Saturday, December 12, 2009
A Time to Die (Part Two) - Unraveling Addiction
The first brother, Mark, who was actually the youngest of the three and the closest to my age was already gone. The oldest brother stood with us in the hospital room during one of the more brutal moments of Mark's slow and painful death slide, turned to the remaining brother and said, "I will never let this happen to me, but if it does, please put a gun to my head and kill me before I have to suffer like this".
Within three years, he too was gone.
I have struggled with writing these words because I can offer no reasonable explanation for it. There are two beautiful girls who lost their father; in spite of the fact I know he would have given his life to save theirs. He couldn't save his life to give to them. The pain he had endured was much too great to overcome the demon possession, known as addiction.
Just a few short years before their deaths, we had all endured the loss of our father. After weeks of waiting and woodstocking in the pseudo concentration camp conditions beset by the hospital, we knew he had left us. We could easily tell the difference between a body with life and a body that was void of it, an empty shell. My brother and I gave them the okay to shut off the life support. Mom couldn't do it. She could not issue the order; yet, she knew he moment he had slipped away because she had "felt him pass through her body".
Unless you've been there, and witnessed it first hand - you may not be able to fully grasp the certainty of it but there is no doubt as to when the spirit leaves the body. I have seen it three times now with dad, then Mark, then mom. I have previously written of my mother's death experience. She was afraid, yet she was not alone. Her people had come to get her. She asked them where they were going. It would be her last words.
After dad died, Mark began to escalate his drinking. He had married a dentist and followed her to a real life "Northern Exposure" assignment in the furthermost outreaches of Alaska. He was isolated, saddened and without any means to brighten his day; literally no sunshine. He could not wander around on his own as transportation was limited and exposure to the elements was deadly.
The people of the area still participated in traditional Eskimo customs. Outsiders, white people with green eyes, especially were not welcomed. He had chosen not to return home for dad's funeral. We didn't understand why but would later learn he had relapsed from 12 years of sobriety. Another thing we didn't know is that his wife was a long time, practicing alcoholic.
He began to get sick and the sickness escalated remarkably fast. He came home with drunk wife in tow and sought medical attention immediately. Unfortunately, he was already too far gone when he was told he was carrying the Hepatitis C virus. All three of my brothers had participated in serious drug abuse in their younger days. They had gone as far as sharing needles and they would later learn, they all carried the incurable and potentially fatal disease.
I was on bedside duty the night Mark passed away. I sat in his room, watching the monitors. We knew the end was near but he had surprised us so many times before. This time seemed different. I didn't grasp it fully then, what had happened or why I reacted, but I knew I needed to call for the rest of the family camped out in the waiting room.
I sat on his bed and spoke to him as he passed. He was peaceful, he did not appear to be afraid and he too, was not alone. He was gone before mom and the others could make it down the hall.
It was after Mark's death when Mr. Sunshine offered up the possibility of a move to Wisconsin. I knew my oldest brother, the one who swore he would never let himself succumb to the disease, was already well on his way. My mom and remaining brother were determined to heal him, to find a liver for him, to save his life. I couldn't take anymore. I ran as fast as those infamous Oklahoma winds could blow me.
He had the same sweet gentle spirit and quiet reflectiveness as Mark. His senseless death angered me. I wanted to make him responsible for everyone else because he was the oldest and I wanted to wake him up from his death and scream at him because he had so much to live for.
My oldest brother drank himself to death.
When the question arises as to the forces of addiction, the truth of disease vs. lack of willpower, I know the answer. It is a heavy burden, a rope tied around your neck, a nightmare that suppresses you until you can no longer see beyond its walls or hear the cries of your loved ones as they struggle to pull you from the fire.
But what is the reason some will succumb to this antagonistic tormentor while others treat it like a bully on the playground--running away screaming or choosing to fight back and win the right to have their lives back?
Is it a hereditary trait as most would suggest or does it run through families because one fucked up generation fucks up another? I suspect it is both. It is tied to pain. When we are hurting, we take things to make our hurt go away. We place band aids over open wounds, we massage sore muscles, we fight off illness and treat infections. But some infections cannot be treated with antibiotics. Some infections run so deeply within us, they infiltrate our spirit.
George Carlin was famously quoted as saying, "Just cause you got the monkey off your back, doesn't mean the circus has left town". I am afraid the monkey has jumped back on for a wild ride on the back of my remaining brother. He and I are a lot alike. I would think that damn monkey would be tired of trying to hang on by now.
What is this bizarre, unexplainable three-ring circus full of people whose strongest desire is to temp fate with a death wish? The lion tamer, the man shot from a cannon, the addict? How did I manage to avoid becoming the high-flying, death defying trapeze artist in the center ring?
I do not know the answers to these things but I do know, more than most, the lessons we learn.
I know if one generation does not seek to heal themselves, to not only face their bully but to kick its ass, they will pass the proclivity for addiction on to the next.
I know that some do not have the knowledge, understanding or awareness to do this. This does not make them weak, just disadvantaged. They are or were engaged in an unfair fight.
Most importantly, I know the next generation can overcome the burden as well as the gifts of inheritance because I have done so, or have I?