a drug addict.
a person with a compulsive habit or obsessive dependency on something.
I have seen this word slapped all over the place recently, like it’s mocking me or haunting me. It was even the six-letter high scoring word in the stupid little word game I play on my phone in times of boredom. I was shocked. I want to know why junkie is an acceptable word on that game, but the words rape or sex isn’t? Why is one term more taboo than the other? Why does sex have a bigger negative connotation than junkie? It’s absurd. So, it’s been on my heart to write. I’m compelled.
This story is hard to tell. It’s so deeply personal and contains information I’ve kept hidden for a long time. Some of the information is humiliating and the rest is just hard to put into words.
The pain comes in waves. I’ve been buried under it for the past six months. Longer, if you count all the times before, and the roller coaster ride of ups and downs, recovery and relapses. I started slipping into a deep bout of unexpected depression in October. I’ve recently started climbing out. Well, more like clawing my way out.
I’ve been emotional, reclusive, bitter and sad. I’ve isolated myself because that’s what I do in moments of unbearable pain. I withdraw. But it appears I am wanting to rise again. So I have to get this out of me.
My world was rocked in October of last year. You see, I had become comfortable. I got sloppy and unsuspecting. I let my guard down for the past couple years, because I have been riding the high of getting healthy and feeling pretty great. It was foolish of me to think for a second that I could have it all—that maybe, just maybe, my brother and I would have a happy ending to a very rocky beginning.
In October 2018, I received word that my brother had been arrested. Now, to be fair, I wasn’t that surprised. He had his share of past run-ins with the law. Sometimes just misunderstandings, like the time my grandma forgot to renew her tags and let my brother drive the car. They impounded her car and carted his tush off to the clink. We can laugh about it now.
What came next rocked me so hard to my core, that I almost drowned in my own fear and sadness. He had been caught with meth. METH. To say I didn’t see it coming would have been the understatement of the century.
Through a slew of other issues, like being released on his own recognizance, skipping court dates, being stopped again with paraphernalia, he is now likely heading to prison soon. I’m everything inside: I am empty inside. I’m numb, sad, angry, horrified, embarrassed, heartbroken, devastated—you name it, I’m feeling it.
I’ve been on this ride before. I was hoping the last time I got off of it would be the final time. I hadn’t received a call like this one in years. He had been clean for years! YEARS. I didn’t understand. I was confused and aching all over.
Looking back, I think I can pinpoint the decline. Our paternal grandmother passed away in June. She took us in around 1993 or 1994—it’s foggy now. We called her Mammaw. Although we knew she’d be passing soon with her declining health, knowing this ahead of time didn’t make it easier. She was a lot of things to us. Both of our grandmothers were. We lived with our Mammaw during the week, while our other grandma, “Neannie,” A.K.A. “Mean Jean,” got us on the weekends. It’s not your average set-up, but compared to what we had come from, it was close to perfect. So in some ways, I think losing our Mammaw drove my brother back to old habits. Except this time, we all missed the signs. We had become veterans at detecting all the signs. We usually knew if he was using. This time, we didn’t. He was sober for so long. I was blindsided when he was picked up for crystal meth.
My sweet, loving brother, the same kid who gave me away at my wedding and danced with me because I lacked a paternal figure to dance with, has somehow become someone I used to know. Does he remember stepping up for me? Does he remember swaying to “I’ll Stand by You,” by the Pretenders? Does he remember me sobbing in his arms, being so grateful that he would take care of me and vowing to always have each other’s backs? Has meth robbed him of that memory now?
Some of you might call him a junkie—a cruel and heartless thing to say. Anyone who can label someone as “worthless” or a “junkie,” or says emergency responders should let them die and not give them Narcan, can go ahead and remove themselves from my life. There are no hard feelings, and there’s no need to exchange goodbyes. We will never see eye to eye, and I refuse to subject myself to ignorance and cruelty for one more second of my life.
Every life has worth. Every single one. Let me repeat that: EVERY HUMAN LIFE HAS WORTH!
Until you’ve loved a “junkie,” you have no idea what you’re talking about. This isn’t some kid who partied too hard at the frat house, tried ecstasy and opened the gateways into hard drugs because he was too bored with his time. This is a kid who held the blanket down for me in the winter, so I could change under the covers and have privacy when we had no heat. This is a kid who slept by me in the cold, heatless winters so he could keep me warm, when it was the most uncool thing in the world to sleep in the same bed as your sister. This is the kid who secretly tossed the softball with me so I could get extra practice, knowing the coaches told him not to handle a softball because it would mess up his baseball game. This is the kid I cooked for at six years old, when I had no business running a stove at that age, because we were hungry—and who knew where any adults were? This is the kid I made sure did his homework and took a bath at night (God willing we had running water periodically).
Listen, I’m mad at him. He doesn’t get a free pass just because he’s my little brother and he’s suffered tremendous pain. I’m more mad than you could ever be. Why wouldn’t I be? I have more invested in this “junkie” than you do. I’ve spent my whole life loving and caring for him. I have more to lose. Of course I’m angry!
I’m also deeply sad for him. Sad that things got so out of hand, sad that he chose this path, sad for his little girl whom he loves and adores…I’m just plain sad.
I’m also defensive, in case you couldn’t tell. I will protect my brother at all costs, no matter his sins. I might get to be mean to him, but you don’t. I’m defensive because none of you know or understand how easily this could have been my life. We both lived through some of the worst childhood trauma you could imagine. We endured every type of abuse day in and day out. And it was relentless. I don’t mean spankings, either. We barely survived growing up. Some days we were beaten so badly that we’d have to be called in absent at school because we could not walk. We were too battered and pained or had too many marks. Those days were some of the hardest. We depended on school to eat and be warm most of the time. I won’t go into the gruesome details of what it’s like to have someone beat you near death, starve you, neglect you, molest you and hate you. If you’ve ever read, “A Child Called It,” I won’t have to tell you anything. You will understand the cruelty we endured while being forced to eat off the floor with our hands tied behind our backs.
By the time we were “saved,” the damage had been done. I was already developing symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD, depression and anxiety. My personality was explosive. I cried round the clock. Even a small look or a joke that I didn’t get would make me bawl, as if I was experiencing the worst grief humanly possible. My emotions were out of control for the next twenty years or so. Funnily enough, I rarely cry now. I often wonder if I’ve run out of tears to cry, like you’re only allotted a certain number of tears, and after you’ve run out, your body doesn’t make anymore. My brother never cried. He did, however, develop bipolar disorder, had his own bout of PTSD and made the conscious choice to self-medicate to get rid of the pain and the hellish memories of the past.
See, here’s where I will agree with most of society. He made a conscious choice to try drugs for the first time as a teen. BUT, it wasn’t without anguish and turmoil. Until you have been that low, so low that you feel no one loves you enough to even feed you, keep you warm or not beat you almost to death, you will never be able to relate to this pain and this choice to try drugs. And until you can relate, by either experiencing something similar or loving an addict, your opinion is without merit. It’s difficult to form an accurate opinion of something you cannot relate to. I am humble enough to admit that I have opinions about a lot of things that I probably cannot relate to. I only wish everyone else was as open minded.
What my brother has done is chased peace through the path of substance. He’s looking for some resolution, some confirmation that he is worthy of love and he does matter. He’s looking to forget the stepdads that beat him within inches of life, that beat our mother and broke her bones, that held a gun to her head in front of us and a father who beat our pets to death and found pleasure in beating us with a four-foot-tall hickory walking stick. My brother deserves peace and he deserves understanding. My brother deserves compassion.
I don’t agree with the path he has chosen, but I understand it. I could have easily picked up a substance abuse problem. Statistically, I should have. I was the fortunate one, to come out with only a handful of mental disorders. Unfortunately, my dear sweet brother turned out exactly the way statistics says he should have—broken and chemically dependent to numb his pain.
I have to wake up every single day and wonder if today is the day he will die. Do you understand how unbelievably painful that is? Do you get that? Do you have to console your grandma and try to convince her he won’t get hurt in prison? Do you try to promise her things you can’t deliver—like assuring her he won’t be re-victimized inside that place? Promising her that death isn’t better than prison time? It is physically painful. My insides hurt from it. My heart and stomach ache in a constant battle of which one can agonize the most.
This is why I’m defensive of my brother’s actions. I’ve nurtured this boy since he was a toddler. All we had was each other for a very long time, and when people speak poorly of addicts, I take it personally. My brother is my everything. He is the only other human on this earth that knows what it feels like to be me. He is the other piece of me and without him I am not whole. I can tell other people every single thing we endured as children, but it will never mean anything. But because he lived it, too, we have an unbreakable bond. No amount of talking will make an outsider understand. We have a quiet acceptance. We are survivors. Remember that, the next time you want to call someone a junkie. Most addicts have survived unspeakable trauma that led them to substance abuse. Not all of them, but even one is enough for you to not call them heinous names.
Also remember this: I am not naïve. I have been stolen from and lied to, just like some of you. And I have been mad as hell about it. I have cut him out more times than I can count. I know that sometimes tough love is the only way to rid your life of the chaos they bring. But I still have compassion. I refuse to let the negativity drive me. My brother is a survivor and so am I. I will continue to love him until I no longer exist.
My brother is a reflection of me. I can’t fly if he is falling.