My Christmas Angel
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
On December 21st, 2019, it will be nine years since my beautiful brother lost his life at just nineteen years old. Sometimes I struggle when people ask me how long it has been, and I am not sure why. I think that if I was able to respond to that question by saying it was nine months ago, then I would feel like I was still allowed to grieve deeply and feel the intensity, the way that I still do today. I struggle with this loss almost every day, sometimes louder and more intensely than others, but a struggle, nonetheless. It seems like the longer it has been, the harder it gets, because those are just all of the years that we have missed being with him. My greatest fear is that he will be forgotten, and that people will move on with their lives, something he was unable to do.
I enabled myself through John’s death, by assuming ...
... "I had a right to consume copious amounts of drugs, and that I needed this in order to survive. I have found that this is not true, and that I can survive without the use of something to numb the pain, it just takes a little more work."
John was a wild man, and always did what John wanted to do. He partied hard, played hard and loved even harder. John had always struggled with seizures, and he was diagnosed with epilepsy in middle school. He struggled a little bit, but he was always the cool kid, and everyone adored him. He was free spirited and took advantage of life and all of its opportunities. He was easy on the eyes, and full of personality. John and I were a lot alike growing up, always testing the limits. My addiction started to take off during high school, and I went off to college, so we did not see as much of each other. I knew John was disappointed with the path I was taking, and he did not have a problem letting me know. I will never forget the first time I went to rehab. When I got home, I went into his room and curled up in his bed with him, and he just held me. That was just a few months before he passed.
On December 21st, 2010 John was home for college break and hanging out with his friends. It was my Mom’s first wedding anniversary, so she was away with her husband. I had an apartment in Charlotte, right down the road and the night before he died, for some reason, I decided I wanted to see him. I went to my mom’s house to pretend like I needed dishwasher detergent, which I still don’t understand. I gave him my lame excuse for coming over, a big hug, and went home. This was the last time I saw him. The next morning, I got a text from someone saying there was an emergency, and that I need to come to CMC Hospital. I knew it was about John, so I packed a bag, assuming he would be staying overnight. When I got to the hospital, I went to the front desk to ask where his room was, and two people escorted me upstairs. I was a little confused why I needed escorts, but I went with them. They led me to a big room with cedar like walls and when I walked in, there were about ten people in the room. My Dad came walking toward me and said, “he’s gone.”
It is hard to explain that feeling, especially when it is so unexpected. I would imagine I was really confused for a moment, and then went into complete shock. I melted onto the ground and couldn’t think or hear clearly. I started to feel like I was going to pass out and I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. I experienced some sort of hyperreality, where what seemed real and what seemed fiction somehow blended together, as I struggled to make sense of what was actually happening, and what it all meant. All I remember is leaving with my aunt and uncle and going back to their house. My stepdad had called my best friend Alex, and she showed up immediately. I walked out to her and fell on the ground. She held me and she did not leave my side for the next three days. I remember going back to my apartment with Alex and another friend and they stayed with me until the funeral. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming after a nightmare, which I would quickly realize was my reality. Both of them were there to comfort me, and I am not sure I would have survived without that. When it is your brother, the rest of your family is not there for support, because just like you, they need their own.
My addiction crept up during this time in a few ways. When I went to John’s room for the first time, I saw a bottle of Vyvanse. This was one of my favorite drugs and I was out of all medications. I wanted that bottle so badly, but something came over me and I realized I could not take something that was intended for someone that was no longer here. I reached out to someone and got a few pills to get me through the next few days, and although I regret it, I think I was just doing the best I could at the time. I spoke at John’s funeral and managed to get through it without falling apart. The service was on Christmas Eve, at 11am. The church was so full that they had to use other rooms and a projector for the overflow. A lot of people who I had lost contact with showed up for me that day, and I am forever grateful for this. We buried John at a beautiful church, right next to a soccer field and playground where he used to play. John’s casket went into the snow filled ground and I said goodbye.
My addiction took off after this and things spiraled out of control. I moved to Los Angeles and started working out there, but I was having a really hard time. Because I was using right after his death, I never dealt with my grief. I stuffed it down and drowned myself in alcohol, Benzos and Adderall. Every time I would go to rehab his death would resurface. I would make some progress, and then go back to using. This added a lot of shame, because I truly believe John watches me as closely now as he did when he was alive. But I also believe that I am on the other side of this because of him.
When Christmas comes around, I struggle to embrace the time of year. Over time, I have realized that I am not the only one that struggles. You do not necessarily have to lose someone at Christmas to struggle with this day. When you have lost a child, or a loved one and a day you should be together rolls around, it feels like a punch in the stomach. While everyone else is posting pictures of their families and babies, it is hard to understand why I have to have someone missing. It just doesn’t seem fair. John’s absence is always felt, and nothing has been the same since. We have worked to somehow create our new normal, while still honoring and remembering him. I understand what it is like to want to numb the pain with substances, but I know it does not help in the long run. I also know it is not what they want. I no longer use John’s death as an excuse. Instead I use it as a motivation and a reason to live. A motivation to make him proud and to live for two.
Who's The Author:
Ally Lacey Maguire is a student at Georgia Southern University. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in the clinical/mental health counseling program. Ally just celebrated 4 years of recovery and recently got married. Ally enjoys writing about her experiences in active addition and what her recovery looks like today. Ally works for the center for addiction recovery at Georgia Southern University and is passionate about working with others and sharing the message of recovery.
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