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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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