My older brother Mike died 5 years ago today. He lived a very full life and enjoyed much of his 57 years on earth. He was the second of six children born in rapid succession to my mother and father after immigrating to Canada following world war two. Had Mike not succumbed to his declining health related to Hep C and prolonged methadone use, he would have been 62 years old this December.
Mike was an active and smart student excelling in his elementary school years. He attended a local high school where he dropped out of school in grade 10. Mike later disclosed that he began to skip school when his gym teacher mandated swimming in the nude. He opted to hang out at the local park instead. Like any good mother, our mom supported Mike skipping gym as he felt self-conscious in the nude. What she did not see coming was Mike meeting up with other teenagers who had less interest in schooling.
In an all too common story, it was during these formative years that Mike began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. In the ’70’s, it was common for young people to be hired for full-time employment and Mike landed himself a job as a grocer at a local store owned by Weston Foods called Loblaw. He stayed working as a grocer until moving to work as a Landscaper with the City of Toronto in 1982. Mike worked with the City, and then Metro for 28 years.
Mike’s teenage experimentation with drugs and alcohol did, in fact, become the gateway to a lifelong addiction to alcohol, gambling, and street drugs. Our mother stood beside Mike, and tried to support his personal battles with addiction and gambling. Mike was always a happy drunk who never quite learned to identify when he had enough. Mike was an addict who could not keep money in his pocket. Like many people who suffer with addictions, Mike’s drinking was his emotional burden he carried for most of his adult life.
His addiction to street drugs was mediated with an extensive treatment program provided by a team of specialists at CAMH and his inclusion in the methadone harm reduction program. This methadone program saved Mike‘s life. Similar to the effect of alcohol, Mike was happiest when he was high. It was only when the alcohol and drugs tapered off that his overwhelming sense of sadness and depression would rise up.
Mike was deeply remorseful about the negative impacts of his addictions on our Mother, family, love-interests, colleagues, and his own health. In his lowest points, he felt such intense shame about his personal vices. Mike did engage in counselling treatment and did his best to change his unhealthy ways. He failed more times than not, but never gave up. Mike stayed close to family and we hung in there for him.
As the youngest in the family, Mike was always my Big Brother. In my eyes, he was strong, fearless, and protective. I learned to be confident and brave in part, because I always knew that Mike would be there to protect me. He relied on me quite a bit. He knew that I would never give him money or alcohol. But I always had an ear and meal whenever he felt lonely and sad. Mike would drop in often, and did take interest in all our children. He was like our family guard dog always watchful that our children were safe and well.
As his health declined, Mike told me that he would rather die than lose his legs. One of his greatest fears was to be an amputee, like many of his chronic alcoholic friends who lived in a local rehab hospital.
When Mike died, all of us were with him. He died peacefully surrounded by all of his siblings and their partners at our local hospital. In truth, everyone loved Mike. He always had a funny thing to say and he would say it when it was least expected – making everyone laugh. Mike was a sincere and loyal friend. He enjoyed comedy and music. He protected the weak and stood up for people he believed were mistreated.
The family was prepared to meet up at the cemetery today to reminisce about Mike’s life, but was prevented by COVID 19 physical distancing restrictions. Mike will forever be in our hearts. He has shaped my work in harm reduction and addictions care. He taught me about co-dependence, healthy limit-setting, and the importance of humanity in care providing roles with all people.
Sunny dispositions deserve to shine!!!!
#wellness #healthy #family #addiction #concurrent disorders #codependence #harmreduction