Wasted: Exposing the Family Effect of Addiction | Sam Fowler | TEDxFurmanU

I have some people that I would like you guys to meet this is my family now for a while I felt that my family was different now I know what you're thinking you look at this picture and you think they don't look different they look perfect and polished and happy well I felt different for a very long time the reason I felt this way is because of the little boy on the left side of the screen that is my oldest brother he was diagnosed with the disease five years ago and it's changed my life in ways that I couldn't fathom before the disease I'm referring to his addiction my oldest brother is an addict and he's been struggling with substance abuse for about five years now now it's really important for me to frame this to you as a disease because that's exactly what it is it's been a really long time for me to grapple with that idea in my head when I first heard about addiction and saw it in action I thought it was something monstrous scary but my brother described it to me in this way he told me that it feels like if someone put a cup of water in front of you and you haven't had a drink in three days you're incredibly thirsty then they try to have a conversation with you while sitting right next to it odds are you're not gonna care about what they're saying about the relationship or about how you're behaving the only thing you can think about is having that glass of water now imagine if you were in that kind of survival mode all the time how you would act and how you would think and how you would feel this survival mode is what has caused a lot of internal psychological repercussions in my family I learned about all of this when I first went to a rehab when I was in high school as far as my friends knew I was on a fun beach vacation in Palm Beach on my snapchat it was all pictures of palm trees and the pool and fun but in reality we were going to rehab for a family weekend had addiction center that's where they told me something that changed my life forever they told me that addiction is actually more dangerous for family members than for the addict themself and I know that doesn't make much sense it didn't make any sense to me at all I didn't understand how a drug that I wasn't using could be dangerous to me over the years it unfolded and they understood why the reason this is is because in the very worst moments of addiction and the overdoses and the relapses the suicide threats the addict is numb they're completely unconscious to who they are and what they're feeling but the family is sober not only do they have to watch somebody that they love turn into somebody that they don't know but they also have to watch them turn into somebody that they might fear which is what I've experienced I first experienced the psychological effects of the family disease that I like to call addiction when I was 16 years old I was 16 I woke up one morning my parents were out of town and my other brother was gone as well and it was just me and my oldest brother in the house I was ecstatic because we were finally at that age where we could be friends and we could start getting to know each other on a deeper level I woke up that morning with plans of what we were gonna do that day how we were gonna spend it bonding and doing our favorite activities I went to his room to wake him up for a brunch reservations knocked on his door and there was no answer so I walked in that's when I saw him on the bed motionless I thought he was just sleeping so I went over and sat on his bed that's when I saw him trying to murmur words to me that didn't make any sense and he was trying to move and cut in and I felt his hand it was cold and it was beating so slow his heartbeat it's going so slow at that moment the only thought in my head was is my brother dying I'm sixteen I don't know what that looks like I don't know if this is an overdose or relapse he's just sleepy I couldn't tell but I knew I was too small to pick him up and put him anywhere and taking the hospital I didn't know who to call or what to do and the only thing I could think is how do I save my brother's life at that moment I couldn't decide anymore if I wanted to have a childhood I couldn't decide if I cared about who I was taking to homecoming that weekend or if I had a math test on Monday all of those seeing things suddenly seemed very arbitrary when it came to something so life and death at that moment everything changed and I started to harbor these feelings of fear every day it would be a happier story for me to tell you that that was a one-time occurrence but it wasn't that's something that I've experienced so many times over these past five years and my family has as well the phone calls and the suicide threats and the terrifying moments when you think it might be your last words to that person now imagine with me for one moment somebody you love more than anything in the world imagine them in your head now imagine if every morning every night you woke up with the thought I went to sleep with the thought that they might be dead the next day imagine what that would do I can tell you what it did to me at first it was just anxiety then it turned into chronic anxiety and then chronic depression eventually and recently and turned into suicidal thoughts of my own which was terrifying and even more recently self-harm which is something I never thought I would do to myself but addiction and seeing it in action effects your mind in a different way you start to become numb to the idea of death and you start to become numb to these terrifying events more than that I knew that if I came and told my family what I was feeling or if I went and told my friends it would seem stupid because what do my emotions matter when somebody's life is at stake why should I share my experience I thought of myself for a very long time in one word a burden I thought that I was going to be a burden if I opened up and shared what I was feeling I thought it didn't matter I decided silently to myself that I would be anonymous that I wouldn't talk about it but no one was going to know about this because I didn't want to put any extra stress on my family and my friends put them through anything more than they needed to go through it wasn't just me who decided to be anonymous my family silently and collectively decided to do this as well we thought together this will be the best way to conquer addiction we won't talk about it it'll be hidden no one will know and we continue life as normal the show must go on same way it always has the reason we started doing this at the beginning was because we wanted to save my brother we thought that anonymity would be the way to make him safer to put him in the shadows so that people wouldn't judge him differently as see him differently maybe that he would not get a job or his friends would leave or something like that but then we started realizing it wasn't working and maybe the real reason we wanted to be anonymous wasn't to save him but to save ourselves there's a stigma against addiction in our culture that we don't like to acknowledge we like to think of families of addicts as almost bad families often I hear when I say that my brother's an addict people ask me what happened in his childhood to make him become an addict what traumatic event triggered this right well I'm here to say we were raised the same way it could have easily been me that became an addict and that I just equate to luck sometimes it's not necessarily about a traumatic event or a bad family it is a disease inside of your brain but having that stigma for us and thinking that we were going to be viewed as a bad family and that we were all bad in some way may just want to stay hidden it's not just my family and I that decided that Anonymous was the best way to go Society has done that as well think about the biggest weapons we have against addiction in our society Alcoholics Anonymous Narcotics Anonymous they even have family groups but they're all anonymous my question is why do we think that this helps why do we want to stay anonymous well I believe we only want anonymity for two reasons the first is fear we they're afraid of the addict of what the disease is of what they've done about what people think of us or we're ashamed we're ashamed to have them in our life that they're part of our family that we might have done something to caused them to be this way and that's not true we're ashamed to recognize that this is a part of our society and for me I was ashamed to recognize that this was a normal occurrence in my life that was just something that was happening after all the years of seeing how addiction affects families I can tell you two things number one I am Not Afraid of addiction anymore I'm not afraid number two I am certainly not ashamed of my brother I love my brother I think he's brilliant and the fact that he has disease saddens me but does not make me ashamed to call him my brother and to have him in my family what I propose is vulnerability we also have a belief that vulnerability equates to weakness we think of it as our Achilles heel something that can completely destroy us but I think vulnerability might be the only way we can fix the I'm not here to necessarily bring awareness to addiction if you've seen addiction in your life you know what it can do you're pretty aware what I'm here to do is to give it a face different than how you've imagined it before as I bet when you first came in here you might have viewed it addiction as something dark and scary and dirty but what if I told you addiction looks something more like this my family we keep addiction in the dark and that is our biggest mistake because addiction is an interesting disease and that it completely thrives in the darkness that's where it does its absolute best work darkness thrives in the darkness which is why I think we need to bring this problem to light vulnerability is amazing to me it's absolute courage vulnerability is a mother sitting down her child's like my mother did last summer she held my hands and I saw her cry for the first time in my life when she cried she told me that she was afraid never in my life have I had more respect for another woman than in that moment because to admit you're afraid to a child somebody that you've tried to be composed around for so many years that means the world phoner ability is watching your sister talk about addiction and talk about your family in front of you and hope that she says the right thing vulnerability is telling the world that you've self harmed not knowing if they're gonna see you differently to me that is not how I show weakness it's how I show strength through all of this my anxiety and sadness hasn't necessarily come from a place of worry it's more come from a place of feeling voiceless feeling completely unseen my brother's expressed this to me as well that not only does he feel voiceless but that no one even cares to listen no one cares well by listening to me today I have to thank you because you've given me a voice now if everyone would do me a favor and please take out your cell phone and turn on the light and hold it up high like I said addiction makes you feel voiceless I think we need to give it a voice the world that I envision to be perfect is not one where we completely mask everything bad and shove it to the ground and pretend it doesn't exist the world that I envisioned to be perfect is one where we can say yes these awful things happen has happened to me it's probably happened to you and yet even then we can be brave and strong and we're going to continue because there is so much love in this world in an ironic twist fate tonight I am also celebrating my 21st birthday well as you can imagine there's not gonna be any alcohol in celebration of my 21st birthday and I could not care less I really couldn't because while there will be no alcohol tonight the lack of alcohol there will be absolutely no lack of love because in the end I don't think my story's been one about pain and sadness and fear it's been about every single person along the way who has encouraged me and supported me and held me up when I thought I was going to fall down who have given me a backbone who have been someone to cry to someone to hug someone to love one that is what my story's about it's all the people in life in my life and in your life that make life worth living an addiction worth surviving thank you [Applause]

46 thoughts on “Wasted: Exposing the Family Effect of Addiction | Sam Fowler | TEDxFurmanU

  1. Thank You Sam your Courage is your strength , im suffering in silence and wish to talk to someone however that word or feeling of shame and other emotions keep this dilema at bay. can you or some readers that have recomendations in Melbourne Australia as it is a Global fenominom , i pray for all the silent Parents and siblings to be as courgageous as you have Shown on this Talk , Thank You and may you find rest and healing also for Your Brother to be healed of this health challenge and your Family also ,

  2. This is why it is so important to convince people to not try drugs in the first place….to include cigarettes.

  3. As someone who has struggled with addiction himself. I will say, i firmly believe all addicts have had something traumatic happen or have a chemical imbalance and are very depressed. No one goes thru the madness and pain of addiction for just a defect. The feeling you get from your chosen substance, is the feeling of normal. You finally feel balanced and soon you can’t live without it. Everyone searches for the thing that helps. Sadly for addicts it’s something that also hurts us. It’s our crutch, only difference is our crutch only makes our “broken leg” stay broken and continue to become more damaged.
    Amazing talk for real.

  4. You are so strong. I have never heard someone speak about addiction with so much strength. You inspire me and I am also 21, I hope I can deal with the addiction in my family as strongly.

  5. A disease as a terminally ill cancer patient not someone who made bad Choices It's a horrible thing to go through for a family but it is no disease. By trying to make addiction out to be a disease only gives addicts an excuse and less responsibility for themselves this is a very dangerous approach to this self brought on condition

  6. It’s not a disease, it’s a condition. It’s horrific and you lose all self control, but it’s not a disease

  7. If one parent, (or even worse both) drink the family will be dysfunctional. A drunk can not make logical decisions.

  8. Everything you mentioned happened exactly to my ex, and also I reacted the same like you said, which is blame on her family. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. The world needs this now

  9. I use weed and cocain daily to the point were it is almost my persona, but one time I came home wrecked on drink and drugs and i was able to have A heart to heart with my da and it really broke down the tension in the fam and I stoped hurting my self.Moral of the story I gained insight from his perspective on how i was affecting the fam makeing them depperesed and anixos Im dyslix

  10. It's not a disease. It's absolutely a choice. Claiming so allows addicts to not take any responsibility for their actions. It's a crutch. This narrative is harmful and is not backed up by science. Medically this is entirely false.

  11. She's dealt with an addict for 5 yrs, try being around one for over two decades. My question is how to love an addict and not be an enabler at the same time? In my case the addict has done all of the above plus told countless lies that have eroded trust. How can you love someone you cannot trust?

  12. I grew up the child of a very mean alcoholic mother, and yes a lot here felt the same way as a kid. I ended up drinking heavily for 30 years and cutting her out of my life (14 years now) because I couldn't cope with it anymore. Finally sought help, got into treatment and started looking into what happens growing up with an alcoholic, and videos such as this. I now realize the fact that she was above all completely sick. An illness she did not choose! Which I believe will help with recovery in dealing with and letting go of the past. Thank you so much for this strong, positive speech. A tremendous spark to what therapy was already moving me towards.

  13. My Brother who we all adore, is also an addict. It’s devastating for our family as he will be ok for a while, then slip back into it. I think yours is such a great perspective about addiction. As families, we all suffer in silence too much. We have Cancer awareness and support…Why not addiction awareness?! I hope this becomes a recognised thing in future. 💕

  14. Thank you Sam, you shed plenty of light on how my disease effected my family. With certain family and friends is hard to not be anonymous because we feel that they won’t understand or will judge. But others we’ve opened up too have only shown love and support. We all hope to conquer this thing and live a happy, and healthy life.
    Going to be in treatment any day now and feel a little scared and happy at the same time.

  15. 21 years old and probably one of the best Ted talks I've ever heard youre amazing kiddo and thank you for your words you mean the world to me. I have struggled with Alcoholism my entire life and hearing you speak the way you did on this Talk made me feel very different about my disease and how I can heal it. Thank you so much

  16. Family secrets can persist. Being raised by a doctor's family, we would never think of sharing the deep dark secret that my father was a serious alcoholic. The pressure placed on a first born in a doctor's family can be enough to have you believing you are worthless. Implicit memories (subconscious memories) can also create serious issues of insecurity and abandonment. These can occur with issues of parental conflict and postpartum depression. Babies do not know what is wrong with mom. There is much more than meets the eye. Trauma and the lack of a consistently available healthy parent can mess a little baby up. Those implicit memories do not go away without healing and awareness. I would hope that more people educate themselves to the many factors which can leave a person in a state of mind that a drug can substitute for real down to earth love and connectivity. They are people suffering from a disease. With most diseases we strive for healing. With addiction we are inclined to place blame somewhere. Perhaps we should all become part of the solution not part of the problem.

  17. Thank you for your courage..our family relates to this completely..We lost our family member to this disease in 2016..my son..I will share with my son and daughter who are still with us..For the people who are battling the "family Disease" This will be so helpful..We all need to talk about it as Silence feeds the disease

  18. My 16 year old, once vibrant and happy son is an addict. In the space of one year he has become someone I do not know. He is a criminal and a liar and completely lost. This is physically the most painful thing I have ever endured. I understand your fear and suicidal thoughts as I live it every day.

  19. Thank you Sam. Think how many families have suffered in silence in these ways. Think of the number of families in North America grieving the loss of a loved one. We must lose the stigma. Addiction is a disease, it is not a moral failing. spread the word everyone. Lets end the stigma!

  20. I think you are the sweetest and most passionate person ever! It definitely took great courage to stand up and speak out about this. Please keep talking out about this and trying to break the stigma of addiction. I made it a life goal to help those struggling with addiction to find treatment, peace, and love that they desire! It is an uphill battle, but it can be done and it needs to be addressed in a compassionate manner for the individual, the family, and the community.

  21. Samantha, I believe that most things in ones life are triggered by life events. When you say you were raised the same, that may be true that your parents were the same with each of you (sending you to same schools, giving you same opportunities etc.) however that does not mean your life experiences were the same as your brother. I wonder if you ever considered the impact of “Coach Ricky.” Many people who are abused as children become addicts. Please do not discount the impact of abuse or be afraid and ashamed to explore this possibility. God Bless.

  22. Sam, I know your family from Tampa and knew you at St. Mary's. I'm so proud of you for the courage this took and the vulnerability you have shown. My family also has addiction inside of it and I have felt so many of the same feelings you have described. Once you know another person or family struggles with this, we all become more connected. It is my prayer that God will heal our loved ones and will give all of our hearts the strength to support each other through the hard times. Congrats on your beautiful talk. Know that you are not alone.

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