This blog is not FDA approved
I want to thank Eric for giving me the opportunity to write my brother’s story. In doing so, I have a better understanding of his ordeal and his road to recovery. I want to thank my brother Tom for sharing his story with me. His hope is that it will help others fighting addiction.
If there is evil in this world, it is crystal meth.
Addiction is a family affair with each member swept up in its path. I am the fifth of six kids, with two brothers and three sisters. My perspective is that of the younger sister, who moved away and watched my brother’s addiction from afar.
The house we grew up in was always lively with lots of people, parties, noise, door slamming, drinking, and lots of pot smoking, although this behind my brothers’ closed doors of their bedroom with twenty of their closest friends.
My brother Tom used to joke that his middle name was “fun,” drinking beer and smoking pot at age 15. After high school, Tom maintained a full-time job at the local grocery store, working long, crazy hours, often six days of week. In his twenties when he wasn’t working, you can bet he was drinking, smoking pot, and every couple of months, had a little cocaine or speed; nothing he couldn’t handle. Tom mastered the art of appearances.
Tom held fast to his bachelor lifestyle of working hard and playing harder. While in his thirties, many of his friends settled into a routine of marriage and kids. He had a few serious girlfriends, but the relationships usually unraveled. Tom progressed in his professional life as a produce manager, making good money and respected at his job.
In 1997, our mother sold the family’s five-bedroom house to Tom, who was grandfathered in. The house had been in the family since 1969. I hesitated to celebrate. Instead I wanted to cry from the rooftops, “Don’t do it! Stop! Stop!” I wanted my brother to get a fresh start somewhere else, and questioned his heavy drinking and a bad vibe in the neighborhood. For the first four years, my brother’s house was the familiar party.
Everything changed overnight when my brother was introduced to smoking crystal meth in 2001. The euphoria experienced was so powerful, my brother couldn’t really describe it. He said only that it was at least 100 times more addictive than snorting it, and the euphoric rush to the brain instantaneous; you felt full of energy, self-confidence, and contentment. Experts say 90% of meth users are addicted after one hit. Often, about 15 addicts stayed at his house with no one paying rent, and my brother, working full-time, supplied their habit.
The last time I visited the house was in 2006 over Christmas. I remember no one smiled or laughed, and that a depressing staleness and tension pervaded the air. Nameless, gaunt-faced hoodlums milled in and out of the house while my two kids unwrapped presents from Santa. My two brothers were absent. Throughout, our mother would exclaim, “Who are these people?” We didn’t know who they were, only that it felt wrong to be there and not safe.
Our instincts were correct. San Bernardino county’s claim to fame is that it is one of the meth capitals of the world. Tom consorted with some of the area’s most seasoned drug dealers. It wasn’t long before the family house was on the cops’ radar. Eventually, the Narc Squad raided the house, busting down the doors with warrants, and hauled all occupants into a paddy wagon off to jail. The police found guns on the premises and an Easter basket full of about thirty glass pipes. It may very well have been my old Easter basket. No charges came of it as no drugs were found.
His work performance suffered, showing up late repeatedly and looking like hell. He went to work each day with a vial of urine tapped to his leg in the chance of a random drug test. Tom managed to pass drug tests at work which were simple enough to fool by buying synthetic urine sold at head shops.
However, one day they smelled weed on him and requested a drug test. Knowing he would not pass, he opted for the chance at rehab. This would be the first of four rehabilitation treatments that Tom would undergo to kick this deadly habit. This first rehab treatment was only an outpatient center that lasted for 14 days.
Back at the house, the non-paying addicts used their excess energy for lots of cleaning. This wasn’t enough for my brother to keep up with payments, and through a refinance, my younger brother who also lived in the house at the time, signed on to help with the mortgage.
In 2008, my brothers fell behind on payments and lost the house to the banks. My childhood home, foreclosed upon. I try to put the image of it as a boarded-up, tweaker house out of my mind. Rather, I clung to happy moments of my childhood. To this day, the subject of the house is a contentious issue my brothers do not discuss.
From this point forward, Tom relapsed three more times. Research shows that the rate of relapse for meth users is as high as 92%. Many addicts experience severe depression, anhedonia, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and psychosis. For some, the withdrawal is so severe, it is easier to return to using. For Tom, each relapse started with drinking alcohol, followed by smoking pot. Next, Tom quit his meetings, quit talking to his sponsor, and failed to keep commitments. Finally, he would be smoking meth again.
Trust between family members wore thin. Tom accessed our mother’s bank account, and drained thousands of dollars of her savings. It was then that the family initiated his second treatment by way of a secretly planned intervention. Tom went to rehab willingly and lived with our younger sister for a year.
Directly after his fourteen-day stint in rehab, he visited me and we celebrated our birthdays together. He was quiet and depressed, but doing his best to join in family festivities, carving a zombie pumpkin for my child’s school Halloween carnival. I saw an emptiness in his eyes I’d never seen. The Tom I knew was buried somewhere deep.
A year later in his third course of treatment, he was an inpatient for 28 days, receiving 10 hours per day of intensive counseling. This held for only a short time before a relapse in 2009. Soon after, Tom suffered a heart attack at age 48, and required a medevac out of the mountains to the nearest hospital. He survived an extremely close call. Once he recovered from a quadruple bypass surgery, he continued to use meth, playing with fire.
Tom did not hit his rock bottom until two years later. He had been transferred to a store in Lake Arrowhead in the mountains, isolated from members of the family. Once again, his living quarters, a rented house, was under surveillance with addicts roaming about the vicinity. His house was robbed, computer and electronics stolen, and the cops searched for drugs. Guns and drugs were found on the property, although they did not belong to my brother.
A series of events then occurred that cemented his decision to quit using. Because of the instability of his rental, he floated between houses of other users. The last house he described as a nightmare of addicts in a non-stop cycle, who didn’t care that the heat and electricity had been shut off in the middle of winter, despite freezing temperatures. The next day, my brother was shot at near his house. Our mom drove to the mountains to retrieve him. At her condo under extreme stress, she had nearly taken a fall that would have been debilitating. Tom knew it all needed to stop.
His work offered him at third chance at rehab, a rare event. This is a testament to how much they cared for my brother, since his job usually did not offer an employee more than two attempts at rehab. If he wasn’t given this last chance at rehab, I don’t believe he would have lived to see another birthday. Even before this final treatment and vowing to be done with the drug, he borrowed $80 from my our mother for his heart medication that he desperately needed, but instead spent it on meth.
The fourth time at rehab, he was an inpatient for 14 days. The difference this time is that he continued his rehab beyond his inpatient treatment. He now lives in a sober living community with five other addicts, and has their support 24/7. He attends meetings 5-6 times per week and participates in many aspects of his recovery. Tom recognized that his addiction usually began with alcohol, preferring A.A. meetings to Narcotics Anonymous. He also had $10,000 worth of dental work to repair his teeth damaged from 11 years of meth use, known as meth mouth. It was critical that he take care of this due to his heart disease.
Tom shared with me that “Addiction is an obsession of the mind and an allergy of the body.” It is hereditary, yes, but how one is raised is also a factor. I cannot deny that the addiction gene is strong in our family history, with alcoholism, gambling, and substance abuse playing a role. Although I experienced excessive partying in my college years, addiction is something I’ve never had to battle. A.A. teaches that you need to change your people, places, and things, which creates a psychic change and your way of thinking about life.
Tom now has not only a sponsor, but also sponsors someone else. His participation in the Health and Institution Panel enables him to visit treatment centers for alcohol and substance abuse in the local area. For him, it’s his way of giving back. Indeed, after he retires from his produce job in six years, he wants to be a substance abuse counselor. I know he will thrive in this role, not only because he will do an excellent job, but also because he lives it and wants to help others.
Tom celebrates his first year anniversary of sobriety on March 25, 2013. I’m filled with love, admiration, and gratitude for him, for conquering this addiction and for choosing life. I love you, dear brother.