Family connections can help break the chains of addiction
Published 6:27 am Friday, September 6, 2019
By ELAINE WILSON-REDDY
Let’s talk about addiction. I suspect that everyone who reads these words has been affected by addiction, whether directly or indirectly. My little brother, Tom, is a recovering addict. I want you to know his and our story.
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I have two brothers: Chip, who is two years older than me (he’s 59); and Tom, who is five years younger than me(he is 52). When Chip and I grew up our home was pretty typical suburban 1960s in that our father went to work and our mother stayed home. We had a small house in a subdivision in Macon, Georgia. We went to the Piggly Wiggly Friday evening to get groceries because that was when Dad was paid. There wasn’t a lot of money but there seemed to be enough.
After Tom was born the wheels started falling off the wagon. Mom suffered from severe depression and was hospitalized several times. She had to have eletro-shock therapy, which made her detached and wiped out her memory of recent events. When we came home from school, she was usually asleep on the couch. Our job was to stay quiet and not disturb her.
Needless to say, there wasn’t much affection in our home. Dad was either working, helping Mom, or being exhausted. My brothers and I did the best we could with what we had. We had our challenges with trying to fit in. Tom, our little brother, discovered marajuana when he was 12 years old. That discovery led him and us down a difficult road for over 40 years.
Tom graduated from weed to meth fairly quickly. He was bullied in school for being tall and for developing quicker than his peers. He was fighting, failed classes, and ultimately quit school during his junior year. He was and is very intelligent. He didn’t have the support needed to handle the conflict. Drugs helped him escape.
As time passed and he got older, meth took his teeth, lost him jobs, and created a rift in the family. His way of dealing with conflict was to yell, cuss and leave. He let his hair and beard grow to the point that you couldn’t see much of his face.
Our father died in 2001, which put the responsibility of taking care of our mother on Chip. He not only made sure Mom took her medicine and got to her doctor appointments and church, he also kept Tom alive.
Our mother passed away in 2006 and Tom went even deeper into his addiction. Chip had a job at the local bowling alley that barely paid the bills and put food on the table. Tom had a job with a landscaper. That money was solely for his drugs and other indulenges. When their car died, Chip walked three miles to and from work for over a year. There was a time when the only food they had in the house was an onion.
Chip wanted to call for help but Tom wouldn’t let him. Chip had a cell phone but Tom always had it. I couldn’t talk to Chip without going through Tom. It was awful.
The house they lived in was the house we grew up in. Our father bought the house new in 1956. By the time Tom was fully engulfed in drugs, the roof was literally falling in. Tom cooked and smoked meth in the house. Chip hung on for dear life, praying he wouldn’t come home and find Tom dead.
In December 2016, my husband and I went to Macon with the intent of getting Tom into rehab. My cousin was on the board of directors of the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia and helped us make the connections that would save Tom’s life.
A bed wasn’t available that weekend. There were 14 others in line in front of Tom. My husband and I had planned to leave Sunday afternoon but bad weather kept us in Macon overnight. We received a call the next morning informing us that a bed had opened up if Tom got there that day. I called Tom and told him we were on our way to get him. I would later learn that he was in the process of calling his dealer when I called him.
Because Tom went to rehab, Chip was finally able to move out of the decrepit house into a wonderful apartment of his own and begin his own healing journey.
Fast forward two years and eight months, Tom has graduated from rehab and been clean since Dec. 19, 2016. He has a job he loves and he is living on his own for the first time in his life. Chip is doing well, too. They have patched up their relationship, for which I am very thankful. For the first time in our lives as siblings, we three have a great relationship.
This is obviously a very short, simplified version of our journey. Please know that healing is possible and hope is something on which to cling. There were many, many times I was angry beyond words at Tom, didn’t take his phone calls, and rarely saw him in person, but always prayed for relief and healing. Our journey is not over, but continues, one day at a time.
If someone you love is addicted, please reach out for help.
Elaine Wilson-Reddy, JD, is a professional educator, consultant and advocate. She lives in Danville.