A letter to my sober brother

A year ago today, he was dying from a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. As a heroin user in my teens, I knew his pain

Topics: After Party Chat, Sobriety, Recovery, Heroin, Opiates, Drug, Alcohol,

A letter to my sober brother
This piece originally appeared on After Party Chat.

Today is a very good day. The word “miracle” gets thrown around recovery circles pretty loosely and, for many folks, this might seem like an overreach. But for anyone who has ever been released from the grip of addiction (or loves someone who has), it is the very definition: “An event not ascribable to human power or the laws of nature.”

Today my brother has 10 months sober. I woke up to this email from him, addressed to my parents and me:

I would not change 1 thing in my life today. So crazy to actually mean that. I luv all y’all so much & y’all have each helped me beyond ur understanding in different ways. Today I am really fuckin grateful.”

A year ago today, he was dying from a cocktail of opiates, benzos and alcohol. Having spent the latter part of my teens and early 20s shooting heroin into every vein in my body, I knew his pain. Yet I was still powerless to help because, as we know, someone has to first want that help.

So one day I woke up and decided to do the only thing I could—put it all down on paper in the following letter to him. I share it in the hope of making someone feel less alone today.

Dear Jonny—

In 1998, I knew I needed to change. I knew there was a better life somewhere out there for me. I believed in freedom and creativity and love, and had somehow given all of that up in the service of my addiction. I had become completely dependent on outside sources to give me any kind self-worth—mostly this was in the form of external accomplishments or the bravado and reassuring self-delusion that came along with getting high.

Only to say that I had nothing left to tap into in my own heart to let me know that I was going to be okay.

Or that the universe was a safe place.

Or that love, in its unending series of messes and compromises, was in fact perfect and holy just the way it was. And moreso, that what made it truly god-like was the very fact that it was beyond my control. It did not come in the form that I wanted it to…and it took me years to discover that this was because it was so much bigger than me, or anything I could fathom. I realized that I was not in control!

And that was the moment when I became more than the sum of my parts. That was the moment that I finally felt like I belonged to something greater. That was when I truly began to grow… and at the same time realized that there was no destination.



I spent years (well into my early recovery) painting elaborate stories in my brain about why “I was right.” I would have hours of conversations with people inside my own head and make up their side of the story/conversation, too. Then I would rebut their story with lawyer-like precision until I came to a place where I won.

The more that I actually lost in my life, the better my internal lawyer would have to be to win the case. But my brain is fierce and my will is strong, so I could do it. To the bitter end I could do it.

And then, one day, after the haze started to clear, and I had been following direction (that I hated!) for a while, I had one simple thought. “What am I getting out of being right?” Then another question followed: “Why do I need to be right?” And for that split second, I had an epiphany that I have spent the last 14 years trying to remind myself of (to varying degrees of success): BECAUSE MY DISEASE WANTS ME TO BE ALONE.

Several months ago, mom and dad told you that we would not be getting together as a family anymore because it was just too hard and too toxic. Last week, I told you that I did not want to carry the relationship that we had (without some kind of professional help or guidance) because it hurt too much and never seemed to get better. By your own admission, your disease has alienated you from friendships.

It must take a lot of mental work to explain away all of these (seemingly similar) changes in your life and lawyer your way out of them. But I know this disease. I have this disease. And I know your own fiercely intelligent brain. So I’m sure that you can do it if you decide to continue to do so.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re anything like I was (and still am at times, when I’m in my deepest fear), you’ve read this letter and your brain is telling you, “He doesn’t understand.” It will sum up the years that I’ve spent in pain wishing to have a better connection with you, the days (since I found out about the extent of your habit) that I’ve spent praying and crying, and the hours that I’ve spent writing and rewriting this letter into some form of a write-off.

“He loves me but he doesn’t get my life.”

“He’s too caught up in his own bullshit to see what’s actually going on with me.”

“He means well, but I got this thing. I know how to do this.”

If this is the case, I just ask you to take one single moment to quiet those thoughts. Quiet your brain and try to find God in your heart (your higher self that has no fear or anger) and then ask this one question:

What are you getting out of being right?

And if your heart can hear this question. Consider one more thing:

What if you’re wrong?

And if, by chance, there is now any inkling of doubt deep inside you, then maybe you can hear this:

There is a truth and beauty in this universe that we cannot even begin to know until we put the gloves down. Surrender is where we find the strength that we never knew existed. Surrender is always in action, never in thoughts.

Your brain is your enemy.

You are safe.

You are loved.

You are sick.

You cannot do this alone. No one can.

Your plans don’t work.

You are me and I am you. Your pain is not just your own. Because I love you, because you are my brother, it is my pain too.

And lastly, that there is a life out there that is beyond your wildest dreams. And it’s nothing like you imagine it will be. It is so much better.

And it’s yours for the taking.

I can see it right in front of you! But I cannot give it to you. That is a journey for you and you alone.

But all you have to do to get from here to there is let go…

—Joshua

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