When you stand on the other side of watching someone steering their life into oncoming traffic in slow motion – painful is an understatement. Imagine watching your parent, child, best friend or spouse play russian roulette. You know at some point, the bullet will fire from one of the chambers – it’s just a matter of if they quit before it does. While you know the ultimate outcome, they grin and continue on – willing to gamble.
This is what it can feel like when you stand and watch someone unravel at the seams as they continually pull the trigger – or – pop another pill, snort another line, smoke another joint, chug another glass or fill another syringe. You can’t understand why aren’t they aren’t just fixing it, why can’t they see it, why would anyone in their right mind feed themselves poison and consume it willingly?! It’s a slow motion horror film.
Jodi and I have had countless conversations regarding this as years have passed and it’s also something that has been a hot topic within my own family. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “right” or “wrong” answer. I don’t know if it’s possible to save to another, or if you should continuing to enable or cutting ties is what’s best. Or, at what point it’s enabling and what point it’s handing them the bullet and placing it in the correct chamber for them. I do know that these entries, from cancer, to addiction to eating disorders (stay tuned;) ) have brought to light the many facets of disease and the choices we make with them. Sometimes knowingly engaging in what could very well be their quickest way to death, sometimes holding out for anything and everything to avoid it. Disease can eat at us in ways we didn’t know possible, in ways we’ve never identified with before, or taken the time to consider how closely related they truly are. This entry builds off of Joshua’s – showing what the view from the outside looking in can be like. And, as always, it isn’t always as it seems.
Thank you Jodi for reminding me that “right” or “wrong” isn’t always that easy – that love looks different in many realms. Sometimes that means engaging, sometimes it means letting go – despite the pain. But it almost always means trusting – trusting that they’ll come through it when, and as they are willing or need too. Trusting that they remember that help is available when they’re truly ready. Trusting that as the stigmas vanish with time, this will open up new doorways of conversation, lessening the need for division and lack of hope and resources. Your stories are the exact ones the world is needing to hear right now – the realness, rawness and truth behind them, in what seems like a fake, false and untruthful world right now! To hear what may have felt like failure, only to rise and overcome the darkness – these are the things we need more of going through our news feeds. Thank you for sharing your personal story! 🙂
Describe your and Josh’s relationship growing up…at what point did that relationship begin to change?
My brother was one of my best friends growing up, we are only 16 months apart. We were average country kids, always four wheeling, riding bike, hanging out under the bridge on I-90, and jumping off the house! (Yeah, we actually did that for fun, when you live in the country you have to be more creative!) Granted, we had our typical sibling fights, but most of the time we had a lot of fun! In high school we would go to the same parties and we hung out with the same group of friends. It was so much fun to have him there, I always felt like I never had to worry about things much because he was always there. He was always, in my eyes, was someone that everything came easy to him – national spelling bee champion in middle school, extremely smart, and athletic. The kind of guy that others would be jealous of! I know I was, I struggled with math in school (still do!) and it just comes so easy for him. I would study so hard and he didn’t even show up to class and he’d still pull good grades.
Looking back, everything that we did – involved partying – I guess that was just the “norm” for a small town. Once we graduated high school I moved to the Twin Cities and then to Mankato. Josh was a bit of a wanderer and always seemed to show up where ever I lived and I loved to have him there because he was always the life of the party! It did, however, start to change.
He couldn’t keep a job, began to get DUI’s and was always in trouble with the law – which, in time, meant that every time he would call or stop over, I knew that he wanted something. I would let him stay or give him money – whatever I could do; he was my brother and that’s what family is for – right? I was kicked out of an apartment because he kept coming in through the window and kicked out of the bar I worked at for fighting. It was hard to not be able to have my brother even come in while I was working, so I begged the owner to give him another chance – but that didn’t last long. He went from being the life of the party to the one who usually ruined the party. In the beginning when people would ask are you Josh’s sister I would love to say “yes”, because it usually followed with “man I love that guy, he is so funny!” followed by a crazy story about him. But, that also changed with time – it became, “Oh man I can’t believe that you are his sister – that guy is fucked up or he owes me money.” I have watched him get his head bashed into a metal step by three guys, get his face smashed into a curb, seriously countless fights – too many to even remember. He had an attitude where he honestly didn’t give a shit – fearless was an understatement.
Did you always know there was a true “problem”? At what point did you realize this was bigger than recreational and fun? What were signs that made you aware he was using?
Josh was in treatment for drinking the first time when he was about 14. I, of course didn’t think it was a problem, because even at that age, it was just the “norm”. Even when we were in our 20’s, he had been getting pretty bad and was in trouble with the law countless times, didn’t even have a licence or a job for years – I still thought this is just something that he will out grow. The drug use always seemed recreational from my stand point as well. He would say that he could quit whenever he wanted. He would smoke weed but decided he didn’t really like, which then led to cocaine, then ecstasy. I still thought it was just something that would pass – no one ever says “I want to be an addict when I get older” – so I just figured it would stop. The drinking kept getting worse and with that, so did the drugs. I knew he had a full alcohol problem when he was in his early 20’s but I also knew that he wasn’t ready to change. By this time he had been in treatment several times. We had countless family days were my mom, dad and I would go and leave thinking “this is the time it is going to work” but it never did – it just kept getting worse. There were so many times I would have to go pick him up and he had no idea where he was or how he got there and he was usually driving on a revoked license. The last time he was in treatment I thought this might be the one that sticks.
He had picked up some hitch hackers on 35 and ended up at my camper in clear lake, IA. I told him staying there wasn’t an option, but Josh was so messed up I didn’t know what to do. So, I gave him some food hoping they would eat because god knows the last time either of them had. They went to a state park a couple of miles from our campground and continued to party. I don’t know what they were taking but Josh had his usual liter of vodka almost gone, looking for more alcohol. We got into a fight and I told him to leave, but when he left – he was so messed up he thought he was taking the road but went right through the playground. There were kids playing and he was within a few feet of hitting a child that was coming down the slide. It all seemed to be happening in slow motion. I ran after him as well as many others, but he didn’t stop – he didn’t even realize that he did that. It was the worst feeling I have ever had in my life – watching him come so close to possibly killing someone, none the less a child! The next day he called and said he needed help. My dad and I took him to the Fountain Center once again, on the ride I told him about what happened and he just cried and screamed, telling me not to talk about it – he didn’t want to know! See the thing is, my brother is one of the best guys you will ever meet, with one of the biggest hearts so the thought of this possibility would have destroyed him – my whole family in fact. They said his blood alcohol level was so high he should be dead. These scenarios were countless – things like this just kept happening on repeat.
At one point, he was in an alcohol induced comma, when we got to the hospital, they advised us to prepare ourselves to say good bye to him. Miraculously, he woke up and 3 days later was out of the hospital and the first stop was the liquor store. This would not be our last trip to a hospital with him either. His heart has stopped completely three times and had OD’d on heroin twice (that I know of). To be honest I don’t know why he is still on this earth with us. I knew he had a drinking problem and his use in coke and ecstasy had increased but it hadn’t crossed my mind he could die from it…. As horrible as it may be to say, I wasn’t overly concerned with coke and x, as they are hard drugs, but it was something that a lot of other people I know did. I guess I thought he’d get bored with it, well did he ever get bored with it – that is when heroin and meth came into his life. These drugs are something that truly come out of the depths of hell and will rip anything that you love about a person right out of them. They become unrecognizable. For everything that we had been through with Josh and drinking – I found myself now saying, “I wish it was just drinking again”.
What was it like to watch him deteriorate or delve deeper in the addiction? What did his behavior consist of during this time?
It is honestly like watching someone slowly kill themselves and that is exactly what he was doing and it was even harder to know he didn’t care. We lost several close friends in high school to suicide and Josh knew the pain that brought, so he promised he would never, although I know it crossed his mind several times. This was just as bad as losing someone though because I did lose my brother. Every time the phone would ring or my mom would send a message saying ‘call me right away’ my heart would sink. It was never ending – just waiting for the news to come that he was gone. He had completely changed – my big hearted brother was no longer. He didn’t care about us; he treated his druggie friends better than he did his own family. He was always combative and would fight with my parents. I told Josh I would never forgive him if something happened to them during one of their fights. He wouldn’t listen to any of us – there was so much anger in him. You couldn’t even talk to him anymore, he cared about drugs and that was it. I had no idea if I would ever see the Josh that I loved again.
Did you want to help him more or realized you needed to distance yourself when this happened?
I had tried for years to help him. I would always be there when he called; I would give him a place to stay, money, and food whatever he needed. It affected my relationships too. There were many times I was told ‘it’s your brother or me’, or, ‘this has to stop’. How do you stop it though when you love someone and you just want to help them? How do you live with the guilt if something were to happen? I was with him for years side by side having fun, drinking and partying, so now that you have an addiction and I don’t – I’m not going to help you? I ask myself over and over why this all happened to him. Why not me? Alcohol was a big part of my life but it didn’t take me on this downward spiral. Why did it happen to him? He could’ve been anything and done anything – he is so intelligent and loving.
I have so much guilt still to this day that I should’ve done more, I should’ve stopped it, or I shouldn’t have partied with him so much. It took me a long time to start saying “no” to him but I finally did. I had to cut him from my life. I knew when he would call and I started to say no it was going to be bad and it broke my heart! He would call and ask for money or buy him vodka and he would yell and say horrible things, which led to me crying every time I got off the phone with him. I lost my brother……..he was gone.
My parents and I started to fight over this too. They would always bail him out anytime he was in jail, they’d give him money, they let him live at their house without working – it was just years of drinking and doing drugs. He had no respect for my parents or their house. I can’t even tell you how many drug deals and users that he would bring over to my parents because they wouldn’t do anything about it. They were completely enabling him and his addiction. I know why they did it. I can’t imagine having your child out on the streets not knowing if he was going to live. But I kept telling them that by letting him stay there with no concerns of shelter or food they were now killing him. I know it is really harsh to say but my brother was dying in my parent’s basement in front of their eyes and they were allowing it.
What did his mindset consist of when he was using, what emotions did that trigger in you?
His concept of reality was gone. Trying to talk to him was next to impossible. The things that a person would consider horrible were no big deal to him. He has two beautiful daughters and he thought he was being a great dad to them because he was “around”. He loves his girls more than anything but even that love couldn’t stop him from using and his mind was so warped that he thought he was giving them everything that they needed. When in all actuality, he was high all the time with them, yes, he was physically there but it wasn’t an environment for children to be raised. One of the last times I talked to him – my best friend from high school, who loves Josh like her own brother, was home . We ran into him while we were out and she was so happy to see him, even though he wasn’t the Josh that she loved. She asked him how he could live like this and he laughed and said “are you kidding me…..me – live like this!?!? I have never been happier in my life – you two are the ones who are phoney and living a horrible life!” It went on and on and he finally left because the fighting just continued. That was a moment when I felt there is no way that the Josh I knew is ever coming back. How in the world could someone who was high on heroin at the time, have no place to call his own for him or his girls, not a dime in his pocket, not have even the slightest clue where he was going to sleep for the night or ever give his kids the life they deserve – EVER say that he was happy?! His whole outlook on life was gone….he was gone.
Was it hard to see the potential in someone, and know what they could be – but unable to teach or show them their own self-worth?
I wish that Josh could have seen what everyone saw in him. Like I said, he was the one that most would have loved to be; loving, smart, funny, good looking and so caring. The thing about all of this is, is this is how we all perceived him from the outside. When in all actuality, he had extreme anxiety that started when he was very young, so this was his way of gaining self-confidence. I was with him every day, how did I not see this? From the outside, he seemed so confident, had tons of friends and millions of girls that were dying to go out with him! I wish that he would have told me when we were younger so he could’ve gotten the help that he needed so long ago.
What was it like as a spectator from the sidelines? Explain what the highs and lows looked like from the outside and the affect it had on you and your family.
It was emotionally draining not knowing where he was or if that next call was going to be the call that he was gone. I just wanted him to snap out of it and get his shit cleaned up. I don’t know how he lived like that for years and never will. I do know that it is a disease that consumes everything. It is deeper than any of us can even begin to comprehend. It takes everything that you love or care about and throws it away. To the point that your number one concern is where do I get the my next hit? It broke my heart to step away. I told my husband that my brother died, he will never come back. It is a death, a death to a relationship that should last forever. I didn’t have anyone, I felt as though I was an only child now. I would get so jealous and almost mad at my friends that had siblings that they could call just to talk, go shopping with, and have holidays together. It wasn’t fair!!
It was also hard to watch my parents. Like I said they did anything for him. But as things progressed, my Dad started to see that he had to let go too – which made things worse. Josh and him are close but have always seemed to have this underlying issue between them. I think my Dad was just so disappointed because he could see all the potential he had and instead, was throwing it away just as he had watched his own Dad do for years. Watching my Dad and Mom fight over Josh was never easy either. My Mom wouldn’t ever stand firm and the tension that brought to their marriage was almost too much. My parents love my brother more than anything – how do you turn your back on that?
If you had to compare him at his lowest to today – what are the differences? Who and what do you see when you look at him today?
There is no comparison to that person and who Josh is today. He is such a giving person and best Dad, I see how much love he has for his girls and it is almost too much it makes my heart hurt to see him love them so much. He has found faith and that is getting him through this journey. I know that it’ll always be an uphill battle but he has the support of his family and we will be with him every step of the way. He is working and realizes how rewarding that alone can be to, just to have the responsibility of a job and what comes with it. I truly can’t say enough about the man that he is today; every time I think of how far he has come I can’t help but cry. I can honestly say that I have never in my life been so proud of someone before. I talk about him all the time and I love it more than anything! Now when someone says, are you Josh’s sister, I gladly respond…….’YES I AM’!!
I don’t think of my brother as an “addict” – he is a survivor. It was a part of his life but it wont define who he is or who he chooses to become from this point forward. Josh is a brother, friend, father, son, and an all around wonderful person.
What is your take on the Judicial System &/and resources offered to those struggling with addiction?
Our society has a negative look on addicts, as though they aren’t as “worthy” as them – when in fact everyone deals with issues in their life. This just happens to be theirs, so why is the stigma that comes with this widely spread problem viewed as if it’s something that doesn’t deserve the same love and attention that we would give that of a cancer patient? I think the most frustrating part of these years – was the huge lack of long term help and resources. The traditional treatment programs do not work, for Josh anyways. We need to focus on mental and emotional health as much as staying clean. There was more then one point in my brothers life when he came to me and said ‘I am ready I need to go get help now’. For those of you that have dealt with this, know that when they say now it has to be now, because in an hour it could change! I would call millions of places and ask for help and I always got the same answer sorry we are full we have an opening in 3 months will that work!?! No it wont he needs help NOW!
As far as the Judicial system – once you are “labeled” in the courts eyes – there is no helping – they sentence you to jail or a half way house, (which by the way, are just places where you meet more connections!) Josh was first offered heroin when he was at a half way house in St. Cloud. My parents and I left there thinking okay this is it – it’s going to work and 2 weeks later he was gone. My parents got a call at 2 am from Josh, he had been living on the streets for a couple of days and had no where to go, so back they went hopes shattered – not knowing what was in store for them with the years to come!
It is so sad that we have chosen to dismiss the underlying issues that drive addiction, to think that a 30 day program is enough to dig beneath the many layers that have been created. Not only that, but following that short treatment, we put them back into the environment in which they came from – only setting them up for additional failure with even more contacts and no additional long term options.
A note from Josh’s mom, Vicki regarding the difference in who he was versus who he is today….
He has totally turned his life around now and lives it how God wants him too. He feels like he is worth something, has a job now and loves being around his family and he is the best single dad I have ever seen! Our hearts are filled with joy now that we know he is safe and taking care of himself and his family! Now, he talks about how alone he felt and scared all those years he was growing up drinking and doing drugs. He hated his life, even though he let on that he was so happy and didn’t have a care in the world, he now feels relief. He was so miserable he didn’t know what to do other than stay drunk and high, as this masked things from the surface. It seems incomparable to think of that person and the son we have back now! Today we have our son back in our lives full force and it is such a good feeling that he feels good about himself now and has found his place on earth with God. We are so thankful!
*If any of this resonates with you, or you know of someone it may help who is personally struggling or has family that is, please feel free to share on social media to bring forth awareness and hope, while breaking down stigma around this subject!*