I debated sharing the details of Michaels struggle. I wondered if he would be upset about it. But, not sharing would just be fueling the stigma around this awful disease. My brother has nothing to be ashamed of; he worked so hard and endured things so many of us would not be able to. I am proud of him for who he was and for all of the courage he had.
In December 2012, struggling with alcoholism, Michael asked for help. He was admitted to the hospital for detox and after three days, the hospital staff was ready to discharge him. Hours before he was to be picked up, Michael started acted a little "off", which turned out to be the beginning of a long and excruciating detox.
I thought I knew what was meant by "detox", but until my brothers experience. I had no idea. There is the physical sickness which is worse than any type of physical sickness some of us will ever feel. Then, there are the delirium tremens and hallucinations. I had never heard of those until talking with Michaels doctor and I spent my days googling these terms only to find out that detox is nothing to take lightly. In fact, alcohol is the most dangerous detox and can be deadly.
Feeling helpless and being afraid for my brother, all we could do was pray for him to get through it and research the next steps in recovery. We went to meet with the hospital social worker who filled us in on her work with Michael and what our next steps would be. She assured us she would fill out and submit applications to treatment centers; the kindness and empathy she showed during our meetings made us feel very supported; however, we never heard from her after that. Calling multiple times a day, the social workers, doctors and nurses were always rotating, and always busy. Once we realized we weren't getting the support from the hospital we started calling treatment centers. The most we could get from them was an outpatient program at the hospital for a couple hours a day... which would start in a few days. A few days? What are we supposed to do in the meantime? We tried the babysitting approach, and what they tell you is true - it doesn't work. And, not surprisingly, the couple hour a day out patient program was not enough.
There are some resources out there, but definitely not enough. There are many 1-800 numbers to call, who then give you more numbers to call, and more numbers to call, often times to no avail. Then there is the insurance, which in and of itself is a serious battle.
It was in talking with a friend from work that we discovered the Plymouth House, a private treatment center in Plymouth, New Hampshire. We decided that the Plymouth House would be the best place for Michael to get the care he needed. Michael's time at the Plymouth House proved to be the most fruitful in terms of providing him with the tools he needed to fight his disease. There, Michael spent his days going to meetings, meditating, and working the Steps. From the Plymouth House, Michael moved to a sober house in Portland, ME. Visiting Michael at the Plymouth House and at the sober house in Portland was the most lucid and healthy I had seen him in years. I am so thankful for those times with him and that time he was able to spend with Carter.
Michael eventually decided that what he thought was best for him was to move back home. He lived in his own apartment, which he took pride in and decorated beautifully. He applied for many jobs, and was hired by Walmart. He went through training in early March and was eager to start his real first shift the next day. Unfortunately, he passed the night before that first shift.
Michael's struggle was something I can never fully understand. I admire the courage he had to try to better himself. He knew how hard detox was and he checked himself in time after time; he always wanted to do the right thing. With all of his struggles, he worried and cared so much about others and always wanted to help in any way that he could. I am so thankful for last summer when my husband Adam, my dad and Michael spent the summer building our new fence. They worked tirelessly, and no matter how hot it was and how sore he was from the day before, Michael was ready to come up and start all over again. He took such pride in the work he did.
Michael adored Carter, who absolutely loved his Uncle Mike. He talks about him all the time. It's heartbreaking. While he may not be able to be here, my kids will grow up knowing their Uncle in a special way, always hearing about the kind of person he was.
It still doesn't feel real, and probably never will. I miss him more and more each day. All I can hope is that Michael always knew how much we loved him. For all of my life, I will do all I can to honor his life. Every step of every run will always be for Michael and through running with The Herren Project, I not only have opportunities to spread awareness and raise funds for others who struggle in similar ways, but to honor Michael all along the way.