Thursday, August 13, 2015

Finalist Essay: Cailin Adair

Here's another one of the essays that made the final Top 10 in the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. This one is from Cailin Adair of Rising Sun, Maryland. She studies bioengineering at the University of Maryland, and her brother's addiction has had a profound effect on her.

Death Wish

By Cailin Adair

A folded, blue piece of paper within a tiny plastic bag floated in the toilet. It was nothing I had ever seen before, so I fished the bag out of the toilet, unfolded the blue piece of paper, and read the words "Death Wish." At the time, I was in middle school and had no idea what it was, but it seemed strange to me that it was floating in the toilet. I brought it to my mom, and she pretended it was nothing, trying not to involve me.

Weeks later, I found my brother, Connor, in a position that I should have never seen him in. He was extremely pale and held a belt in his hand that was buckled into a very small circle. His long sleeve was rolled all the way up to his shoulder, and he just stared at me, wide-eyed, like a deer in headlights. I stared back in disbelief. I never imagined that I would find my brother injecting drugs in our house.

This is when Connor confessed to using heroin. All the signs were there, but I was completely shocked. Yes, he was extremely skinny, was stealing money, wasn't acting himself, but he was still my big brother. I suspected he was in some kind of trouble, but I never thought my big brother, who protected me, and who I looked up to, could be addicted to such a hard, dangerous drug.

Connor went to rehab for the first time, and then came home after a couple of weeks. He looked great and acted himself again, and I felt such relief. I had my brother back. He opened up about everything, from when he started using to how he was going to Kensington in Philadelphia to get heroin every day. One day, we even drove through Kensington so my brother could show us where he went every day to get high. He was being so open and honest, and it really seemed like he was going to stay clean.

Then, he relapsed. Connor was constantly nodding out, money from my mom's bank account started disappearing, and some of my jewelry went missing. My mom would try to drug test him, but he would always say he didn't have to pee. Finally, he would give in and "pee" in a cup, but, instead, he would come out of the bathroom with room temperature yellow liquid (which turned out to be a mix of apple juice and water) that was obviously not urine. My mom would still test it and conclude that the test said he was clean, but she would ask me what I thought. I would tell her that I didn't think it was Connor's urine she was testing, so she couldn't conclude anything. She didn't always want to believe me, so she wouldn't do anything about my brother being high, which left me extremely frustrated and hopeless.

There were countless nights where I would listen to my mom and Connor argue about the fact that he was high, but my brother would come up with any excuse to say he wasn't. His addiction made him become incredibly good at lying. I would get so frustrated and end up yelling at my mom that my brother was obviously high and that she shouldn't listen to his excuses, and I would yell at my brother for constantly lying. Connor would finally admit that he has a problem, and he would either go away to rehab or get himself clean at home. I felt like my life was a never ending cycle of my brother getting high; my mom, my brother, and I all arguing; my brother getting clean for a short time; and my brother getting high again.

Finally, Connor hit his "rock bottom." Police showed up at my house one day, and Connor told me to answer the door and tell them he wasn't there if they asked. I refused, but he begged me and told me he just didn't want to answer the door or talk to them right now. He told me it wasn't a big deal. So I answered and told them he wasn't at my house right now, and I asked why they were there. They wouldn't tell me much, but they made it seem like it wasn't a big deal. They asked for my brother's and mom's cell phone numbers. My mom received a call telling her that my brother was part of an investigation. He was going to big parties, like wedding receptions and bar and bat mitzvahs, dressed in a suit and pretending to be a guest. He would steal the cards from the gift table, take out all the cash he could find, and throw all the cards and envelopes away at a nearby gas station. This crime sounded like it was pulled straight from a movie; it was too far-fetched to happen in real life, so I couldn’t believe it was happening in my life. Connor needed the money to get high, and he didn't care how he got the money anymore.

After all of this information came out, Connor immediately agreed to go back to rehab. But I had to face everyone I knew pretending like they knew nothing about my brother's addiction, even though the story, along with his name and picture, was on the news. No one really knew anything was wrong in my life prior to that news story. I was a straight A student, always smiling and laughing, pretending like I wasn't terrified that I was going to go home to find my brother overdosed on drugs and dead. This horrible thing that my brother did actually helped me open up more to my friends and tell them what was happening in my life, and it also helped my brother go back to rehab.

So, Connor went to rehab for about a month, and my mom and I visited him every weekend. He came home, and the cycle of his addiction seemed to stop. He got a good job, met a really nice, smart girl who became his girlfriend, and he seemed like he was back to his old self. He was clean for two years, and it seemed like he was going to actually stay clean this time. Unfortunately, these two years clean and sober ended last fall. It was an extremely exciting time for me because I was going away for my first year of college at the University of Maryland. I saw my brother two days before I left, and he didn't look right. He was eating cereal in our kitchen and nodding out, which was the number one sign to me that he was high. I just stared at him in disbelief. I was supposed to be excited to leave for college in a couple days, but this made me so upset and worried. I was so angry. I told him I knew he was high, and he denied it. So, I made myself believe that he wasn't high because I didn't want to believe it. I just continually told myself he was tired, he wasn't high. I didn't get to see my brother again before I left for school because he came home late and left really early. I left for school not knowing if he was okay, or if he was using heroin again.

I worried about him every day, and every time I talked to my mom on the phone, I asked how he was doing. She would just say Connor was fine. I believed her for a while, but, one day, I just had a feeling something was really wrong. I begged my mom on the phone to tell me what was going on.

Connor relapsed and was no longer living with her. She had to throw him out of the house because he refused to admit he had a problem, and he refused to get clean. He was fired from his job, and he totaled three cars, including mine, because he was driving while he was high. He lived on the streets for a couple days and my mom didn't know where he was. Finally, she got in contact with him and got him to go into a detox program, where he checked himself out of after one day. He stayed with friends for a couple nights, but then he didn't have anywhere else to go, so he agreed to go into detox again.

I started hysterically crying. Part of me wished I could be home so I could support my mom, but the other part of me was so thankful that I was away at school and didn't have to witness all of the drama.

It's summer now, and I am home from school. My brother has a new job and his own apartment, but he is still using heroin. I see him every Sunday for church and every Monday for a meeting at my church for addicts and families of addicts. Sometimes he looks good and clean, and it gives me hope. Other times, he looks high, and I wonder if he will ever get clean for good.

My brother's addiction has affected me in countless ways. For one, I have learned that I cannot control everything. I tried to do everything I could to help Connor stop using drugs. Much of my time was spent researching heroin to find how it affected the body and why people become addicted. The drug fascinated me. I also read a lot about different medications he could take to stop his cravings, and addiction groups he could go to for support. Since then, I have realized there is nothing I can do to stop his addiction; it is up to him to get clean.

I have also become a stronger and more realistic person as a result of Connor's addiction. There were so many times when my brother would go to rehab, and I would think, "Finally. This is it. He is going to stay clean this time." And when he relapsed, I would get so upset and disappointed because I expected him to stay clean. Now, I am hopeful that he gets and stays clean, but I understand that he may relapse and I am prepared for the worst. Even with other struggles in life, I seldom get upset about small things anymore. If something goes wrong, I try to find a solution. If it is something I cannot fix, I hope for the best, but I think realistically about the outcomes so I know what to expect.

In addition, my brother's addiction led me to become more independent. My brother and his addiction were almost always the center of attention, so there were many times when I was by myself and had to figure things out on my own. I learned to work harder to understand new concepts that I learned in school because I didn’t always have someone to answer my questions. This independence helped me excel in school and continues to help me every day.

My realistic attitude, strength, and independence have been essential to my success so far, and I believe they will continue to be crucial to my success in the future. I am currently in the Honors College at the University of Maryland and studying to become a bioengineer, and I plan to go to graduate school to further my education in bioengineering. With a graduate degree in bioengineering, I can conduct research to help create solutions to medical problems. As a result of my interest in bio engineering, in addition to my fascination with addiction, my dream is to conduct research to create better preventions and cures for this horrible disease of addiction. Because of the hardships I have gone through caused by my brother's addiction, I hope to lessen the number of people whose siblings have a "Death Wish" due to drugs.

Cailin Adair


  1. Such a tragic and heartwarming story at the same time. Cailin, your strength and compassion are amazing in the face of addiction. I'm betting that you will be an amazing bioengineer and make a wonderful contribution to science.