Monday, August 10, 2015

Finalist Essay: Amanda Keaty

Over the past week, I've shared the winning essay and the runner-up essay from the first My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. Today I start sharing essays from the other eight finalists, beginning with the entry from Amanda Keaty of Enumclaw, Washington, who writes about her experiences with her older brother, Devan.

As you read Amanda's emotion-filled essay, I want you to keep in mind two things: 1.) These heartfelt words are coming from a 17-year-old, which is truly amazing; and 2.) Imagine how difficult it was for the judges to read 30 similar essays and choose just 2 as the winner and runner-up. All of the essays we received were so good, and all of the essayists deserve to be recognized.

Here is Amanda's essay.

Aspirations Born of a Broken Heart

By Amanda Keaty

I live on a roller coaster--and not the fun kind. With each unexpected twist, turn, climb, and descent comes a flood of inescapable emotions. It is a terrifying and frustrating place to reside. However, I was born on this ride; I cannot change its tortuous path and I must put up with it. As the younger sister of a heroin addict, this meandering excursion represents the battle I face every day which has dragged me through my lowest valleys, deepest heartbreak, and greatest challenges. 

The worst part about having a sibling who is hooked on drugs is that our bond has been broken. Devan and I used to be best friends. We did everything together, from watching and acting out morning cartoons to playing hide-and-seek in the back yard and sneaking into each other's room past bedtime just to talk. Once he started chasing the dragon, he began to break away from our friendship. He became less friendly and more irritable and he no longer wanted to spend time with me. I could not figure out what had happened between us and I came to the conclusion that he had simply stopped liking me. I thought that it was my fault and I blamed myself for being too clingy and annoying. I tried so hard to maintain our friendship, but to no avail; and eventually gave up. I told him not to talk to me anymore after a simple conversation escalated to a brutal argument. After having a few months to breathe and cool off from this stirred-up aggression, I tried texting him again, but if he replies at all, it is with one-word answers. I often become jealous of my friends when they talk about their siblings with whom they spend time and who pick on them, even who they dislike or find annoying. Hearing this always makes me envious and resentful because I would do anything in this world for my brother to pester me like most brothers do and for him to be involved in my life. Devan used to play jokes on and tease me, but the more he grew dependent on narcotics and stimulants, the less he cared about family and the more it feels like I do not even have a brother at all.

Since Devan was sucked into this black hole of drug dependence, the essence of our family has declined. We used to be the "perfect" family consisting of a mom, dad, brother, and a sister who were all happy as can be. Every Sunday night was family night. We cooked dinner together, played board games, and watched a movie that we alternated turns choosing. When things with my brother went awry, so did the entire Keaty household. We stopped having family nights, stopped eating meals together regularly, and the unity that once completed us rapidly faded away. Evenings were frequently interrupted by the police showing up at our doorstep, getting calls from the hospital to pick up Devan, or with the regular fight that had me sent upstairs every other night. Little did they know, I only went halfway up the stairs where I sat and eavesdropped, but in the old, thin-walled house that we live in, I would have been able to hear the yelling from my bedroom anyway. As I grew older, my parents realized that there was not much more they could hide from me and I began sitting in on the arguments. I’m not sure which was worse--having my parents try to hide things that I already knew or being in the room to watch.

While my parents are often are caught up dealing with Devan’s jail sentences, court fines, treatment centers, etc., I stand behind, faded, and merely exist. Although I know it is not their intention, I feel customarily ignored, expected to figure things out on my own. I am pushed aside as less of a priority to my parents. I am "self-sufficient," they say. They brag that I am "the good child": responsible, smart, and independent. Mom and Dad say that unlike my brother, these qualities are natural for me. No, Mom and Dad! The reason I am each of these things is because I had no choice! I was forced to embody these qualities. When my parents were called to the police station, I learned how to cook my own dinner. While they were out searching for the runaway, I managed to tuck myself into bed at night. When they were too busy to help me with my homework, I discovered Google as my tutor. I stopped asking for help. Being "the good child," is not a compliment. Being "the good child" sets a superior standard to which I must reach in order to feel and be treated like I am adequate. As "the good child," I feel an obligation to be perfect. I am careful not to show weakness or pain that might cause even more distress upon my parents. I seldom shed a tear in their presence, even when there is ample reason to cry. I have become accustomed to not receiving attention from my parents, so now when I do, I feel guilty. Too much heedfulness from them makes me feel uncomfortable, and I have yet to discover the reason. "The good child" is the strong one. "The good child" keeps everything together. I was the one who would tell my mom that everything was okay when she broke down crying. I was the one who had the power to sway my brother's decisions. He was protective and had a soft spot for me, which settled on me more responsibility. Each time he walked out the door after a screaming session with our parents, I would follow him and tell him I loved him and I could almost always convince him to stay rather than going and getting even more high than he already was. After so many times, trying to control the situation became another liability for me. Even though he is not living with us currently, I still feel like I have to call or text him to prevent him from relapse.  And when his stability caves in, I blame myself. By trying so hard to be the pure and unbreakable one, I have instead, become more vulnerable.

As the younger sister of an addict, I carry a feeling of emptiness. I am trapped by a never-ending cycle of emotions that hides every piece of my being--my happiness, my optimism, my innate zest for life. On this roller coaster, there is, of course, sadness, heartbreak, anger, and frustration. There are also phases of excitement when my brother shows progressive steps and I am filled with abounding hope that it will finally be the attempt that does not fail. When he relapses, however, I am devastated. I either sink back into a state of depression or I become angry, sometimes at Devan but also at myself for being naively hopeful and not being mentally prepared for the event. Sometimes, I tell myself that I am done caring, but really, I just try to repress how I feel so that I do not have to think about the situation or deal with the emotions. I cannot control these sporadic feelings no matter how hard I try. I wish I could just make up my mind on how I mentally respond to my brother's addiction, but unfortunately, it is not that simple--the roller coaster does not pause. With so many surprises and unexpected turns, it is impossible for my mental state to remain steady. There is one thing felt, however, which underlies each stage of the circuit: fear. My biggest fear is that by the time my brother rises back up to fight against his disease, it will be too late. He has overdosed way too many times and has survived only by miracles. I am scared to death that the next time he injects the merciless liquefied substance will be the dose that finally wins the battle and steals his last breath.

Most seventeen-year-old girls go about their day with simplicity; they contemplate their plans for the day and what friends they are going to hang out with. They worry about relationships and completing their homework on time. I, however, have grown up differently. The contents of my mind are far more complicated than that of the average teenager. I have always remained the quiet one, only talking when necessary or invited to and I am never a conversation starter to those I am not close to or comfortable with. I am not one to attend crazy high school parties for fear of being involved in what had once destroyed my brother. Because of my tendency to observe rather than to speak and my unwillingness to attend parties, some people have said that I am stuck up and that I think I am better than others, which is the opposite of who I really am. Afraid of being disappointed, I oftentimes push people away unintentionally and avoid getting too close to someone who might leave me like my brother did. It has always been difficult for me to let go and just have fun like a teenager should because I have so much going on at home and in my head, which my friends could not understand. No one knows what is going on or how I really feel. Because I have been so preoccupied with my brother’s addiction, I feel like I have missed out on my childhood and formative years.

What I lack in having a normal social life, I make up for with knowledge of the drug world. I know what it means when there is a tiny plastic bag on the ground. I know that it was not a doctor who dropped a needle and syringe in the local grocery store parking lot. Although I have never used, considered, or even been offered drugs, I have witnessed firsthand the malicious greed that is addiction. Most would not guess that I have learned by direct observation the truths of substance abuse, for I have seen what no child should and have been exposed to things I wish I had not.

Siblings of drug addicts face a rare kind of pain and are hardly given the consideration that they deserve. Because I know and can relate to that suffering, I want to help brothers and sisters of addicts so that they no longer have to feel alone. I have a unique opportunity already set in motion that will help me to achieve this goal: "Battlefield Addiction," a non-profit organization co-founded by my mother that helps addicts, families, and communities plagued by the epidemic. One branch of the company is "The Family’s Battle," which directs and provides cathartic exercises to affected parents. "The Family’s Battle" has taught parents not only how to guide their children on the road to recovery, but also how to equip themselves to do so while coping with the pain, restoring many broken families across the country. This is my vision once the siblings become a point of focus. Having spoken at a past event and my mom being a stakeholder of the company, I can help assemble a branch specifically for siblings to be incorporated into the organization. My aspiration is to bring hope to those who fight the same war as siblings of addicts and to guide them through the demanding and burdensome roller coaster on which we are all stuck.

Having lived in the shadow of an addict, there is nothing I want more than to make an impact on others' lives. Not only do I have a passion for helping people, but also for science, psychology, and addiction medicine. After high school, I aspire to become a Substance Abuse Nurse Practitioner in an inpatient treatment center. I am working toward my goal by taking nursing prerequisites at Green River College through the Running Start program, which allows me to earn college and high school credit simultaneously. I have big dreams for my future, which, despite the financial stress that the disease has placed on my family, require funds to obtain. Earning this scholarship will ensure my enrollment for three quarters as well as partial tuition of summer courses on my way to those aforementioned future goals.

As a Substance Abuse Nurse, my objective is to help ease the recovery process for addicts and to make a difference in their lives. My brother once came home from treatment eager to tell me all about a specific nurse who not only aided him in detox but also continuously encouraged him to keep fighting, which motivated him to take on his recovery with confidence. I, too, wish to be the nurse who makes a life-changing impact on her patients. I want to be the nurse who can mend the broken heart of a little girl when she is reunited with her real, sober brother. While helping to heal bodily damage and ease the process of pain and withdrawals, I hope to also gain a relationship with each patient. Sometimes, an unexpected person can make the largest impact on others, and I hope to be that for someone in the future. Every patient has someone back at home who cares and worries about them. By helping those with the debilitating disease of addiction, I will be indirectly helping entire families as well.

Being the younger sister of someone who is enslaved to a substance is a complicated and heartbreaking journey to travel. The emotions I have felt are visceral and I have often wished this roller coaster would break down so that I could escape. Although the road is painful and exhausting, all negative encounters have helped me learn, grow, and establish my purpose. I have learned a lot about addiction and its mechanics and I have gained insight to better understand its root cause. Because of my experience, I have compassion and empathy for others who are dealing with the same affliction and harnessed steadfast bravery and conviction in knowing that I can help others. My older brother's addiction has scarred me in ways that may never fully heal, however, I will turn these cuts and bruises into helping hands by creating a light of hope in the lives of both drug addicts and their families.

Amanda with her brother, Devan.


  1. Love this ! Very nice telling the "other side" Im sure my daughter feels the same

  2. I can't imagine how hard it was to pick one - this is beautiful and my heart goes out to her. My son 24 is addicted to heroin and meth. My 17 year old son is like Amanda - never goes to parties, does not have a lot of friends and does extremely well in school. I feel like he could have written this and with the names switched Amanda's story is our story. The "good" child often gets pushed aside. The financial burden that addiction places on the family often leaves little for the other child. It is very clear that Amanda WILL make a huge difference.

  3. As an older sister of an addict, I often have the same feelings. Keep that hope and believe in him!! I hope one day your brother will remain sober and you get to rebuild your relationship with him. My little sister has been clean 1 year this month. I am so proud of her! Most of all, I am so so happy to have my sister back. We have a group around here it's called " A Better Life" Brianna's Hope. Look it up. It has helped save my sister's life.

  4. Sadly our family is just beginning our journey with our 19 year old daughter's heroin addiction. We have three other children and she also has a two year old daughter. Amanda, thank you for sharing your story. It helps me think of things from my other children's perspective. You are already helping people. Good luck with your future goals - I have no doubt that you will achieve them!

  5. Absolutely beautiful. I can identify with Amanda on many different levels. I hope all your dreams come true.

  6. I lost my baby sister to heroine overdose 2-13-14. Thank you for putting into words a lot of the emotions I felt. I am so sorry about Devan.

  7. I couldnt have said any of this better myself. I am that younger sister and I know that one day this horrible monster will take my brother from us too. Im so sorry to hear about your brother, may he rest in peace. <3

  8. I have known your mom for years and I was heart broken when I heard but reading this put me over that edge. Amanda I am so sorry. You are an amazing young woman. Stay strong and know your brother was consumed by a disease. You, your dad and amazing mom did everything you could. Enjoy graduation I don't know you but I will be there to support you. Hugs

  9. This should be mandatory reading for parents of an addict. The good child should receive the attention the drug addicted receives. Drug addition is a CHOICE not a disease just as Amanda chose her path.
    Hugs to Amanda for the lose of your brother. Peace be with you.

    1. Drug abuse is NOT a choice. Being a recovering addict with 17 months months tomorrow, I know. Educate yourself before you write about something that you have no idea about.

  10. Amanda you said it so well. Drug addiction is a disease and hopefully we can find a way to cease this epidemic. Too many young lives lost too soon because the choice they make to 'try' this drug unaware of the disease of addiction that can consume them.

    Praying for you and your family, may Devan be at peace now.

  11. Heartfelt. Strength for Amanda as her worst fear happened last week. Her brother Devan OD'd for the last time. To Anonymous 6/8 9:17am. I agree this should be read by all parents of an addict but I do not agree that addiction is a choice. Trying a drug recreationally for the first time is a choice but becoming an addict is a disease without a doubt. Whether you become an addict because of a choice to experiment or because of a legitimate prescription, the drugs modify your brain and take control. They cross a line where they are not taking the drugs to get high anymore...they take them because they will be dope sick and can't function without them. NO one would CHOOSE to be an addict.

  12. Amanda, I wish every kid could read your story. I'm so sorry about your brother and I bet you will be an awesome Substance Abuse Nurse. God Bless you and your family

  13. Prayers for Amanda and all the addicts and their families. As the parent of an addict and a "good child" my heart breaks for Amanda. I'm sure that we made many of the same mistakes Amanda's parents made. It's really hard to know what is the right way to handle this situation and each person has to do the best they can. You no longer live in the world you knew when you're dealing with a child who becomes an addict. There's so little help out there for any of us. If you don't have thousands of dollars to throw at the problem, you can't even expect to get any sort of help. Non celebrity or non rich addicts do not matter in this country. I do not believe that being an addict is a choice. Our addict is no longer capable of being the person he once was. He battles addiction one day at a time and often does not win. I wish you all the best, Amanda! God help all of us.