When I got the call, my entire world changed. A friend once described the sudden death of a loved one as “the floor dropping out from under me.” That’s pretty spot-on for what it felt like when my brother, who struggled with opioid addiction for years, passed away in his bed at age 23. He had been out of rehab for five days.
There’s a ton of guilt when a loved one loses a battle with addiction. A lot of, “What if I had done ______? Could I have saved them?” For me, it was the decision to honor his secrecy and not tell our mom what he was going through. He didn’t want to worry her. In hindsight, this seems silly. Now I would do anything — tell our mom, turn him into the police, stalk his dealers — to get him back. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him and wish I’d done more. I’m working on forgiving myself, and the Goldstein Family Grief Center has been crucial in this journey.
After the funeral, I uprooted my life to move back to Cincinnati and be with my family. My mom took my two younger siblings to grief support groups at Fernside (Goldstein’s children’s branch) while she attended a parents’ group. I went to individual therapy there, a weekend grief retreat they hold at Camp Joy (complete with yoga, a high ropes course and balloon ceremony) and a group specifically for people who have lost someone to addiction. Everything they offer is completely free, and they’ll even come to you if you don’t have transportation.
Some of the most helpful things I’ve discovered were in that Goldstein group: that I’m not alone, that everyone handles loss differently, and the most important thing is that my brother knew I loved him. And thanks to individual therapy, I’ve realized my way of dealing with these feelings involves putting everyone else’s pain before my own.
If you’re reading this and it brings up a similar story you’ve experienced, knowing your triggers is key. If you know something will upset you, or that the holidays will be difficult, you can’t avoid these things forever. But you can take it slow, surround yourself with supportive people and practice self care. Self care is asking, “What do I need in this moment to get to the next moment?” This is one of the reasons I joined the RISE team: to help write The Act of Rising Up interactive corner and provide strategies for others to feel empowered to take control of their lives. If you feel ready, write in and share your story with us.