“My name is Hannah, and I’m an addict and an alcoholic”.
While I appreciate that title, I am not defined by it. Nor is any other person struggling and haunted by an addiction. My addiction started when I was young. I believe it manifested itself within my depression. It was nothing circumstantial. I had a normal childhood and had two happy parents and never went without anything I needed. Somewhere in my young teenage years, though, I got really sad. I don’t know where it originated, probably just biological reasons. I found an escape in drugs. Around 17 years old is when I started this journey of addiction, sobriety, and redemption. I tried a treatment center, mental hospitals, 12-step meetings, sober housing, going cold turkey, running away to different cities, relationships, and just about any other thing you can think of that an addict might start with to change their life. I reached a point on November 26, 2013 that I no longer wanted to escape. I was going to face my addiction and stop trying to shy way from the fact that I had a mental disorder. Being homeless, sexually abused, mentally and physically abused, never sleeping or eating, not taking care of my body, contracting Hepatitis C, having nothing to my name, never seeing my son, having a family disappointed and afraid of me, using men to have a warm place to stay in the winter or a meal to eat, and spending every day for 5 years wanting to commit suicide, it just wasn’t appealing to me anymore. I wanted more. I wanted to feel whole again. I gained my will to live again. But, something about labeling myself as an addict made me SO mad. I hated that piece of me. I felt like it drowned out every good thing about me. I was an addict, so I was no longer a good mother or daughter or friend, I was no longer intelligent or bright, I no longer had a future, I no longer had the potential to carry out my biggest desire in life (I will get to that), and I wasn’t capable or even deserving of having healthy relationships… all because this label was suffocating me. It sounds so juvenile to blame my addiction on my inability to see my worth, but thats really only half of why I felt those things. The other half was Satan telling me how small I was on a minute by minute basis. Satan infiltrated my mind constantly. I was sober, but I wasn’t yet free.
Soon after pursuing sobriety, I met Zachary Brown. After Hours Meeting, 10pm, some church in Linden… I was HOOKED. This guy gave his lead at an AA meeting and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Through mutual friends, I found him on Facebook and I messaged him. Next thing I know, he’s sweeping me off my feet, showing me around a city that I knew nothing about, introducing me to his family and friends, being a support for me in a desperate and critical time in my sobriety, gifting me with a friendship that nothing will ever compare to. Then I fell in love, no surprise! Almost instantly, I knew this man was who I would spend my life with… or I thought. We got pregnant, decided to get married, and we started a life together. A lot of people frowned upon our decisions, others praised us for our perseverance. It was hard- two addicts with hearts of gold, and really hot tempers and racing thoughts and poor impulse control, trying to coexist. But it was our love for one another that kept us together until the very last moments. It was not codependence, as I heard many times. It was love.
A couple months after our son was born, I accepted Christ into my life. I do my best, but I have a hard time with reading literature… my attention span really isn’t the best. I just remind myself that its by faith and faith alone that my salvation is secured. My sins are no less and no more than anyone else, but I certainly have times where I sin more than usual. Since accepting Christ, its been a roller coaster ride of emotions and expectations for myself. But I at least feel whole. I felt a sense of purpose again. I still struggle with my identity today, but its something that is definitely a work in progress. God redeemed me from my heroin addiction. I am not saying thats the ONLY way out of addiction, but it was for me. Since accepting Christ, I also have lost any and ALL desire to take my own life, which was a major issue in my past.
Zach and I were celebrating our one year of marriage in August of 2015 when decisions were made by both of us that included alcohol. I am no better than he, but Zach had a harder time taming his addiction when he put alcohol in his body. It was like a sleeping bear, awakened without consent or deliberation, quick and raging. In very little time, he was admitted into a rehab facility where he got sober again. January 2016, Zach’s addiction was full blown again and raging like seas during a storm. I don’t think I spent a single night not crying myself to sleep. I was afraid. I begged God to heal his soul and bring him back to me and Silas. We fought constantly. We raged at each other. Mostly out of love because I couldn’t fathom the idea of losing the man that I loved more than myself. It was constant chaos between two people fighting against all odds and opinions of others to both stay together, and conquer an addiction strong enough to take down Goliath. Several times, it hit me: this must be what my parents felt when I was actively using heroin. I felt a lot of guilt when dealing with Zach’s addiction. A lot of burden to repair the damage I did to my parents. That burden turned into my insatiable desire to fix my husband. There was never a moment when I could let go. People would tell me to leave, but I just could not bring myself to walk away! I kept trying and trying. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but also had many triumphs. The 3 months before my husband passed away were the best 3 months of my life, and I say that without a shadow of a doubt. Not one ounce of second thoughts in that statement. Zach went to addiction treatment in June of 2016. After months and months of separation and anguish, I finally got him to go to treatment again. I begged him, and he finally went. I would visit him and attend family counseling during that time. I would drive the 3 hours to Ashtabula County to sit in a room of addicts and their parents/ loved ones, just day dreaming of a life with Zach, drug free. We would talk about our feelings and it was really uncomfortable. All I could manage to say was that I thanked God for my husbands life not being lost, and I couldn’t wait until he was out and our lives could go back to normal again. He would sit there and cry, hold my hands, and apologize, and thank me for never leaving him and never giving up on him. He thanked me for understanding his pain. He thanked me for loving him despite his sins and the pain he caused me and Silas. He hated who he had become, he hated that our son was fatherless for a period of time. He told me over and over that life would be different.
He got out of rehab on July 10th 2016. I picked him up, we got dinner at Rooster’s, he ate his weight in chicken wings, we went home, and we sat on the couch in complete silence. This is a moment in our marriage that I will NEVER forget. He put his left around around me, and pulled me close to him and laid my head on his lap. He held my head and shoulders like you would hold a baby. He just at there silently and kissed me. Then, these words, I will never forget, he said to me, “I’ll never leave you and Silas ever again. I promise”.
That moment defined the next 3 months. We did so much that summer! We both got dangerously addicted to Pokemon, hunting and pacing our neighborhood and local parks to catch imaginary creatures, competing, laughing, bonding, yes, over a video game! We saw the USA vs Canada WCOH game, we went to Cedar Point, saw Kanye West live, went to Detroit to see the Philadelphia Eagles for my 25th birthday, we took drives, tried new restaurants, visited family, went to a few weddings, and most IMPORTANTLY- Zach experienced being a father without being high, and he loved it. He bonded SO much with Silas in that time. Silas still asks for Daddy, and it breaks my heart. I would sneak photos all the time of him and Silas. I have a video on my phone of Zach playing with Silas, then he looked at the camera and asked if i was taking a video. As eerie as it is to me today, I said “Yes, I want to remember cute things like this!!!”. I will cherish every moment we had together as a family this past Summer. Of course it wasn’t ALL perfect, but it was perfect to me. And it was perfect to Zach.
Somewhere in October, Zach got really sad. I don’t know where it came from, parallel to my own depression and addiction before I got off drugs in 2013, it was almost as if it originated from the pits of Hell! Zach got sad. I got mad. I became bitter. We fought non stop for a couple weeks. I felt like everything beautiful and everything I prayed God would give to me (Recovery and a healthy family) was stripped away from me like an old band-aid. I ended up walking away from Zach and telling him that I wanted a divorce. I am entirely ashamed to admit this, as very few people know. It was 90% desperation for change, and 10% of me simply giving up because I felt so defeated by Satan. I regret this more than anything. I regret this more than my own addiction. Because, due to Zach’s steep mental decline, and me taking Silas and moving out, Zach relapsed.
After weeks of begging him to get sober, Zach finally surrendered and agreed to go back to rehab on November 18, 2016 (Silas’ birthday). The next day, Saturday the 19th, Zach and I spent hours and hours on the phone and texting back and forth trying to find him a bed at a rehab in Ohio. I thought he was just drinking and smoking weed, so there wasn’t much urgency on my end. But I could tell from his texts, Zach was completely broken and I had never seen him quite so driven to find help. I had never experienced him quite so shattered, and I was puzzled, but I kept trying. Finally, we got him a bed at Shepherd Hill in Newark, OH and we were scheduled to leave around 8am Sunday morning, November 20th. I was at a friends house that Saturday evening and me and Zach were texting about his plans post-rehab. We weren’t agreeing, and I told him we can talk about it later on and our problems didn’t need to be solved all in a day. That was around 8pm. I left my friend’s house and went to my parents house. I started calling Zach around 11pm that evening and he didn’t answer. I was sending texts and he wasn’t responding. It wasn’t like Zach to not respond to me. I figured he had passed out drunk or he was at a bar and wasn’t paying attention to his phone. I woke up the next morning around 7am and started calling him. he STILL would not answer. I had a feeling something was wrong. I told my mom “Im afraid Zach is dead”. My intuition just felt so strong that morning. I left my parents house and drove to my house in Worthington, about a 25 minute drive. I called Zachary 29 times on that drive, with no answer. I arrived, parked, left the car running with Silas in it, and went to the front door. I turned the key, opened the door, and found my dear husband- blue, cold, lifeless, soulless. I SCREAMED his name “ZACH!!!!!!”, so loud the neighbors down the street probably heard. I went to his body, put my left hand on his right cheek, and my right hand on his chest where his heart used to beat. He was cold. He was empty. His heart was still. His soul was gone. Somewhere between 8pm and 11pm Saturday evening, the DISEASE of addiction won my husband.
I ran out of the house and dropped my weight to my knees, so hard I had bruises there for weeks. I dialed 911 at 8:13am, and the ambulances and cops arrived. 8 first responders and 6 police officers flooded my home while I sat in my car and stared into space waiting to wake up from the nightmare. I actually slapped myself in the face a few times trying to wake up. I called my parents, I called his parents. We broke apart as a whole. My other half was ripped from me. Their son was torn form their eternal bond. My son lost his father and role model. Our Zachary Ryan was gone, forever. Why? Addiction. The DISEASE of addiction. Yes, DISEASE.
I will not lie, I am suffering greatly from PTSD, and I have yet to seek help. I close my eyes and I see his blue face, I smell the urine and vomit and the smell of the first stages of a decomposing body. I feel the sensation of his cold face and facial hair and his chest on my hands, I remember the cries from our dog Diesel, I remember the feeling of the cops hands under my arms, lifting me up, and walking me to my car where I would sit and wait while family members gathered and cried, neighbors watched out of their blinds and curtains, cops waiting for the detectives and coroner to come, the cold air freezing my limbs, the feeling of wanting to vomit, the tears, the hyperventilating, the weeks of rocking back and forth to try and rid my mind of all these sensations and haunting memories. None of it will go away. Ive tried being more social, but everything I look at reminds me of Zach. Somehow, theres a memory tied to everything in my life. Everything I look at, I think about my husband. It makes me crazy at times. But I am too afraid to seek help. If I find help, that means facing my pain, and that terrifies me. I have never been so alone in my life. You will never know heart break until the person you love more than yourself is gone. God created marriage. Satan ruined mine. I believe that 100%.
I am not writing this to tell you guys that I’m healed and God’s taken this from me. Because I am not healed. I am still haunted with the images daily, I still cry every single day, I still talk to Zach- I know… weird. But he was the best listener. He was my best friend. He was my companion and secret keeper. He knew everything about me. He was my biggest fan, even when things were bad, I knew he loved me. I hate Satan for taking him away from me. And I won’t lie- I’m kind of bitter toward God for letting this happen. Yea, I get it- you don’t have to lecture me on free will. This is between me and God. And only me and God. I will continue to seek my answers, and if God is who I think He is, those answers will be revealed.
But, Zach did not choose this. Zach was sick. Zach was ashamed to tell anyone what was going on. One thing I know I did right when dealing with Zach’s addiction, was I reiterated constantly- “I am an addict, too! I get it. I just want to help you. I want to give you what Gods given me. You don’t have to be afraid to open up to me! I love you, and you will always be loved!”. But he never would. Zach’s demons consumed him. Its nothing that I wasn’t aware of; in fact it was something I was very familiar with. I told our counselor in his rehab a couple times, that I felt like I had an advantage as his wife, because I understood the entirety of addiction. I knew his pain because I felt his pain. Like a blessing and a curse combined, I was experiencing addiction from the eyes of the addict and the eyes of the non-addict.
One thing that’s really been on my mind lately is the media’s constant attentiveness to this heroin epidemic. Ive seen several articles and videos and social media posts about this “epidemic, sweeping the nation, taking lives, and wasting the time of first responders and your tax dollars; this epidemic needs to be eliminated in order to cease the waste of resources”. Our Governor is so concerned with cracking down on the epidemic, that he’s now tackling controlled substances through pain management practices… because God forbid your fellow cancer patient or chronic pain sufferer has some relief… because they might become an addict and flood our hospitals, jails, prisons, and waste all your money… What Governor Kasich doesn’t know, is the addict is never created by circumstances. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies do not create addicts. The addict is born an addict, whether they choose to pick up a drug or not. I truly believe that I was born this way. It was my decision to get high to drown out my disease. An addict that loses their life to this illness is a tragedy. A tragedy that happens constantly. Im certain someone I know or know of, dies a couple times a month. Imagine how many people die every minute from this! If you don’t see this as a tragedy, instead of a nuisance, I feel sorry for you.
My husband was loving, caring, smart, handsome, quick-witted, funny, and determined. He was a good father, and a good friend. He was a good son and a good brother. He was a good man in general. He was not burnt out. He wasn’t a criminal. He wasn’t a waste of space. He wasn’t a waste of your “tax dollars”. God, Im so sick of reading that line!
Maybe if we spent more energy loving the addict, they wouldn’t feel so ashamed to reach out. I had no idea my husband was on heroin. When I found him dead, I was shocked beyond your wildest imagination. When the detective said there was heroin in the house, my heart sunk. I had no idea. My heart broke knowing that my husbands heart was too broken to tell anyone his secret. I knew he was drinking heavily and smoking weed. But I didn’t know his addiction took over so quickly and heroin was part of the equation. He was probably too ashamed to tell me because he knew I would be heart broken. I was picking him up to take him to rehab for his drinking problem. Had I known there was heavy drugs involved, I would have been more concerned, loved him harder, gotten him help sooner. But I honestly believe that he was too embarrassed to tell anyone, because the world labels addicts as criminals and worthless and stupid and a waste.
But we aren’t any of that. We are SO much more than that! We are wonderfully and fearfully created by God.
After Zach passed away, I started drinking. Every night I’d drink just so I could pass out without laying in bed crying until 5am until my body gave up. Eventually my body built a tolerance after drinking every day, so I started drinking even more, day by day, heavier and heavier. Last week, I reached a breaking point. I put myself back in my parents shoes, and the same shoes I wore when I found my dead husband, and remembered what sobriety meant to me. To me sobriety isn’t necessarily about the Promises that the 12-step meetings teach about. It kind of is. But to me, sobriety is freedom. My relationship with God is clouded when I am intoxicated. When Im drinking, the sole purpose is to forget. But then I forget everything- including my purpose. I truly believe that my purpose is to help people. I haven’t figured it out quite yet. But i know my compassionate heart cannot go to waste. Whether it is helping women or sharing my testimony, I know this has to be utilized; but I can’t see that when Im drunk. Sitting on my couch last week, bawling, I asked God to take this pain away. Somewhere within prayer, I knew part of my relief would come from sobering up. So I did. Haven’t had a drink in a week.
One lesson I learned from this horrific journey is that addition is, in fact, “cunning, baffling, and powerful”. I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that my husband will never call me again or walk through the front door after work and throw all his dirty clothes on the floor next to the laundry basket, sit on the toilet for an hour pretending to poop while he watches videos on ESPN and plays games on his phone, he will never hug me again or kiss me again. He will never laugh again or tell me stupid jokes. Silas will never have his Daddy again. Ill never get to the opportunity to love him again- because of the immense power of this disease.
All I want is to tell people is that you cannot love an addict too much. There is a very fine line between loving them and enabling them. In my experience with my parents, they NEVER stopped loving me. But they did stop giving to me. They stopped giving me the ability to survive easily. Once all my resources were exhausted, I hit an emotional rock bottom that eventually saved my life. But never once did they stop loving me. Their decisions to cut me off was the most influential act of love anyone has ever shown me, aside from God sending Christ to die on the cross. Mom and Dad, if you are reading this- thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Addicts are sufferers of an invisible disease. From my experience, I couldn’t even look in the mirror some times. I hated who I was, and who I had become. I hate that my self esteem was so low that I would do just about anything to get my next high. But after a shower and some clean clothes and brushed teeth, someone might never know. Looking back in the mirror would break me up and make me hate myself even more, just fueling my drug use, due to my disease. I hated that I felt like a parasite. I hated that I had nothing and nobody. I had no will to live to the next day, in fact some days I wished that needle in my arm or hand or foot or neck would be the one that killed me. I reflect on those feelings now, and I thank God for freeing me from that Hell. But so many addicts are still suffering. So many addicts out there need to be loved. They have no one. They have nothing. They have no will to live. They want to die because it feels easier than staying alive. I am not saying “give them money and open your home to them and give them whatever they want”. I am saying, love them. Meditate on how to love a person thats hard to love. This isn’t a material type of love. This is a type of love that parallels the love Christ had for us on Earth. It wasn’t deserved, it wasn’t worked for. It had no strings attached, and no dollar amount. Its the type of love that makes someone feel like maybe life is worth living if they get to feel that type of love a little bit more every day. Its the type of love that transcends our understanding, but we can try to carry it out, and share the Gospel with someone who desperately needs it. It saved my life. I wish I had done a better job at this for Zach. I am not saying by any means that his death is a result of anything I did or didn’t do. I am just saying, I wish I had done a better job. This is something I will regret for a long time, and no, you cannot talk me out of those feelings, sorry.
If you’re trying to love an addict that doesn’t want help, then you take a step back. Let them do what they choose to do… you CANNOT change them on your own. But never let them forget they are loved. Try your best to keep your words civil and kind. Remind them that they are important and you will be there the very moment they decide to surrender. Recovering from addiction takes a great deal of transparency and trust. I struggled with those two things the MOST in the beginning of my journey. Don’t expect them to open up to you or trust you right away. Just take it step by step.
We never know when tragedies are going to happen. I was afraid for a VERY long time that I would become a widow in my early 20s. Im a 25 year old widow. It just isn’t right. It isn’t what God wanted for me and Zach. God didn’t want my husband to die alone in an empty home, feeling the feelings he had. God wanted him to prosper. I wish every day I had told him I loved him a few more times. I wish I had at least gotten to say goodbye. This disease can kick your ass and take your life or someone you love. Don’t forget to tell them you love them, despite the things they do. I know its hard. But it is essential.
Hope. Does. Exist.