This is a reblog of an article a friend of mine wrote this past week for Runner’s World in their Other Voices section. His younger brother has struggled with addiction and suicide attempts. This is his account and how he deals with it. I highly recommend you check out his blog . A big thank you to Robbe for having the courage to share this raw and honest look at addiction from a loved one’s perspective, as well as giving me the ok to reblog it.
“My little brother is dying. Has died. Should have died. Tried to die.”
My little brother is dying. Has died. Should have died. Tried to die.
I’m at my parent’s house, and I’m going on a run. It’s December, and I’m training for my first marathon, a task I’ve been thinking about for months.
Earlier this week, he tried to kill himself at the end of a meth binge, taking every pill he could get his hands on, but he made it through. Somehow morning still came. Somehow his heart and its 24 years of mileage limped onward.
Yesterday, his friends showed up frantic and crying and asking if I’d seen him. His phone was off and he mentioned he may “try something” again. A suicide aftershock, or something.
He’d stolen my grandfather’s handgun recently and I was worried he’d taken it again, that it was, right now, sliding around his passenger seat as he swerved around the back roads outside Hershey, Pennsylvania.
I ran out the door looking for him. I had no idea how I’d find him, and all I could imagine was having to figure out in a matter of seconds how to call 911 while trying to revive someone with a hole in his head.
My first instinct was to look for him in the parking lot of the nearby community park, which is across the road from the small ranch house where me, my younger sisters, and (ten years after me) my brother grew up.
Four years ago I sat with my brother in that lot, the first time my family confronted him about his painkiller addiction. A snowball’s throw away was the bedroom window we shared as kids, the same one I opened while he laid in his crib, when the humidity of the August nights wedged itself through the screen.
We had driven here after his drug addiction became impossible to ignore, after my family had an amateur intervention, hoping that a commitment to treatment would solve everything. We talked about how he’d only been using for a short time, hoping a month of rehab would return everything to normal.
I didn’t realize a thick, black magic marker line was drawn through that calendar year: the time before opiates, and the time after. In four years his life would devolve into a maelstrom of lies and deceit, of pain and sorrow.
I didn’t find him in that parking lot. I searched other lots and other roads for the next hour and couldn’t find him anywhere. He eventually called home, alive and annoyed that everyone was freaking out about him. Where he had been, I don’t know.
That same parking lot is where I start many of my long runs whenever I’m visiting my parents, and it’s where I’m starting my run today. I suppose I like starting out where so many things in my life have begun.
The cold is legit, in the twenties. A light snow is falling at the start. It takes a half mile to lose the feeling in my fingertips, and another half mile to get it back. The roads out here roll gently into wide curves, then straighten for miles. The Sunday morning traffic is sparse.
I’m used to city running, where too often my mind is focused on curbs and cars. Here, I’m able to go deeper, to work on the task of figuring this shit out.
I run past the Holiday Inn Grantville, where I worked, on and off, for nearly ten years through college and my mid-twenties. It lies at the foot of the Blue Mountain, a sister to the Appalachians snuggled up on the north side of its bed. Although the surrounding area can be undeniably pastoral, it’s also a place that is nestled into the womb of all manner of addiction.
This is also the place where I got my brother a job in the hotel’s restaurant, right after high school. He waited tables on tourists and travelers while his very best friends took off towards soccer scholarships and undergraduate degrees.
Like any restaurant job, it’s full of long hours on your feet, and coked-up kitchen crews that are every bit as pirate-like as Anthony Bourdain ever described. It’s a fucking disaster waiting to happen for a person with no self-control: One week you work a handful of doubles, bookended by Sunday brunches with bottomless coffee refills and ten percent tips. At the tail end, you’re sitting on a milk crate out back by the dumpsters on your cigarette break, complaining that your feet and back are killing you. And a cook hands you an Oxycontin.
And suddenly those shifts are a lot easier to work.
I keep running, turning onto a long stretch of mountain road. The snow continues to parachute in, treading water to keep afloat on the warmer pavement.
I run past patches of litter, mostly light beer cans, random roadkill, and even a couple unbroken cigarettes. There are lots of Trump signs out here too.
I spot a Mountain Dew can in the grass, the same kind my mom found once, in the air duct in my brother’s bedroom. That one was flattened in the middle, stippled with holes and charred black. It was the kind of thing where you knew it was being used for drugs without even knowing exactly how.
At the moment, it was so far away from our normal life that my mom didn’t even know how to respond. She just threw it out, hoping to never see something like it again. Instead, it was the shot that cracked through the house, right before the avalanche.
Soon we were finding all kinds of makeshift drug paraphernalia: hollow pens, melted and browned like toxic marshmallow sticks, tin foil scraps with odd crop-circle designs branded into them, or thimble-sized Ziploc bags. All manner of household items ended up disfigured, burned, or twisted with one purpose: for my brother to get chemicals into his bloodstream—as much as possible, as quick as possible—to get as close as he could to the line where his heart flopped back and forth like a dying quail.
For us, his family, this was a new language of addiction—symbols, glyphs, hints, and tip-offs telling us the straight and narrow had become crooked and jagged. They say the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself. Our family all spoke in tongues.
As I often do when I get into the melting miles of my run—around mile seven, when everything blends together with no thought of pain or time or distance—I begin to pray for my brother.
I pray for the heroin highways in his brain to be healed, as much as that seems like asking to walk on water at this point. I pray for him to realize his worth, to know himself as I remember him: Before the jackhammer cravings hounded him day and night, when the light in his eyes was still there and his blond hair blew golden, the same way that Van Gogh’s wheat fields move, even when they don’t.
I pray for him to navigate the waters even within his drug use, that his tiny rowboat will somehow miss the shoals lined with Fentanyl and Carfentanil and whatever other horrors that have yet to be invented. I pray for him to hit rock bottom without dying, and for my parents to have the courage to let him land there.
I pray for my parents not to think this is their legacy. I hope that they can see how it’s not their fault, how they didn’t love him too much or too little. I pray that nothing else happens in our branch of the family tree, because I feel we are half a tragedy away from withering back into the trunk.
The prayers last for miles.
I reach a lake, Memorial Lake. Only now, at this moment, do I realize the significance of running to there, around there, on this day.
It’s the same lake in which my brother was baptized as a teenager. On that summer evening, the unassuming water cleansed his soul and made him new. Today it’s mostly covered in a layer of ice. I circle the water and make my way back as the snow stops falling, the sky holding its gray for the remainder of the run.
I wait for this run to clear my thoughts and give me one new angle, just one sliver of peace to apply to this endlessly swirling cacophony that has become my family’s life. But it doesn’t. My brain just hums neutrally as the miles accumulate and the warmth of my body turns back into cold, back into numbness.
Tonight I’ll talk to my brother. I won’t know if it’s the right time to love him unconditionally or time to cut him off. He’ll tell me how he wants to get off methadone (and crystal meth, and Xanax, and Klonopin, and Adderall, etc.), how he wants to get rid of the people he knows and find good friends.
I know he’s not going to do any of this.
He’s going to keep stealing things, doing drugs, injuring himself, and putting my parents—my whole family, especially himself—through hell before he’ll want help. I hope he does these things as much as I hope he doesn’t. I don’t know what else will make him stop.
Right now, running is just a few miles of clean road, a way to pretend everything looks like it did before.
Maybe it’s a distraction, but I’m okay with that. I don’t know anymore if I’m running to him, or from him, or just in place.
* * *
Robbe’s post raises some good questions. What have been your experiences with addiction and suicide? What can an individual loved one do to help?