Twenty years ago, on June 2, 1999, my baby brother died of a heroin overdose. This was back before it was popular to talk about heroin over doses, as well as the opioid epidemic. He was joy, happiness, and frustration all wrapped up into one huge bear hug package. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years; it sometimes feels like yesterday when a memory tugs at me, my throat swells and my eyes well up with tears. One thing I know to be true, grief and 20 years of time have taught me valuable lessons. What have they taught me? Let me share a few things.
The ‘what if’ monster. Do you know him? He has lived with me, taunting me for years regarding my brother’s death. What if I would have done… what if I had said… This monster would hide under my bed at night and as I would try to fall asleep the questions would begin, he would torment me for hours robbing me of not only sleep, but my peace of mind. I began using pain medication as a means to hide from the monster and to the numb the pain he was causing me. When the pain medication ran out, I moved onto other vices to numb and hide. I began to drink late in the day because the pain I was enduring was excruciating and I was exhausted from fighting the monster all day long. The problem with numbing the pain and hiding from reality, is that pain and reality is always there in the morning. The only way to battle the monster is to face him head on. I had to have the courage to face him and do the work that needed to be done.
Therapy. When I write the word “therapy,” it brings to mind a song Pink recently released called “Happy”. The words: I’ve seen every therapist, but I’m a cynical b*tch, Don’t like to talk about my feelings, I take another hit, I find another fake fix, ‘cause it’s easier than healing, … I was in that cycle, afraid to be happy. If I was happy, I would find myself with anxiety waiting for the other shoe to drop because certainly I couldn’t be happy for long. I didn’t deserve it. I wasn’t worthy of happiness. I did see a therapist and it was extremely helpful, but she could only help me as much as I was willing to do the work. I needed to be willing to dig myself out of the hole life’s circumstances and my decisions over the years had created for me. It was time for me to learn to tell myself the truth. One of the most valuable lessons I learned at the time was that I was not responsible for my brother’s death. He was responsible for his own death. He was free to choose but was not free from the consequence of his choice. Does that sound harsh? Well, it is the truth and I won’t lie to myself and say I could have done something to change the events that took his life. In all reality, I don’t have that kind of power. No human being has that kind of power.
Perspective. Finally, my grief, addiction and therapy sessions taught me perspective. What I discovered was it wasn’t my brother’s death that caused feelings of failure, imperfection, and other accusations as to why I felt unworthy of love. Nathan’s death was the catalyst to expose my under belly. My under belly was that I thought I needed everyone’s approval to feel loved and accepted. Through this learning process, I discovered who the people are in my life that have my back, the ones that love me unconditionally and showed me acceptance through my darkest hour. The ones I can trust. Those I look to for advice and feedback. Gone are my days looking for everyone’s approval. Newsflash, It is IMPOSSIBLE to have every one’s approval. Now, if someone doesn’t approve of something I do, I ask myself if I truly care what they think. Do they deserve to have a say in my life? If they get butt hurt because of my decision, well, then like my daddy used to say, “tough shitski”. I will be true to myself.
On the days when I miss Nathan the most, I remember something my youngest said to me, “Momma, embrace the sadness— for without it we would not appreciate the happiness.” Then I stop and change my focus and thank God for the time I did have with Nathan. There is no point in mourning what might have been.
Do you have a monster you are trying to run or hide from? Do you have the courage to change? Are you ready for a new perspective?
“We change when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.”
I will tell you change is possible! My life is very different today than it was 3 years ago. My change did not happen overnight. It has been a long, arduous road but has been worth the journey! One of the phrases we use quite a bit at our home now is “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I pray you have the courage to take the first bite.
Recommended Reading: Books that tremendously helped me with my journey.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown
Safe People: How to Find Relationships that are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
The Dance of Fear: Rising Above Anxiety, Fear, and Shame to Be Your Best and Bravest Self by Harriet Lerner