Tis the season…to be pissed off. And proud. Some words on heroin addiction and the path to recovery.
It’s funny how the holidays work. I know that they’re hard for a lot of people – it’s arguably my least favorite time of year because of the memories and pain that surface – but it never fails that as soon as the decorations come out and the presents are purchased, people are pissed off. They ran out of wrapping paper. Some store is out of some thing their kid really really really wants and they won’t get. They have no idea how in the world they’ll find time to wrap so many presents. I get it. I totally do. I get pissed off when Starbucks forgets to mix skim milk with my eggnog latte and I am forced to drink a full fat drink. The horror! The fucking horror!
But not this year. Bring on the full fat eggnog lattes, baristas. I ain’t mad at ya’. One year ago yesterday I was beside myself with worry over my brother who was MIA after a wild ride with heroin and a band of not-so-savory characters. I was pissed off at the world. My mom’s health was eroding and I was about to lose a second brother to drugs. I’ll never forget when Officer Wilson – who became my favorite person over the prior months while we searched tirelessly to track down my brother – called and said “we found him.” I might have screamed. I don’t remember. I knew Jamie was gone. And Officer Wilson must have sensed that (he knew about Lanny) because he quickly said “he’s OK, he’s in my car.” Then I was pissed off at Jamie.
It was in that moment that I vowed to myself I would do whatever I could to help him. I told him that if he moved here, I would help him. But only if he was serious about getting help and drastically changing his life. My friends and family were understandably split on my decision. So I only talked to friends and family who supported my decision. My mom wasn’t one of them. I know in her heart she wanted him to help get but she had neither the means nor the emotional bandwidth as she had her own battles to fight and she struggled to the very end with the loss of our brother Lanny. I got it. I was pissed about it, but I got it.
I worked tirelessly for five months – calling Jamie’s attorneys, the DA’s office, anyone who would listen and could help. I even talked to some shady characters to try to piece together the puzzle that was such a mystery in my head and so completely foreign to me that I didn’t even know where to start. I read countless articles and books on addiction and recovery. On the criminal justice system. I talked to therapists. I talked to doctors. I talked to his former employers. I visited him as often as I could in North Carolina. I tried to mail packages and cards regularly. (As did my sister, who would send him postcards from all over the country, which he always told me about in the two-minute phone chats we had.) I sent snacks and always tried to send enough to share. I needed Jamie to have hope. Hope for a brighter future. Hope for a life full of love and happiness. Hope was the only thing, in my mind, that would help him recover. I also tried to keep our family together. I’d send updates to Jamie’s family (we’re technically half-siblings), to my mom and sister and to my close circle of friends who were instrumental in helping me maintain my sanity. I kept his friends who asked about him updated. All while trying to help my mom with her continuous stream of health issues. And hold it together at work. One month into 2016 and I was already completely exhausted and not sure how long I could keep it together.
When I offered Jamie a chance to change his life – people, places, things – he didn’t even hesitate. I knew then that he also wanted a better life for himself. With the wheels in motion, we waited. But I didn’t sit idle. In fact, I became such a fixture in the process that Jamie’s attorney called me out in court when Jamie went in front of the judge for the last time. During my visits to Jamie, I would talk to criminal defense attorneys in the hallways of the courthouse. I was fascinated by the stories and by their dedication to helping their clients. I was up close and personal with the system. It was weird, no doubt.
I know the criminal justice system is completely fucked up and there is no other way to describe it. I know a lot of people are in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. I also know that there are people who do belong there. I know that there are people who don’t belong there. I know that people have completely ridiculous and unfair sentences. I was terrified of the outcome but in the end, his sentence was fair and he paid his dues. As he should. But the process over those five long months made me realize just how fucked up the system is… and that? THAT is something to be completely pissed off about.
Jamie came to live with me in April of this year. It was then that we planned for my mom to be here for Thanksgiving. A lot of friends thought that was wrong – that she should have been here sooner – but it was intentional on my part. I wanted her to see him as the person I knew he could be. A son with so much love in his heart for people (and dogs!). A son who is thoughtful and caring and funny. A son who is a pain in the ass sometimes but you can’t be mad at him because he has such a huge heart. Not the son who was controlled by his addictions. So I planned a fun week for all of us around Jamie’s one-year anniversary, which is today.
When Jamie and my sister and I met in Florida last month, to see my mom in the ICU (after catching pneumonia following a fairy common surgery), I knew that was the last time we’d see her. She fortunately knew Jamie was in a good place. She also knew then that she wouldn’t see him again. When my brother hugged her before I took him to the airport she whispered in his ear “I’ll be watching over you” – and I do believe she is doing exactly that. But still? I’m pissed off that she’s not here to celebrate this huge milestone. I’m pissed off that my brother Lanny isn’t here. He’s been gone almost 11 years. I’m still pissed. I’m pissed off at heroin, at all drugs. I’m pissed at the system. I’m pissed off at the powers that be who make it INCREDIBLY hard for people with drug addiction to get the help they truly need to recover. I DGAF, as the kids say, about eggnog lattes and wrapping paper.
But while I’m pissed off at a lot of things, I am SO PROUD. I will admit that I wasn’t sure we’d be celebrating one year today. But my brother surprised me in the best possible way, as he usually does. He worked so very hard, and I know it wasn’t easy, to find his path once he moved here to New Jersey. He went to his first NA meeting the first day he was here and he’s been going nearly every day since. He found an incredible sponsor within a week. And he found an amazing network of friends. He also found an amazing bestie, as we girls like to say, who – together with his sponsor – have been instrumental on this path and I cannot thank them enough. Jamie has done the work and he will continue to do the work. I honestly could not be more proud.
Today makes one year. Jamie will celebrate “in the rooms” (NA-speak) all week. It’s a tremendous milestone. I’ve been to a meeting. It’s the most supportive and loving group I’ve ever been a part of, hands-down. Tonight Jamie and I will celebrate with bacon wrapped onion rings, because why not? Today will pass and he’ll be on his way to 18 months and two years and five years and 10 years. And for as long as he continues on this path, I will continue to be his biggest cheerleader. I will help him. I will push him. I will totally nag him. And I will love him to the moon and back. I will do so knowing that our brother Lanny and our mom are watching over both of us. And they are smiling. Smiling because THIS is the Jamie we know in our hearts. This is the Jamie who we all love so very much. Smiling because he did this. He worked hard to get to where he is and together we are so very, very proud.
I love you, Jamie. Keep fighting the good fight, lil bro. I got you.
Note: While this is only partly my story to tell, I would never share my brother’s story without his permission. I asked him if he’s OK with me posting this. He, without hesitation, said “of course!” I hugged him, told him I love him and am so proud, and then he said, with a huge smile on his face, “I’m off to get my glow-in-the-dark keychain!”