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Today my mom would have been 71.

She died when she was 52.

Much too young, but I’m sure to her much too late. When you live in chronic debilitating mental pain day after day, eventually you surrender. And when you do, one of two things can happen: you die, or you find life again.

I used to always ask myself why do some people make it through darkness and others don’t.

Throughout the years I have wanted to die. The pain from mental illness and addictions is deep. When you are in that dark place you just want the pain to end.

I watched my mom for as long as I can remember struggle with addiction and mental illness. The doctors fed her pills and more pills, gave her shock treatments and hospitalized her too many times to count with no success. Her many suicide attempts were not a cry for help. They were a desire for her pain to end.

I understand that today through my own addiction and mental health issues. When I was younger I did not.

Some people can find their light for life again. Sometimes people have remission. Some just don’t.

I, for whatever reason, have been one of those people who claw and crawl my way out of the big black hole of anxiety and depression time and time again, and have been able to stay clean and sober as well.

My mom died from her battle to mental illness and addictions like people with cancer can die by their illness.

I am still here. I will be the voice she lost. I will keep trying to slay my own dragons and fight “our” disease.

I will remember her pain. I will remember her tears. I will remember her holding on all those years with no relief.

She now has peace.

In memory of my mom, Diane: 1945 — 1997

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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I lost my brother 31 days ago.

It’s not as if I misplaced him. Or that he’s hiding away somewhere ready to emerge from the shadows. No, he is gone. Still I find it nearly impossible to say the words he diedDead is so harsh, so raw, so final. So instead I say I “lost” him or that he “passed away,” somehow hoping that will soften the blow, even if only to myself.

My brother could make me laugh like no one else with his sharp wit and dry humor. He could frustrate me like no one else with his stubborn bullheadedness. He was bright, articulate and funny. I loved him to the moon. He was chased by demons. On May 28th, they finally caught up.

It’s worse that I found him.

When I say I “found” him, I mean I found his body. Devoid of his spirit, cold and stiff and lifeless on the floor. It is a memory I will never forget — yet one I refuse to remember. Like some intangible recollection that fades away as you try to reach out and grasp it. My mind alights on that image and immediately flits away, diverting the unthinkable elsewhere. Anywhere. It’s not even conscious anymore, it’s automatic, like a light switch flicking off so as not to let you see too far into the dark.

I haven’t cried in 29 days.

The first few hours I broke down, sobbing, hugging myself in a puddle on the floor. I felt so much guilt. I played over and over in my mind what I could have done differently. What if I would have checked on him earlier? What if I had called 911? What if I would have helped him up that afternoon when he stumbled and fell over, instead of cynically asking him not break anything and retreating to another room.

What if…?

You see my brother was an addict. Sometimes drugs, but mostly alcohol. A lot of alcohol, consumed in binges.Perhaps if I would have tried harder, felt more compassion …sympathy… empathy? Maybe I wouldn’t have found him that last morning lifeless on the floor surrounded by his “killer” in the form of countless empty bottles and cans strewn about the room.

Like most families, ours had tried for years to get him help. And I think at times he tried too. I know he didn’t enjoy living the life he was living. He truly wanted something more. Like Jekyll and Hyde — so bright and full of life, and then so dark, grappling with monsters that lived inside his head.

On the second night after, my mom arrived, shattered and broken. I knew I had to be strong for her, for me. For my family, for my friends, for people that I barely knew and those I hadn’t even met. I couldn’t lose it, couldn’t break down…no, it’s more that I wouldn’t. Because that’s what I do, what I’ve always done, smile through the pain.

 

And from that point on, I crammed everything away and slammed the door.

 

Until that day I hadn’t even realized it was possible, so seemingly effortless to completely compartmentalize your emotions and shut them away from everyone including yourself.

If you met me on the street you would never know I just lost one of the people I loved most in my life. I laugh, I smile, I go on with life as normal. I keep my mind occupied. I run, I read, I clean the house and walk the dog.

I never let myself be alone with my thoughts for too long for fear of wandering down the wrong corridor and getting lost.

At night I wake sometimes from nightmares. Effigies creeping in, slipping though the cracks and cruelly taunting me while I sleep.

A few days ago I read a passage in “The Pier Falls” by Mark Haddon. He so succinctly puts into a few profound sentences what I can’t seem to put into actual emotion.

 “…but there was a part of his memory which he simply did not visit, and of whose existence other people could only guess, like a locked cellar in a large house from which inexplicable noises might occasionally be heard during the quieter parts of the night, the precise nature of which were irrelevant because the door was bolted fast and only a fool would go down that narrow, mildewed staircase.”

My biggest fear is the dam will break and everything will come flooding in all at once. The feelings, the fear, the rage, the guilt, the raw emotion, all crashing down upon me, suffocating me under its weight.

My second biggest fear is that it won’t. Not ever. That I won’t ever cry, won’t ever hurt, experience pain or anger. That I won’t ever really feel anything again, and be removed from the things that make life rich — real joy, genuine happiness or love.

People tell me that I’m strong.

But what is real strength? Is it facing your demons, or vanquishing them?

I don’t have the answer to that question. Someday, perhaps, I will.

And that’s the thought that saves me.


I’m a 32-year-old with anxiety and depression, and I have been living in recovery from addiction for just over a year. I went into recovery without knowing much about it. Here are some of the important lessons I have learned.

1. I needed to want it more than anything.

When I started rehab, I assumed everyone else was on the same page as me. This was not the case. People are in rehab for many reasons, and some of them might not be ready to quit. They could be there for their families, legal reasons, health, et cetera — not necessarily because they want to get better. For me, there was no option other than recovery.

2. You can’t judge another person’s recovery.

I was a bit surprised to see the judgment of others within the recovery community. Some people look down on those who don’t go to 12-step meetings. Some don’t approve of replacement drugs. I’ve seen someone quit a recovery program altogether, because she claimed there was too much judgment and drama involved.  I find it easier not to judge anyone. We’re all in this together, after all, with a common goal of living free of addictions. With this attitude, I’ve made some unlikely but wonderful friends.

3. The stigma around addiction is still present.

I am lucky that I haven’t had too many bad experiences with the stigma surrounding addiction, personally, but I still see it all the time. In particular, I have noticed a lot of people in recovery do not advertise they’re in recovery. There’s still a lot of shame attached to addictions. I need to recover out loud. I feel like I have a responsibility to help others who might be suffering in silence, like I did for so many years. I believe the only way to solve the stigma problem is to talk about recovery.

4. There’s more than one way to recover from addictions.

When I was in rehab, I was told to go to 12-step meetings. These are great for some people, but they might not be for everyone. There is a lot of pressure to get a sponsor and work the steps. I like to say my sponsor is a committee — family and friends, my therapist, an addictions counselor, various doctors, a psychiatrist. I like the odd meeting, and they’re awesome for finding friends who don’t drink, but I have a bit of an issue with the concept of anonymity. I will always respect the anonymity of others, but I believe it perpetuates stigma, so I don’t go to a lot of 12-step meetings. I engage in many other recovery-friendly activities and try to live a fairly healthy lifestyle, and it’s working for me!

5. Recovery really is possible.

For a long time, I figured I wouldn’t bother quitting drinking because what was the point? I’d just go back to drinking again eventually, like always. I didn’t know any other way, and I thought I was too old to learn. I am happy to report I was wrong. It’s been a year and a quarter, and I’m still going strong. I’ve met so many people who have been in recovery for several years.

If anyone reading this is struggling and feels hopeless, I want you to know an addiction doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I never even imagined I could be as happy as I am today.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


 

I’m writing this piece because I grew up with a mother who was an addict, and unfortunately have seen the way people talk about others who have addiction.

Here’s what I wish people understood:

1. It’s a mental illness.

It took me almost 23 years to realize it, but yes, addiction is a mental illness. A person doesn’t chose to be addicted — the addiction chooses them. Although a person does chose to do something they may have thought would be a one time experience, addiction actually changes the brain in fundamental ways.

2. It’s important to forgive them.

Again, it took me almost 23 years to realize this, almost 23 years of watching my loved one in and out of jail, relapsing, going through withdrawals, stuck in the couch for weeks at a time with no motivation to anything but use the bathroom, all to realize I can’t continue to live another day being bitter. It’s their illness that’s bringing them down. It was hard and I’m sure it’s hard for you, too. If you’re like me, you’re angry, upset, maybe even guilty because you feel like there is something you’re suppose to be doing to help them. For me, I could help this person by forgiving them and letting go of that bitterness. 

3. It’s important to love them.

It’s hard to watch someone you love destroy themselves in the inside and outside. It can be hard to love them after all the pain and hurt they’ve caused you — I get it. But they’re counting on your love and support. Without it, they may feel hopeless. If you want your loved one to fight their addiction, it’s important to encourage them with love. Through the withdrawals, relapses and their sobriety.

4. It wasn’t their choice.

I understand it was the person’s choice to take the pill or drink the beer. I used to believe that meant addiction was her choice, too. But it’s not. Addiction isn’t something we choose. They do have a choice to get help, but it takes time, encouragement and strength. Addiction isn’t just addiction — it’s often coupled with depression, anxiety and vulnerability. 

It’s important to dispel the misconceptions, and give people who have been affected by addiction more understanding.

The author and her mom.
Alexis and her mom.

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Ever since I was a child I knew something wasn’t quite right. I did everything in my power to get you to notice me, to see I was your little girl. But nothing I did would ever matter because you had something that would always take precedence over us.

I’d get your smile for just a moment sometimes. If I was lucky I’d get your undivided attention too, but that was fleeting because your secret would always be number one. I heard mom crying at night after another fight, a fight over your secret, which really wasn’t a secret at all. I memorized your face while you were sleeping away your secret, afraid it was all I would have to remember you by. The memories of a once youthful face, now weathered and worn by life’s path.

I used to dream up a new father, one who always happened to have your face. One who would show up when promised, and not leave me waiting alone at another softball game. I’d envy all the cheering fathers, with faces so bright and proud, and wonder what I did wrong. Why was I always the child left waiting and wanting for something I’d never get?

But then I got older and realized what addiction really was. I realized I had a father all along, he wasn’t what I wanted, but he was what I had. I learned to love what I was given after life’s secrets were revealed. In November 2012 after 30 years of struggling with your secret, you said you could do it no more. For days I had tears streaming down my face, thinking I’d never see you again. I wanted to take back every moment in time I ever thought something bad about you, just so I could relive it and see you again. But a few days later we got a call that changed our lives — you checked into rehab and you’ve been sober ever since.

A year ago this past December I met you for the very first time. The real you, the person who was hiding behind secrets, after 27 years of wanting and wishing for something more it was sitting right in front of me and I didn’t know what to say. But I know what I can say now.

The author and her father.
The author and her father.

I’ll never understand the pain you experienced or why you made the decisions you did, but I’ve come to realize those decisions aren’t mine to understand. I want you to know I consider you a hero now. It’s funny to say, but I think I considered you a hero all along. You fought something so hard, something I’ll never fully understand and you won. You win each day by waking up, and you win each day by going to bed, knowing you lived another day without your secret invading your life once again.

Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, occupations and walks of life. You come in the form of someone battling something so intense it consumed your entire life. When I look back at this picture of the day I met you for the “first” time, I can’t help but smile. It was the first time you made a promise to me and kept it. The promise you made was to come to my sons first school concert, and you did. Talk about coming full circle. If anyone gets to experience the real you, full of kept promises, I can’t think of anyone better than your grandchildren. I can’t wait to continue getting to know you, and experience all these things I never got to before. I love you dad, and we are all here now to walk alongside you for the rest of your life of recovery.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a thank-you letter to someone you never expected you’d thank. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


When you think of someone who struggles with addiction, who do you see?

Probably a stereotype, according to research. In a Recovery Brands survey, 76.7 percent of people believed addiction is fully or partially a choice. Next to cost, stigma is the second largest barrier for individuals considering treatment. And the kicker — 82.2 percent of surveyed people struggling with addiction said they’ve felt stigmatized for what they face.

There’s still a lot we don’t understand about addiction. So, talking to people who are actually affected is a great place to start. We teamed up with the Recovery Brands, an organization that provides online resources for individuals and families seeking addiction treatment, and asked people who live with and are affected by addiction to tell us one thing they wish others understood.

Before you judge, listen to what they have to say:

1. “The opposite of addiction is connection.” — Johan Harri (submitted by Nick Warren)

2. “That it isn’t a choice, it’s a disease.” — Sandra Bitting

3. “Until you have loved someone who abuses substances, don’t judge the family’s choices… the line between enabling and supporting is blurry.” — Tanya Stanley

4. “It’s not necessarily because the parent was a bad parent or the child (in my case) is a bad person.” — Amy Talcott Kennard

5. “Addiction is not the entirety of me. I am me; I am not just my addiction. There is a lot of other stuff to love.” — Ryan Sachse

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6. “People who suffer from addiction do not choose to be that way, nor do they have to let it define them.” — Teresa Taylor

7. “Addiction is so much more common and pervasive an issue than society thinks.” — Sarah Hollowell

8.“I wish people saw the time that addicts spent alone. Thinking about everything they’ve done every time they’ve lied and stole.” — Thad Knisely

9. “My addiction does not define who I am or who I will be!” — Lisa Renee Barnes Lampros

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10. “It’s not a matter of willpower or a lack of a moral compass.” — Brian Lewis

11. “We do recover.” — Jennifer Jones

12. “I am not the face of my addiction.” — Roxanne Logel

13. “Sometimes you honestly don’t realize what you’re doing, and who you’re hurting, until you’re looking back months later. I wish people could understand the suffocating guilt.” — Kaylee Jane Kominek

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14. “Just because I am/was an addict, doesn’t make me a bad person. Deep down inside we are wonderful, loving people.” — Shelly Rice Garcia

15.Wish people would not judge others… some have no idea what is going on in their lives…” — Sarah Kelly

16. “The public needs more education on addiction. People need to know how it starts, what it does to every aspect of your life, how to get or give help to an addict, and what recovery is like for an addict.” — Sarah Kelly

17. “It goes deeper than the substance.” — Roe Brown

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18. “A lot of addicts/alcoholics are the most sensitive, caring and intelligent people you’ll ever meet.” — Haley Pharis

19. “It’s not about willpower.” — Erin Butler

20. “There is hope for us one day at a time.” — Jc Harms

21. “Good people sometimes make bad choices. Not every person is bad people because they have a drug problem.” — Allie Gosnell

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Do you want to join Recovery Brands’ LIVES (Leveraging Impactful Videos to End Stigma) Challenge? Click here to learn more.

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