Friday, July 24, 2009

There but for the Grace of God, Go I: What the B'ham News Didn't Say

I have read the Birmingham News report of my nephew Corey Wittkop's death, including the negative comments that follow it. Although it was very painful to read, I respect the writers' feelings. I ask that they respect mine by not commenting here. I especially want to extend my sincere gratitude to the anonymous person whose office looks out onto the parking lot where Corey died. This person took the time to write a very moving condolence card to Corey's parents that brought them great comfort. May God bless this kind soul.

I felt strongly as I was trying to absorb the news of Corey's death last week, that my sister Beverly, Corey's mother, would make something positive happen because of it. Though in the depths of mourning, she asked me to share this information on addiction on my blog. She said, "This knowledge resonated with me when I first heard it. Being a nurse, knowing a little neuro-anatomy, I finally understood what was happening to my son."

Corey was tortured by alcohol addiction and depression, both of which run in my family. One of my paternal great-grandfathers was an alcoholic. I believe one or two of his sons were alcoholics. My mother was adopted, but her biological father was an alcoholic.

I spent about an hour reading the articles and watching the videos. The video interview with Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health, was especially informative. NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. Dr. Volkow says that addiction, whether alcohol or other drugs, causes dramatic changes in the brain. Coupled with depression, addiction is a voracious monster.

In the article, "Addiction and the Brain's Pleasure Pathway: Beyond Willpower", Dr. Volkow says, "A person takes a drug of abuse, be it marijuana or cocaine or even alcohol, activating the same brain circuits as do behaviors linked to survival, (emphasis mine) such as eating, bonding and sex. The drug causes a surge in levels of a brain chemical called dopamine, which results in feelings of pleasure. The brain remembers this pleasure and wants it repeated."

"Eventually," Dr. Volkow says, "the drive to seek and use the drug is all that matters, despite devastating consequences."

You will find much, much more information by following the link I provided above. However, I know that many people will not have time to read further, and so I wanted to provide an idea of what kind of problem alcoholism is. It is not about willpower. It is a disease of the brain.

Learning this was very helpful in understanding how a good boy like Corey, from a loving, supportive family, could do things that were totally incompatible with his personality and upbringing, and this despite years of seeking help from a wide variety of places, from Alcoholics Anonymous to extended residential treatment. He desperately wanted to change his life and had been studying the Bible. He longed to "win back his girl", marry, and raise a family. He sought and accepted the guidance of his parents, even on the day he died in a grocery store robbery which ended with him taking his own life. He was weary and ashamed of his inability to kill the tiger that daily tormented him.

I ask for your prayers for Corey, his robbery victims, his parents and sister, and all those who loved him and are trying to understand how this could happen. I have come to the realization that it could just have easily been one of my children. Both are at high risk for alcoholism from both sides of their family. I also ask that you join me in talking openly about alcohol addiction. We need to get over the stigma, which is a substantial barrier to getting treatment for this devastating disease. This stigma can cause the addict and his family to feel extremely isolated, just when they most need support.

No one in my family approves of or offers excuses for Corey's criminal activity. We are so grateful that, as far as we know, he did not injure anyone. On behalf of the family, I offer our sincere apologies for any crime he committed. I can not imagine the terror he must have caused by robbing at gunpoint. It is just one more aspect of this tragedy that we are trying to deal with. At the same time, I have compassion for Corey, and I forgive him.

Despite the way he died, there was much good--so much to be thankful for--in Corey's life. There are many happy memories that I cherish.

Here I am with newborn Corey. Loving and being loved by him changed me forever in wonderful ways.
This was about the age that I remember Corey eagerly singing "Daddy's Homecoming": I'm so glad when Daddy comes home, glad as I can be. I clap my hands, shout for joy, and climb upon his knee. One of my favorite pictures from Corey's happy boyhood, taken by his doting Uncle Bill.
Here he is with his baby sister Caitlin. She's grown up now, and he was always so proud of her.
Corey swinging my daughter Emma during a visit to my parent's river camp.
Corey cut my son Nathaniel's hair and also cousin Tucker's hair one year when we all visited my sister Lisa. He wasn't a barber; he just enjoyed it. He regularly cut his dad's hair, and it was done so carefully, so tenderly, that it was one of the things that Stephen talked about at Corey's funeral.
Beverly and Corey on her back deck. Corey was famous among friends and family for his fabulous hugs.
Corey and his dad, Stephen, on the front walk at home last Thanksgiving.

This was taken at Corey's aunt's house in Huntsville at a family get-together last January or December. He had a hard time going to such things, as he did not feel worthy of love. After his death, Beverly found that he had written inside one of his ball caps, "Just for today". It is a phrase that he learned from Alcoholics Anonymous.

Eternal rest grant him, O Lord
And may perpetual light shine upon him.
May the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.

I love you, Corey. Always.


Cay said...

We lost a nephew last October to drug addiction.

Wendy, your words and posts are very comforting and I will be sharing them w/ Mark's brother.

Thank you, friend!

Wendy Haught said...

Thank you, Cay. It is my fervent hope that sharing this tragedy will bring some good out of a horrible tragedy.

I'm so sorry about your nephew. I remember you posting his picture on your blog.

Patrick said...

Thank you for your posts. I had one class with Corey in high school and will always remember him as the friendly, funny guy he was then. I was later in choir with Caitlin in college, and now we've been to Europe together--twice! I'm so sorry for your family's loss. I was at the funeral but just learned about the circumstances today.

PS - I'm a traditional Catholic also and know just about every link on your blog!

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Patrick,

Thanks for sharing your good memories of Corey. Beverly has told me how much it means to her when people do.

I wish that I could place you from the funeral. Maybe we'll get another chance to talk later.

Pax Christi

Amanda @ The Mom Job said...

You do not know me, but Corey was my first "real boyfriend" (if you could even call someone that at 14 and 15 years of age!). More so, he was a great friend to myself and those close to me for several years.

Corey was, simply put, a fantastic person. He could make anyone laugh and feel comfortable, and had a good heart. He was there for me on the phone the night my parents told me they were getting a divorce. He calmly talked to me, insuring me that they loved me and that all would be ok. He took the time to check up on me through the months that followed.

I stumbled upon this blog a few weeks ago and debating commenting. I will never be able to understand this loss for you and your family, but I do know it's a great one.

The Wittkop's ability to acknowledge his "demons" and issues, to make note of it in a public forum so that others may be touched, seek help, or reach out to another in distress, is truly a wonderful and remarkable thing.

I pray for continued peace and blessing for you and the rest of Corey's family.

charles R. Wittkop said...

The Wittkop family tree from which Corey is descended has a number of past and present members who have struggled with alcohol and drug addiction.

It is a curse that I believe is genetic and effects the life of not only the involved individual but also those close to them.

My prayers go out to my Birmingham relatives.