when my brother and i began our project, i began a journal dedicated to his story. after six months, i have a moleskine full of personal thoughts and feelings.
thoughts and feelings… those things i rarely share. but maybe it’s time i start.
before you read this, please understand this is not an exploitative piece of prose. on day one of the project, January 7 2016, william and i agreed this story would be shared on all fronts… on good days and bad days.
an important part of addiction’s storyline is that of the family.
part of the journey as a family member is what i call the “selfish part…” the “knowing when to walk away” part. the part that feels like desertion. the part that shows me waving my white flag to addiction.
and this is really fucking hard when you love someone.
i can only speak for myself, and i’ve decided to do so. my journal outlines [mis]understandings of the disease, internal processing of my brother’s decisions, and, finally, written reflections… one of which you are about to read. unchanged and unedited.
from my journal // june 5, 2016:
it is the morning after. all the words left me last night. abandoned me, really. they fleeted in tandem with my once merely-waning hope, which is now oddly replaced by some sense of relief. we knew this would happen. i knew this would happen. i knew it last week when we sat on our childhood home’s front deck and his attitude had changed. closed-off, shut down, reluctant to share with an openness, a mindfulness that launched this project.
yesterday, seven months to the day of his release, william overdosed. overlapsed – i guess that’s the more appropriate term. i found my pen writing that word, avoiding the dosed part, because it carries a heavier, more permanent weight… a different connotation. i cross it out and change it back to “overdose.” because that’s what happened.
it’s his second overdose.
he said he was going to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. but i knew differently. i put my ipad in his car as a sad experiment – an attempt to track him via the “find my iphone” app function. turns out you need wifi to make that a possibility. now, it is sitting with his car in an impound lot, locked up and untraceable. who knows if it’s even still there, ha.
the ambulance picked him up at north avenue and 12th – a ten minute ride from my apartment. he was in his car when it happened… when he “fell out.” i wonder if he was parked. i wonder if he was driving. was he at an intersection? i guess that’s better than a side-street, where no one would see him dying, and no one would make the call. who made the call, anyway?
heroin rears its head once more and somehow this relapse is different. with his first relapse, i was supportive and hopeful. i believed in him. with relapse number two: i was angry as fuck. i felt betrayed. with his third relapse, i was overwhelmed by despair and hopelessness. this overdose? i somehow feel relief.
I hope this means he will be locked up. i have hope again or still, i guess. the difference is the direction, the intention of my hope… for a different future for him. or at least a break for us.
mom got the call at 9:30pm. she ran down the hall to my room where I was lounging, relaxing. eighteen minutes prior, I had yelled out to my parents, “where’s william?” i called his cell; no answer. he didn’t answer their calls or texts either. when i heard the frantic shuffle of my mom’s feet down the hall, she barely whispered, “william overdosed,” then whimpered as she shuffled back in the direction she came.
i grabbed my phone and began to record. i ran to ask one question, “is he alive?”
my dad said, “yes,” he’s on the phone now. all blood and energy left my head and hands; it pooled in some distanced body part, or left me entirely. i can’t be sure. i felt ill. i had never felt that before. no anger. no sadness. no feelings. no words.
my mother wept as she removed her pajamas, throwing the day’s worn sweater over her head. the sweater muffled her voice, as she hurriedly tucked her arms in the sleeves, “will you drive me?” she asked. i told her no. i denied them both that luxury. she could not rescue him and he was entitled to no motherly comfort, no embrace.
i wanted him to sit there, alone… to feel truly alone. to have nothing but narcan for company.
my father was angry and said that he knew. he didn’t want william to leave the house for a meeting, but my mother told him william needs the support and normalcy. he hadn’t gone to a meeting in several days. he had not been himself, feeling ill and exhausted. the doctor told him earlier that day he tested positive for mononucleosis. mono. that explained a lot. but he wanted to go to his meeting. and so they let him go.
from down the hall, i heard my dad on the phone. after silence, i hear him say something like, “it’s done. we’ve given you all of our energy. you’ve had your chance. we forgave you time and again. you’ve sabotaged yourself. it’s done. we’re done. there’s nothing to say.”
mom, now fully dressed, says it’s her fault and dad will blame her. “dad didn’t want him to go.” she thinks of her son as he once was, as he is in sobreity, how he can be. but she still doesn’t understand, after all of this time… after all of the errors and efforts — she doesn’t realize: if it hadn’t been tonight, it would have happened on a different day, under different circumstances, which would mean the call to inform us of his overdose would not be from him.
mom and dad begin to divide. the air in their bedroom is thick. i can barely breathe. my feet and knees give way. i find comfort on the floor. as my chest heaves, and my breaths leave me, intensifying the thickness, i stare at the ceiling and realize i cannot sink in the weight of this room. i will not sink. i remind them both, this isn’t about us and it never was… it never will be.
i remind them both we need to stand on the same front. that we fight together. yesterday, william was standing with us. today, he’s on the other side. we are no longer fighting with him against addiction. we are now fighting him and ourselves.
we bite our tongues and fight the feelings we have somehow grown accustomed to. the easy feelings, the lazy feelings. the ones that sneak up on you and tear you apart. i’ve resorted to feeling nothing in this moment. instead, i play the mediator. “find the facts,” i tell myself. “be strong for them.”
no room to breathe, no room to love, no room to feel. but just enough room to think.
bearing witness to overdose or feeling its waves… that’s the hard part. knowing the overdose is inevitable, and carrying the weight of the unknowing — the when, the where, the how, and the outcome — that’s the hardest part. it is a weight sincerely greater than my world. i carry it with my family. it is bound to us by fear of an imagined reality i only recently realized i must face… the potential outcome that is only balanced and held at bay by hope.
my mind will carry me to dangerous places. even in his sobriety, a nightmarish realm, one that mimics a past and speaks of a future, haunts me.
i put william on speaker phone. he cries. i hear him say, “why couldn’t i have just died?”
the nightmare that has haunted me for months — the nightmare that would break my spirit — he wishes that for himself.
i hope once more, but not for him, instead for me. for peace. for a break from worry. i know that’s selfish but it’s time. i hope he goes to prison. i hope his probation is revoked. i hope, not with disdain or revelry, but in quiet moments. in prison, he will be safe, but more importantly and perhaps more selfishly: my family will feel peace. we will have a taste of freedom as he experiences that which balances it: imprisonment.
i love him. i do. i would kill for him. fight for him. do anything for him. at a certain point in this battle, i realized there is little i can do for him but tell him i love him and let him fight his own battles.
i continue to think of what this means for us. maybe we might be able to have quiet and calm… for a bit at least… until he is released and his siren calls upon him once more.
my mom hugs me and says, “you know i would do anything for both of you.”
my heart breaks for her.
we get in the car at 1130pm and prepare ourselves. to see him. to pick him up for discharge. to take him home.
he’s sleeping now.
i have no idea what today will look like.