Happy 14th Heaven Anniversary to my Brother!

This may be one of the most vulnerable blog posts I have ever written.

It’s been 14 years since my brother, Will left us on earth.  Sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago and sometimes it feels like yesterday.  This year I feel a sadness that I haven’t felt in some time. Some might think that after so many years that the grief should disappear but Helen Keller said, “What the heart has once known and loved, it shall never forget”.  I couldn’t forget my brother if I tried, nor would I want to. I love all my siblings and I would venture to say we would all agree, our relationship with Will was special. Will was quiet, deep and introspective but when he laughed, he laughed from his belly like Santa and the whole house shook. You couldn’t help but to also laugh.  He would throw his head back and grin ear to ear with his shiny white teeth he kept clean by brushing and flossing after every single meal. He was smart but not necessarily into school. He did enjoy history and was a self-taught musician, learning by ear, to strum his guitar. He was the artistic and creative type and sometimes I wonder who he might have grown up to be if he was still here. 

Will playing piano at Teen Challenge in Western Michigan.

Will playing piano at Teen Challenge in Western Michigan.

He was 24 when he overdosed from heroin in our childhood home.  Unlike what tv and the media would have you believe, people struggling with addiction don’t always die alone in dark, back alleys with needles stuck in their arms but over fifty percent die in homes. Why does this matter? It shows us these human beings are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and co-workers. Individuals dying from overdoses are not unwanted and unloved but I would argue, loved so much, it hurts.

Celebrating my birthday with my brother about six years before he died.

Celebrating my birthday with my brother about six years before he died.

My relationship with my brother was far from perfect.  I won’t paint him into a saint now that he’s gone but I also won’t let him be defined by his addiction because he was so much more than that.  He was gentle, kind and loving. He was a father and loved his daughter very much often imploring that should anything happen to him, to please look after her.  He would give you the shirt off his back if you asked him. He was a peacekeeper often acting as the diplomat between my mom and I when we got into our trivial disagreements.  He helped me paint my apartment and anytime I called him, he picked up.

My brother was also a father. Here he is teaching his daughter to listen to the music.

My brother was also a father. Here he is teaching his daughter to listen to the music.

Every 11 minutes, someone in the United States dies from an opioid overdose, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.   Opioid addiction is NOT a choice or moral failing, this is an illness and needs to be treated as such. 

When my brother relapsed, he asked for help. He was ready and willing to get treatment.  Because he was uninsured and didn’t have funds, help was unavailable. He made a counseling appointment through a non-profit he knew about it for the following Wednesday afternoon.  He never made it though. While Wednesday was less than a week away, he died on that Friday. What does that tell you about our healthcare system?  

The implications of the opioid epidemic are extensive and in a recent study, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that illicit drug and alcohol misuse accounts for more than $400 billion in annual spending related to healthcare, lost productivity at work, and crime. 

While those numbers are enormous, they will never come remotely close to putting a price tag on the lives and talent lost to addiction.  Who knows what scientists, creatives and incredible human beings might have been?

I will briefly add that the opioid addiction is also impacting the lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable children:  those in foster care or at risk of entering the system. Last year, I participated as a Foster America fellow, a non-profit whose work is focused on developing a pipeline of leaders and innovators and building a movement to transform the child welfare system.  While I heard the news stories and knew from close experience the connection between opioids and foster care, being part of the system really opened up my eyes.  

Foster America is hard at work to develop a pipeline of leaders within the child welfare system to improve the lives of children in foster care and those at risk of entering.

Foster America is hard at work to develop a pipeline of leaders within the child welfare system to improve the lives of children in foster care and those at risk of entering.

According to research published in July 2019 through the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), a federally mandated data collection system that includes information on children in foster care in the United States, the number of cases of children entering the foster care system due to parental drug use has more than doubled since 2000.  According to a recent NPR report, More Kids Are Getting Placed In Foster Care Because Of Parents' Drug Use, by Susie Nielson, AFCARS research showed that nearly 1.2 million had parental drug use as the primary cause.”  It also reported that, “Children being removed for parental drug use were more likely to be 5 years old or younger than children removed for other reasons. And the proportion of drug-directed cases involving white, Midwestern and non-urban children increased.”

So why am I telling you all of this on the 14th anniversary of my brother’s passing? The U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admin, Jerome Adams said this recently at a Pew event on the opioid epidemic,  "I think one of the biggest killers, if not the biggest killer, is stigma." 

I’m telling my story not for your pity or even your sympathies. 

I am telling my story to break the stigma.

Addiction is NOT a choice or moral failing, it is an illness and needs to be treated as such. 

We need to stop shaming and blaming not only the people who suffer from addiction but their families and loved ones.  I invite you to learn more about the opioid epidemic as well as the strain it causes on the foster care system. Lastly, consider offering compassion and understanding, instead of judgement or blame, for what individuals and families are going through.  After all, we all belong to each other and we’re all on this life journey walking each other home.


I miss you Will.

Every. Single. Day.

I wish I could hug you right now.

Thankful for the 24 years we got with you.

I love you always.

Your Sister,


Please call the national mental health and substance abuse hotline if you need help. 1-800-662-4357

It’s time to break the stigma.

Sources and Articles can be found here:  https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/07/15/741790195/more-kids-are-getting-placed-in-foster-care-because-of-parents-drug-use


For more information on Foster America, go here:  https://www.foster-america.org/

The Messy Middle

I remember bawling my eyes out in my friend’s kitchen and the sinking feeling I had when I said.  “I feel like someone is dying...and it’s me.” I did not even have words for the despair and inner turmoil I was experiencing.  I was grieving my own life, my dreams, my desires and the possibilities. It was such a low and dark point in my life and had it not been for God’s grace and for those that surrounded me during that time and helped me carry my burden….well, I don’t know what might have been.  It was my rock bottom, my messy middle.

The “messy middle” describes the seasons of life that we go through that are emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially and/or physically daunting.  They are the seasons where it feels like everything is coming down around you. They are hard, uncomfortable, infuriating, heart-breaking and gut-wrenching. Truthfully, I am just starting to make my way out of this season.  For awhile now, it has felt like I’ve been straddled between two worlds. One foot in the wilderness, where there is still worry and uncertainty and one foot in the promised land, where I can almost taste the milk and honey...almost.  Good things are happening, slowly. Both are freaking beautiful or as Author and Activist, Glennon Doyle coined, it is “Brutiful”. Brutal and beautiful at the same time. I’ve often pictured one foot in the promised land and one foot in the wilderness like this….


Until one day, a friend reflected to me what if one foot in both places doesn’t look like this but like this instead:


It took me a minute to realize what she was saying. Oh! I get it! One foot in front of another.  Not straddled across like you’re doing the splits and being stretched beyond capacity but one in front of the other, as in keep moving forward.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep moving.

Oh, what a profound wake-up call that was to hear!  If you are in the messy middle, just commit to putting one foot in front of the other.   Don’t worry about tomorrow. None of us knows what lies ahead. Take heart, be brave and take one step today, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.  One thing I am sure of is that the messy middle won’t last forever.

Love & Courage,


Thumbnail Photo Cred: Photo by Brian Mann on Unsplash

Make 2019 Your Year of Courage!

I’ve spent most of my life in Illinois. Early in my career, an investor whom I worked alongside said to me, “One call and I can get you a role for a company in Seattle. You just need to be ready to move.” My response. “I can’t leave my family or my city.” The company was Amazon. I flinch every time I think of how things may have looked had I took a risk. As I reflect back, I am not sure whether my response was rooted in love for my family and city or fear of leaving what I knew and the life I was comfortable with living. So I spent the next twenty years in Chicago and its suburbs.

I did everything I “should” do. Got my degrees, got married, had babies, bought a house, had a great job and was by society’s definition succeeding at life. I wasn’t happy though and this made me feel worse. I want to clarify, nothing is wrong with getting the degrees or the house or having a family. The issue was I thought those things would bring me joy. True joy is not externally driven. True joy comes from within.

Broken on the inside, pregnant and in the middle of my divorce, I decided to start working on myself. I enrolled into a leadership and life coaching program and transformation began. I wish I could tell you that boom, success and happiness were instant but it’s been a journey over the last 5 years. I have won. I have failed. I have gotten back up. Fallen again. Succeeded. Taken two steps back. It’s a dance...and I’m not the most coordinated person you know.

However, each time, I get back up and move forward, I see myself stepping more and more into who I am and who I am meant to be. It’s easy to lead a life based on fear and make decisions based around staying comfortable (even in crappy conditions), looking good, being right or being in control. I’ve done all of these and it’s okay. I’m human. We all are. And I know that I can also make decisions based on love. This might mean saying,”Yes, I am so scared but I am going to take the risk anyways because there is something greater at play here.” Making a decision from a place of love can look like choosing purpose, commitment, passion, abundance, gratitude, or faith over fear.

Last year, after living most of my 40 years in Illinois, I made two out of state moves in one year! The first was a result of being awarded a fellowship in Washington D.C. to work on short-term child welfare projects for foster children.  My sister will attest that I at one time said and I quote, “I will never move to D.C.” D.C. is cool and expensive as a single mom but the idea of doing meaningful and purposeful work outweighed being comfortable. I might add, I have very limited experience in child welfare so I was also taking on a new career endeavor, not knowing if it would work out. When my placement ended in June, I realized moving wasn’t so bad. Packing up nothing but what fit in the trunk of my Mazda, my two kids and I headed to North Carolina to make a new life for ourselves. I had no family in North Carolina, no friends, no job, no practical reason to head here. Why North Carolina? It inspired me. I yearned for a small town feel and the scenic landscapes. I can get to the mountains and ocean all within one day. I don’t know that this is home for good but it’s home for now. What I have learned is that by taking risks and being courageous, I get to experience myself, those around me and life in a whole new way. New challenges have forced me to show up in a new way. Leadership Coach and Best-Selling Author Marshall Goldsmith says it best, “What got you here won’t get you there.” He even wrote a whole book about it.

One of my other favorite authors Brene' Brown says, “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." As you enter into 2019, I invite you to make this your Year of Courage. Maybe it’s having the difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding or trying something you’ve always wanted to try, even if you look a little silly doing it. Have fun with it! Play! Laugh! Maybe it’s taking a new class, switching industries, leaving an unhealthy relationship or committing to a good one. It could be coming out from behind the curtain and showing up center stage - in all of your glory and even in the messy middle. Maybe it’s just you being you. In the days of perfection and filtered selfies, that’s a courageous move! What's your unlived life? Live it. Live authentically. Don't withhold yourself or your gifts. The world is waiting for you.

Not sure where to start? Reach out to me. Happy to be of service. ruby@rubygarciacoaching.com

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