The First Holiday Without You

My younger brother and I were 17 months apart. He was the stereotypical baby of the family. We all bent over backward to make sure his needs were met and he was okay. As I sit here typing this article, I have potatoes boiling on the stove in preparation for mashed potatoes and a pumpkin cheesecake in the oven. It’s Thanksgiving, a time for creating family memories, eating good food, gratitude, and all I can think about is Greg. My brother died July 18, 2018, from an accidental drug overdose of heroin and carfentanil, he was 27 years old. Ironically, this happened 18 days after I celebrated 9 years in recovery, clean from all drugs and alcohol.

The disease of addiction runs rampant in our family on both sides. My brother thought he was invincible, that he could outsmart the disease, but it doesn’t work that way. There is no cure for the disease of addiction, however, it can be arrested by a profound personality change as a result of working a recovery program. My brother was a smart man, a college graduate from Penn State University in Internet Security. He expressed interest in becoming an ethical hacker, one who tries to penetrate a company’s firewall to unveil the weaknesses in their security. He saw himself as a “white hat”, fighting for the good guys. I believed him when he told me he didn’t think he was an addict and that he didn’t need recovery meetings anymore. Looking back, I can see exactly where his relapse happened and when his behavior started to change. That’s what addicts do, they manipulate, and he told me everything I needed to hear to get me off of his back. I beat myself up because I didn’t see it coming. I, of all people, a recovering addict myself, should have seen the behavior when it was right there in plain view.

I did an intervention on Greg in June of 2016, he was using the same drugs then as the ones that killed him. He had to detox and then completed an in-patient rehab program for 30 days. I thought it was so cool that our anniversaries were in the same month and we could celebrate together every year. His first year clean was great. You could tell he was staying clean because he was a completely different person. He seemed to have hope again and his life was changing. He was no longer a hermit who stayed locked in his room for days with the blinds closed playing video games. He found a connection to other people, the world around him and himself. These things were something he had never experienced before as he had always suffered from depression and loneliness. Forming relationships was hard for him at first, but once he found his tribe, that all changed. He studied the literature and his knowledge of the program and of himself grew until the program truly became a part of who he was.

Greg met someone while living in a halfway house and this “friend” invited Greg to move out and into an apartment with him. I did my research on this character and told Greg it wasn’t a good idea, but he had already moved out. Red flag. That was the beginning of the end. Greg wasn’t coming to visit me as much anymore, he always had an excuse. He was a very dedicated family man who always put his family first, so this was another red flag. He hid it well. I never saw him high and he maintained the allusion that he was holding it all together. The day we found out about his death we hadn’t heard from him in 2 days, which was odd, he always kept in touch. I got in touch with his roommate and asked him to check on Greg and he said Greg wasn’t answering his bedroom door and it was locked. Greg had returned to his old hermit behavior, so it wasn’t odd for them to not see him for a few days and him stay locked in his room. Another red flag. They called the police who broke down the door and found him.

It’s been four months and 3 days since he left this earth. It still doesn’t seem real. I don’t think I’ve given myself the chance to fully process what that means. I welcomed my second son, Brody Gregory, who will learn all about his uncle, his middle namesake through amusing anecdotes, pictures and soulful stories told. Grief is horrible. It sucks the air out of the room, it hogs the spotlight and robs the joy from life’s experiences. I’ve got a gaping hole in my heart that only time will heal. His empty seat at my Thanksgiving table will be so painful this year. The holidays will never be the same. I will work hard to forgive him and keep his memory alive.