My brother Garrett and I grew up in a “nice” family. We were taught about having good morals and values, about the “golden rule” and that family was the most important thing. We looked like the perfect family from the outside, but on the inside we were very dysfunctional. My parents sheltered me, or tried to, from what was going on with my brother – that his heroin and opioid addiction wasn’t affecting our family. I was 16 when our father passed away, and my mother needed me to help her deal with my brother, as if I was supposed to have already known that he was having problems with opioids and heroin but at such a young age I didn’t know how to do that. Plenty of people offered suggestions – such as joining al-anon, but I ignored them and essentially ignored that there was a problem at all.
Freshman year of college, I was only two towns away from home but rarely spoke to my brother except for a few quick phone calls. “Hi, are you alive? You are? Ok, good,” was the extent of our conversations., I had distanced myself from my brother’s health crisis and felt very much alone. After one semester, I left school and moved around the state of Florida for a while but eventually ended up back in South Florida. I moved into an apartment and at some point, still not knowing how bad things had gotten for my brother amid his opioid and heroin addiction, I invited him to come stay with me and that’s when I finally saw how bad things really had become. He was so thin and emaciated, his face was sunken in, he would steal my cash to support his heroin and opioid addiction, stay out for several days and come back when he was hungry or needed to steal some more cash. Our mother kept telling me to cut him off, that I was enabling him but I didn’t listen. I had lost my dad and needed my big brother, but at that time he wasn’t in a place to be that for me and it was selfish of me to expect that of him rather than helping him with his health issues. Eventually my brother left for another try at rehab and I realized that I needed to get my own life back on track. I left town again but this time to do better for myself and get an education.
I never cut off communication with my brother and after several attempts at treatment, he eventually started to get his life on track. When he told me about meeting his now best friend and business partner at treatment and how he had started his own business, I was skeptical but I wanted to be supportive. When I was 23, he asked me if I would help jumpstart his business by driving them up the DC and they would take me to the presidential inauguration and the inaugural ball. I couldn’t even believe how focused and driven he had become. It was surreal to me that I had a big brother that I could look up to again. For the next few years, he became my best friend. He had moved out to California but we would call each other almost every day and have real conversations. Seems like a normal brother-sister relationship, but for us, that wasn’t the normal we were used to. That fact that my brother could fly back to Florida to watch me walk the stage and graduate college, that he even gave a speech at my graduation party that moved everyone to tears, was hard to comprehend. Without a plan after graduation, he suggested that I move out to California as well and invited me to stay with him while I come up with a plan for grad school or anything that I would like to do next. He is such a pleasure to be around, so calm and just an inspiration to so many other young men in recovery.
This week, he celebrated 2 years in recovery from heroin. Recovery is possible and it’s given me my brother back. Garrett’s found his purpose through helping others achieve sobriety and it is such an inspiring experience for me. I can’t wait to see what happens next, he’s going to change the world.