It was the day after Christmas. My brother-in-law called me and was freaking out. There were drops of blood in the bathroom sink at my parent’s house. My little brother didn’t deny it. He was hooked on heroin. We went from zero to a million on the “clueless” scale. We were freaked out. Our thoughts were twisted. We didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Family and friends came together as we scrambled for help and treatment options. The next day my little brother agreed to get help – he wanted to get better. The next day came and he changed his mind. He wanted to kick it himself.
How is this happening to my little brother?
He’s the same little boy I shared a bedroom with. I call him Ted. At night, there were nothing but jokes and pranks as soon as the lights went out. At times, he would crawl in bed with me as if I could protect him from the boogieman. We brought him along when we would go skateboarding, snowboarding or surfing. He was that little kid riding solo in the back of the pick-up truck – anything to get to the beach and surf. My friends became his friends and it was a good section in our lives.
As the years passed, this gentle little boy started smoking marijuana. He progressed and tried different drugs. He was in his first rehab in high school, and we were all there to support him. We witnessed the destruction addiction causes in relationships – the fear, the worry, the strain – on everything. This was a new process for all of us. We were afraid and felt like we didn’t have answers for anything.
We took a family vacation and were able to get him to come along. You could see that he felt uncomfortable in his own skin but we continued to love on him. After a long day of surfing, we sunk into the lounge chairs on the lanai, not saying a word, looking at the waves. It was bombing. The waves were cracking and you could feel the ground rumble. Then, you could hear a pin drop when Ted said, “That was a good day.” Crying inside, I silently replied, “You’re going to have more good days.”
I kept meeting people with similar stories. I listened but thought we were different. My brother is different. This whole thing is different. Ted is smart, photographic memory smart. He’ll figure it out. He’ll kick-it. I was so scared but I kept all this bottled up inside. Addiction was uncomfortable to talk about. It made me feel ashamed and embarrassed – a sense of disconnect from life.
I was overwhelmed about future unknowns – situations I couldn’t control. Hard to accept my little brother was homeless. My mind kept running – over and over. Is he okay? Where is he? Who is he with? The phone rang at 11:00 PM and my heart skipped a beat. He needed a ride. I picked him up and could hardly recognize him. It was awesome to see him. He was sad. He was so scared. He knew how deep he was. I asked him about stopping. He silently looked at me with his warm eyes. He kept flicking his fingers out as if he had tried to stop a hundred times. He was clutched by a beast. I wanted to kidnap him and take him to a safe place, a place where no one could hurt him and he couldn’t hurt himself. I was supposed to protect my brother but I didn’t know how to protect him from himself. How do I fix my little brother?
He surfaced again months later in the hospital. He had survived an overdose. We were relieved to know where he was. He was safe and alive. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him when he was asleep in the bed. He looked so peaceful – as if his mind had shut off and his thoughts weren’t chasing him. How can this be happening? This is crazy. Why is this happening to my little brother? Crying with my mom in the hospital, everything was crashing down. We felt little and weak. It was a dark time.
When he woke up, heroin was fresh in his body. He saw me looking at the walking crutch next to his hospital bed. Protecting me, he said it was nothing. I asked him to let me see. He slowly lifted up his bed sheet. His legs had sores and were black and blue from his knees to his toes from slamming heroin. I couldn’t breathe. How much pain was he really dealing with? I felt helpless. I laid down in the bed with him and we told stupid stories and joked around. I held his right arm. I didn’t want to let go. I just loved on him. I didn’t want to leave because I wasn’t sure if I would see him alive again.
Ted was like a dolphin stuck in a net. Dolphins don’t swim into the net and want to get stuck, and a person doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to become an addict. Like a dolphin stuck in a net, he was wiggling, trying to break free. What could make my little brother want to stop? What could I do? What was I failing to understand? At this point, friends and family knew the degree of the addiction. Armies were praying for Ted’s freedom.
Looking back, new friends were intentionally placed my life. They shared their stories; exposing deep wounds and painful moments. These stories surrounded me. Stories meant for healing and hope, not for judgment. Conversations I never thought would happen were taking place. My family wasn’t on this island alone. We accepted this new reality.
As I began to share what was happening on the inside, it was a relief that “someone knows.” Finally, someone knows my fears, my worries, and my shattered life. It made it a little easier to breathe – it made it a little easier to fall asleep at night. My world of addiction was exposed – and addiction started to lose its power. I didn’t have to hold all this crap to myself anymore. Our journey isn’t any different than the next story of brokenness. We live in a broken world.
You begin to wonder when life will ease up and stop pounding you. Ted survived another overdose. I prayed, crying out “God, please help my brother. Please save him from himself! Please help him now. He needs You now!” My mind would drift – preparing for his death. I hated those thoughts.
Months continued to roll by and then the phone rang around 10:15 PM one night. Is this the call? My body went hot and I answered the phone. It was Ted. This time it was different. He asked if I could pick him up from jail (from jail…again…really???) and take him to mom and dad’s house. Sobriety was new for Ted, it scared him but he was ready to fight.
Ted was at my parent’s house for seven months working through his recovery process. Looking back, those seven months were a gift. I’ll never know the amount of courage it took for him to take that first step. His body was damaged. He fought with everything he had. Up all night and restless, he physically wiggled and wormed trying to break free from the net. We saw what was happening on the outside, but couldn’t imagine what he was going through on the inside.
Tears and prayers: “God…protect my little brother.”
Good months had passed and he was getting better. He put on some weight. His legs were looking better, and he wasn’t walking with such a limp. The bruises were gone and he was wearing shorts again. I couldn’t wait for him to get back in the water. We were so happy.
He was safe. He was warm. My parents were with their baby boy.
I was at Disneyland with my family celebrating my daughter’s birthday. At “the happiest place on earth” I answer the phone to hear my mom say to me in a strange voice, “Arie is gone.” I dropped to the ground and asked her to “Check him again…SHAKE HIM…make him wake up!” With a hollow tone, my mom fought back tears as she pushed out the words, “No David. Aaron is dead.”
Addiction took my little brother’s life. He lay lifeless in the same bathroom where we saw the drops of blood.
All my fears and hopes were realized in that one instant. I love and value my little brother, but I didn’t have the ability to save him. I will never know Ted’s story from the inside. Man…I really miss him.
Prayers were answered. For the first time, Ted was finally able to take a big deep breath…and exhale…in his new body – a perfect body. A body free from addiction. Free from pain. Free from worries. Free from bruises. Free from hurts. Free from his mind. Free from scars. Now…he is Perfect!
But his story continues because we are still here – and we get to share our scars with the hope of helping others.