McDougald: Reflections of the Past

Sometimes I see something that makes me want to write one of these posts. Sometimes I start them without knowing exactly where I’m headed or what I want to say. In the case of this one, it’s a little of both.

I ran across this article today on Robert Powell, 1988 NASCAR weekly series National Champion, who was arrested for methamphetamine related charges. It’s always sad when you see something like this play out. To me, as a racecar driver competing in the weekly series, the National Championship is probably the closest we could ever come to being Jeff Gordon. Even winning a State Championship is huge in my book. Then to see someone go from that point in their life to prison for drugs is just crushing.

For me, it hits another nerve inside of me. Or maybe even a couple different ones. You see, I lost my little brother a couple years back to methamphetamine. I often wonder what he would be doing now had he not gotten hooked on that drug. He always did a lot of the things I did, sort of following in my footsteps. But what ever he took up, he was always better at it than me. Then came the drug addiction, when I got to watch him slowly lose control of his life. He spent a couple years in prison, just like Powell will. He came out clean, renewed. But it was only a matter of time before he slowly went back to all of the things that he did before prison; hanging out with the same people, at the same places, doing the same things as before.

I had my bouts with alcohol in my younger years. I don’t really talk about it much. I mean, who wants to carry on about their biggest downfall? I am thankful that I got my Dad’s resolve, because one day I chose to stop. That was a long time ago. today it seems totally foreign to me to actually drink an alcoholic beverage. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a cold beer just like most every guy I know. But ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that come beer-thirty I reach for one of them lame non-alcoholic things that all of your buddies pick on you about. I remember my little brother asking me how I got sober. My advice was simple; you just stop associating with anyone you knew from those days and stop going to any of the places you went to in those days. But for him, he just couldn’t do it. I think his identity was built around those people and those places, so he went back there looking for who he was, or who he felt he needed to be. That lead him right back to where he started as well.

Having had a ring-side seat to watch the downward spiral of my little brother, it just kills me when I see a story like Powell’s. It’s easy to cast blame and say things like “He should get his life under control” or “Why doesn’t he just quit?” The thing is, I still recall my little brother telling me after he got out of prison “You just don’t understand. When it calls you, you can’t think about anything else.” I’ve watched a lot of my friends go through their drug days. I was in a band when I was younger. I saw guys smoking marijuana or laying down lines of cocaine or taking pills. Some of those guys made it out and cleaned up their lives, going on to raise families. Some of them, maybe not so much. Methamphetamine is on a completely different level. On a scientific level, it actually rewires your brain so that you don’t process thoughts like a normal person. There is no repairing that. Other drugs simply make you feel things or see things, and those things go away when it wears off. The rewiring of your brain that meth does stays with you forever. I want to say that I hope Powell can use his time in prison to put his life back together. This guy was a former National Champion. But in my mind, I know what he’s up against. I know what my little brother was like when he emerged from prison; clean and sober, full of determination and resolve. Then I watched as his path lead him to a dead end in a dark alley with a bullet hole in his back.

I miss my little brother every day. I look at old photos of him and think “why can’t it be like that again?” I hope that Powell’s family doesn’t have to go through what mine did and I hope that his best days are in front of him. His time in prison may be the thing he needs to put his life back together. I hope that this story will be one that helps someone out there find that thing that they need to combat their own addiction. For me, if just one person reads this story and seeks help then it was worth writing.

If you, or someone you know, needs help, don’t hesitate. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).