Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Finalist Essay: Charlie Lockyer

Charlie Lockyer's entry for the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest was unique among the 10 finalists. Why is that? Because not only has she has been affected by her older brother's addiction and her mother's addiction, she has faced addiction herself.

Charlie is a brave young woman who is studying psychology at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I am thrilled to share her incredibly brave and honest essay with you.

Breaking the Circle

By Charlie Lockyer

Andrew has always been THAT guy. The one you want to be with. Good looking, funny and surrounded by friends. Pushing everything to the limit and rarely getting caught. He is six years older than me, and when I was growing up he was my hero. I wanted to be just like him. He was also my protector from life with an alcoholic mother. She was verbally, physically and mentally abusive and he was the buffer between real harm and the quiet of my family's own dysfunctional kind of normal.

In the final years of our Mom's drinking, Andrew began to steal her booze. I learned that he would sell the booze, and use that money to buy weed. In my eyes this impressed me even more. It was a cunning business venture and the adults had absolutely no idea. When our Mom finally entered recovery, our world began to change. My parents' eyes were opened to the three of us wild children, and a budding business died. Even though he was put out of business, Andrew continued to be wildly popular and continued to use a variety of drugs. I grew up to be almost exactly the opposite, even though I desperately wanted to be like him. My idolization of him eventually led me to my own downfall.

In every branch of my family tree, and perhaps even down into the roots, there is addiction. It is simply how our brains seem to be wired, so to speak. When the concept that my siblings and I might have a greater likelihood of having addiction issues, we all reacted in different ways to that knowledge. My younger brother completely accepted it, and has the foresight, even at 16, to want a life free from mind-altering substances. I was neutral, and while I had an intellectual understanding of what I was being told about my chances of developing a problem with substance misuse, it wasn't resonating emotionally. I was working on my anger and PTSD in therapy, but was still too confused to really listen or care, and the need to feel connected to my peers was so strong. Andrew, however, denied the possibility that addiction could be genetic flat out. In order to repair our familial connections, we all went to therapy as a family, but Andrew refused to participate, driving himself away from us rather than forgive and learn to move on from our broken pasts. He seemed to let it fester.

Andrew's thirst for adventure and need for excitement led to him join the military by the time I was in high school, and I was desperate to follow. There, too, he was still Mr. Popularity. I struggled in high school and was not so well liked. I was awkward because I was trying to be someone I wasn't. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I had few friends, and I couldn't figure out why I just didn't fit anywhere. I looked at the differences between my older brother and I, and found a key. I didn't touch drugs. I didn't go out of my way to avoid them; I just never took up people's offers. Andrew would come home and tell us all about his adventures on and off base. More and more often, these adventures became centered on his bar crawls, his drunken antics and sneaking drugs that would be undetectable on drug screens. I feared for his job and his life. He flew planes, shot guns and was in uniform. I was also enchanted by it all. It became glamorous, death defying and he was always the center of it everything. The drugs and alcohol were main characters--a central theme. None of it would be possible without that fuel. It was the adventure and glamour I wanted--but also the way he fit in anywhere, with anyone. After Andrew left the service, he continued, this time on the rave and festival circuit, with X--sometimes real and sometimes synthetic. The raves look incredibly fun, and the different music festivals he posts about on Facebook and Instagram look like such a great time. He presents as happy, like he is living life however he wants it--as if he is in control of it all. I wanted that more than anything! But it’s an illusion, like all of those pictures. I only saw what I wanted to see.

My Mom received a phone call one day. My siblings and I had a very complicated relationship with my Mom--she was an active alcoholic during most of our childhood, and has now been in recovery and has been sober for more than eight years. It was Andrew, admitting that he had a drinking problem and that it was out of control. He was going to start going to meetings and getting help. I didn't really think too much about it, until a month later, when he was back to raving and bar hopping. I asked him about it, and he told me that he isn't an addict--it isn't possible for him to be an alcoholic. He told me that addiction is in no way genetic, he had overreacted, it was under control and he had taken a break and it was all good. No problem. Looking back on my own experiences, he is wrong.

My life was great--I had gotten into a college I believe to be prestigious, and that was a perfect fit for me. The school was heaven, and I loved it. I was away from my family for the first time, and I wanted the kind of friends my brother had. Andrew's voice got louder than what I learned from my Mom's recovery. After years of being on the sidelines and winning dodge ball games in gym simply because nobody noticed me, I found somewhere I could start over and be just like him--be popular and cool. So when my friends partied, I partied too. I began drinking socially and smoking pot. For a month or so, my life was well balanced. My studies and my partying didn't impact each other. As the semester ground on, my drinking became uncontrollable. In a very short time, I was beginning to lose control over my life. Alcohol became my higher power--when I felt any negative emotion, my automatic thought was that I needed a drink. When I was happy, I wanted to celebrate by drinking. My older brother made it all seem normal, that I was just being a college student, that it wasn’t a problem at all. But the path that I was on led me into a dark place--I nearly lost my place in the freshman class, as well as the few friends I made. My grades slipped, and I was losing everything I loved. Within four months of me first raising a bottle to my mouth, I was drinking every day, smoking weed any time I could get my hands on it, and it was escalating fast and destroying my life. The smallest tension became a huge argument and lead to explosive confrontation. Who was I? Many members of our family struggle with addiction, but nothing impacted me like my brother's use. He continues to make that life look glamorous, but now I know better. Alcohol and drugs are not going to win me friends or fill up any empty spaces in my life. It took nearly ruining my own life to realize that Andrew isn't right about a family connection and substance abuse disorder, and I had to nearly destroy my life to see just how the four generations before me prove us both wrong.

I still love and adore my older brother. He is brilliant, funny and THAT guy--even clean. Especially when clean. He was my hero, my protector, and he was exactly who I wanted to be. I no longer idolize him, or want to follow in his footsteps. I am so afraid that he will use some combination of booze and synthetic drug and he will react badly to it and die. That is one of my worst fears. He still has not let go of his anger from our pasts, and refuses to seek treatment for his PTSD. He uses to mask his feelings with others but with his family he rages. He drinks to the point of blackout every time. He has driven wedges between himself and all of us, even though we love and accept him for who he is. He has separated himself from us, much like our Mom often tried to separate from the family in our younger years. This brings back awful memories for me, my own PTSD. He and I no longer have a relationship, because I cannot build a bridge without a foundation. I miss him, and love him dearly, but his addiction and his refusal to get help has created a chasm between us. He seems to walk down the path our Mom took, and that is the circle of addiction that I want to help people break free from.

Today, I have found myself again. I am in early recovery, and am working on bettering myself as well as my life. I am coming to terms with the consequences of my downward spiral, and accepting them with as much grace as I possibly can. I am still attending my dream college, however my major has changed, and my life plan has as well. I began to form a new plan with a new dream. I am now majoring in Psychology, with plans to work with addicts, and the families of addicts. I want to help families like mine, ravaged by addiction issues, because I understand them personally. I know what it is like to be the child of an addict, and to be the sibling of an addict. I want to work with people with substance use disorders because I know what it is like live with one. While in college I will be advocating for sober living environments. My dream is to help people who are affected by the disease of addiction, fight stigma and get on with the business of living. I want to be THAT woman but for all the right reasons. The first president of the school that I attend said in his final commencement speech, "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." I am not going to be ashamed. Not of who I am, of my addiction, of my family--as long as I am present in my life and do my best I will have won.

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