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My Brothers’ Weaknesses Are My Strength

My Brothers’ Weaknesses Are My Strength

It was obvious to everybody who knew my brother, Mark, that he would die from alcoholism. And he, also knew it, and he knew it would be a slow and agonizing death. He also knew his time was up and he no longer would care for himself. His choice was to keep drinking and his goal was to stay drunk.

My brother, Mark Drew Erickson, died on November 13, 2005. He died of alcohol abuse, cirrhosis of the liver, cellulites–a flesh-eating disease and vascular failure, due to chronic alcoholism in its final stage. He bled to death and his heart stopped beating. A procedure was done with a needle to drain fluid from his obese stomach. It failed, because it wasn’t fluid, it was solid mass and organ damage. He was on life support and he was unconscious. His prognosis was fatal. The solution was to pull the plug and administer large doses of morphine–and die. He had choices in the beginning. He had no choice in the end. He was only 55 years old.

When I first noticed the written sign of death on Mark, it was nine days prior to his expiration date. On this visit, I noticed all his blinds were pulled shut–this was out of character, and his television and stereo were turned off–totally out of character. He was sitting in his dilapidated, broken down, old recliner. The mood was dark and silent. He wasn’t saying much to anyone, including myself. He looked so far away and his voice was weak and wandering. I insisted he go to he hospital, but his stubbornness won out. When I returned home, I advised his closest, childhood friend, “you had better go see him soon, he’s about to die.” I saw his name in his gravestone.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened, but it was the second to the last of his grand finale. Mark was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in the early ’90s. His doctor, then, said “one more drink will kill you.” He was prescribed various medications to halt the progression, and afterwards, his yellow-colored skin would improve greatly. And when it did, he would begin to drink some more. Mark was the type of chronic alcoholic, that if he were gifted a new liver from a generous donor, he would celebrate the event by getting drunk and stay drunk. He was hooked on every kind of alcohol imaginable. He even admitted to me, that when he was out of booze, he would drink after shave lotion and mouthwash if it had alcohol in it. His choice was not beer, liquor was quicker.

When I visited Mark at his home, only three days prior to his death, I barely recognized him. He had blood all over him and in the area he was sitting. His legs were swollen, the size of tree stumps, and his flesh was rotting away. His stomach was grossly obese, larger than a woman’s in full-term pregnancy. He had sores all over his body. He was incoherent and probably in shock. His picture was gruesome. He understood me enough, this time, to take my advice and have the paramedics take him to the nearest emergency room. He wanted to wait until Saturday–but it was only Thursday–and I insisted he go now, and he signed his name for his approval to be admitted. The paramedics wasted no time to hook him up to the necessary life- sustaining equipment–on the spot–as they took him in.

In his earlier and sober years, Mark was a very normal, good looking, intelligent and talented young man. He taught himself how to play the bass guitar. And he played it very well. He began joining garage bands and later played for functions at dance halls. We had wonderful parents and a very happy childhood.

Mark and I began drinking about the same time, although he was almost three years my senior. He was about seventeen and I was fourteen. It all started out so innocently. About three or four years later, it started to be a habit with us to drive down to Ruston Way, in our hometown of Tacoma, Washington. Ruston Way was a secluded spot back then, in 1970, before it was the mecca it is today. There, we would guzzle down a quart of beer each. We had fun. It wasn’t too long after, we proclaimed to each other, “it seems to take more beer to get drunk,” as we were now bringing down a half-case of beer, and later a case. Those words still haunt me today as I reflect back to the earlier days of our habits we shared.

I am no stranger to alcoholism. Today, I am a recovering alcoholic. I have withstood many, many years of drinking and came out of it reasonably healthy. I have had nine DUI convictions, plus two more were amended, and I ran away with two in another state, after my arraignment there. I have been incarcerated to a few jail terms. I have been on probation more than three times. I have been in an inpatient treatment center and outpatient counseling too many times. I was very fortunate not to have caused any accidents or hurt anybody physically during my long-term, addicted illness. I have tried to commit suicide twice. I almost burned up in a fire for leaving my overcooked food on the stove top, then passed out. The fire department woke me up. I found my oldest brother, Donald, dead from suicide when I was high on angel dust. His brain matter was splattered all over his walls. He was also a chronic alcoholic, dead at the young age of thirty- six. He, also, was brilliant and good looking. This happened when I was only twenty-two years old. I have had numerous relationships with girlfriends that failed.

There wasn’t much difference in Mark’s style of drinking than mine, except he was a closet drinker and I was a more public drinker. I believe the only reason that somebody else hasn’t written my obituary before Mark’s, is that I took better care of my health and held down jobs that kept me busy.

I stopped drinking alcohol on July 4th, of 2003, a very important Independence Day for me–my independence from alcohol. If my wife, Bobbie, had beaten cancer, she would have been so proud of me today. I lost her in 2001. She is another reason I am living today and writing this story. Since I had met her, my drinking became less frequent. She was my inspiration in seeding the root to sobriety.

I have made the tragic deaths of my two older brothers, a positive living example, for my brothers’ weaknesses, was–and always will be–my strength.

I will miss my brothers, Donald and Mark, the way I use to know them while I was growing up, before the stranglehold of this powerful addiction began to cripple them and myself. My brothers burned many bridges with family, friends and neighbors, but the one bridge they won’t burn is the last one they both crossed–God’s bridge in heaven. His bridge won’t burn. I believe in my heart and mind, that Donald and Mark are both happy now with their Maker. They are free of all disease– especially the disease of alcoholism.