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From Pain to Purpose in Two Years

In February of this year, I received a phone call that made me pull off to the side of the road in tears. It was a phone call for help. It was a phone call from the kid who was facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of my brother.
06/20/2014 01:36pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Will's birthday and my sobriety date are one day apart. Two roses for two years of new life for both of us.

I knew it on April 22, 2012, when I answered a phone call from my dad to find out that my younger brother had overdosed and died earlier that day. I knew that life would never be the same.

I didn't know what that meant or how life was going to change, but I knew it couldn't -- it wouldn't stay the same.

I remember sitting on my parents' back patio one day a few weeks after Will died. It was around 10 a.m. and I was so drunk that the farmland around me was spinning and I was seeing double of everything. I remember thinking, this is my life now. I had accepted that I would be drunk and miserable and didn't see how it could ever be any different than this. In my sick head, I thought that Will would understand what I was doing if he could look down and see me. He would get it. I was living in such a sick, alcohol-induced delusion. Clearly, my little brother wouldn't want this life for me. But nothing to me was clear. Nothing made sense. My family turned to faith for comfort and I... I turned to alcohol.

Maybe it was the grief, maybe it was the alcoholism. I'm going to say it was the stellar combination of both. Whatever it was, I didn't care to know. I knew I was miserable, and alcohol allowed me to escape from both. So, that was my solution. A really shitty solution, because it solved nothing. With every bottle I drank and hid in a closet or cabinet, I hated myself a little more.

This went on for 49 days from the day Will died to when I finally accepted help and went to rehab. I was drinking around the clock. I wasn't sleeping much. If I was talking to God, I was cursing Him. I don't recall a lot from this time. People often ask me why I finally decided to get help. What was it about June 11, 2012 (my sobriety date) that was different? And to be honest, I don't really know. I woke up that morning and couldn't remember much from the night before. The night before was a celebration for what would have been Will's 30th birthday. I just remember thinking I had no control over alcohol. I had told myself all week that I wasn't going to drink at this event... most certainly wasn't going to get drunk. Well, guess what... when you're an alcoholic, controlled drinking isn't really an option.

So, I drank. I got drunk. Really drunk. And I blacked out, passed out, and woke up with a hopelessness I had never felt before. I really didn't care if I died. Many nights during those 49 days, I hoped that I wouldn't wake up the next morning. Just let me die, I thought. Will died. Why not me? Why wasn't it me in the first place? I had been careless and reckless with my life for years. The drinking. The drugs. All the situations I should not have made it out of alive. Or the many "almost died" incidents over the years. Why not me?

That answer, I will never know.

But for someone who hated God when I stepped through the doors of rehab two years ago, I can tell you today that it's only by God's grace that I am alive and sober.

For the past two years, I have tried to stop asking myself "why not me." It seems like anytime I start questioning this, God sends me a little reminder of why I'm still here. You see, today, I know that God has a plan and a purpose for my life. To know and believe that is pretty incredible from where I was just two short years ago, but to see it unfolding is indescribable.

In February of this year, I received a phone call that made me pull off to the side of the road in tears. It was a phone call for help. I receive a lot of calls and text and messages from people reaching out for help, but this was different. It was a phone call from the kid who was facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of my brother.

You see, I had been praying for this kid since I started praying in rehab. They said to pray for those who you held the most resentment for. Well, he was at the top of the list.

When I heard his voice on the other end... it was like I was talking to my brother. There wasn't an ounce of hesitation to help him. I knew that I would want someone to extend the same forgiveness and kindness to my brother if the situation was reversed. I knew that if it was my brother who lost a friend to drugs he had given him, it would have destroyed Will, and that could have just as easily been the case. I had nothing but love and hope in my heart for this kid. And well, to be honest, that shocked the hell out of me.

Dustin ended up going to the same treatment facility I went to. He's coming up on four months sober. He lives on-site and is working at the facility. He is serious about his recovery. He loves being sober. I can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when I talk to him. I was able to make a formal amends with him a couple months ago at a recovery conference we were both attending that freed up space in my head and my heart. We remember each other's sobriety milestones and support each other through recovery. And today, I am lucky and proud to call him my friend.

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Dustin and me at a recovery conference in March 2014, where I was able to make amends with him.

So, while I will probably never fully understand all the whys and why-nots... I do know that it is God's will for me to use my pain for a purpose. What a waste if I didn't. And being able to watch Dustin have the same passion for recovery that I do... well, it's a domino effect with a really positive impact. He has already touched the lives of many and inspires those still struggling on a daily basis. Being sober and watching his own journey from pain to purpose is nothing short of watching a miracle unfold every single day.

So much of my recovery, my sobriety and my life are intertwined with my brother's memory and honoring him so he would be proud. I think it definitely helps keep me sober and for that, I am grateful. Maybe it's the big sister in me, maybe it's the fact I am stubborn as hell, but I keep fighting this battle with such force because my brother lost his battle. And I think Will would expect nothing less from me.

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Dustin and me at Hope Valley Homecoming -- the 28-day treatment facility we both got sober at. Dustin is now on staff.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.