Losing a child to addiction: The Dreaded Question

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Tags: , , , ,

As I sat on a Sunday night at about 10:21pm catching up on news before hitting the hay for a 4:00am alarm when I came across this article which caused me to put pen to paper.

The article addressed “THE QUESTION,” that so many of us that have lost a child struggle with and in a strange paradoxical way, both hope gets asked and does not get asked. The question; “How many kids do you have?”

I personally struggled with this question when Robby passed. It was hard to answer. Do I say two and completely avoid the discussion? Do I say three and act as if he was still alive?

I most often answered three as I refused to add anymore guilt to my plate. I found it to be both honest and accurate until the next question came. “How old are they?” In my mind, the flares went off and that odd confusion set in as I thought to myself “damn, you had to ask that!” I may have used a bit more colorful language mentally, but you get the gist. My mental verbiage got really colorful as I knew the next question would be “how did he pass…”

 How I feel

The article made two really good points:

  1.  It is as uncomfortable to get the answer as it is to give the answer. This is especially true early in the process as trying to gauge just how deep we get and with whom tends to cause the head to spin. While we don’t mean to cause them to be uncomfortable, the mere nature of the answer, “my (pick a child) passed away,” is just uncomfortable.
  2.  The second point is one that I found profound and insightful. By answering honestly, it gives others an opportunity to share if they, or someone close to them, had the same experience.

Like it or not, there is still a stigma surrounding addiction. Many people keep walls built around their families where addiction is concerned, carrying the burden alone, not realizing they don’t have to.

 What I have learned

Here is what I have to pass along to anyone it might help.

  1.  It gets easier to answer as time goes by. Figure out how you want to answer the question(s) and stay with what is comfortable. Over time, your answer becomes “normal” and you will feel better as you give it.
  2. You are not alone. If we tell 10 people that Robby passed of a drug overdose, only one looks at us like we are the worst people in the world. The other nine almost immediately launch into conversation about how addiction has hit their family. It is as if we opened the door for them to discuss because we get it. We understand. Often, they are looking for help for themselves or friends and we are able to engage with them and offer some help. The other “one” that passes judgement probably doesn’t even know addiction has hit someone in their family or is just not ready to face it, but when they are, they now know where to find us.

Easy isn’t in our vocabulary

Truth is, it is still not “easy” when I know that question is coming. There are times when I still fumble and feel like I have betrayed Robby’s memory. But this is what I do know. I know who my son was, and I am proud of whom he was as a person. Yes, he was an addict and as a result, did some things that may have violated a few laws, but that was the drug talking, not Robby. If you choose to pass judgement on him or us as parents, that is on you, I won’t carry that burden.

So, if you ask me how many kids I have, the answer is three. If you want more detail, you will learn that my eldest would have been 25 this year, but he passed almost four years ago. If that makes you uncomfortable, I am not sorry. I am and will always be the father of three amazing young people, and that is how it will always be.

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Venturing into the light of life

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Tags: , , , ,

vacation brandtsVacation. We all need one, even us.

Last week, the Brandt family took some time away and went on vacation; the first vacation we have taken without Robby. I started to write this post last week from the third floor of the home we rented in the Outer Banks and realized we live in a world where I have to wait until we return before I can let people know we are gone – now that is crazy!

I did want to take some time and share our thoughts on this trip as it is another “first” that we are encountering, and firsts are part of what we all (that have lost) live with regularly.  As I talk with families, we spend a lot of time talking about firsts.

So here we go.

The vacation house

I have to acknowledge that there was some awkward trepidation in the house as this week approached.  It is just different to be doing a family vacation without Robby as he was part of every family vacation we took, and all the places we went to for the “first” time.  Yet, I think in a way we all needed a get-away, and at some point, we are all confronted with these firsts.
The questions are really simple; will you take that step and do it and if so, how will you handle it?  I can’t answer that one for you; that is all up to each of us.

You may not be moving…but the world is

What I do know is that the world moves on, whether we want it to or not, it continues to spin and the sun comes up every day.  We choose to take the next step or not and if I knew the how’s or why’s around that, I would bottle it and sell it.  What I do know is that the choice is each of ours and nobody has the right to tell us to make it or when to make it.  Grief walks its own path on its own time, and it impacts each of us in its own way.  It is ours and it is personal.

I do believe that sometimes we need a nudge or just have to have faith and force ourselves to take that step back out into the light.  When we get there, the world is undoubtedly different, painfully incomplete and foggy, but it is there.  And so for us, the world last week was the Outer Banks and we will build new memories and lament the fact that Robby is not with us the way we would like (wait for the Barney blog).  It is all part of our new reality.

Comfort in others

We are not alone, and we don’t walk this path alone and neither are any of you reading this.  Together, we are strong for each other as we continue to venture out into the light –

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Memories: Unexpected, Unexplainable, Treasured

Posted by Anne Browning, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Tags: , , , ,

This was Robby’s car, and with everything Robby, there was a story. robby car

On his way to a rehab session, Robby had a fender bender.  Unfortunately, the damage to the car was far greater than the value of the car so we decided not to have it fixed.  We gave it to my sister and her husband as he tinkered with cars as a hobby.  Four years later, I received this picture from him, as he finally finished repairing Robby’s car (it will always be his).  The picture came over as a text message, and the wave of emotion that hit me was staggering.  I feel the need to share these as I know many of you struggle with seeing these things as well.  There is also a great story to tell and I have to share it!

The moment I saw this picture, my mind hit hyper-drive, and a flood of memories cascaded, one at a time, vivid as the day they happened.  I remembered the day I saw this car on the lot and knew that the red convertible Saab was all Robby.  I remember bringing it home and seeing the look on his face (he paid for a large part of it; it was his car!).  I remember how he washed it every day and how he lived to ride with the top down.  This car was freedom, pride and personal for Robby.

I remember receiving a call while I was in Boston as he told me about the accident; it was OK because he was OK.  I remember the sadness when he knew that fixing the car was not an option.  I remember seeing the car at my sisters, a few weeks after the funeral, as all of these memories hit me for the first time.

I know that this was not an easy job for my brother-in-law.  But I also know that I don’t know how I feel about it.  I don’t know that I want anyone driving it.   Don’t know that I want to see it on the road or in a driveway.  I don’t know that I want anything but for it to be destroyed.  I don’t know how I feel about it at all, but I do know that when I see this car, it is my trigger and the memories all come alive.  What I do know is that all these feelings and the lack of “knowing” are OK; they are normal and they are my feelings.

This is part of what we live with – think about everything in your home or life that reminds you of your kids.  For those that have lost a child, every one of those things resurrects memories and far too often we just don’t know how we feel about them.

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Part 3: A Local Kid’s Story – Working Towards a Better Future

Posted by Chris Schinke, With 0 Comments, Category: Recovery, Tags: , , ,

RV-HopeIn the first and second post in our series, we learned about a young man, Alex, his invincible attitude and the consequences he experienced when caught with drugs.  This is the last post in the series and here we read the conclusion of his story, so far, and his hope for the future.

How do you think this will affect your future?

Having these charges on my record can affect my future negatively. I already touched on the fact that finding a job after I get my degree will be difficult, but there are many other things that could be affected in my future. I can see myself eventually getting married and I want to start a family. I want to have my kids grow up in a place that they can call home for many years. I am not expecting to be making a ton of money when I decide to get married and start a family because hopefully I will still be in my late twenties. It won’t be easy to get a loan for a house that me and my want to buy/build with a criminal record. I don’t expect to raise a family in an apartment building and having a criminal record could dissolve plans that my wife and I could have when we are ready to start a family. That is a sickening thought to me and I pray every day that is not the case. I am a very future-oriented thinker.

A court record could affect my future by making it impossible for me to coach hockey. I have been an avid hockey player, fan, and lover since as long as I can remember. One of my dreams has always been to coach a hockey team, preferably one in which my son was playing on. All in all, this experience could damage many of my life dreams and goals. That is very upsetting to me and that is why I am so motivated to fix my mistakes so that I am not held back by poor decisions earlier in my life.

Did you at any point, think about the severity of the consequences; the impact on your future or the things that could have happened?

There was one point that I can remember when I thought about all three of these things at the exact same time. This was at my last court hearing where I was going to be prosecuted. The judge had looked over the things that I had done leading up to my court date, but my attorney wasn’t sure if I had done enough to improve my chances of not having the four charges against me being put on my permanent record. I was charged and going to be prosecuted on were curfew, underage drinking, possession of an illegal substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia. I had worked with my attorney over the course of the previous couple months to establish a defense to prevent some, if not all, of the charges going on my record. I went to AA meetings, took drug screenings every month on my own accord, and I improved my grades to show the judge that I was heading in the right direction with my life. I went into sentencing not knowing what to expect. The prosecution team worked with my attorney, and due to my admission of guilt, they were only going to pursue the possession of a substance and underage drinking charge. This was a relief to me, but I was still not happy to have both of those on my record. That is when the judge tasked me requirements and a message that I will be forever grateful for. Judge Michael J. Ryan talked to me as if I was his own son. He told me that I had too much potential and that it was not worth throwing away due to alcohol and marijuana. I listened to every word he said. He gave me the second chance for which I was hoping. All charges against me were to be dropped if I completed the requirements that he set forth. They included drug testing every two weeks, an apology letter to the police officer that pulled me over, an apology letter to my parents, a report on Mitch McGary and his situation regarding marijuana use, as well as thirty hours of community service through Robby’s voice. If I did not complete his requirements, I could potentially spend 30-90 days in juvenile detention. When the thought of me being in juvenile detention became a reality that is when the severity of the consequences, the impact on my future, and how worse off I could be, all became blatantly obvious. The real threat of spending time locked in a cell immediately motivated me to do everything in my power to have a clean slate.

What was your reaction to being sentenced to CS with ROBBY’S VOICE?

At first, when I was sentenced to community service with Robby’s Voice, I really didn’t have much of a reaction. I wasn’t frustrated that I had to do community service because I knew through completion, I would get a fresh start. I didn’t have a reaction because I knew nothing about RV. I was a bit nervous to do community service because I figured that everyone would look down on me as another screw-up kid who is required to simply complete his hours and that is that. I wasn’t sure if the members, or RV, would understand that I was just a naïve kid who made a couple poor decisions and who had to face the consequences.

The first step that I took when was researching Robby’s Voice. . What I discovered had a very personal effect on me. I read Robby’s story and I connected with more aspects of it then not. For some reason, I found myself consciously thinking that Robby was just like me in so many ways. In a way, it scared me. In another way, it brought me peace. Peace with my situation that my struggle with marijuana and alcohol was not even in the same caliber as Robby’s struggle. I remember thinking while reading Robby’s story that I don’t even know what addiction means. I really had no idea. It is impossible to fathom what Robby was going through during his struggle with addiction. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the difficulty of his battle. I was weak. I wanted to give up at times I thought were difficult. My battle with addiction is not even credible in relation to Robby’s. From the point, I never have felt sorry for myself again. There is no room for complaining; there is only room for action.

I was motivated. I learned a major principle from Robby’s story. That principle is that even when you think that things could not get worse in your life, someone else always has or had it much more difficult. Instead of being remorseful of having to do community service for RV, I was eager to engulf myself in their mission. I knew this even before I made contact with Rob, the director of Robby’s Voice, and Robby’s father. When I told him that I was excited to do community service for RV he said, “Alright let’s be honest no one is excited to do community service.” I was nervous but truly was excited. I was nervous because I wanted to be accepted by this great organization for who I am and not be judged by my mistakes.

I first helped the organization with their annual 5k run. As soon as I arrived, and met a couple members of the organization, I knew there was no need to be nervous. I also met Rob in person for the first time and the mission of RV became clear to me. I am happy to say that I am also the first court-ordered community service member that was assigned to hours with RV and I could not have been luckier. I learned that RV is made up of friends, family, and members that all carry on the legacy of Robby by helping those in need of guidance or help.

Addiction is a disease and just with every disease it is not easy to beat alone. RV works to educate those suffering with addiction and their loved ones on the dangers and the confrontation of addiction. I am glad to be doing community service through RV. I have learned a great deal about myself and I have learned a great deal about those battling everyday. I will not forget some of the people that I met at the race because their optimistic attitude on this subject amazes me. I will continue to do work with RV even when I am not required by the court simply because I believe in the purpose they are serving as an organization in the community. I have broken my silence when it comes to addiction and my personal struggle through the help of Rob and RV. I want to help others “break the silence” as well.

What have you learned so far?

I have learned a variety of different things throughout the course of the situation. First, I cannot change the past, but I can change myself so that I am better in the future. I don’t want to sound cliché, but as a result of being at the lowest point in my life, it has motivated me to be the best I have ever been both emotionally and physically.

I am the healthiest I have ever been. For once in my life, I am totally invested in my schoolwork and the pursuit of a good education from an amazing university. This is cheesy but I found a girl that accepts me for who I am, even though I have made all of these mistakes. I am happy but not content. I wont be completely content until I have finally taken care of all the court requirements bestowed on me so that the charges against me will be expunged.

I have also learned that I am not invincible. I am susceptible to the law just as anyone else is. It is a shame that I once thought that I would never get caught and that I could get away with anything. I also learned a lot about myself. To be specific, I learned how much stress and pressure I can actually handle until I break. I have learned that being involved with the law only complicates everything else one has going on in their life. I have learned, and honestly believe at this point, that if I never got pulled over that night when I was 17 years old, I may be in jail at 19 years old, my current age. Getting into trouble was “a blessing in disguise” and I thank God for that.

I also learned that when they say that your parents love you “unconditionally” they are a hundred percent correct. My parents have stuck by my side and supported me on this journey and I am forever grateful for them. I was a hard kid to love as they watched me stand as the judge read the charges against me the first time I was in court, but they still did everything they could for me. It is unbelievable that I was blessed with such wonderful people as my parents and mentors in life.

Above all, I learned that everyone makes a few dumb decisions in their lives. The people that really face the brute end of those consequences are those that just don’t do anything to improve. The ones that come out stronger are those that build of those consequences to make themselves a better person by righting the wrongs they have done in any way they possibly can. I am confident that I am one of those people that would do anything to right my wrongs. Finally, I learned that even though sometimes you are required to do something that you may not like or may not see a purpose in, just do it. You might be surprised by what you learn about others as well as what you learn about yourself.

We want to thank Alex for sharing his story with Robby’s Voice.  We have high hopes for him and know he will succeed and accomplish all the dreams he has for his future. And we are also grateful to know that Robby is doing such great work from Heaven, touching people in ways we could never have imagined.

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Part 2: A Local Kid’s Story – The Consequences of Drug Use are Real

Posted by Chris Schinke, With 0 Comments, Category: Blog, Recovery, Tags: , , , ,

forgiveness-and-consequences-300x204This is the second post in a series – a firsthand account from a local high school student who began a journey with drugs and alcohol never thinking the man behind bars could be him. The author Alex and he shared his personal journey with Robby’s Voice. Often getting caught feels like the worst thing in the world, but it can bring acceptance and change.  We ended the first post when Alex was arrested. Here is more of his story.

What was it like going to court?

It was very intimidating going to court for the first time. The whole time that I was there I felt like I really didn’t belong. Being an 18-year-old who thought of himself as being a pretty good kid, I was not in my element. The thing that I didn’t really comprehend at the time was that I did belong exactly where I was in juvenile court. I broke the law. I broke the law many times actually, I just happened to finally get caught. Court was a very intimidating experience walking into a massive yellow building, which has a juvenile detention center that is connected to the back.

When I first laid eyes on the barb-wired fences, the severity of my offense really hit me.  I thought to myself, “I could end up behind those fences and all of the barb-wire. I would be a convict.” The thought of that happening to me made me shake with nervousness as I walked into the juvenile court building for the first time. The thing that made me most upset about the whole ordeal is that both of my parents had to be there with me. I had already let them down. Now they had to both take time off of work to sit in a courtroom as a judge read the charges that were against me. I had no idea what to expect court to be like, but when you are in that room, the focus is exclusively on you. No one in that courtroom knew the content of my character, with the exception to my parents and attorney. They only knew me based off of the paper that included all of my charges. I was guilty. I had an uphill battle to try to prevent me from ending up in detention. It was terrifying to say the least. I put myself in that situation, now I had to work hard to make sure that I never ended up in front of a judge again.

As I understand it, you didn’t adhere to the program first time. Why?

I wish I could explain why I didn’t adhere to the program the first time because things would be so much easier for me. I was given a second chance by the Diversion Program. The outline of the program was that I needed to pass random drug screenings for a full year, attend three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and provide a summary on each meeting that I attended. I would technically have been on probation for a year, but my record would be completely clean at the time of completion of this program. Again, I found myself unable to abide by the guidelines set forth by the law.  I was terminated from the Diversion Program when I failed a random drug screening in January of 2014. I don’t know what it was that prompted me to continue smoking marijuana, but I suffered the consequences, yet again.

Maybe I just didn’t take my punishment seriously. I recall thinking that if I smoked for 2 weeks after I took a drug test, which would give me enough time in between drug tests to get clean. I was sadly mistaken. I guess I thought I could squeak by. The first time that I had to go to court, it was actually at city hall in North Olmsted. I had been there many times before for random things so I don’t think that it struck a chord with me as much as it should have. I also didn’t fully realize the gravity of the situation I was in. I didn’t really think of how detrimental the charges were against me to my future. It wasn’t until I read the letter from the director of the Diversion Program for North Olmsted that I realized I had dug myself an even deeper hole. They say that two wrongs don’t make a right, but that is exactly the situation  I am in. They also say that there are no second chances, but I am lucky enough to have a second chance through my own hard work and the hard work of my attorney.

How do you feel knowing that at your age, you have a lawyer and a court record?

I am absolutely disappointed in myself that at the moment, I have an attorney that is fighting for me so that I don’t end up in detention or jail at 19 years old. It is also very depressing to think that I already have a court record. The whole purpose that I am going to college is to get a good education so that I can find a good-paying job after I get my degree. Having a court record may be the difference in whether or not I get a job in the future. That may be the deciding factor between myself and another candidate that is trying to get the same job as me. This scares me to the point where I want to do everything in my power to get all of the charges against me thrown out.

It is unfortunate that I am in this situation but in the end I have to realize that I put myself here. Another feeling that I get when I think of the fact that I have a court record is of extreme discouragement. Sometimes I feel like I want to give up and that I won’t complete everything I need to do for the court, but then a little voice in my head tells me, “Imagine how you will feel once this is all over?” The thought that I still have the opportunity to abolish all of the charges against me so that I can focus on school and hockey entirely keeps me motivated every day.

In the next post, we’ll learn more about how Alex thinks about his future today and what it meant to do service with Robby’s Voice. There’s a lot to learn here from Alex. I hope he knows how much his experience can, and is helping others.

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