I have hummed and hawed about making this blog post for easily the last year or so. In a lot of ways, I feel like the creation of this piece was inevitable. I just needed to hit the point where I felt that this needed to be said, needed to be heard, that I needed to be honest… And, honestly, I needed to hit the point where I had to realize that this isn’t something that really can be hidden or should be, because the taboo nature of this topic is probably what contributes to many of the problems and resulting deaths related to this topic. So, anyways, without further adieu, allow me to create what is sure to be a jumbled mess of a variety of related and semi-related topics that I simply need to get off my chest. But, before, please allow me to warn you that if you are easily triggered by topics related to depression and drug abuse, you may not want to read further.
The first thing I want to comment on is the fact that social media allows you to view people’s lives through frosted glass. You never see the full truth, just a vague outline of what may or may not be the truth. How you perceive someone that you only know from following online is in no way what that actual person will be like. Often times, people just share their best and happiest moments and even if they don’t just share the happy side of things, they will generally avoid or skim over the darker points of their life, leaving the truth of it behind closed doors and away from social media. In this way, people’s lives can often look perfect online. The number of times I’ve been told by people “Oh my god, your life is perfect, I wish I had your life!” is honestly excessive and frankly, it really saddens me. If only they knew. If only they knew how hard it was to maintain a persona online, be positive and go to work everyday along with everything else that is going on in the background of my life. If only they knew how hard it was to open my phone on a particularly hard day only to see a nasty comment on my YouTube, Instagram or Facebook. If only they knew how hard it was to put on a brave face and try to respond with some semblance of grace when my entire world was crashing down around me. If only they knew how close to toppling the tower that made up my sanity was… Would it change the way some choose to speak to me? To others? I wonder. I truly hope so… I hope this insight on my life, the challenges I personally experience and that many MANY others are also going through allows you to be kinder and more thoughtful. I think many people forget that those online are real people behind their accounts, not robots. The way in which you treat them often affects them, some days more so than others.
Anyways, if you are still reading this, please allow me to take you on what will both be a look into the darkest points of my life as well as a cautionary tale for you and your friends. If sharing this information helps one person make a smarter decision or makes one person feel less alone, I’ve won.
I have never been someone who easily gave into peer pressure. Because of this, I’ve managed to make it through high school and into 3rd year university without smoking a cigarette or trying party drugs. I think one of the driving forces behind my disinterest in the now popularized prescription and non-prescription drugs such as Adderall, MDMA, Cocaine, Oxycotin etc was watching my own brother’s downward spiral with drugs. You see, it all started with my dad having a massive stroke and nearly dying from it. My brother had a fight with him the night before this and since then, he has always felt responsible for what happened to my father. At first, it wasn’t so bad, it wasn’t so obvious. For most of my high school career, I had no idea of the severity of his problem. I hung around the right crowd, yes, we drank but none of my friends really abused drugs or had any interest in trying a lot of the particularly dangerous drugs. Plus, while I was in high school, this whole fentanyl crisis, which I will go into later, was nowhere near as much of a crisis as it is today. Anyways, back to my brother. The drug problems came to light more once he graduated, but even still, they were on and off. Easy to push to the recesses of my mind and ignore. I didn’t fully understand what was going on and certainly didn’t understand the severity of it. What started off as “innocently” using drugs such as MDMA and cocaine in the way that many young people do turned into a full blown addiction, an addiction stemming from an emotional trauma or traumas, just like many of the addicts out there. This is something important to understand, drug addiction absolutely is a mental illness and it is exacerbated by other underlying mental health issues and emotional traumas. While myself and my other brother also experienced the devastation of my dad’s stroke, neither one of us took to drugs in the same manner my older brother did and still does.
In the recent years, my brother has turned to heroin and meth amphetamines as his drugs of choice. Watching someone you love turn into a stranger is an interesting phenomenon. I love my brother, don’t get me wrong, but I do not love his addiction. His true self and his addicted self are separate entities. His true self is a talented young man with probably a near genius level IQ and an incredibly gifted manner of processing the world around him and seeing things in such a unique way that he is compassionate, caring and sensible about the problems around him and about the struggles of others. His addicted self is someone who would steal from his own family to feed his drug addiction. I still clearly remember hearing my mom sobbing her room close to Christmas, loud, unforgiving cries that pierced the air and my heart with it. I went over to see what was going on and saw my brother standing at her door, high as a kite and looking almost clueless. My mom had opened her drawer and noticed that the several hundred dollars she had been saving for Christmas had been stolen. By my brother. To buy meth. Money she’d worked hard to get, working two jobs. Money she’d saved to spend to make her children happy and to have a nice holiday. Despite having nothing to do with what happened, I felt guilty. And as I write this, I still feel guilty. I couldn’t fix my brother. I still can’t. I couldn’t fix my mom’s financial situation. I still can’t. I find myself trying to run myself into the ground, finding more and more ways to earn a little extra money. To start new businesses. To save more. Saving and saving, trying to save my family along with it. It’s never enough and I don’t know if it ever will be.
Shortly after the Christmas debacle, my brother went to treatment for the first time. For the first time in years, I felt hopeful. He seemed better after detoxing. Like his old self. It was refreshing. Life was turning around, I could feel it. But, like the 95% (or higher) of addicts coming out of treatment, he relapsed. He went back to his old habits, taking a nosedive that was worse than before he went to treatment. Rock bottom once again. I couldn’t believe it. Nothing I did was enough, no amount of support I could give was enough. At this point, my mom had funneled thousands into trying to help her son. She was desperate. She was trying so hard to save him only to run herself into the ground and feel guilty for putting money into him only for him to take it and use it to feed the addiction that he couldn’t seem to escape from. His addiction had dug claws so deep that it was hard to like him at times but then there were these short glimpses of the person he really was… Making it all the more devastating. Not long after his return to addiction I was driving to my boyfriend’s house, which was down the road from mine. Something compelled me to drive by my house. I drove slowly by, noticing a fire truck parked near my home. Weird. I kept going, stopping when I saw a white flash. My dog, Moses, was outside. Weirder. I parked my truck and grabbed my dog, my heart thumping in my chest and my stomach dropping when I noticed our front door was wide open. I made my way up the stairs and crumpled to the ground when I took in the sight that was playing out in front of me.
Several firemen on the floor trying to resuscitate my brother as my other brother stood by, looking helpless. I didn’t know if he was dead or alive but I knew immediately it was an overdose. I knew that this was the moment that my entire family had dreaded but kind of expected would happen eventually if he didn’t get clean. The moment we all feared was creeping around the corner. The very thing we dreaded any time we were left alone with him, anytime we had to go into his room to wake him up. The very reason I was afraid to be left alone with him, why I went into a near panic attack anytime I saw him passed out, sleeping… My nightmare. Luckily, two shots of Naloxone saved him but we were told that if my other brother hadn’t gone up to check on him when he did, we likely would’ve lost him. As little as 15 minutes would’ve made a difference. This was a fentanyl overdose, all too common now in this day and age.
Now, I am going to divert to talking about fentanyl. This is the largest part of my cautionary tale. As a horse person, I’ve heard of the party scene specifically on the A-circuit Hunter/Jumper world. Being “poor” as far as it goes in the show world, I’ve never experienced it due to not wanting to spend my nights before a $1,500 show getting messed up but I’ve heard things. I’ve heard of the drug related struggles of some of the most renowned professional riders and I know what it is like to be curious, to be young and to be naive. So, let me warn you: One night of fun is not worth potentially losing your life. I’ve had a few people from my grad class die from fentanyl overdoses now, some of whom were old friends. It isn’t a joke and if you’re one of the “weekend warriors” who uses drugs like MDMA or Cocaine every once in a while, you’re probably one of the most susceptible to overdosing. Even if you’re just going to “try” it one time, that one time could be your last time trying anything. You see, people with no tolerance to these types of opiates are the most likely to overdose. When my brother is actively using everyday and using lots, he’s actually less likely to overdose than he is when he’s trying to cut back, to get better, only to use “one more time” which was the case when he overdosed. Please do not gamble with your life like this. It is not worth it. There are other ways to have fun. Best case scenario and you don’t overdose, what if one of your friends isn’t so lucky? You could take the same batch of drugs but they won’t all necessarily be the exact same strength. Some of you can be fine while another could be on their death bed from using drugs from the same bag. It isn’t a joke, it isn’t a game. This is a very real problem nowadays with the vast majority of street drugs being laced with fentanyl. Overdose deaths are on the rise now and so many people who are dying, contrary to popular belief, are not even addicts. I am begging you, as someone who has watched someone I care about nearly die from these horrible types of drugs, please do not go down this path. It’s not worth overdosing or potentially becoming addicted to these incredibly addictive drugs. It’s not worth it.
Now, circling back to after my brother’s overdose. I’m sure some of you would think this would be a wake up call for him. In some ways, it was. But, it’s important to remember that he has an addiction and addiction literally changes the chemistry in the brain. So, despite nearly dying, his brain was telling him he needed these drugs. That it wouldn’t happen again. So, back to the nosedive. Back to the drug use. Worse than before. Throughout this last summer, while I was smiling for photos on Instagram and going to horse shows, my brother has been succumbing completely to his addiction. From someone who was once a bright, cheery and attractive young man, he became gaunt and grey with needle pricks down his arm. Angry red veins, his body begging him to stop. But his brain kept telling him he needed more and more. You can’t love someone out of a drug addiction. We have tried. You can be there to support them. You can remain hopeful. You can help them seek the necessary help, but in the end, it is something they need to come out of on their own.
The grasp of these drugs is so incredibly strong. Addiction can be so incredibly hard to overcome and honestly, it is so incredibly hard to watch the ups and downs of someone you care about. To gain that little inkling of hope when they start to improve only to have it come crashing down when they relapse next. Sometimes, it’s all I can do to keep my head above water. You see, I feel responsible. I need to work harder, to stay alive, to stay positive and to be the support beam that holds my family up, mainly my mom, so that the stress of this situation doesn’t break her completely. So, yes, while I keep up this persona online and at work, my life is not perfect. It never will be. I truly hope that none of you would want this life and that none of you can relate, but unfortunately as someone who’s had an inside look at a lot of families who’ve seemed “perfect” these types of tragedies are not unusual. Let us unite in our hurt and hold each other up, to remind each other that there are so many of us going through the same or similar things and that we can be here for each other.
Let this post act as a sad glimpse of the reality that is many people’s lives, if it’s not addiction it could be family illness, toxic relationships, death of loved ones and more… Everyone has their struggles and everyone has trauma that shapes who they are and may explain their behaviour when they’re acting irrational, angry or upset. It’s important to remember how perception differs. How you perceive a person is not the reality of who that person is, it is simply how YOU see them. In the grand scheme of life there are things that are so much more important than that one night of fun at a party, than making that cruel joke at the expense of someone else, than trying to fit in with people who are pushing unsafe substances on you… There is so much more out there, please don’t give into toxicity. Hold each other up and always remember that we all have our demons, some of us are just better at hiding them than others.
Epilogue: A few weeks ago, my brother was sobbing in his room, throwing his things around and talking to himself: “I don’t want to, no but I don’t want to”, a broken boy talking to the demon of addiction in his head, desperately trying to escape from its grasps. He wanted help. He was excited to go to treatment. He had to wait weeks to get in. Treatment facilities, especially public ones are few and far between. There is not enough help out there. Private facilities are far too expensive for the average family or the average addict. They can’t do this on their own. The severe lack of help and stigma behind addiction is what drives it. My brother is currently at a treatment facility again, finally getting his spot after 4 weeks of waiting and spiralling down and down into darker depths of addiction. Had he got in sooner, I honestly believe he may not have fallen quite as far. Now, a week into treatment, with the thirst of addiction scratching at his throat, he wants to leave. Once again, we are struck with a broken hope. A desperation to help someone who seems impossible to help. All we can do is pray that he stays, that he will call tomorrow, changing his mind just like he did a few days prior. This is the ugliness of addiction. Heart broken families with bank accounts running dry as they desperately try to earn back the person they had before the addiction crept up on them. I just want my brother back.