I came across this picture of my younger brother, Will, and I on the day of my college graduation. He had just finished his sophomore year. Look at us. Our futures were bright. We had the world at our fingertips. You can see our happiness in our eyes. They haven't been jaded with the realities of life yet. I look at these two and think they don't a have clue of how good they have it and how bad it's going to get.
Will and I were always close growing up. We all were. I took my big sister role very serious, especially since he had such a baby-face look to him. I was super protective of him and nothing changed once he came to college. If anything, I was even more protective since we didn't have any other family around us.
Neither Will or I drank in high school. We weren't rebellious teens. We both had good grades and got accepted to some great colleges. We were popular with our friends and played sports growing up. We went to church every Sunday with our family. We had a mother and father who loved each other and loved us. We had an older brother and and younger sister. We shared the middle child role quite nicely. We ate dinner at the table as a family every night. We took family vacations. What I am getting at is we had it made. Not a worry in the world.
I knew how Will drank in college. It was no different from how I drank. It was actually no different from half of how everyone else in college drank. I didn't know that he or I drank alcoholically. I didn't know the signs, so therefore I didn't see any of the signs. I didn't know anything about the disease of alcoholism. We laughed off the frequent blackouts, nights of passing out in parking decks, trips to the emergency room, broken teeth and black eyes.
The sad part is this seemed normal. Guess what? None of those things are normal. In college, we didn't suffer any major consequences other than the occasional hangover, so it didn't seem like a big deal.
I look at this picture with such sadness and regret. All I can think is, "Man, if I could go back and tell these two then what I know now." Because knowing what I know now could have saved his life and years of unnecessary misery for us both.
So what would I tell them?
I would tell them that no amount of alcohol or drugs will ever change the meaning of life. I would tell them that as soon as they try to control their drinking they have already lost control of it. I would tell them that if and when they honestly want to stop drinking and they find they can't, seek help immediately and don't be ashamed of that.
I would tell them to open their eyes to how beautiful life is. I would tell them to do the next right thing always. I would tell them that God is much cooler than the one they grew up understanding, and to find Him and befriend Him. He's about love and tolerance and forgiveness. In every situation, ask yourself if your decision will bring you closer to God or further away. And always choose to be closer. I would tell them that no matter what mistakes they make, it doesn't define you. It is never too late to reinvent yourself.
I would tell them that there is always, always someone who knows exactly how you feel. You are never alone. When you start walking towards darkness -- run! Run far, far away. Don't hide. And like Dr. Seuss says, "Those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter." Be your authentic self. As cliche as it may sound, love and honesty are always the answer. Understand and practice gratitude in all situations, good and bad. Surround yourself with genuine people. And when you mess up -- because you will mess up -- know that everything is going to be okay. It's never as bad as you think it is. I would tell them that life is short. Really short. Whether we die at 29 or 89, it's short. Don't hold grudges. Apologize. Forgive. Pray. Change the things you can and accept the things you can't.
I would tell them to be more open with their feelings. Accept them. Feel them. Experience them. Don't run from them. Don't try to escape them by numbing them with alcohol and pills. Feelings will not kill you. Drugs and alcohol will.
No one wants to be an alcoholic. No one wants to be an addict. We were all kids at one time who had big dreams. None of us grew up thinking it would be fun to struggle with addiction. None of us grew up with the dream of being the most popular girl in rehab. But the thing is, you don't see it coming. And by the time you do it's usually too late. You are so deep into your addiction that the kids in the picture -- those kids with hopes and dreams and bright futures ahead of them -- are just a vague memory. Some of us make it and some of us don't. Luckily, those of us who choose recovery get a second chance to find that happy kid inside of us. But unfortunately, that isn't the case for many.
"My Mom and Dad told me that I could be anything I dreamed of when I grow up and they would support me. Unfortunately, alcohol will become the #1 thing in my life and I will hit rock bottom at the age of 32 years old and my parents will be dropping me off at rehab instead." -- Allison
This is my brother, Will. He was a smart kid with a big heart. Struggling with addiction and dying from an overdose at 29 years old and watching our parents bury him was never part of his dream.