Leading up to today, I wasn't sure I wanted to write something like this. I wanted to avoid reliving some of the things that happened in the past. But on this morning of April 28th, something moved me to change my mind. I woke up and felt it was right to keep my brothers name alive. Afterall, "so long as they speak your name, you shall never die". So today, I will speak my brothers name and hope everyone who reads this will do the same.
The story begins on a Sunday two years ago. I was waiting for a childhood friend to arrive at the gym I was working at. He was training for an adventure race and needed a little guidance. I saw I had a missed call from my mother and listened to the voicemail. As I listened to the message, I knew something was not right. I felt it in my heart. My mind went immediately to my brother. I decided to call her back while I was waiting and heard these terrible words: "he's gone Chris. Ryan is gone". My older brother was found dead at the age of 29. The cause: apparent drug overdose.
Prior to his last few years on this earth, my brother had it going on. He received a teaching degree from Penn State University, was coaching wrestling at Saucon Valley, and he knew how to work a room. He was a great coach and teacher. Things were trending in the right direction and people in this small town were impressed. Unfortunately, white, middle class, rural towns like the one I grew up in are Ground Zero for the heroin epidemic. When did this happen...
Back in 1996 Purdue Pharmaceuticals released information on a new pill used to relieve pain. It was called OxyContin. Along with the release of this new "medicine" was a false proclamation that less than 1% of those prescribed this drug became addicted. In 1996, OxyContin generated 45 million dollars in revenue. In 2010, the drug generated 3.1 billion dollars. Hospitals over this time period were judged based on their pain scores. One doctor went as far as saying, "we started handing out pills like crazy". As time progressed, research proved that this drug was more addictive than initially thought. There was a crackdown on prescribing this drug. Those who were dependent now how to look elsewhere for the drug. Enter heroin.
Addiction is- more often than not- totally misunderstood. In our culture, there is a stigma and judgment cast upon those who struggle with substance abuse. I ask of you, before casting judgment imagine their despair. Imagine what it must feel like to believe there is no option. How can we expect people who struggle to step forward and ask for help when they feel misunderstood and shamed? Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. For those who have to watch a loved one go through this, it is one of the saddest things in the world. These are people that we love, after all. They need an environment of support, tolerance, and understanding. Every addict is a human being, a completely redeemable human being. Not everyone has to suffer the same fate.
For those readers who may think that this topic will never touch their life- I ask you to think again. When most of us drink our first beer or puff on our first joint, none of us imagine that we might be taking the first step in a journey that will lead us to a life of pain, despair, shame, and hopelessness. Nobody starts out with shooting heroin. It might be alcohol, the marijuana, then some pills, and before you know it, you find yourself exploring other drugs to satisfy your need. I know for a fact that when I drank for the first time, that thought never crossed my mind. And I am pretty damn sure it never crossed my brother’s mind either.
Ryan was one person who was always proud of me. I wish he was still around to see his younger brother as a business owner. He would have loved. Since his passing, there has not been a day where he wasn't the first thing I thought about in the morning. I miss him like crazy. He will always be remembered for the things we did together. The sports we played together. The fights we got ourselves into. The rap music we loved and listened to. And most of all, the time we spent together coaching wrestling.
4/28/2015 12:28:16 am
this is amazing Chris. Addiction needs to be shout from the mountain tops not swept under the rug. Your brother is at peace and I'm sure super proud of you!!!! Thanks for sharing. RIP Ryan.
4/29/2015 12:03:26 am
Hey Nikki, thanks for the support and the kind words. It is definitely appreciated!
4/28/2015 01:02:09 am
Excellent story on your brother. I, too, lost my son Ryan at the age of 28 to a heroin overdose,one week before Christmas in 2010. I speak to the kids in the Juvenile Probation Dept. for Lehigh County and tell them my son's story. I always end my speech with "Remember Ryan". He didn't wake up one day and decide to be a heroin addict. As a mother that has lost her son, I hear of too many young lives taken from the disease of addiction. I am my son's voice. Keep talking about your brother, I didn't know him, but I'm sure he had a big heart.
4/28/2015 03:08:03 am
Having a sibling that also suffers from a heroin addiction, this is so very touching and true. There are too many individuals who do not understand the complexity of addicition, "just stop," "whats wrong with you," etc. Ryan was a wonderful man, who was carismatic and a total blast to be around. Ill always remember him for who he was in life, and not by what took his life. Ryan would be so proud of you Chris.
4/29/2015 12:08:50 am
Christa, thanks for reading. There are some things I wish I knew a few years ago, unfortunately, life doesn't work out that way. Continue to be there for your sibling and I wish you both the best!
4/29/2015 12:06:41 am
Sharon, sorry to hear about your son. It is amazing how your opinion changes when things hit close to home. Thanks for the support!
4/28/2015 02:03:51 am
4/29/2015 12:09:44 am
Lynn, I will continue to do that. Thank you for reading and the support!
4/28/2015 04:41:29 am
words cannot express how much it hurts to lose a sibling. this was very touching and so very true I've watched a few of my family members fight heroin addiction and it never goes away you fight the battle that's never ending. I can't agree more with you on how hard it is no matter what the circumstances are and how the person passed away everyday is a struggle for the ones left behind. May Ryan rest in peace and may you and your family get the strength everyday to keep going on, they say it gets easier every day and it's not easier you just learn to live day by day knowing he is gone but always with you. Ryan is shining down on you every day
4/29/2015 12:13:40 am
Allysha, you're exactly right. Sorry to hear about your relatives, it seems this issue is all too common. I appreciate the message and thank you for reading.
4/28/2015 06:58:15 am
I may not say it or it may not seem it, but not a day goes by where Ryan hasn't crossed my mind. Everyday I come to work and see the footprints in the sand card I have hanging here. Chris this is such a wonderful post. I personally never been thru what addiction does but I have seen it 1st hand through my daughter's father. It needs to stop being taboo to talk about. I educate my daughter and hope that by doing so she stands out from the crowd and doesn't go down the road her father has. Its scary. Thank you for writing this. And we love you Ryan. Always will!!!
4/29/2015 12:18:18 am
Yea, it is amazing. He is on my mind as much today as he was years ago. Your daughter is lucky to have you and I wish you all the best. Thanks for keeping him alive in your thoughts and words!
4/28/2015 11:55:23 am
this was great to read! So very sorry about Ryan! But this is touching! Very well put Chris!
4/29/2015 12:18:52 am
Thank you Laurel, I appreciate it!
4/29/2015 01:06:13 am
Thank you for taking the time to approach this subject eloquently. Sometimes the loved ones affected by this subject sometimes feel "shame" or that people would judge them Or their loved one who os struggling with thus addiction. I recently attended a fundraiser for heroin awareness where the speaker empowered everyone to talk about their loss or their current struggles with a friend or loved one and so many people broke down into tears because they themselves have experienced a fear or talking about it. I know Ryan is proud of you and all of your accomplishments you have made since he has passed. You have a wonderful future ahead of you and i wish you all the best and once again thank you for talking about your loss.
4/30/2015 03:41:51 am
Ashley, thank you so much for the message. That is the only thing we can do, just continue to talk about it. It sucks doing so but I hope that it is for the greater good. I hope you're doing well!
4/29/2015 12:40:37 pm
I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts turn to an old friend of mine. She was addicted to pain killers. Of all kinds. She faked injuries, faked pregnancies that led to miscarriages, to end up in the ER to get a script for pills. She had a doc that just gave her scripts when ever she said she needed them. Her sister BEGGED that doctor to stop. Told him she had an addiction, and it only took one more script and she Overdosed a week after her sister went in and begged that doctor to stop. I am very saddened by your story. Losing a loved one is never easy and I think what you did here is wonderful and a great way to celebrate your brother. Addiction is definitely something that needs to be brought to light and addressed head on. I am so very sorry for your loss, and you and your family will be in my prayers.
4/30/2015 03:48:53 am
Becky, thank you for taking the time to read and respond. I am sorry to hear about your friend. The natural progression for drug abuse seems to always include the use of prescription meds. It is an all too common tale that hits home with just about everybody.
4/30/2015 01:32:44 am
Chris, The article you wrote comes from the heart and it should be read by many. I will never forget when my son came home from football practice and told me about the speech you had given to all of the boys in the program. It was a moving speech that was given not long after your brothers passing. I wanted to thank you as a parent for passing on your words of wisdom to my son. By sharing your personal experience it meant more to the boys because it came from the heart. I can only offer my heart felt sympathies as I have no idea what you have been through. PLEASE keep paying it forward because for each kid that you help to understand the dangers of drugs and alcohol is another day that your brothers life has special meaning. For every bad there comes a good. You are an outstanding young man one that your brother would be VERY PROUD of. I'm proud to say that I know you as well. GOD BLESS my Friend
4/30/2015 03:53:38 am
Kerry, sometimes I used to wonder, "Did that hit resonate with any of the boys?" I am glad to hear that it did and hope none of them forget that story I told a few years ago. Thanks for the constant support, it means a lot and I really appreciate it!
10/16/2015 09:47:14 am
One of the most powerful things I've ever read. I don't have family members who I've lost to addiction...I'm the addict in the family. Everything you spoke about is absolutely true for addicts. We don't choose this and most of us would never wish this on our worst enemy. I remember when I heard of Ryan's passing. It was while I was at the hospital watching my father die. I remember the days hanging out with Ryan and using. It could have been me. It could have been any of us. But reading all the posts. And reading this for the first time today. I don't want my family to ever have to endure the same pain. Its especially hard for addicts to see what they do to their loved ones. We are incredibly misunderstood. And to ask for help. Well it's almost impossible...I always just thought I'd die with a needle in my arm....I can for once proudly say I've been clean from herion for over a year. I just want to thank you and everyone for the posts and for really opening my eyes to what I could to my family and loved ones. Why some of us God calls home early and why others of us like myself have been saved from death when there we're many close calls well never know...I shouldn't still be here. I watched my life slip away almost completely way to many times. You'd think after these close calls...my loosing my father...then a month to the day having my own heart attack at the age of 26...but no...it opened my eyes for a bit but addiction is cruel like that. And once you've tried herion only once...you're addicted for life...I can say though this is a life that has been saved. And which I'm grateful for. Being clean from herion for over a year is amazing...but the thoughts and urge still creep up everyday...and when things are going good for us...that's probably one of the most scariest times...we think we've beat the beast...but it's then in that moment that it's got us in its grip again...I just want to say thank you Chris...and to everyone else who has posted stuff...I'm so sorry for your loss...but God moved me today to write this...I may just have been a life that was saved...every tradigic moment leaves opportunity for good....I know it's very hard to see it that way. I lost my father about a week after Ryan passed....my best friend my everything....I wish he could see the progress I've made. Any addict I think can agree a year clean from herion...is tough...a month a few days is rough. You all have touched my life is a way I can never really express how grateful I am...this post was truly beautiful...every addict like you said is a person and can be redeemed.... thank you for bringing awareness to addiction..these are the positive steps we need to take forward as human beings to help one another with this horrific epidemic.
10/22/2015 07:10:27 am
Meghan, thank you for the response. First, I want to wish you the best with your recovery and to keep up the good word. The experience and the writing has become not only a coping mechanism but also a learning experience. After experiencing the loss of my brother, my mindset and opinion has totally shifted on addiction and recovery. There are things I know now that I wish I knew a few years ago. Again, continued success to you on your journey!
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