About Loss and Addiction

I am thinking about loss today due to a number of recent tragic events. But mostly, I’m thinking about my brother Mark. He died, alone, 19 years ago today. He was just 42 years old.

Mark was a beautiful soul. He was highly intelligent — the kind of guy who could figure you out in a New York minute. He was funny, inventive and curious. He had massive potential. But it was stolen from him.

Theft #1
As an adolescent, Mark was athletic. He developed focus around competitive sport. Like some kids in this situation, he placed his trust in an adult coach who abused that trust. Nothing can force a young person into adulthood faster. Nothing can taint a life more profoundly.

Theft #2
Mark started to use drugs young. First it was pot and hash. His room was often bathed in a blue haze of cigarette and marijuana smoke. He was still Mark. A funny guy you looked up to because he “knew his way around.” He started to get into trouble, though. You could feel an “edge” creeping in. I don’t know for a fact, but I believe he was mixing with guys in gangs and getting into some serious physical scraps.

Theft #3
Dad was hard on Mark, and Kevin, my younger brother. The short version is that my dad was an alcoholic. He was violent when he was drunk, which was about an hour after he got up each day. He hit my brothers sometimes. He never hit me or my sisters, but he pushed my mom around a bit, too. Mark didn’t like that and there was always the possibility of blows between Mark and my dad.

Fast forward to 1976. My dad had built and destroyed several businesses trying to feed the family. He couldn’t manage with the amount he was drinking. His brain was becoming soaked. He’d been in and out of pscyh wards with bi-polar disorder and psychosis. Mom had to leave with my sisters and finally, Dad moved out.

Theft #4
On an October afternoon, my dad called Mark and asked him to meet him for dinner at a nearby hotel he was staying at. He asked him to bring Kevin along. Mark would have been 20 years old. Kevin was about 18. They got no response when they knocked on the door of the hotel room, so they went to the front desk and asked for help. When the door was open, my brothers saw the result of my dad putting the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth and pulling the trigger.

Mark sucked it up “like a man”. He took over the role of “dad” to my two baby sisters. They were only 9 and 7 years old when they lost their dad. He took them on camping and fishing trips, regaling them with magical stories they still repeat to this day.

But this was a young man in massive emotional pain, with responsibilities far beyond his capacity.

Theft #5
I don’t know how soon after that Mark started using heroin, but it happened. I almost have to ask, how could he not seek the solace and warmth of that release from pain. Expensive habit, H. Mark worked for a while at a local lumber mill, but lost that job. He was arrested for armed robbery. He went to prison.

I felt better when he was in prison. I felt like, at least he got three squares and no drugs. In all honesty, though, I doubt it was in any safer. I can’t imagine what went on in there, but it can’t have been good.

When he got out, Mark was still an addict. We tried an intervention. Family flew in from Toronto. Mark left before we could even get 10 minutes into it. He continued to use. He continued to do whatever he had to do to feed his addiction. He stole from others, he stole from his family. His addiction took over his life, and we were no longer seeing Mark—only his addiction.

Somehow, 19 years ago today, Mark was using a cocktail of drugs, some prescription, some self-administered. He wasn’t feeling good, so he went to Vancouver General Hospital. After what was apparently a long wait, he slumped over in his seat in the waiting room, and he died.

I struggle every day to understand how this happened to someone so talented, with so much potential and with so many people who loved him so much. My siblings and I miss him every day. He was torn away from us, theft by theft.

Mark is the impetus for my research on the public’s perceptions of people who are homeless. Some of them are addicts, just like Mark. I feel love and compassion for every one of them. And, like everyone else, a bit of apprehension. I wonder if we can sow a seed of that compassion that can grow in us all.

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Casey Hrynkow, WIK*D Design Thinking

Casey Hrynkow, WIK*D Design Thinking

DesignThinking will shape our future. I am a design strategist, co-creation facilitator and teacher. Blog at http://bit.ly/2nGFo2u