Love Beats Stigma: Forgiving My Brother, Forgiving Myself

Rabiah Coon
The author and her siblings seated on a couch: Blonde woman, brunette woman holding a baby, and man with a shaved head

In the nearly eleven years since my brother’s life ended with an accidental overdose of fentanyl, two things have remained the same:

  1.  I still love Elijah.
  2. I still hate the drugs that took him.

A lot more things have changed, though. Shatterproof exists, and now the energy I was putting into anger has transformed into the energy I put into action and advocacy.

The resentment I felt towards myself for my inability to save my brother, and towards him for his inability to stop using substances, is now forgiveness. I once read that forgiveness is “giving up the hope that the past could be different.” Forgiveness enabled me to move forward. I still have days when I slip back into entertaining thoughts that there was one more thing I could have said or done to save my brother—and it is then that I practice forgiveness again. It is an empowering process.

Most impactful, though, is how I now feel about judgment. In the past, I was guilty of using derogatory language to refer to someone with an addiction issue. I labeled them and made up their backstories even including their families. One day though, that stigma I was applying to others became a story about me and my family.

Through love, I have changed my view of those suffering from the disease of addiction. I have seen the change in my family too. We do not use the same language to speak about it. We do not blame people for their addiction. We do not wonder why they don’t change or ask why their loved ones standby. We stopped judging.

Eventually, it is love that will persist no matter what the outcome is and our love for our brother, my mother’s son, is best expressed through compassionate dialog, activism, fundraising, and in our daily interactions. Stigma can be changed through love.


Rabiah Coon is a Shatterproof Ambassador.

September 2021

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