“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have turned to the Serenity Prayer many times in my life when I feel lost or overwhelmed and need direction.  When I sat down to write about the journey that led to my becoming an advocate for recovery from addiction, this prayer came to mind.

While it’s not easy, I do accept that my brother Kyle died.  There are days when I feel at peace with this fact; he is free from his demons, he is whole and happy and no longer living with the two illnesses that made much of his life such a struggle.

Then there are the days that I’m angry, and sad, and question everything about Kyle’s last days and weeks on earth, torturing Kerri Wojcikmyself with “what-ifs.” It pains me to my core that I will never spend another holiday with my brother, that my boys won’t grow up with their Uncle Kyle around, that they still ask me at least once a week why Uncle Kyle died even as we approach the one year anniversary of his death.

I don’t have a good answer for them.  Why does a healthy, smart, strong, 29-year-old man die?  How do you explain an accidental heroin overdose due to fentanyl poisoning to 3- and 5-year-old little boys?

I can’t accept that opioid overdoses are occurring all over the country, to around one hundred people every day.

I can’t accept that my brother died of an illness that for too long has been treated as a moral failing.

I can’t accept that Kyle had a disease so stigmatized by society that he felt like a failure when he couldn’t beat it with sheer will of force.

I don’t accept that people with substance use disorders are treated as second class citizens not worthy of love, respect, and care.

I don’t accept that people with legitimate brain illnesses are too ashamed and embarrassed to reach out for help.

Which brings me to having the courage to change the things I can. Since Kyle’s death, I have felt a calling to take action, to do something to speak out on behalf of my brother and all those who share the struggles that he endured.

I have started following every organization I come across on Facebook, attending local opioid forums, and talking with local and national politicians; all in an effort to find my place in this movement.

I was fortunate to hear Greg Williams speak at a local forum, and then soon after to see that his organization, Facing Addiction, was starting a local ambassador program.  I’m honored to represent this wonderful organization and thank them for doing the hard work to fight this national health crisis.

For the last 10 months of Kyle’s life, he lived with me and my family, moving in just after the unexpected death of our father. My husband and I were devoted to loving and helping Kyle as if he were our child. Being seven years older than Kyle, I always felt a maternal love and protection for him.

Without him here, I need somewhere to direct the energy I had reserved for him. I knew his mental illnesses of bipolar disorder and substance use disorder would never completely go away, and I was prepared to be there for him for the rest of our lives.

Kyle was very active in the recovery community and an inspirational presence to those he helped. Out of my unending love for Kyle, I want to keep fighting this fight for him. We often discussed working together in the future to advocate for mental health and addiction, and it is with a heavy heart that I start this journey on my own, with his memory by my side instead of his beautiful face.