Then coronavirus hit.
I’m not claiming that coronavirus caused my brother to relapse, but it was definitely a contributing factor. The other factor – the major factor in my opinion – was, is, my brother’s arrogance. Even during his time in rehab, he could not fully commit to the program. He maintained a sense of otherness, of superiority to his fellow recovery members. He recoiled at the idea of his powerlessness and didn’t agree with working the steps. I could relate because its hard to give yourself over to a higher power when you don’t believe in one, but it’s less about god and more about letting go of your ingrained beliefs and the parts of yourself that are self-sabotaging. Even a nihilist like me could give myself over to the meaninglessness of existence in lieu of god. I kid, but I found the principle to be the same in this instance.
I believe that it was this resistance and arrogance to embracing his commonalities with his fellow addicts that kept him from being successful in recovery. That and the fact that recovery must be one of the most difficult endeavors in one’s lifetime, even more so because the specter of relapse is always hovering nearby. Adding coronavirus to the mix proved too much for my brother. He called me and said without the gym, without work and being stuck at home with a bunch of addicts all day – it was a recipe for disaster and he had relapsed. At that point I didn’t know the extent of that relapse. He intimated it was a matter of days, when I later found out it was a matter of weeks.
Had there not been extenuating circumstances with COVID-19, I would not have agreed to let him stay at my house. I didn’t think it was a good idea and I knew it would disrupt my life, but he had no where to go and I made the decision to help. It worked last time, maybe it would work again?
It wasn’t working.
My brother came to stay with me again in May of 2020. It was an adjustment for him to comply with my coronavirus house rules and I could tell that he thought my precautions were stupid. I could tell that he thought very little of my house, my interests, and pretty much everything else about me. Where we used to have good, healing conversations with each other, now he was harsh and dismissive. He was again preoccupied with his devices, but it did fade and within about two weeks he fell into a daily cycle of working and watching Netflix. When the gyms reopened, he was excited to work out, since it had been a big part of his previous recovery periods. I thought that even though he was kind of a jerk, he didn’t seem to be using and that’s what was most important. My expectations were that he would save money and eventually re-launch his business in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in beginning of July my brother started acting “different”. Where previously he was preoccupied with his perceived mistreatment at the hands of his boss and spent a lot of time telling me about it, he abruptly stopped. He appeared more excitable and began hyperfocusing on a new business idea. It started to feel like before and I was becoming worried. I started mapping out a plan to deal with the coming storm, and then… poof. He unexpectedly took off for a business job and said he would be back in two days. Except he didn’t come back. He went further away then I ever thought he could.
Here’s when it gets intense.
After his unexpected departure, I thought I knew how it was going to go. He would rent a hotel room, hire prostitutes and do meth for a week until he burnt himself out. And yes, he did do all those things, for almost three weeks until he called my aunt and asked her to pick him up from the hospital because he had been arrested the night before. I was already in the car, or I don’t know if I would have engaged. I definitely would not have engaged if I knew what was going to follow.
After taking a bit to find the right hospital because he wasn’t clear on where he was, we found him looking more broken than I had ever seen. He was muttering to himself and losing track of the conversation as it was ongoing. My aunt wanted to barrage him with useless questions, not understanding that all it would serve to do is irritate and drive him away. Having to deal with both of their maladaptive behaviors at the same time is an extreme sport.
Dude where’s my van?
Because my brother was staying in multiple motels and highly paranoid due to the meth use, he didn’t remember where he left his van. He thought it had probably been stolen. After a few driving tours of the seediest motels in Escondido, he suddenly remembered that it might be in an IHOP parking lot. To my amazement, it was there. He got out of the car, into the van and we all agreed that we would follow him to our aunt’s house to regroup and talk it all out. I was surprised that he agreed because I figured he would just take off and go back to using. I saw a glimmer of hope, but by this time, I was starting to hate the glimmers of hope because it hurts so much when they get extinguished.
On our way to the house, he unexpectedly pulled over onto the side of the freeway and I thought great… here we go. I walked from the car to the van and opened the passenger door. He asked me why we were following him and not the other way around. I was honest and said because we think you are going to take off. He seemed to process that for a moment and decided that it made sense. Then he said something that extinguished that glimmer. “It’s not because they told you to follow me, is it?”
There it was. What began as a paranoia about his electronic devices being hacked by his former employee had escalated into an ambiguous “they”. A hallmark of drug delusion and paranoia. My brain raced and I wondered how intricate his delusion was, but I only answered “No, I don’t even know who they are. Just put on your seatbelt and let’s go.” He seemed momentarily satisfied so I shut the door and walked back to my aunt’s car, rattled. As out of it as he was, he was now going to attempt to merge onto the freeway from a dead stop. My mind’s eye could see the spectacular crash, the explosion of metal and rubber, but somehow he made it and we were getting closer to that conversation.
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Once we got to my aunt’s house, my brother’s behavior radically changed. I walked up to his van and opened the passenger door to talk to him because he wouldn’t park and get out. He just repeated desperately that he needed to leave. I told him that I loved him unconditionally and that I wanted to help him feel safe and secure again. He started crying and telling me over and over that he needed to go because all he was was a drug addict. Spit was falling from his mouth as his eyed darted around and his voice cracked. You don’t understand he said, I can’t be here he said, I just need to go be a drug-addict he said. I’ve felt my heart break a few times and in that moment I could feel it happening again in a brand new way.
I don’t understand I told him, explain it to me. Why do you have to leave? Why can’t you stay with us and find a way out of this? He wouldn’t say why he had to leave, but he looked terrified and confused. I got into the car and close the passenger door. “I’m not letting you leave,” I said. I could see his anxiety ratchet up and he started yelling at me, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want him to leave and kill himself, intentionally or unintentionally. And if he did, I didn’t want to regret not doing everything I could, when I could. I eventually told him that he would have to physically remove me from the van. I could see the pain in his eyes as he struggled with what crossing that line would mean to both of us.
As he was trying to figure out what to do with me, his demeanor did soften a bit and he began to plead with me to leave, saying that it was for my safety that he wished he could tell me why but he couldn’t. I knew he wasn’t going to stay. He was wholly convinced that he was doing the right thing by leaving. I did stay true to my word and forced him to physically pull me out of the van, but it was entirely performative. We hugged for a long time and we cried before I finally walked away and didn’t look back. He was left with my aunt to say goodbye.
An Added Wrinkle
At this point I was emotionally exhausted. Adding to my load was an unknown person on Facebook that was calling me unsolicited during my family crisis, presumably to try to initiate contact of a sexual nature. This person called me twice, once at 11:54am, then again at 12:29pm, but I did not answer. Almost immediately after the 2nd call, he texted me “I’m a Normal hot guy. Answer.” I responded relatively politely and said that I could not answer. He immediately messaged me back with a slightly antagonizing message asking me why I could not answer.
So, here is where we take a little aside to talk about harassment and respect. When someone does not answer your calls and tells you they do not want to answer your calls, the correct thing to do is respect their choice. If it is a woman asking to not be contacted further by an unknown male, that man better damn well respect her choice or they are being willfully intimidating. It is wrong.
At 12:43pm I received yet another call which I did not hear or answer because I was engaged in the van with my brother. Upon walking away from him I checked my phone and saw that I had received a call and became upset. I messaged the person back explaining my current situation as the reason why I didn’t want to engage – using a lot of expletives. While it was definitely ill-advised for me to do this, it was born out of my heightened emotional state. I hit send and put my phone in my bag. I was waiting for my aunt to appear around the corner and take me home. I thought I was done with this day.
Correlation Does Not Imply Causation
Instead of only my aunt coming around the corner, my brother appeared along side her, head hung low with red eyes. My feelings were mixed. I was encouraged that he had not left, but also weary at the thought of having to go through any more emotional stress. He approached and told me that he decided to tell me the whole truth because he didn’t know how much longer we would have.
His story was long-winded and convoluted, but the gist was that after he had left my place and relapsed, he had met a girl. Eventually he was contacted by her associates, who were in a well-known, international gang. They accused him of raping said girl and threatened him with bodily harm unless he complied with their demands. He fled, but they eventually found him. They intended to frame him and force him to take responsibility for a murder that they committed. Their collateral was threatening to murder his family – myself and my aunt, unless he complied.
I didn’t even know what to say. I was surprised, shocked, confused and scared. Objectively and logically I knew it was a delusion created by meth induced psychosis, but it is still really, really scary when someone who wholeheartedly believes what he’s saying is true tells you that someone wants to murder you.
Then, as fate would have it, I received a very poorly timed message on my phone. My brother instantly integrated the message tone into his delusion and told me it was probably “them” because they could hear everything through our phones. In an attempt to disprove him and alleviate his concern, I checked the message. It was from the aforementioned man that was harassing me and said: “…You and [your] brother shouldve died together.”
This is where I lose it.
This is where I lost it. My lizard brain took over and I started to earnestly be concerned. I struggled to tell myself it was a dumb, loose coincidence. Correlation does not imply causation, but my amygdala was hijacked, and I was getting ready for flight. I felt myself losing the ability to use logic to deal with the situation and felt supremely aware of my surroundings. I couldn’t resist the urge. I demanded the keys from my aunt to her car and told her and my brother to get the #@$k in.
I know by doing this that I was feeding in the psychosis, feeding into his delusion, but my brain was screaming at me to just move. Almost instantly, my brother became more engaged, revealing his story in awkward vignettes now that he had finally uncorked the bottle. Each glass he poured only served to push back the return date of my logical brain.
My brother told us about how he got arrested and ended up in the hospital the night before. He was still vague about the reasons for the arrest, but he said he had done it on purpose to get away from the gang that was pursuing him. Unfortunately, the cops were in on it and so were the EMTs in the ambulance. They tied him down and punched him and cut him and took is blood; they took pictures of his genitals; they threatened to torture him to death slowly if he didn’t comply with their long-term plans. He said he didn’t know what to do because they had already stolen and planted his DNA. It was all convoluted, but it sufficed in is brain to justify his current course of action.
I felt ridiculous, going on the run from would-be murders made up by the drug-soaked brain of my poor brother. But the fact remained that I was scared, probably more scared than I had ever been in my whole life. It was a lot to deal with all at once and I guess I had found my tipping point. I just needed time to think and for him to be relatively safe while I did it.
I drove for about 20 minutes, all the way to the ocean. By that time I was starting to feel more calm and I could feel the flight instinct start to abate. On my brother’s suggestion, we went to a bank (because it was public, monitored and guarded) so that I could make a few calls. I called a couple of friends for support and explained the situation, which calmed me down immensely. I posted the Facebook conversation with the man harassed me on Facebook. Logically I knew that the two weren’t connected, but I needed my friends to help make that unequivocally true for my brain. Very quickly people started responding with amazing support. Yes, people knew him. Yes, he was a terrible person. A real, terrible person that just decided to enter into my life at the exact worse time.
I made the decision that we were going home. My brother said he wanted to drive and I said that under no circumstance was I going to get in a car with him behind the wheel. My imagination went wild at everything that could go wrong. Would he essentially kidnap us into his delusion and keep driving until the tank ran dry? Would take us on an endless tour of banks and police station parking lots, making up more and more bizarre paranoid connections? Would he drive us into or off something, thinking that it was the best course of action considering the alternative?
The Road Home
On the way home my aunt drove. She was silent and robotic, strange and disconnected. My brother and I sat in the back and discussed possible ways to resolve the situation. Calling the FBI, going to out of state police, talking to friends of friends that might be able to help us find a plan. It seemed to put him more at ease and we fell into a contemplative silence. I couldn’t believe how far away he was. I thought about how this might be the last day that I ever saw him. Tears rolled down my face and I grabbed for his hand. A few minutes later he put his head on my shoulder and his tears started falling onto our clasped hands. It was such a strange feeling to be simultaneously the closest and the farthest away from the person that you love the most in the entire world.
When we arrived back to my aunt’s house, he and I were calmer. Again, he wouldn’t come in or stay, but the manic episode seemed to have dulled enough that he was content to be quietly paranoid. We hugged again, cried a little less this time and parted ways. I walked away again without looking back. I used to be the kind of person that always looked back. My aunt may have stayed with him for a little longer after I walked away, probably saying all the wrong things out of love. She probably thought of how it might be the last time she ever saw him – there wasn’t any question of what he was going to do once he drove away. Onto another motel, into another spiral.
From the date of the first sketchy, lying text message from my brother to his revealing his psychotic delusions was about a month span, basically from the beginning of July to the beginning of August. On the ride home back to my house in San Diego I realized that over that time I was building a necessary callous for some much-needed self-preservation. It was a pretty common defense mechanism for me, one I wear pretty well and pretty often, but this was probably the most intense situation I had employed it on. How awful is it to have to build up your outer layers to the potential suicide of your only sibling? The way my brain reformulates is to feel bad about not feeling bad – that way I still feel bad and don’t repress everything and explode later, but I don’t have to directly confront the reality. I’m OK with that. How does one realistically confront something so terrible and absurd anyway?
After getting home I let myself feel vulnerable again and reached out to friends for support. I’m generally a pretty lonely person by design, so the show of support meant that much more to me. Afterwards I ate food, pet some cats, locked all he windows and doors, went over my security footage and dragged a heavy dresser in front of the front door. I felt like looking over my shoulder for imaginary boogeymen would become my new normal, or at least always be there a little. Well, not tonight, I thought. My choices were to stay where my brain would pick me apart as the night got longer, or to get out and drown that brain in a cocktail glass. I’m sure there were other/are other choices, but the apple doesn’t fall from the tree and that night I was definitely OK with that.
A Quick Fast Forward
I thought that my brother’s next bender would go the same as the last times and that I would have at least a few weeks before the next incident. I was so, so wrong. It wasn’t two days later that I woke up to an insane text message:
Now, by virtue of waking up in my own bed to a text message that said I was being held captive, I was pretty sure that I was not being held captive. That’s not to say that a tiny part of my brain didn’t momentarily entertain the idea that I had created a full escapist alternate reality à la the ending of Brazil, but that’s how my crazy works. I decided that either way I didn’t want to play out the kidnapping timeline, so I texted and called my brother with no answer, then went about my day. I thought about going down the rabbit hole and calling every HoJo in the county, but that new callous stopped me. I went on with my day, fielding texts from the other people in the original message and marginalizing the whole thing so that I could get my grocery shopping and catch up on some work. Later I felt bad about how the message actually made me feel better. One more check in the this is all just meth-induced craziness column. I could relax just a little bit in a weird, weird way.
It wasn’t until later that day that I woke up from a nap to local news coverage of an overnight fire at a Howard Johnson motel in the area. I took one big inhale and felt my eyes get big in that way that means you’re about to step into a whole new fresh hell. I got behind the keyboard and started following the trail. I found the news story that said a fire had started around 4:00 a.m. and caused over $99k in damages. That was right after I received the text message from my brother about my being held captive. The Howard Johnson in question was not even two miles from my house and I knew that he’d stayed there previously. There were too many coincidences and all I could think about was how absurd this was and all the time I was going to have to spend hand-holding my aunt through it.
The news article said that only one person was hospitalized at UC San Diego Hospital with minor burns. I didn’t even bother trying my brother’s mobile, I just called the hospital. A very nice person answered the phone, quickly found my brother’s room and connected me. “Hello?” I said. He promptly hung up. Mother$@#&*%.
From here to eternity (the poem, not that movie).
I relayed the information to my aunt and gave her the number to hospital. Of course he answered when she called. Of course she relayed the information back to me while inter-splicing her rationalizations and excuses for him. Then she said something that flipped the switch for me.
“Well, hopefully when he’s out of the hospital and back at your place he’ll…”
I knew that explaining to her why he was not coming even close to me for a long time would spark a lecture filled with petulance and guilt, but I had to power through. Under no circumstances I said, would he be staying with me unless it was after a lengthy stay in detox, rehab, and sober living. He needs, for the first time, to take his recovery seriously and with humility. Under no circumstances would he be staying with me wearing his arrogance like a badge while I waited for him to break out hearts all over again. You’re not being supportive she said. I’m not enabling I said.
So that’s where we are now. A meth induced psychosis landed my brother in the hospital with back injuries and burns on is arms and face that require skin grafts and extensive physical therapy. I don’t know his complicity in a motel fire that caused over $99k in damages. Maybe this will be his rock bottom and temper his arrogance enough to for him to make an earnest effort at recovery. I don’t know. I’ll love him with my entirety forever, but I can only help if and when he’s willing to accept it.
I was forwarded the following video that includes footage of m y brother on August 11, 2020, six days after the incident. This video is NSFW and not safe for anyone with preexisting triggers for people experiencing substance abuse. It is, however, a stark example of the devastation that drug abuse has on those using and those who love them.
Did you miss Part 1? Read it here.