Most of you remember me writing recently about my brother, Lum, and the tragic circumstances that led to his death. Well, I was pleased to receive a letter from a reader, and friend, who gave me a great feeling of relief knowing I had touched at least one person with my brother’s story. Though, I did receive a lot of feedback, none actually had told me how, or why it moved them the way this reader told me with the story they shared.
I asked permission to share the feedback with you all, and was given the thumbs up in hopes that it may help anyone else who is out there struggling with drugs and alcohol, as well as any other “inner” demon. Demons that very seldom release you to live a normal life with those who love and need you in their life. This was my reader’s message with very little editing for anonymity:
I’ve wanted to write to you for a long time, but I’ve had no time for a thoughtful message. Your story about Lum pitched me into deep reflection. Because I knew Lum, and because I suffer the same illness, I’ve been contemplating so many of the aspects that your story touched in my heart.
My heart was heavy for you, your brothers, and your parents. The pointlessness of the alcoholic death, the seemingly connected dots leading from his abuse experience to the end, the bitterness over choices that might have diverted the tragedy, if only the players had taken other actions. There is such desperation to know, to understand, to explain and divert the alcoholic (or substitute drug addict, if you prefer) path.
Sadly, it is my experience that the alcoholic path stands alone and separate from the experiences we have. And, I do not in any way here minimize the abuse that Lum suffered. That abuse is criminal, it is evil. It was terribly, terribly wrong, and deeply sad that the perpetrator abused Lum, and undoubtedly, countless others, known and unknown. But I’ve wanted to write you from my perspective as a recovered alcoholic. I share only my experiences, and I am not making any commentary about what your path or your brother’s path has been.
I write to you, asking that you respect my anonymity, and share this email only as you think it would benefit someone who suffers from the disease, individually or through a loved one.
My experience is that my alcoholism is separate from the experiences, painful or loving, that I’ve had throughout my life. My repeated turn to the bottle had less to do with what was happening and more to do with how I reacted to my own life. Good, bad and indifferent, my response was to drink. Deep inside of me, I believed that I was inept, ugly, stupid, and unlovable. I remember feeling this way even as a young girl. I don’t know why I viewed myself with such loathing- it no longer matters why, or if someone was to blame. They were my emotions, and I silenced the inner tyrannical train of self hatred thinking with a drink. Sometime in my early adolescence, I discovered that alcohol washed me sweet with ease, joy, warmth. I could talk to people, fit in, feel lovely, clever, such relief! Sweet liquid relief.
So began the cycle at age 14 that wound me through eighteen years to a point of daily suicidal ideation, panic attacks, and dark, lonely depressions. These things happened to me, not in any particular sequence, and forgive my frankness, if it lacks censure: Arrests, DUIs, counselors, medications, psychiatrists, hospitalizations, evictions, homelessness, running away, unfaithfulness, treatments, lost relationships, teen parent, broken marriage, lost jobs, waking up in the beds of strangers, unfaithfulness – I stole, I slandered, I lied, I cheated, I fought, I judged, I starved myself skinny, I sold drugs, I manipulated.
It was a dreadful cycle of this vicious crazy, lonely mind, driving me into obsessive thinking and self-loathing, drinking for relief, behaving like a maniac while intoxicated (see above), waking up more shameful, angry, lonely, humiliated. I was crippled in a self-incarcerated cage. I tried many things to manage the drinking, but I couldn’t leave it alone for an extended time, so that I could do the much needed inner spirit work. I tried to exert control over people and circumstances, and always the alcohol. I cycled through beer to liquor to wine. I limited quantities. I established hours and days that drinking was acceptable. I tried changing places and people. I used prescription and illegal drugs to manage.
In the end, I drank daily, using sedatives and marijuana upon awakening, until 4 PM, the Self-Prescribed Drinking Hour (Unless it was the weekend, then I thought it was brunch, so it was acceptable to drink in the morning). I had daily panic attacks, I was suicidal. I hated myself, my life circumstances, and I had no idea how to get free of the trap I felt locked into forever. Terrible things had happened; I’d be unemployable for a long time, absent emotionally for my children, a wild screaming banshee when drunk, or I’d be passed out, blacked out, urinating on myself.
I don’t know why I was blessed with a moment of clarity, and I have no idea why me, and not others. But that is what happened. I had a spiritual experience. I hadn’t believed in anything in fifteen years. I prided myself on my human secularism. I thought God was for fools- sheeple who couldn’t think for themselves (I’m not advocating any spiritual path for anyone here; this has just been my experience).
I hunched over the steering wheel in my van, in a parking lot, screaming and crying out in pain. I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest, Indiana Jones style, because it was so chokingly, suffocatingly painful to wake up to reality. I whispered, “If there is a God, take this pain away from me!” (Arrogant to the end- just thinking about how I felt, and if God loved me, he’d make me happy!) My pain did not go away, not at all, not for a long time. But I instantly had the sensation of a presence with me, a loving kind spirit. My spirit was moved. I wept. In that moment, I knew I was not alone. What relief and hope that gave to me!
About two weeks later, I was led to Alcoholics Anonymous and I’ve been on this path since 2005. External clean-up includes being a present, loving parent to my children, completing grad school and becoming employable again, leaving a terribly sick relationship and learning how to develop healthy ones- friendships, familial relationships, romantic, paying the bills on time, even returning library books instead of keeping (stealing) them. The blessings have been heaped upon me!
But the inside job is what has blessed me most. I’m on a spiritual path, with a loving Creator that has a definitive, good purpose and future for me. I no longer hate myself. I can look in the mirror today. I couldn’t do that a few years ago. I can stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of God’s kids.
I pray for peace and healing for your family, Travis. I don’t know why Lum had his path. I drank with your brother in his last few years. I do tell you that his experience and your family’s pain is not in vain. You gave me such a gift, for whatever it’s worth, Travis. You remind me that this disease is deadly and progressive, and your story serves to reaffirm my commitment to AA, and being for my children what I could not be drunk. Please continue to share your experiences. Those are the stories that renew my spirit to help new drunks coming into AA. It might not comfort much to know that others like me can benefit from your brother’s life. But, your story was a gift to me, and I am deeply grateful.
Much love to your family, and I will keep you all in my prayers.”(sic)
This one reader made this writing worth the pain it took to put into words my brother’s story. When the reader mentioned that it might not comfort me to know that others can benefit from my brother’s life (and death), it could not have been further from the truth. Knowing that his life, and tragic death, can be a wake-up call to any one person in this world, a child that is waiting on a mother or father to get sober and commit to being a parent, or to a parent that is hoping to feel the warm, loving embrace of a troubled child again…that to me makes my brother’s death much less tragic, and only adds to his legacy of selflessness.
Many of us hurt every day without giving those around us a clue that there is a problem. More so, many of us ignore all the signs that a loved one is suffering. It’s so much easier to join in on the charade that everything is alright. Getting involved means you have to open up your own emotional barriers or, subjecting them to embarrassing scrutiny. What we don’t realize is that not becoming involved usually makes that person feel less “normal” than the people in their lives. They feel ostracized because they don’t feel the same internally as what people around them are displaying externally. We are adding locks to their “self-incarcerated cage” – to use the words of my friend. Suffering comes in all forms, alcoholism, drug use, depression, anxiety, and many more. All have one thing in common, the person feeling it usually feels alone in their battle.
I’m no expert on this matter, not in the least, and I probably only know as much as the next guy, but I want to open myself up to discussion with anyone who struggles with demons, or knows someone struggling and doesn’t know how to help. Not because I can make it better, or have the end all solution for you, but because it’s time for you to make a change. And if that change comes from me offering to help, so be it, if it comes from recognizing that the person you share your life with can offer you support, so bit, if it comes from theism, so be it, or if it just comes from recognizing that you are not alone in your struggles…so be it.
Make this existence about you, not your demon. If you know someone struggling, do what you can to understand their problem, ask questions, research the problem and offer support. Turning a blind eye is easy, but pain felt from loss is much worse than the pain of dealing with the problem.
As a person that is offering support, you may not be able to force a change, but you can be there when the time is right. As a person that needs support, realize that we all hide our inner demons, you can change that demon into strength and go on to live the life you’ve always struggled to have. If you open yourself up to the right people, someone will step up to help you on your personal path.
There is a solution to the problem; you just have to ask…