Friday, September 7, 2012

11 Years

Today is the 11th anniversary of my "baby" brothers death. I woke up feeling out of sorts and immediately thought it must be from eating so much sugar with yesterday's sugary, gooey, goodness called Paula Deen's Zucchini bread. But after reflecting over coffee in my back yard screened "room" it dawned on me - it is September 7.

The day Patrick died. 

Patrick was my youngest brother who struggled with alcohol and drug addiction his whole life.  He was a very intelligent and big-hearted guy, who spent the majority of his adult life in and out of jail, prison, and drug rehab. His childhood was filled with one happy hyperactive moment after another but he found his way into my parents wine decanters at a very early age.  I thought I had learned everything there was to learn about living with addictive behaviors from him. For example:
  1. Do not leave wine decanters out and around for small children to help themselves to.
  2. Never encourage bad behavior by photographing them engaging in it (we have a great shot of him with a big smile on his face, about to drink out of my dad's beer can)
  3. Never let young children drink from your glass filled with an alcoholic beverage.
  4. "Help" for addictions is expensive, hard to find, and never works the first (or second or third) time.
  5. "Help" is never long enough.
  6. "Help" is extremely expensive.
  7. You need to be healthy and strong yourself to "help" the person with addiction.
  8. Prison is full of addicts who support each other.
  9. Talk to your children about drugs and alcohol and help them learn to "Just say no".
  10. Help your children find something they enjoy doing and encourage good, positive activities to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Yes, I thought I learned everything I needed to know from Patrick.  Until my own sons started down the same road.  Where had I gone wrong?  I did everything the "experts" suggested.  I set limits, I fed them healthy foods, encouraged them to do their homework, was involved at school and sports, and I promoted healthy physical activities to provide outlets for all that extra energy.

I read at least 101 books to them every night (and morning and during the day) so they would love learning, graduate from high school, and stay away from drugs and alcohol!! But it didn't help.  They still found themselves attracted to like minded individuals, finished school in the non-traditional way (via GED tests - my youngest took his while in prison), and have physical and mental health concerns I never expected my kids to have to deal with.

So what did I really learn?

  1. "Just say no" is bulls*** It works while the kids are in the DARE program but never lasts.
  2. There really is such a thing as peer pressure and parents need to be vigilant to help keep their kids strong enough to fight it.
  3. There will never be enough help, money, placements, treatments to help the addict until that addict wants that help and is willing to do whatever it takes to stay clean and sober.
  4. Follow through - follow through - follow through with consequences even if you are tired, feel beaten down, and exhausted beyond belief.
  5. Yelling doesn't work.  It makes kids shut down and ignore you. There is a way of stating your case, calmly, and giving the consequence without the need to yell.  It does work, unfortunately I never used this practice enough as I didn't learn about it until the kids were much older.
  7. Learn the serenity prayer and listen to yourself say the words - and find peace in what it means.
  8. Find humor in everyday things.  There were times when my guys and I would joke about something that some people would find inappropriate given our circumstances but you know what?  You have to laugh at yourself and your circumstances sometimes.  It doesn't mean you condone the behavior, but that you have accepted the cards you have been dealt and are moving forward with life. If I didn't laugh - I would have gone way crazy long before now. (some think I already did - but that is a topic for another day)
  9. I really didn't understand what my Mom was going though with my brother, because I was experiencing it from a siblings perspective.  It is very different than going through it as a parent.
  10. I would give my right arm to protect my grandchildren from addiction.
I learned many other lessons along the way too.  I became a much stronger woman than I ever thought possible.  I talked back to judges and police officers and many other authority figures who really didn't understand what our family was experiencing. The world of addiction comes with so many opinions and philosophies and unless you have experienced it you can't even begin to understand what another person is going through. Over the past 20 years we have had a lot of bad days but we have had just as many good days.  I learned that from Patrick too.

Appreciate the good days and accept the fact that with addiction, there will be bad days from time to time. He died 4 days before 9-11. We held his wake on 9-11 and one of my sisters could not get here for the wake and funeral because she lived in Florida and they routed her plane back and wouldn't let them leave. My sister who lived in Tennessee at the time barely made it; she drove.

It was a very difficult time on many levels.

Well this post is longer than I thought it would be. I tend to ramble sometimes when I am feeling like this. Thank goodness I don't feel like this very often.

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