Facing Reality: How One Call Saved My Little Brother

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I will never forget the phone call. I was watching TV at my parents’ house, where I was living at the time after graduating from college earlier that year. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. My phone rang, and I saw my little brother’s best friend, Dan, show up on my phone’s caller ID. My brother had left the day before to go back to the University of Colorado, where he was in his first semester of his freshman year. Dan had been my brother’s best friend for almost 10 years, and I doubt anyone in the world knew my brother better. While Dan and I were friendly, someone I considered my friend too, it was rare for us to talk without my brother around, let alone call each other on the phone.

I answered the phone puzzled — wondering why Dan was calling me — asking the expected, “Hey, man. What’s up? How you doing?”

“I think your brother has a drug problem,” Dan said with a combination of confidence and disappointment. My brother had just been back for an entire week for Thanksgiving break, a time when most kids his age return home and reunite with their high school friends whom they have not seen since the summer before they left for school. “He was so barred-out (term for abusing Xanax) this entire week, we couldn’t even get him out of his bed to come hang out with everyone,” Dan said.

I knew for a long time that my brother’s drug use was extreme. His high school years were one big blur of drug use starting with smoking marijuana and including everything from cocaine, mushrooms, MDMA, booze, and I am sure everything in between that I never actually saw him use. Sure, my brother liked to have fun, but what high school kid did not? Who was I to say he had a drug problem? My brother did not have a drug problem; people with drug problems were dirty junkies who were incapable of doing normal, everyday things. That was not my brother, right?

For the next week, I thought about what Dan told me every day. I did not know how to tell my parents or if I even should tell my parents. I viewed rehab as the end. The end of my brother’s normal life, the end of the brother I knew. What if I told my parents this and he really did not have a drug problem? What if I told my parents and he ended up hating me because of it? What if I told my parents and they sent him off to rehab when he really just needed time to figure things out, like most college kids did?

Freshman year is hard, and it is a time of transition. I knew I had taken time to adjust and grow up a little bit when I was a freshman in college; maybe that was all my brother needed, too?

From there, I struggled with whether I should talk to my brother. Would he admit he had a problem if he did, or would he just tell me what I wanted to hear so badly — that he did not have a problem? Like a lot of high school kids, my brother would lie about where he was, who he was hanging out with, and what he was doing when he was out with his friends smoking weed, drinking, or going to concerts and doing molly or other drugs. Could I really trust what he told me was the truth if I did talk to him?

Questions like these swirled in my head as I battled my emotions and tried to come to terms with the most rational course of action to make sure my brother would be okay. He was always an incredibly social kid. He had a ton of friends, and the party usually started when he arrived. I knew he smoked weed, drank, occasionally took a harder drug like cocaine, but binging on Xanax? Popping pills to the point that he became a shell of who he was, to where he could not even interact with friends he had not seen in months? That was not my brother.

By Wednesday, I knew I had to tell my parents. I was terrified. I felt like it would have been easier to tell them I had a drug addiction than to tell them that I thought my brother did. Even though I knew I had to tell my parents, I could not muster the courage to do it until that Sunday night.

It was after our weekly Sunday night family dinner. My dad had the Sunday night NFL game on while my mom finished washing the dinner dishes. Walking down the stairs from my room to where my parents were in the family room felt like a slow walk to the electric chair. The weight of knowing what was happening to my brother was eating me alive. All week, an immovable wave of fear and anxiety that started at my core and tingled out to my fingertips and toes surrounded me like a knight’s suit of armor. The only way to shed the metal suit would be to break the news to my parents that their youngest son had a drug problem.

When I finally told my parents, they did not seem surprised; a part of them must have already known he had a problem. I told them about what Dan said about my brother using Xanax. I told them about the countless times I had seen him snort coke, take molly, and eat mushrooms in high school. I told them about how I struggled all week with whether or not I thought my brother had a drug addiction and that the only conclusion I could come to was that he did and that he needed help.

My mom flew out to Denver the next day to confront my brother about getting help. He admitted immediately to my mom that he was addicted to Xanax and was struggling with other drugs, too. He knew he needed help. Once he knew we were there for him and we were going to get him the help he needed, he never fought or denied it. He wanted to get help; he just never knew how to ask for it.

My brother entered an inpatient treatment center the next week. I would love to tell you that everything was smooth sailing after that but it was not. He stayed sober at first, but a couple months after his first stint in treatment, he relapsed into a cycle of severe drug abuse and hit rock bottom. While treatment was not immediately effective, it was the first step in his road to recovery.

He eventually did get the help he needed. I am thankful every day that Dan called me that Sunday after Thanksgiving. Without him I doubt I would have ever come to the conclusion that my brother needed help on my own. If I had, would it have been too late to help him? That is a question I am happy I never had to answer.

Today, my brother is back at the University of Colorado. He is excelling in the classroom and often receives the highest grades in his class. He has an adorable rescue dog named Ellie who goes with him everywhere. He has a great group of friends who are active outdoorsman; they often go snowboarding, hiking and mountain climbing. He has also been sober for more than a year and a half.

Trey Dyer is a writer for http://www.DrugRehab.com and an advocate for inpatient rehab treatment for individuals with substance use disorders. Trey is passionate about sharing his knowledge and tales about his own family’s struggle with drug addiction to help others overcome the challenges that face substance dependent individuals and their families.

 Contact Trey: tdyer@drugrehab.com

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved.

Guest Blog: The Real Me by Brook McKenzie

Ever wonder if your kid will overcome addiction and live a life in recovery? Never stop believing that it is possible. Treatment works. Recovery is possible. Today’s guest blogger is a young man who did just that. Meet Brook McKenzie and find hope in his story… MWM

With no tattoos, barely any muscles, and a quiet, sensitive nature, I had very few credentials to suggest I would survive in prison. Yet there I was, orange jumpsuit and a shaved head. At 19 years old, 155 lbs., I was not much to behold.  If anything I was the poster-child for “easy prey.”

How often I wished that I had never taken that first hit of crack-cocaine. How many times I wondered at how different things might have been.

Like many, I grew up in a great family with plenty of opportunity. It would have been much more likely for me to go on to graduate college, embark on a career and start a family than to wind up in prison.  But that was not at all what happened.  For years my parents had been wringing their hands in dismay. They would say things like, “how did this happen?” “why can’t you stop?” “can you quit for us, if not for yourself?” These were questions I sometimes had answers for, but none of them really made sense when set against the backdrop of my family’s life in shambles.

I was fifteen years old when my addiction to crack-cocaine began, a child really – with little idea as to what was in store.

This nightmare of enslavement would continue for me and my family for the next 20 years. There would be late night phone calls, desperate pleas, thefts, bail bonds, disappearances, missing purses, missed holidays, and an assortment of promises always ending in disappointment. As a child I had wanted to go to college and become a dentist. I loved my parents and they loved me. My younger brother was my sidekick.  Together, we would spend our youth exploring the woods, fishing, going on family vacations and making forts and tree-houses. I played baseball every year and enjoyed a host of childhood friends.  From a very young age our parents taught us how to be responsible, courteous, and conscientious young men.

As hard working, middle class young adults, our parents sought to provide for us the best that they could, and all they could.  They did a wonderful job! Still, in my heart, I sense that they felt to blame for what happened to me. But in reality, what happened to me, happened to each of us. Addiction is a family disease and it touches all lives that come into contact with it.

Between the years 1999-2009, I served about 8 years in prison as a result of my drug addiction, and my family served it with me. I remember the look on my mother’s face when she would come to visit. There would be times that I would bring a black eye to the visitation room with me. She would squeeze my hand while recounting all that had happened since I’d been away.  My brother had graduated high school, gone on to college, and earned his bachelor’s degree. He even met the love of his life while traveling abroad.

Sometimes during these visits – when I could muster the courage – I’d look my Mom in the eye and promise her – with all of my heart – that things would be different next time – I had changed. Unbeknownst to me, and certainly to her – none of us had come to a full realization as to the severity of my condition.

Once released from prison, and with every good intention to live my life reformed for the sake of all my family had been through – I would relapse!  Whether it took a few days or a few weeks, I always went back to it, as if asleep and unable to awake.  Similar to a nightmare, I would “come to” in complete shock  – “how did I get here again?” “What happened?”

The horror I felt would consume me. How could I do this to my family? And the thoughts would come:  wouldn’t it be better to kill myself now and let my family begin to heal than to go on causing harm indefinitely? Ashamed, I dared not show my face to anyone. The only way I knew to cover up what I felt was to go on to the bitter end, which for me, always resulted in another arrest.

As my addiction progressed, I found that I would steal for drugs, lie; even prostitute myself…I would walk miles and miles to get my next fix, roaming the streets like a zombie.

Whatever I had to do, I would do, my conscience under siege. The pain I felt inside, the loneliness and sense of isolation was unbearable. During these times I would fall to my knees and pray, “God please help me, please show me another way.”

Then, in 2010, as though an answer to my prayers, I was presented with an opportunity to go to treatment for my addiction. With a small duffel bag of clothes in tow I embarked on a life changing experience that would prove to be the launching pad for a brand new life in recovery. I haven’t been back to prison since. The truths I learned in treatment are the truths I carry with me today and they are the same truths that I share with others, with families and with those similarly afflicted.

…Not too long ago I accepted the position of Outreach Coordinator for a well-known drug and alcohol treatment center in Southern Orange County, California. This role allows me the privilege to interact with other people’s parents and family members on a daily basis. Together, the families and I walk hand in hand towards getting their loved ones the help that they need and deserve. Ironically, and despite it being a big part of what fuels my passion to serve others, my own story rarely comes up any more. As time moves on, there are newer stories to share, with brand new faces and brand new names; stories of hope, and stories of redemption.

Today, when my Mother calls me I answer the phone and we talk. We don’t talk about the things we used to discuss, we talk about our gratitude; we talk about life. My father, same thing. And as for my younger brother, well, we are best of friends again. He now has two young children of his own, two girls, and I get to be an uncle to both of them.  By the Grace of God, my nieces will never know me as a drug addict, a convict or a thief.

They will only know the real me; the one that God intended me to be…

Brook McKenzie serves as Outreach Coordinator and Family Liaison for New Method Wellness treatment center. His passion is working with families to help interrupt the cycle of addiction.

#TBT – In Hard Times, Siblings Will Ask … And Deserve to Know – Truth about Addiction

There’s no hiding the fact that a sibling is struggling with addiction, so it’s important to include and involve the other siblings. In this 2012 column, Midwestern Mama embraces a #NoMoreStigma approach.

Real Mom_ In hard times, siblings will ask — and deserve to know – Minnmoms

Guest Blog: The Blame Game by Nadine Herring


Parents, families and professionals - let's end "The Blame Game."
Parents, families and professionals – let’s end “The Blame Game.”

I have a confession to make: I watch Dr. Phil, pretty much on a daily basis. I know, I know…but I like to watch a good train wreck to wind down my day and this show never fails to disappoint.

While there have been some truly cringe worthy episodes that make you wonder why they would even put them on the air, there have also been some good episodes so things tend to balance out.

The Dr. Phil show likes to specialize in shows that deal with family dysfunction: whether that be from divorce, parent-child issues, or its favorite topic – addiction. Now let me start by saying that I think Dr. Phil’s heart is in the right place when he takes on these topics, but I don’t always agree with his methods especially when it comes to dealing with the family members of addicts.

A typical addiction episode of the Dr. Phil show usually involves the family member or friend of the addict reaching out to Dr. Phil for help in dealing with the addict. They usually have tried every option (so they say) and are reaching out to him as their last hope for their loved one. The family member(s) will usually come out first, tell their story and then the addict will be brought on stage to tell their story. Once both parties are on stage, it doesn’t tend to go well and lots of arguing and yelling ensue. Now Dr. Phil can step in and shut this down immediately and facilitate a calm, rationale conversation but that wouldn’t make for good television, so he tends to let them go at it for a while before he cuts to commercial.

Once back from commercial, Dr. Phil will talk with the addict to dig into the story a little deeper and try to find out how and why they got started using. More yelling and name calling is done, and Dr. Phil usually turns to the family member(s) and starts to go in on them, and the blame game begins.

As the sibling and spouse of former addicts, I take great offense to this and usually get so angry watching him insult, patronize, and downright shame the family, that I have to change the channel!

The Blame Game

I’m going to speak from my experience and tell you that my brother and sister’s addiction had NOTHING to do with how they were raised.

My three sisters and I, along with my brother were raised in a very loving, close, two-parent home and there was no dysfunction in our family.

Now my brother was the oldest, so I can’t speak to how his addiction started, but I did notice that he seemed really different to me once he got out of the army. My brother joined right after high school and was stationed overseas for a while in Asia, and I honestly think that’s where his drinking problem began. Though I was very young when he came back, I definitely noticed a change.

As for my sister, we are only 14 months apart and were extremely close, so I was there from the beginning of her addiction. I know exactly how her addiction started, and again it had nothing to do with her family life! My sister started hanging with some very shady friends who got her started with marijuana and it very quickly progressed to harder street drugs. She left home at a young age, but my parents did everything they could to help her, and I would even follow her around to try to make sure she was safe, but her friends and her addiction were more powerful than our love for her. For YEARS she would go in and out of rehabs, in and out of our lives and there was nothing we could do.

So when I see Dr. Phil jumping all over some of these families who have genuinely done everything they know to do and come to him for help and he blames them for their loved one’s addiction, it makes me upset and sad because my family has been there.

We’ve watched our family members sink deep into the abyss of addiction and tried everything we could to help them. We watched as our family was torn apart and relationships were destroyed. My parents watched their only son and I watched my brother who I idolized, slowly drink himself to death, and when he finally got sober, watched him die way too young from cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 49. I watched the pain, devastation and stress of my parents as they wondered where their youngest daughter was and if she was okay. We lived for years dreading a late night phone call because we just knew it would be the police calling to tell us that she was dead. Unless you have lived with and loved an addict, you will NEVER understand how this feels.

Fortunately for my sister and our family, her story has a happy ending and she has been clean for over 10 years now and we are so very proud of her and the strength it took for her to make it through her addiction alive; her story is truly amazing.

I know that my family is not to blame for the addictions of my brother and sister and while I commend Dr. Phil for his efforts in trying to help addicts, he is doing them no favors when he tries to play the blame game with their families.

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+TwitterPinterest, or my website

Many thanks, Nadine, for sharing this perspective with us. Let’s work together – parents, families and professionals to end the blame game. MWM

3 Reasons to Share Good News – Reaching out to Younger Brother’s School Guidance Counselor

Our youngest son’s school guidance counselor was a Godsend during the darkest days of our older son’s addiction. Midwestern Mama reached out to Ms. K with good news.

During middle school, our youngest son was doing well by all accounts – getting good grades, making friends and participating in school activities; however, he carried an emotional burden that could have negatively affected his learning and well-being. As you know, our older son was addicted to drugs and was resistant to treatment so our youngest son witnessed and experienced some of the darkest days of his older brother’s substance use disorder.

Always honest with him about what was happening, we tried to shield him from some of the chaos but he could still sense that it was going on and needed a positive outlet to process his emotions.

Real Mom_ In hard times, siblings will ask — and deserve to know – Minnmoms

We were very lucky to have an approachable and knowledgeable school guidance counselor, Ms. K, who worked with younger brother during sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Together, they talked about his brother’s drug use, addiction, homelessness, attempts at treatment, lying, stealing, relapses, and more.

Younger brother and Ms. K met regularly. She helped him sort through and separate himself from some very scary issues. She helped him open up about his feelings and find his strength to be successful and happy during some very trying times.

This Godsend built trust and respect with our son, maintaining his confidentiality while also keeping in touch with our family. Together, we could provide the necessary heads up whenever there was a new twist or turn regarding his older brother’s drug addiction. As a mom, I felt comfortable sharing what was going on and was confident that she would address it directly with our kiddo in an age-appropriate way, and more importantly in a way that gave him the confidence and hope that might otherwise have been absent.

Without a doubt, Ms.K demonstrated care and concern throughout his three years in middle school. Further, she set him up for success to transition to high school for 2014-2015.

Teen Gets High, Impacts Sibling

Ms. K developed a special rapport with our son by sharing personal understanding of having a family member struggling with addiction – this showed him he was not alone. It helped him better understand the complexities of addiction and mental illness such as depression and anxiety.

 3 Reasons to Share Good News

  • People appreciate progress reports instead of wondering what’s going on.

  • It’s nice to keep in touch from time to time with people who have touched your life.

  • It creates new opportunities to share experiences, resources and hopes with others who might be going through a similar situation.

During middle school, students undergo a significant transition from childhood to young adulthood. When a sibling is witnessing devastation and experiencing a wide range of emotions, it has the potential to refocus attention and ability. Instead, this counselor was a guide who helped him excel in his own right – as a student, a friend and an athlete. He did well in his classes, made friends and became a student-orientation leader, and participated on athletic teams, where he garnered peer and coaching-staff recognition for perseverance and achievement and for demonstrating a commendable attitude.

Ms. K was a rock for him – a true role model who inspired him to be himself and to do his best no matter what. We are forever grateful for the positive presence she had in our youngest son’s life during sixth, seventh and eighth grades; it made a lasting impression on him and on the whole family.

As ninth grade wraps up, I reflected on our younger son’s path and its parallel with his older brother’s, who is now nearly 11 month sober. It occurred to me that Ms. K might like an update, so I picked up the phone for a chat.

In addition to updates on the boys, I shared with Ms. K the creation and evolution of Our Young Addicts. Next school year, I hope to expand the #OYACommunity within our local middle and high schools, and with Ms. K’s support, I’m confident there will be an open door for this opportunity!

Midwestern Mama

Side Note: Our youngest son and I nominated Ms. K for an “Above and Beyond” award for our school district. Although she was not selected as one of the recipients, it was our way of recognizing her amazing efforts. Touched, she said it was the first time anyone had ever nominated her for the award.

Siblings Deserve a College Scholarship

Without a doubt, siblings are impacted by their brother’s or sister’s addiction. Dean Dauphinais​, a father with a son in long-term recovery, has created a special scholarship to help siblings. Fantastic idea.  Check out this great opportunity and please spread the word.  http://mylifeas3d.blogspot.com/2015/04/my-life-as-3d-scholarship-essay-contest.html

I remember the day we dropped my son off at college. It had been a tumultuous couple of years with an addiction that we were just beginning to understand. He thought he was ready. We were hopeful that a new crowd, a tennis coach that truly believed in his talents, and a clean slate might just be the best-ever opportunity.

As we said our goodbye’s, my son said, “Mom, I promise I won’t F- this up.”

His little brother, 10 years old, at the time, was no stranger to the promises and excuses of an addicted sibling.

Six days later, big brother passed out from drugging and drinking. Someone found him in a snow bank in sub-zero temperatures. He was taken by ambulance to the ER and later sent to detox. The downward spiral spiraled faster than ever.

Fast forward four years, big brother is sober and in recovery (nine months!), and little brother is a freshman in high school.  College is in the near future for him.

Addiction costs so much, tangibly and intangibly, financially and emotionally. For every member of the family.

I do not know Dean Dauphinais​ directly but am familiar with his blog and social-media presence. My impression is he’s a good dad who is an excellent advocate for our young addicts and their families. He seems to have the respect of parents and professionals, and I am only too happy to help spread the word about the college scholarship he’s put together.

See what you think.

Midwestern Mama

B Minus or A Plus – Grade This Essay

The youngest member of Midwestern Mama’s family writes about his brother’s substance use disorder.

When someone in the family is using drugs, it’s only a matter of time before one person’s problem becomes everyone’s problem. Our youngest son is 15 years old, a freshman in high school, and he recently wrote a “coming of age” essay for his English class where he talked about growing up with an addict brother.

He was nine years old when his brother began using drugs. For a year or two, he likely didn’t notice much, but by fifth grade we couldn’t hide it from him, nor did we want to. It was the year that things started to implode and it was the year that his class would participate in D.A.R.E. We believed it was important that he understood the chaos (in an age-appropriate manner) and to let this experience shape his own future choices, behaviors and attitudes towards drugs.

As we tried to work with our older son to move him toward treatment, we also worked hard at helping his younger brother and older sister process things. We talked openly with them, asked for their impressions and ideas, and we encouraged them to talk with a counselor or attend Ala-non or Ala-teen to put things in perspective. They saw us at our best and at our worst. They saw us for who we are.

One day our youngest was particularly distraught. In his recent essay, he wrote: “My life was ridiculously hard for a fifth grader.”

He knew that I had been working with a therapist to help myself manage the emotional roller coaster of parenting a kid with substance use disorder, so I offered to let the two of them meet and chat. It seemed to help little brother embrace the idea that he didn’t have to go through this alone and that there might be merit in talking with someone other than his family members – someone more objective and trained at these sensitive topics.

The next day, our youngest went to his school counselor. They hit it off, and she shared with him that she had a sibling with a substance use disorder. For the next couple of years, he would talk with her whenever things felt out of control, and through these conversations, a middle-schooler worked his way through some tough, scary, emotional times.

Just how did he feel during fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades? His essay reveals: “D.A.R.E made my problems even worse. I already knew a lot about what drugs did to the body because I had seen what they did to my brother.” He went on to say: “My brother’s problems affected my life in many ways. I (wanted) to be his friend … it was difficult to do so when he constantly was high or on the crash from drugs.”

They essay continued to talk about all the times when his brother had stolen his wallet, when he was homeless and his hygiene deteriorated – “He would smell like rotten apple dipped in crap drizzled in vinegar,” — when he was arrested for underage public intoxication, when he went to treatment but ran away … In just a few pages, my youngest son detailed the many low points he witnessed during his brother’s active addiction.

He concluded his essay by writing: “Knowing all I’ve been through is scary. The purpose of writing this (essay) was to (say) people have crazy family problems. I am outgoing and energetic, but deep inside, I still have problems. The best thing I learned through this experience is to stay strong. Talk to friends and counselors. Don’t let your problems overcome who you truly are. You are allowed to be affected by these tough moments in life, and at times you will feel worthless. Stay strong and it will get better. If life doesn’t have ups and downs, you’re (not really living).”

Little brother’s essay was as heartfelt and honest as anything I’ve ever read. It was also full of insight and perspective. I give it an A-Plus. His teacher, however, because the essay was riddled with typos, punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors, gave it a B-Minus.

Oh, well. I’m glad there’s another writer in the family who is willing to share this story – a story that has impacted each family member and a story that has had dark chapters, and now, over the past seven months of sobriety, is changing to chapters that are becoming increasingly bright.

Midwestern Mama with excerpts from her youngest son.