By Trey Dyer
They didn't start haunting me right away, those ghosts of the night, stirring me from restful sleep. I honestly can't remember exactly when the first one happened, but I've had dozens since they began.
Each one has a different setting. Sometimes I'm at my parents’ house. With others, I find myself magically in Colorado, where my brother goes to college. And with some of them I'm wandering around in places I don't recognize.
But every nightmare has the same theme and they all end the same way—my brother tells me he relapsed again.
I had just graduated from college when my brother was just beginning his post-secondary education. He wasn't interested in learning back then though. It was at college where his drug addiction became glaringly apparent to me, and, really to our whole family.
Near the end of his first semester, he entered an inpatient drug addiction treatment facility and began on a path to recovery. While treatment was effective at first, he relapsed into even more heavy use.
Well . . . that relapse led to more. He was going for broke.
Once the staff at the sober-living facility he was living at kicked him out for using drugs again, he started binging like he was Jordan Belfort driving home from the country club. I knew that he'd gotten bad, but after seeing the extent of his drug use after his relapse, I couldn't believe it.
I'll be honest—his use terrified me. Anytime I met with him was potentially the last time I might ever see him again. I didn't want to lose my little brother!
But I'm one of the lucky ones, and so was he. My brother rose above his addiction and found a treatment program that was right for him. For the first time I can remember, he took that challenge head on. He showed a level of dedication that I really never thought would be possible.
That was the first gift: I had my brother back.
After his treatment program ended, he continued to make sobriety his number one priority. He even started taking leadership positions in AA meetings. He became active in the outdoors and started snowboarding and hiking regularly. He reclaimed an interest in school and started studying to get his degree in psychology. One day, he hopes to open a his own treatment center.
The brother I knew before he got sober was a guy who was high all the time. The only way you could describe our relationship was "strained." Our conversations were superficial, at best.
After treatment, here was a young man who had transformed his life. He really changed!
He changed back into the kid I knew when we were growing up together. We were able to talk again. He had a personality again instead of being a zombie moaning in and out of every day, stoned out of his mind.
What blew me away was how eliminating that one aspect of his life—drug use—radically changed everything else too!
I think my nightmares started sometime after I saw how much my brother had changed and how well he was doing.
I was no longer afraid of him dying from his drug abuse, but I was afraid he would go back to it.
That fear (that someone you care about will fall back into oblivion) I've come to learn is common. For me, the fear manifested itself in my dreams.
Sometimes in the dreamworld, I catch my brother doing cocaine or smoking weed when I walk into a room and I see him.
But sometimes he turns and simply tells me that he's started down that terrible path again.
The nightmares always end the same way. I wake up feeling sick and breathing heavy. Then it takes me a moment to realize that it was a dream before I'm overwhelmed by relief. Most people who have reoccurring nightmares will do anything to escape them. Their nightmares are a curse.
However, for me that's not the case.
Instead, I'm thankful.
My nightmares are the reminder that my brother is not in the trouble he was in when he was struggling with drug use. They show that my brother changed, and in the process, saved his life.
They show that I worry about who my brother used to be and not who he is today. Of course, the risk of relapse is always a reality, but I trust in the good work he's done for himself.
To me, these nightmares are a blessing. They are the gift I suddenly get, late at night, that my brother is well again.
what I once thought was a curse, actually has become one of the greatest gifts ever.