Healing on the Way - by Landon Roussel

So many families have been scraped raw by addiction. I love hearing recovery stories, but I am also aware of the fact that addiction is a family disease. Landon's story helps us share in the despair and hope of someone who loves an addict. This is his story:

At the age of eleven, my younger brother began abusing drugs. First it was the occasional joint at a friend's house. Then he began spiraling deeper into more serious substance abuse more frequently. By the time he was sixteen, he was getting high almost every day. As a consequence, he began to isolate himself from our family, spending most of his day in his room. He even slept through the family Christmas celebration. As his older brother, I never wanted to rat him out. Although we were twenty-one months apart in age but worlds apart in personality, I deeply loved him and accepted him.  I never wanted for him to see my disapproval of his poor choices as disapproval of him as a person.

Nevertheless, when my brother got stoned daily, I couldn’t just sit by and watch. So one day I told our parents. They confronted him. He confessed but refused to quit. Over the next six months, our family endured a collective hell as he insisted on his prerogative to do drugs. Knowing that I didn’t support his substance abuse, he unleashed a special fury on me. Once, when I dropped him off for work--with strict instructions from our parents to pick him up at the end of his shift--he told me that he would “fucking kill” me if I ever told our parents that he wasn’t coming home that night. Another time I tipped my parents off about where he had squirreled drugs away in our shared bathroom, and the next morning, he found me in class, pushed me and threatening that he would “fuck you up” if he found out that I was the one that told mom and dad about the drugs. I was so afraid of him that I moved out of home to stay with a friend, feeling unsafe in my very own home. After several months of his destructive behavior, he got arrested for truancy, and my parents, with the help of the judge, were able to get him remanded to an in-patient drug rehab in a rural ranch several hours from our house.

Right after my brother completed long-term rehab, I left for college. Given the scars he left me with, I distanced myself from him. We would see each other once or twice a year for Christmas or summer vacation, but our exchanges were minimal. I would never call him, and even when my mom  would tell me about his struggles with addiction, I would listen silently and not ask any questions. I had forgiven him, but the wounds of his addiction were too fresh. Hearing about his seemingly losing battle with drugs and alcohol was handling bleach with an open wound.

Eventually, his addiction drove him to homelessness in San Diego, where--in hopes of lifting himself out of abject poverty--he succumbed to the temptation to drive an illegal alien across the US-Mexico border. He was caught, charged with human trafficking, to which he pled guilty. Once in prison, he and I began to connect through hand-written letters. Through our correspondence, I learned that he had experienced a genuine change while incarcerated. In the holding cell of a federal courthouse, he recounted, he had a heart-changing experience where he let go of anger, hate and spite had fueled his addiction. 

As we continued to correspond, our connection deepened. On one of these letters, I expressed to him the hurt he left me with. He asked for pardon for having hurt me and for help getting back on his feet again. While writing one of these letters, it occurred to me that we needed a concrete plan to truly reconnect after he was released. It had been over ten years since he started using drugs, and he and I had scarcely communicated until he was in prison. So, I proposed that we walk the Way of Saint James, also know as El Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage in Northern Spain across the Iberian Peninsula to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the tomb of St James the Elder, an apostle is thought to be buried. Having walked the Way with my wife several years prior, I believed that it would offer just what we needed--nature, simplicity, and silence to focus just on each other.

Two months after my brother was released, we walked the Primitive Way of St James. Commencing in Oviedo, we began our trek walking through the Asturian Mountains. Spending time together in the wild, I found much-needed healing of wounds from our past. When on a rainy afternoon we lost track of each other in a little mountain town, I was forced to grapple with the reality that my avoidance of communicating with my brother stemmed from a fear of losing him. It was then that I realized the importance of simply living with him in the moment, for I never knew when I would have such time with him again. And when we both had different opinions about where to walk, we were forced to work out our differences in a civil, reasoned manner, which we had not been able to do before then, as I was simply too afraid to engage him at all. At the end, when we arrived at Santiago de Compostela, I remember sitting with him in a small breakfast room in the Hotel of the Catholic Kings, talking to each other as if we had never been estranged. As one pilgrim later told me, “if I hadn’t learned your history together [of you and your brother], I wouldn’t have known...you looked really happy together.”

Not long after we walked the Way, my brother was unexpectedly killed. He was found beaten to death in a parking garage. Devastated, I felt at first like Job, struggling to make sense of such evil in the face of a seemingly good God. Yet thinking of his death always led me to reminisce about his life, the best memory of which I have of him which was from the Way of St James. I would never have imagined that he would die so soon after our pilgrimage, but I am grateful for our reconciliation. For without our reconnection on the Way of St James, we never would have found much-needed healing after enduring such hurt.


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If you would like to read more of Landon's story, you can get his book here.

Or visit his website: On the Primitive Way