Addiction Affects Everyone
On Monday, I got the call I've been simultaneously dreading and anticipating for more than two decades. My brother was found dead of a heroin overdose. He was 44. He died alone in his car outside a 7-11 in Colorado.
We were not close as adults, and my feelings toward him were complicated, vacillating from intense love to anger to bitterness. I watched helplessly as the boy who was so full of life that he filled a room with brightness and personality turned into a man who was a slave to addiction, first to alcohol and then to cocaine and heroin. At the time of his death, I hadn't spoken to him in nearly three years, in large part because I didn't know how to get ahold of him and for also self-preservation. But he consumed my thoughts with such force that it often pressed tears out of my eyes. How does a person with such potential fall so low? How did my brother, who had every advantage, end up homeless, at times incarcerated, and addicted to drugs? How did I escape the same fate? After all, we have the genetics of siblings. We grew up in the same home with the same alcoholic father, who abandoned us as teens. I have such guilt that it isn't me, succumbed to his fate. What right do I have to live a life free of such things in a suburban bubble? How did I get lucky and he did not?
When we were kids, we played in our neighborhood, pretending to be superheroes and football stars and Masters of the Universe. We helped each other cross the treacherous creek in the woods at the end of our neighborhood, never once letting the other fall into the perilous depths rushing beneath the log bridge. I once made him wear a dress and pretend to be Laura Ingalls to my Mary during my Little House on the Prairie obsession. He cried - he didn't want to be a boy in a dress - but he went along with it for me. A favorite game was pulling either end of my Stretch Armstrong doll, just waiting for the other to let go, sending the one who waited too long tumbling head over feet across the grass. He was an excellent athlete, good-looking, and collected friends as easily as giant snowflakes falling from the sky. Everyone fell under his spell.
A story my mother told everyone who would listen - almost as a mantra to prove to herself that her drug-addicted son could overcome all his demons - was the time when he walked forward, tugging my Pop by the hand, at a Billy Graham convention to accept the Lord into his life. "He walked forward at Billy Graham," she said. "He walked forward." As the years went on, her voice sometimes faltered during this story, but she remained steadfast in her support and belief that he would hear and remember and return to being that earnest boy proclaiming his faith in front of thousands.
At the lowest moments, I screamed at him just to stop. Just don't call the drug dealer. Just don't jab that needle into yourself. Just. Don't. I saw it as a choice he was making, not as the all-consuming need that I now understand addiction to be. Society will see his death as just another criminal junkie gone, and good riddance. They don't know that he was a son loved fiercely by a mother. That he made such an impression on people that they remember him 25 years after high school and seek me out to ask how he is and tell me stories of what he got up to as a kid. That the impact of his choices affected all of them, too. That he was a talented chef who once cooked for former president Barack Obama when he was chosen to cater the DNC National Convention in Denver. That when he was clean he made an indelible stamp on the world and on the hearts of everyone he touched. That he loved dogs and the wide open sky of the west. That "criminal junkie" did not define all of who he was.
And yet that part of him defined how everyone around him behaved. We loved and feared and pitied and cursed him. Breath caught in our throats every time the phone rang, waiting for news of him, good or bad. He spent as much time in rehab as he did incarcerated, and always went back, finding and using the drugs that must have, for poached moments, given him relief from the inner turmoil that ruled him and his behavior.
His death devastates me in a way I did not anticipate. I expected, when this call inevitably came, that I would react with tight-lipped stoic resignation and carry on. Instead, I curl up and weep for the loss of his life. For the loss of his talent, charisma, and my own hope that he would someday recover. May you rest in peace, my brother.
3/15/2018 07:59:17 am
Courtney - you said it perfectly! It touches everyone that knew him or his family in any little way! I’m so sorry for your loss but now you k ow he is not in any pain from the demons that held him. Love you girl!
3/17/2018 07:27:18 am
Beautifully said Courtney!! I don't think I ever met your brother. I feel so sorry he couldn't get away from his addiction
Beautifully written and enough to make the heart stop and wish desperately for a different ending to his story. I will always struggle to get my heart and my mind to understand addiction at the same time, even with my background in ER care and Psychiatry. Godspeed. I'm so sorry at this loss of life, this loss of hope, and the loss of what could have been lifelong companionship.
3/15/2018 09:33:44 am
Well written and breaks my heart. My husband, Chad, was his best friend in high school. They lost touch as different life choices were made, but it doesn’t change the fact that Eric had an infectious smile, loving heart and was the best friend to Chad. I hope you can find comfort in knowing he was loved! We are thinking of you. ❤️
3/15/2018 11:13:48 am
That was sooooo hard to read, but thank you.
3/15/2018 11:30:05 am
I thought was was prepared too, Courtney. I’ve been preparing for years. But I wasn’t prepared. I’m angry and have been asking God “Why????”
3/15/2018 11:50:18 am
Courtney; I am so sad for your family’s loss. I know you see comments I throw around and how drugs impact my life with my foster kids. It is just so damned unfair to the ones who can’t loosen the grip and to those who remain behind. We all suffer. Hugs to you and your family. Let me know if there is anything at all I can do.
3/15/2018 12:06:00 pm
The song Go Rest High On That Mountain came to me when I found out the news. I truly pray he has found Peace, and that both you and Nate can find the same knowing that he no longer is ruled by that evil addiction.
3/15/2018 12:08:05 pm
Courtney! I am so sorry for your loss! You wrote your feelings here so well! What a great tribute to your brother. I hope you find comfort in the fact that he did choose Jesus as his savior. That he is now free of his addiction and having a huge party with your Mom and others who went before him! I understand your grief so well. I always forget how much we are alike and that when we have been able to spend time together, we have so much fun! I will keep you in my thoughts and of course prayers! Will there be any kind of service?
3/15/2018 01:21:12 pm
To dear Court...What a loving tribute and so beautifully expressed. 😍
3/15/2018 02:53:22 pm
Courtney, I am so sorry for your pain & the impactful loss of your brother. I too have a family member who for decades we have all been waiting for the call. I wish that addicts could realize just how much they affect loved ones lives with worry,resentment,anger,sadness, a gamut of emotions that never fully go away. The waiting & the hoping. The waste of great potential. Sending healing thoughts your way.
3/15/2018 09:40:09 pm
Courtney I am sorry for your loss. When I think of Eric my memories are of us joking around at football practice and in class; his personality was infectious. Eric looked out for me back when I was the little guy and that is how we first became friends. I remember his bohemian style, his sense of humor, and that he was always smiling. I also remember that Eric was a talented sketch artist, with a deep soul and creative mind. I’m sad that Eric and I lost touch after high school and to hear that he had rough times. I wish him eternal peace and serenity and know that he will be missed.
3/16/2018 09:27:49 pm
Jennifer Dechant, Eric's fiance
3/17/2018 02:28:39 pm
I have not met you yet, but I must say that this was so perfectly written.. I feel the need to tell you all, that he had been sober for a very long time. We worked on it nearly daily, but he was good, we were SO HAPPY. Even in the worst of times, after the fire, after our fur babies died, and we were homeless staying in a friend's basement while we tried desperately to find a new home... we were still, HAPPY. And SOBER. This came out of nowhere. It is so very important to me that you all know that he was on the uphill. He was doing amazing. And he wanted SO BADLY to make amends with his siblings and son; more than anything. He was so excited that he was doing so well because he was extremely hopeful that it would earn him a final chance to be close to his family again. He was the light of my life, and a bright light in so many other's lives as well.. I still can't even comprehend my existence without him. He was the most beautiful soul I'll ever know. I love you Eric, Always and forever.
3/18/2018 09:41:30 am
Thank you for sharing. ❤️❤️❤️
3/19/2018 08:43:21 am
Christy Ali Bakker
3/21/2018 09:07:45 pm
How very grieved I was to learn of Erics tragic death...you captured with your words the deep pain, anger, anxiety and hope that we have for our loved ones who are in such terrible bondage to such an enemy...
Ann & Carl Dean
3/23/2018 01:28:10 pm
Courtney: You write so beautifully and with such eloquence. Your brother was quite a talented man when free of his demons. Your tribute was wonderful. We send our prayers to you, your brother, and your families.
3/24/2018 02:09:51 pm
Courtney that was beautifully written and I grieve for your loss and the loss of many of those of us who had the honor of having Eric in our lives. He was a beautiful person abd will always be a light in my life. Thank you for writing this brief insight into the life of someone we all loved.
3/27/2018 06:33:27 am
So very sad Eric could not successfully remove the Deamon’s from his life. I was honored to know Eric (ex son in law) and his phenomenal Mother Leslie. Now they are together and Eric finally resting in peace. I pray for his family, friends and his loyal and quite brilliantly accomplished Son.
3/30/2018 07:10:43 am
Only recently did i become lucky enough to know Eric as both using addict and a recovering sober addict. I probably came into Erics life at a time that I would imagine was the low of his life and even at his lowest high as a kite Eric immediatly struck me as an extremely honest, loving, caring, generous, just all around amazingly good person and he was very well liked. I stayed with him for a short time at the house he rented on 2nd and lincoln in denver. My very first day to ever come into that house me and eric saved another mans life who had just got out of jail and overdosed. Not too long later eric and i had walked into his home to find a young girl overdosed in his kitchen whom appeared to have already passed but again eric and i worked together to narcan this girl and shock her woth cold water as well as calling paramedics and we saver her life as well. Even with those events i never thought eric would be one to pass from this demon that has consumed us. I would like to share with his family that he often talked about his kids and some events in the past that haunted him. He felt terrible that his relationship with his son went the way it did but i know he would want him to know that he loved him very much. Eric even in his low times never forgot his family. He also spoke very highly of his mother and made sure that everyone that came into his home knew where his things came from and that everyone respected his family and thier things. I recall a time he literally went off yelling at a large group of us to make sure we were respecting his mothers hard work. The last time i spoke with eric we was 100 percent clean and sober and until he passed i was sure he had remained that way so i believe this was a minor relapse gone terribly wrong. His final words to me "its good to hear your soul trent" he was refering to not seeing me indulged in drugs and speaking from my soul not my "bad side" so to speak. So he was very much recovering and doing well so i am thankful that he was technically doing very well just before his death. He was an amazing person that i will never forget.
Tina Scott Mann
9/18/2018 05:41:36 pm
Thank you for sharing such vulnerability and painting such an honest picture of addiction. I'm sorry for your family's loss.
3/31/2023 04:10:44 pm
As I just received the call regarding my 35 yr old brothers death to heroin 4 days ago, I found this article which tragically sounds like my own experience with my brother. As I struggle to write his eulogy, it helps to know I am not alone.
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Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.