Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Stuff of Substance

I was introduced to substance abuse at the age of nine. Though my dad drinks, he rarely did so. My mother smoked cigarettes for 30 years before finally quitting when I was about twelve. She was on anti-depressants and nerve pills for a while, but I was too young to remember those days. I was blessed with parents who were not strung out, were not abusive. My brother and I were raised by caring parents in a relatively peaceful home environment.

My brother(we'll call him J) started "huffing" when he was 15. For those unfamiliar, huffing is inhaling the fumes of a substance to get high. Paint thinner. Butane. My brother was soaking a rag in gasoline and putting it in a brown paper sack to inhale. My dad found out and they came to blows. Dad kicked him out. Minutes later my father drove down the road and picked him up. He immediately enrolled him in a rehabilitation clinic to try to help him clean up. In hindsight, my dad has reflected that if he had not tried to be so 'understanding' and just beat his ass for screwing up, maybe things would have wound up differently. I honestly do not think it would have mattered.

After being released from his rehabilitation program, he fell into the same type of crowd. Now he was smoking marijuana, doing mushrooms and acid. This went on for a couple years. When he was 17, my brother's best friend (called M) was shot in a bar fight. Everyone had been drinking, there was an argument. The other guy went to his truck, got a shotgun and blasted M in the leg. J and his friends piled into a pickup and he held his friend's leg in his arms as tight as he could, adding pressure to try to stop the bleeding. By the time they arrived at the hospital, he had lost too much blood. He died soon after.

I know how traumatic this experience was for him. I saw how much it hurt him, how it tore his world apart. I also saw how he dealt with it... or the lack thereof. For nearly the past 20 years my brother has been on one drug or another. He has done cocaine, heroin, LSD, crystal meth, ecstasy, mushrooms, and probably more drugs than I know the name of. He has been in and out of jail, in and out of rehab. My parents have fought for him, cried for him, cried over him. My mother's nerves are shot, she's back on meds. My dad has eleven stints in his heart from stress and is ineligible for a bypass. Of my brother's high school circle of friends... five of seven are dead from drug-related incidents.. two committed suicide.

Currently, he is on methadone... a legal treatment for his addiction to oxycontin. Why they call this a treatment, I don't know... He's been on it for years now and the purpose, I thought, was to ween them off of this crap. Apparently, they listen to him when he says he needs to up his dosage. Of course, the reason they do that is money. There's no money in breaking someone from their substance abuse. They'll stop paying you.

That's not the only thing he does. He still does other drugs, plus his methadone. I've stopped talking to him. I see him at holidays, but otherwise I can't stand to be around him. Not because I don't love him or even that I get disgusted by the things he does. It's because I knew him when he was clean. Not only before he started, but he was clean for 2 years before relapsing. That man was my brother. We hung out, played games, went fishing, whatever. When he is medicated or high, he is fidgety, agitated, aggressive. Oblivious to others around him. His lifestyle lost him his marriage and it constantly upsets his two children who now live between mom and dad. No one breaks promises like an addict.

I know he has a problem. We have tried helping him, for years.. and years.. and years. The only person that can help J is himself now. Several people I know in real life, as well as people I blog and tweet with talk about substances they use. I myself drink liquor on occasion. I try hard not to judge people for illegal substance abuse, but given my past exposure to it and the giant gaping hole it ripped into my family... I find it difficult. I have never touched an illegal substance. I do not say this to brag. It's not a badge of honor for me. It's the side-effect of trauma wound... of having a person I love taken from me. He may still be alive, but he's not the man he was or the man he could have been. He was sober for 2 years after being released from a detention center. Those years were some of the best memories I have of him.

Why do people do this to themselves? To their friends and family? It comes down to selfishness. It's my body, it's my life. I'll do what I want to, don't you dare tell me what I can and can't do. It feels good, it's fun. All my friends do it, everyone I know does it!

Maybe it's time you change friends. Maybe it's time you change lifestyles. Do not be so naive or self-absorbed and think that your actions and what you do only concern you and your little universe. People care about you. Some look up to you. Some depend on you. The only thing that hurts more than hurting someone you love... is knowing that you did.


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