Six years ago, my brother Isaac was an alcoholic just starting to get sober. He had almost died, almost let the drink do the job of killing him.
He’d almost given up on his life.
Today is his birthday and I am miles away in LA. When I called him on FaceTime this morning, he was working at the gym he owns with his wife. He was wearing a polo with the logo embroidered on it. He was ribbing me for putting my name on the gift my other brother gave him.
When you almost lose a person once, twice, more times than any of us like to remember, that person’s birthday is a little more special. It’s a celebration not just of the life born that day, but the life reclaimed away from destruction. It’s a reminder that this person didn’t just come into the world, he chose to fight to stay in the world.
Isaac won’t mind me telling you this: he was a shithead when he drank. It nearly destroyed not just his own life, but so many parts of all of ours. When he was drinking, for a long time, he stared down the barrel of a gun pointed on himself. Not a literal gun with bullets made of lead, but a bottle crafted into a weapon he could turn inward, and sometimes, turn out toward one of us.
There was a time when Isaac’s next birthday wasn’t a certain thing. When we didn’t know if he was going to dig his way out of his pit and find his way back into the light. There was a time when the fog of addiction shrouded his future in a foul, dense mist. When, Isaac will tell you even now, he didn’t care to see the next morning or minute.
When he decided to get sober, everyday for him became an act of defiance — against himself, the alcohol, the feeling of oblivion it brought him. That daily battle transformed him. It transformed many of us to watch him, to walk with him while he did it, to everyday get further away from control, closer to freedom.
Four years ago this week, Isaac, my mom and I traveled to Hawaii for his wedding. He poked fun at my very real and fresh adoration for mai tai’s, but not once did I wonder if secretly he wanted one too. Because Isaac had found something else to live for.
Isaac had discovered he was here for a reason.
We all are.
Years ago, I moved my family to New York City. Isaac was newly sober, still carrying that six month medallion in his pocket, and he didn’t particularly want me to go. So, to make sure I thought about him all the way in Brooklyn, he wrote me a song.
He sat me down outside my uncle’s house after dark on the night before we left, strapped his guitar around his body, and started to play. Eventually, he would record that song and put it on an EP. I would carry it around on my phone and listen to it whenever I felt alone out there. When I got ready to move to LA, Isaac grumbled from his rocking chair, holding his new baby son on his lap, that I wasn’t getting a song for leaving this time, but he loved me anyway. He always would, no matter how far away I went.
Earlier this week, he texted me a recording he’d done of the song “Be Like That”. Acoustic and breathy, it was a promise, his way of being here for me while I take a giant leap.
Today, as I sit in my new living room in LA listening to my song and thinking about the brother I almost lost, I am thankful for the journey he took. All of it. No one should have to go through what he did, but no one is more thankful for his life than him. He lives with a purpose. He loves his sons and his wife with ferocity. He knows what it’s like to feel ugly and pointless and wasted, and he lives as an example that you can come out of it. You can be more than addiction.
Today, I am thankful he was born, but even more, I am thankful he chose to fight for his life.
Happy birthday little-big brother.