You don’t use heroin, heroin uses you. People don’t get that. They really, really don’t. I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to battle a drug addiction so powerful that you can‘t control it no matter how much you try. There are people who will argue until they’re blue in the face that addiction isn't a disease, but those are the people who haven’t seen someone they love struggle. Those are the people who haven’t seen it suck every ounce of life out of someone who wants more than anything to embrace life. Those are the people who haven’t seen their loved ones sob until they can barely breathe because they can’t get a “handle” on their addiction. Those are the people who haven’t seen their loved ones lose everything they have. Those are the people who have never had to look into the eyes of one of their loved ones and see the hopelessness and despair that takes over.
My brother battled with addiction for over 15 years before it finally took it everything away from him because truly you don’t use heroin, it uses you. My brother was one of the strongest people I have ever known. He loved big and he rarely angered. Looking at him you wouldn't have known the struggles he battled with on a day to day, hour to hour basis. His smile and wit took over a room, girls fawned over him, kids loved him, but none of that mattered. The drugs mattered. The drugs take over everything, they alienate you. The drugs take you from your family and friends. The drugs mute your dreams and goals. The drugs become who you are.
The people who don’t think drug addiction is a disease are the people who want to point fingers at other people for their short comings. Science has proven time and time again that there are undeniable differences in the brain of an addict to that of a quote on quote normal person. And I can state for a fact that my brother never wanted this life for himself. My brother never wanted to end up on a bathroom floor overdosed on heroin and have his eight year old son find him. My brother didn’t want to leave behind his son and daughter and have them grow up without their daddy. My brother didn’t want my mother to have to bury her first born. My brother didn’t want his siblings to have to grieve him before it was time. My brother didn’t want to leave this earth. My brother wanted to get his shit together and be a better person, but it was so much harder for him than it is for someone who doesn’t struggle with addiction. My brother had a million things he could have blamed for his decision to pick up a drug, but I can’t think of a time that I personally ever heard him blame anything.
Dan was my big brother and he wanted to protect me from the ugly that was in his life and he did a pretty good job with that. I wish now he wouldn’t have shielded me from the ugly things that were in his life; not because I think it would have changed anything, but because I think it would have changed us. I think it would have given us a chance to be closer, it would have given me a chance to know so much more about my brother than I did. I loved him so much, but I truly knew so little of him. It hurts to think how little I knew my brother that I shared a life with for 26 almost 27 years.
I find myself looking to my other brother to give me answers and it’s not fair. He is looking for answers as much as I am and I know he has none to give. But it doesn’t stop my desire to want answers. I want to know how he felt about life, love, being a dad, how he felt about his dad, my dad, our mother, my other siblings, myself, his time spent in Iraq, and anything else I could ever wonder about. I just want to know everything that was ever a thought in his head. Somehow it seems like if I could know everything he ever thought, then I would be closer to him and less sad. I would be able to feel more complete, I would have all the answers I could ever want. I know that sounds silly because it’s not a possibility. I know my other brother doesn’t have the answers for me, I know my mom doesn’t have the answers for me, the only person that has the answers for me is gone. It’s not that I didn’t know my brother well because I did, just not well enough to feel satisfied.
For the majority of my life Dan was my way older brother that was beyond cool and I was just waiting for the time that the age gap wouldn’t matter so much and then when it came, I dropped the ball. I didn’t call as much as I should have, I didn’t involve myself as much as I should have, I didn’t do a lot of things that I should have. But that’s the thing about addiction, it alienates people and I let it. Now, I don’t want that confused with me saying I wish I would have turned a blind eye toward his addiction or been an enabler because that would just be silly of me, I’m just saying I wish I would have been more present in his life. He could have also been more present in my life and I could play the blame game, which I did for years. However, looking back now I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much time saying, “well he doesn’t try either.” Because honestly what does that really matter? It doesn’t. Because now the future has been taken from us and there isn’t any going back and fixing things. My chance came and now it’s gone and I regret it more than words can express.
The feelings of grief come and go, just like people said they would. Some days or moments are unbearable and some days are just fine. The feeling has lessened already in the seven months he has been gone, but when they rush in like a tidal wave they’re still as strong as they were when they first hit. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real because I don’t think I have been able to allow myself to really feel the whole weight of it yet. For me it’s kind of like pouring out a bucket of water, you do it slowly at first because you don’t want to dump it out in one big pour and create a huge splash and a huge mess, so instead you pour it out a little at a time because it’s easier that way. It’s easier to feel it a little bit at a time rather than let it all rush in and feel it all at one time because if I did that I wouldn‘t be able to deal. Nighttime is the hardest for me because I am usually up by myself and my brain finally has a minute to shut off from mommy mode and switch into regular person mode and that’s when the thoughts creep in. That’s when the realization that my brother won’t be at another birthday party or family get together. That’s when the thoughts creep in that my niece and nephew have to face their world without a father. That’s when the thoughts creep in that I don’t know how my mother is standing on her two feet and not crumbling to pieces. That’s when the worry starts about my other brother and whether or not he’s coping with the lost of his best friend and brother. That’s when all the thoughts you could ever have creep in and take hold. And sometimes it’s suffocating and sometimes it’s refreshing, but I suppose both are good in their own way because sometimes you just have to get it out.