Most of society has a decisive opinion on the term addiction. General public often writes off those who are suffering from this curse as an un-motivated underbelly of society. Those uneducated on the matter, deem addiction as a lack of willpower or the inability to put mind over matter. Those individuals have not experienced addiction, nor have they ever witnessed a loved one battle these demons like I watched my brother Brad. Often, ONE MOMENT in time can mold decades of adverse consequences all steaming from addiction. Nothing ever prepares you for a family member with addiction.
I, myself, am no expert on craving for self-deprivation for compulsions that tear the walls of normalcy down. However, I have lived the roller coaster of agony and optimism while my younger brother struggle with this disease. His story should have been much different because addiction was never his choice. However, we will delve into the foundation of his dependence, HIS ONE MOMENT, later on in this story.
Michael Bradley (Brad)was an energetic child, brought up in a middle class family that instilled morality at a young age. He was a brilliant child with a fascination for technology and a probing enthusiasm for how things are made and work. At age five, he began taking apart intricate household items just to reconstruct them. By age 11, he built his own computer from parts our parents bought him for Christmas. A year later, he figured out how to link a security system to his bedroom lights, which in turn, would trigger his computer to begin recording activity in his room. Keep in mind all of these things sound pretty normal in 2015, but this was 1999. I tell you all of this because my brother was far more intellectual than myself. His potential was endless at that age, but his learning style did not fit into the box of public education. My learning style, however, did fit into that pre-packaged box we call school.
My brother and I are almost four-and-a-half-years apart. Growing up, it was not the cool thing to let your little brother hang out with your friends. How I wish I could go back and grab 17-year-old me by the shirt. WAKE UP! I blame myself for a lot of what unfolded as Brad got older. Could I have changed the course of what became of him for nearly a decade? It deeply hurts me to think about the mistakes and selfishness I showed at that point in my life. Sometimes those memories still haunt me like an obsessive thought that may never go away.
Over my brother’s teenage years he found more friends; unfortunately, they were not the ones that a parent ever wants to see their child mold their adolescence years amongst. All of these factors, from struggles with school to new friends, led to a perfect storm of life’s negative influences. You see I mentioned that sometimes people have that ONE MOMENT that can change the course of an individual’s life for decades. What is disgusting is that an adult facilitated the demise of my brother into the depths of addiction. A person that was supposed to enable the youth in a positive way instead chose to offer my 15-year-old brother Oxycodone in exchange for his legal prescription of Adderall. This MOMENT set into motion years of battling the mountain known as drug addiction. Brad would go on to try nearly every known drug before the age of 18. Although his drug of choice was always prescription opiates. From that point on, my brother was no longer the kid I knew growing up. His addiction turned him into a callus, detached shell of himself. I would go stretches that lasted weeks or months of barely seeing his face because he was with his “friends” who only enabled the self-destructive behaviors he had adopted. And when he was at home, he relegated himself to his own prison with the lock of a door and whatever drug was on hand that evening.
I knew all along, I knew… I lay awake at night waiting for him to get home alive, I skipped college classes, I investigated his room when he was gone… I knew, but no matter what I did I couldn’t remedy the events set in motion at age 15. Days, months, years, and a decade passed almost like time was evaporating like water on a scalding hot day. Brad, my family, and I all learned how to live with the addiction, as it almost became what we had always known. As sad as it is to type, it was true; we had all become numb to the monster (addiction) that had taken over our middle class family. At times we talked about it, but it nearly always ended in the frustration of how to get back to the normalcy of family again. And to be honest, we had not felt normalcy in so long… this was now our normality. I continually tried to bridge the gap between my parents and Brad. As the big brother, I understood my parent’s frustrations but was trying to hang on to what was left of my little brother. Brad seemed to respond to me a little more than he did others who gave him the “you need to change your life” lecture. Maybe he sensed how much I love/loved him, maybe he could sense how scared I was that any day I could wake up an only child. That nightmare almost came to fruition after his attempted suicide via overdose in 2012. Trying to fight for him to change his life before it was too late had become exhausting, and sometimes giving up seemed like the only thing I could do to preserve my sanity. At times, people took the stance of it being a lost cause. Simply, that Brad had made a choice and until he decided to change his life there was nothing I, or anyone else, could do.
While everyone has that MOMENT that can set into motion years of self-destruction, I am here to tell you that there are times life brings you a second MOMENT. This moment is much different; it provides the path to healing and mending broken fences with the ones you love. Brad’s second moment came in the form of my parents simply not accepting his behavior as normalcy anymore. After my brother had broken into my parent’s pill cabinet one night, my father had enough. The next day he changed the locks to the house and instructed my brother that he was no longer welcome until he killed the monster that was haunting him. This might have been the scariest moment of my life, as I was terrified my brother would take his own life and cement my worst fears. But, my father’s move proved to be the wake up call, the second moment, my brother needed.
Brad has been clean for over 16-months now, and while the road has not been perfect, seeing little pieces of the old Brad whom I love gives me immense hope for his future. However, people who have dealt with addiction will tell you that each day is a new start and a struggle. It's a tight-rope walk for Brad, when a person that doesn't fight addiction is in pain they have many avenues of dealing with that physical pain. But, for Brad and those with addiction the risk of falling back into the downward spiral is always lurking like a reaper in the night waiting to steal your happiness and progress in one gulp of a pill. Brad continues to be aware of his shortcomings related to addiction and relies on a support system of group therapies and family to stay clean. The one thing I would advise to someone going through this is the one thing I refused not to do in regards to my brother. I never gave up and I never stopped telling him that I thought he was better than his addiction.