We always think there will be a next time whenever we part ways with those we love. But on May 4, 2019, I’d learn the hard way that that’s not always the case.
My brother Tony’s story is one like many. We came from a good home growing up, filled with love and faith. We had two parents, three siblings, and all the love a child could ask for. But as we all know addiction doesn’t discriminate. In my brother’s 20s, the addiction cycle would start. Little did we know it would go on to impact our family for the rest of our lives.
Addiction is very much like a tornado as it touches down: it affects everything in its path, leaving wreckage all around you. For me it was like watching a stranger sneak up, take my brother’s hand from mine and whisk him away. I tried so many times to run after him, but I would always fail. Each time I blinked and he was gone again from my sight. The one thing addiction couldn’t steal from me was how much I always loved him, fought for him with hope that he would somehow find his way out of all this.
Over the next two decades, Tony would go in and out of recovery. He always wanted to beat this disease more than anything. Stigma tells us that those who struggle with addiction don’t really try. “Why can’t they just say no,” stigma says. But I’m here to tell you that stigma lies.
Looking back now, I realize that very stigma kept our family in silence. It told Tony he should be ashamed and disgraced. It told our family to stay quiet for fear of judgment. People focus on the addiction, not the person. That’s a shame, because addiction is such a small part of who they are.
In 2017, through much research, I found a recovery center eight hours from where my brother lived. He entered the program and stayed there for 13 months. He graduated, one of three people. It was his biggest accomplishment. To hear him speak at his graduation, the pride he had—it’s engrained in my heart forever. Seeing him like that felt amazing. We had my brother back. Truly back. There must have been a zillion times I told him over the past few years how much I loved having him back in my life. To me, all of our pain and suffering was worth it. Because my brother was victorious. Our family had stolen him back from the grips of addiction.
But fate had different plans. On May 4, 2019, Tony would relapse again. And this time it would be his last.
There isn’t a day that goes by my heart doesn’t ache. Words could never describe how much I miss him. What I wouldn’t give for a few more minutes to just hug him again. The grief has been so intense, but I have found that the best way to heal in this journey is to help others. Making a difference for someone else’s family tells me that Tony’s passing was not in vain. His death can bear fruit to give others hope. Tony always searched for his purpose. Now I know that purpose lives on in me.
Together we must find a way to make this path easier to travel. Families need resources, support, and the power to break down the barriers of stigma. I am honored to be my brother’s voice and to be a part of the Shatterproof family.
I want to encourage you, wherever you are, to remember that there’s hope. Hope in recovery, hope in grief, hope in our mission. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. When we join together to end the stigma powerful things can and will happen. It is through having the courage to share our stories that, time and time again, love will always beat stigma.
Marcie Massa is a Shatterproof Ambassador.