make a full recovery from their addictions are luckier than most. I am sure that there are those of you out there who are watching someone you love drifting away, becoming a possession of their addictions, and wondering whether you will ever again see them clean; wondering if it is even possible for them to get clean; wondering if you will ever experience the person you once knew them to be. My hope for you is that you will have the experience that I have had, and more.
When I first met my partner, I had no idea that he was an addict. He hid it from me well, but I always felt that there must be something wrong with our relationship, because he seemed so disinterested in me. I would later learn that he was, at the time, disinterested in everything, disinterested in life, interested only in his addiction and how to feed it. In my eyes, he had always been so strong and well-regarded, it was unnerving to learn of how he had struggled without me even having a clue. We broke up very quickly and did not speak for several years.
Two months before he checked himself into rehab, and two years after we had last spoken, he sent me a text before turning his phone off. Two months later, on the drive home from rehab, he turned his phone back on for the first time and saw my reply. That was the first conversation we had ever had while he was sober; we have been together ever since.
In the years since he got out of rehab and got clean, I have watched those around him treat him cautiously out of fear that he was still the person that he was while he was an addict, and I have watched that caution slowly melt away into trust, forgiveness, and love. I have had the blessing, and rare gift, of watching his life transform, of watching him become the man that he has always wanted to be. There is no one on Earth that I have ever been prouder of, more impressed by, and more enamored with. When I met him, I told myself that I would never end up with a man like him, and I did not; he is not the person that he once was, he is so much better than I could have ever imagined him to be. He is everything that I hoped for him and more. I could not be happier to have him in my life, and I hope that anyone who knows someone struggling the way that he did will get to see the same transformation that I saw in him.
That glass, we look at in differing ways. You find comfort, a way to escape. I see you slipping away from being who you are, my mother. I miss her when she’s not around, and oftentimes, I forget who she is because of that glass, that comfort you find in it. I used to hide the glasses you would use just in the hope you wouldn’t get another drink, but you found another to fill, you always found another to fill. I need you, the real you, and what hurts the worst is getting bits of who you are at times and bits of who I hate the most. I’m tired of this two-sided love/hate battle. I miss the woman before she takes that sip. I wish nothing but for you to look beyond your own comfort in that glass and see your daughter’s pain. I miss you Mom, I miss you.
I would consider myself to have grown up very fortunate. Loving parents and extended family who provided me with everything I could have needed and gave me memories and experiences I will cherish forever. I grew up playing competitive sports and being very involved socially. I found fulfillment in the relationships I was surrounded by, and the rewards I saw from the hard work I put into school and sports. Though I dealt with my fair share of personal struggles, I reflect on my upbringing with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Like most people with siblings, my older brother and I fought plenty growing up. As a little sister, I could never quite figure out a way to get the upper hand on my brother, as I knew deep down all I wished for was that we could be friends. My parents went through extreme stress doing their best to manage and improve my brother’s behavioral issues, which began manifesting as early as when he was a toddler. From every punishment in the book, to therapy and medications, nothing seemed to help improve his defiant behavior. As this was my normal, I thought all boys, within reason, experienced this in one form or another. I did not start realizing the severity of my brother’s issues until I was in high school, and detentions in school turned to MIPs and probation. Though, these behavioral issues extended deeper than I could have imagined. I was 16 years old when I had to first accept the fact that my 18 year old brother was an alcoholic.
Until this point in my life, I only had a vague understanding of addiction. I admit that I held many preconceived notions of addiction, such as blaming the addict for their problems and asking myself, “Why can’t they just stop?” As a naïve 16 year old who felt the need to personally fix any issues I felt I had any control over, I thought I could talk my brother into getting professional help and the issue would be resolved shortly. I quickly realized this was not the case, and that this would be a lifelong battle for him and our family. Almost four years later, I have been forced to face many difficult lessons and endured many traumatic experiences that have reshaped my understanding of addiction.
One of the hardest pills I have had to swallow was that the only way in which an addict will recover is if the motivation comes from within themselves. I have come to understand that you can give a person all of the support and resources in the world, but you can’t force them to utilize them. For years, I struggled with the question of, “Why am I or my family not enough?” I could not comprehend how my brother could not love us enough to want to be better for us. If I am being honest, I still sometimes struggle with this today. It took talking with many people, including professionals, to realize addiction is a disease, and it is a battle that an addict will have to wake up and overcome every day for the rest of their lives. The problem is, many addicts do not make this choice for themselves, and their condition worsens. I have become painfully aware of the devastation substances can have on families and relationships. It is heartbreaking to watch myself, my parents, and my extended family and friends desperately want the best for my brother while he continues down the path of addiction. Watching my older brother, now only 22 years old, have his health rapidly decline, damage and lose important relationships, and generally suffer is a weight that I carry with me in everything I do.
Another complicated aspect of watching my brother’s addiction progress is the personal feelings I harbor towards him. I still struggle with many of these feelings today. Aside from resentment and embarrassment, the most overwhelming feeling I have struggled to come to terms with is the hatred I feel towards him. I pride myself in living my life with strong fundamental morals that guide my daily decisions. While I have and will make mistakes, I generally just want to be a good person. I do not consider myself to be a hateful or angry person. So, when I first began experiencing these emotions a few years ago, I did not know what to do with them. I developed a deep hatred for my brother, what he has put my parents and me through, and generally what he has done to our family. This is the most prominent feeling I am still working to overcome, as I feel guilt for having such negative feelings. Similarly, I have felt I have had to mourn the idea of missing out on a traditional sibling relationship, feeling like an only child for most of my life despite my best efforts to grow closer to my brother. I have found myself many times questioning why people are plagued with addictions, and why my parents were given a child who is troubled by such a severe one. These are questions that I don’t think I will ever have an answer to and have come to realize everything that happens in my life is a part of my story, and it is how I handle it that matters.
While dealing with someone so close to me suffering from addiction, I have become much more aware of the prevalence and effect of severe substance addictions. As someone who is studying to go into the healthcare field, I am always thinking of ways in which I can apply what I learn to fighting the epidemic of substance addiction in my future career. As that is many years down the line, for now I do my best to educate myself on the topic and have found I have been able to form deep connections with people who have had similar experiences to me.
Though I have had to accept that this is my life and my family situation, it does not come without anxiety as the holidays approach, where bad episodes tend to occur. I have found relief from the isolation that my situation comes with by being open and honest with others, and I continue to be open to learn about better ways I can manage everything that comes with my situation.
Growing up in the same household as my grandma who suffered from alcoholism meant that there would always be fights during the holidays. I remember looking at the Christmas ads in the TV as child wishing that I’ve had a healthier family dynamic. Now that I’m older and don’t live with my grandma, I look at all the good memories I’ve had with her during the holiday season. When she would bring me Christmas candy from the grocery store or when we would watch her favorite old movies together. From hindsight the best advice I could give to anyone who’s loved ones are struggling with addiction is to even if it’s hard spend time with them, talk to them, because even if it doesn’t seem like doing a lot; the quality time they spend with you is time that spend away from the bottle.
- Jazmin Anderson