Hope and the Hilltop House

by Lindsay McMillan

Winding up the coastal hills, I was in awe at the beautiful houses and their porches all luxuriously facing the ocean. I would have turned around, but the GPS had never failed me before. The counselor at the intake office of CASA Recovery had called it the “Hilltop House” and gave me directions. I had no idea what to expect.

It had been months since the last time I spoke to my older brother, only a few texts here and there to tell him that I love him, and sometimes he would respond. He had been living in a tent on a beach in San Luis Obispo, choosing to feed his addiction rather than finishing college or getting a job.  

Six days into detox off of heroine, my brother answered the door and the relief I felt for getting to the right house turned immediately into relief that I was hugging my only brother. He looked fragile, wearing clothes two sizes too big, and foreign, answering the door to a huge rehab house that overlooked the ocean.

I had tried to formulate what I should say and remind myself of what I shouldn’t, but there was no preparing for the tears rolling down his face as he told me “If I go back out there, it’s not because I don’t love you and mom.”  

Every Sunday, for visiting hours, I would drive to the “Hilltop House” and take my brother to lunch. He would tell me about his roommates, like the 19-year-old gay porn star and the 83-year-old woman who hid bank accounts from her husband. He’d tell me about his NA meetings, the 12 steps to recovery and the nightmares that kept him up at night.

On the car rides home, I would come to the same conclusion every time. Be hopeful. It was easy to get lost in wondering why and how, but necessary to stop asking myself unanswerable questions. So I watched as the days filled his cheeks out and whitened his eyes. I watched him get his car back, move into a sober living house, and apply for job after job until getting one in a bakery. Those weeks turned into months and now he’s been six months sober. Hopeful was a better option than helpless, he needed it more than any “thing.”         


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