July 29th, 2005 Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
“Parents, families, friends, I present to you our nation’s newest Marines.” The Depot Commanding Officer said to the crowd. “The Marines of Golf Company, July 2005.”
Our family – mom, dad, my new wife and I had traveled from Utah to be there to watch my younger brother Grant become a United States Marine.
It was exactly the type of San Diego morning you see in pictures that show the sun setting over the ocean waves. Most people would love to live in a place like this. Now my brother and I would spend the next four years calling San Diego home.
I was a new Marine myself, only three months further into my career than my younger brother. I had enlisted shortly after him but because I had already graduated from high school, I left for boot camp before he did in January 2005. He finished up his senior year of high school a semester early and left for boot camp in April of 2005.
It’s just the two boys in our family, me and Grant and we’re a couple years apart. We grew up playing sports and video games together, hiking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. We also spent time battling each other in epic, best of 17 ping pong tournaments. Grant could always find a way to beat me except on my best days.
Now we were both United States Marines, just like our dad. Early in my Marine Corps career I loved being a Marine for two reasons. Number one – I got to be a part of something bigger than myself and number two – it was going to be the thing that helped me leave addiction behind for good.
My addiction started in high school when Grant was only 11 years old. I started using pain pills on the weekends because it made me feel good and by the time Grant joined the Marines, and suggested I should do the same, I was addicted to heroin and cocaine. (Something I decided to leave off of my application form to the Marine Corps.)
When Grant learned that I was addicted to drugs he tried help in any way that he could think of. He would ask me what was going on. He would ask me if there was anything he could do. I would give him answers like, “It’s nothing to worry about, just having fun” or “I’m working on it, you wouldn’t understand.”
Finally, as high school was coming to an end for him, my brother wanted so badly to help me that he gave up any career choice in his life for the next four years. Instead of going college or pursuing other interests that he had, my brother joined the Marine Corps.
During his four year contract he served two tours in Iraq and came home in more pain than I was ever in. He did this because he knew that I would follow him there (which I did) and he believed that it would be my way out of addiction.
When he told me that I was the reason he joined the Marine Corps it caught me completely off guard. At the time he told me, I wouldn’t have ever considered doing something like that for him or anyone else.
You see, it turns out that the Marine Corps hadn’t “fixed” me. Even though I had done better and stayed away from drugs while I was in California for the most part, I almost immediately started binge using when I would come home for vacation, three or four times a year. I was still living a double life immersed in the selfishness of addiction, to the detriment of my wife, parents, and my little brother.
It’s a vulnerable place to look up to your younger brother when you think it should’ve been the other way around, but I do. I look up to him because this is who he is and what he is willing to do, not just for family but for anyone he loves.
Now, four years after finally overcoming my drug addiction, I decided to write a letter to my brother. I wrote it because I want him to know that even though we have a great relationship now, I know that it doesn’t erase the past. I wanted him to know that I’m trying to understand what he went through.
Hopefully this letter will help him know that I no longer take his love for granted.
Hopefully it is one more piece to building a relationship that he knows he can always count on.
I never talked to you about my addiction. Instead you got to see the wreckage it left behind in the wake of each broken promise.
Lately I’ve tried to imagine what you must have felt watching me destroy myself and devastate our family.
I think about how painful it must have been to watch your older brother fall into a life of addiction where looking up to him was no longer possible.
I think about how angry you must have been when you came home to find money stolen from your room.
I think about how embarrassing it must have been to be judged by others because of the things I was doing.
Did you feel helpless when you couldn’t even talk to anyone about my drug use?
I think about what it must have been like to lose any real contact with the brother who you grew up wrestling with on the living room floor until something got knocked off the table and broken.
You no longer had the brother who was your comrade during Christmas Eve 1 AM reconnaissance missions past mom and dad’s room.
At what point did you lose the brother that you could tell things to that you couldn’t tell anyone else in the world?
What an excruciating loss to have someone that you love, like only a sibling can, still in the next room but who was not really there at all.
Grant, I’m sorry for the pain my choices forced you to endure.
I’m sorry for the nights you worried about whether or not you would see your brother again.
I know that I wasn’t there for you when you needed me to be. You shouldn’t have had to watch out for both of us. I want you to know that we will never have to go back to that place. You no longer have to wonder if you can count on me, I will be here. I will always be here.
Thank you for loving me enough to let me back into your life.
I love that you were able to visit for the 4th of July and spend time with us. Ally sure loves her uncle, just like Jaycie and Coby.
I look forward to the day when we get to make our dreams reality and build a business together.
I love you Grant. Thank you for always being there for me, even when I wasn’t there for you.
Obviously, the past can’t be changed, but if I could go back today and talk to him, I would make sure he knew that he wasn’t the only one dealing with an addicted sibling and that he didn’t have to do it alone.
Just like addicts need support to find a way to a life without addiction, I know now that he needed support to deal with being my brother and feeling so overlooked as my parents put out fire after fire after fire in my life.
To those who read this in situations like ours, hold onto hope with everything you have. You might be the only source of hope your brother or sister has. By continuing to accomplish the goals that you set out to accomplish you show them that a better life is possible.
When your brother or sister comes to a place where addiction is so painful that the only way to keep living is to change, you may be the one they will come to. When this happens be ready to show them that you still love them.
Even though you may hate the person they have become, show love to the person they were before addiction and the person they can still become. Its okay to not know what to say, say exactly that “I don’t know what to say right now.” Just make sure you follow it with “I’m just glad that you told me.” Then remind them that the connection you share with them is as strong as any other in the world.
Remind them that they are not alone and talk to them about how you will help them find the help they need. By reconnecting with them, you reconnect them to something bigger than addiction. To a place where there is hope for a better life.
Yours is a difficult road to walk, you don’t need to walk it alone. I’m in your corner, as are so many others. Reach out, we will listen.
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Now 4 years into building a better life we want you to know that there is hope, your family’s story can have a happy ending.
We built bestfooteforward.com because we believe that inspiration is the greatest gift you can give anyone. It is our goal to inspire addicts and their families to a life of success beyond addiction. We are here to support you in your moments of despair, and give you the hope and confidence you need to keep going anyway.
When Tom was young his dad had a quote on the mirror – “Success is a journey, not a destination.” Wherever you are in your journey we would love to hear about it and help in any way that we can.
Tom & Shannon