“Hi. My name’s Megan, and I’m an addict.” Those are the words I would have spoke if I hadn’t been silently crying non-stop during my first Narcotics Annonymous meeting. Since then, and even before, I’ve had a soft spot for those struggling because I get it.
After passing through the curtain of commercial fishing, I learned that addiction is widespread. No industry can escape it, though some more than others. And in this interview with photographer Denise Marie, she shares her brother’s personal story and how commercial fishing may have exacerbated it.
This story is for the still struggling addict and their loved ones to let you know that there is help and to feel no embarrassment or shame when seeking it. We’ve all got our demons. *You are not alone!*
Addiction & Commercial Fishing: One Fisherman’s Story
What kind of addictions do you see prevalent in the commercial fishing industry?
Drugs & alcohol, for sure.
I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother, Brandon. Can you share a memory with us?
Thank you so much. Hmm, so many to choose from. The one that comes up in my mind is riding four-wheelers in the field.
We grew up on some property, and in our front pasture, we built a track. Brandon would take me on rides before I could ride by myself; he was always a little…crazy! He’d do wild things and had a lot of energy.
When we would ride, he’d sing “BOOORRRRNNN TO BEE WIIIIILLLLLLDDDD. BORN TO NOT CRRRRRAAAAASH. GET YOUR BALLS SMASHED!!” Haha! Not long before he died, we worked at my dad’s machine shop together, and he started singing that song when I walked by. We both started laughing so hard. That’s the story I told at his celebration of life as well. 🙂
Addiction is such a deeply personal struggle. When did you first realize Brandon had challenges with substance abuse?
My brother got his first DUI when he was 16, and I was 10. So, I’ve never really known my brother without alcohol involved. Thankfully, he came to me to go to rehab and was in the fight to be sober. I have a couple of good sober memories with him before he died.
How do you think commercial fishing exacerbates addiction?
Man. You know, he said his addiction really took off when he worked at a fish hatchery in Alaska. You could only access the island by floatplane, so he had a lot of downtime. When he started on the boat, he would be sober up while out at sea. But when he’d come into port, he just couldn’t resist the addiction.
How did his addiction make you feel?
Well, when my brother was alive, I was SO mad at him for going back up to Alaska to fish after he was in rehab. He had relapsed several times, had already been up to AK and relapsed, and had to have brain surgery; we had been through A LOT with his sobriety. He was in an inpatient rehab center down in San Diego when he made his last decision to go back to AK to fish. (The previous year was when he had to have brain surgery. He had epilepsy as well. So when he’d drink, he’d have seizures and hit his head.)
I remember him telling my mom on speakerphone, and I was livid. I said it from the beginning that he would go up there and not come home one of these times. I didn’t get it.
Now, since he has passed – with a lot of therapy – my perspective has deepened.
I actually admire him for going back to Alaska. He truly refused to let ANYTHING stop him from living out his passion in life. So many of us allow fear to stop us, but he didn’t. He died doing what he loved most, and not everyone can say that. I do my best to incorporate him into everything that I do, from my business logo to my tattoos, my mindset, and my own refusal to allow fear to stop me.
What was it like going back to Alaska after he passed?
Brandon drowned in Sitka, AK, and then was life-flighted to Anchorage, which is where we had to withdraw care. My other brother, Chris, and I went to Sitka the day after he passed away to get his stuff off the boat. For me, I truly feel like that’s where Brandon met Jesus. I feel a lot more connected to him on the docks.
When we left Sitka to go home, I felt like I was leaving Brandon there. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s a very weird experience. But when I decided to go back up to AK to fish and spread his ashes, I felt slight anxiety but mostly just excited to be connected to him in that way again. Brandon ALWAYS told me how I could never do what he did; I wouldn’t make it. So, as a little sister, I was also excited to prove him wrong. To show him how freakin’ tough his little sis was, and make him proud. 😄
Where did you spread his ashes, and what was that day like for you?
I spread his ashes as we were coming back into port the day I flew home. But every day was spent in communication with him more than usual. Every fish I caught, I’d say, “Thank you, Bubby!” Counting the fish, I’d say, “Thank you, Jesus,” and then, “Thank you, Brandon.” When I’d put the gear out, I’d tell him to get the fish to bite.
One particular moment, while I was running the gear just after I pulled up 50 chum, the captain came out and said, “look behind you,” and fish were jumping EVERYWHERE. Not just one here, and one there, but 50 to 100 at a time. I sat there and watched them and almost started crying right then.
After catching all of those fish, I looked back at the incredible view, the tall mounts, the fish jumping, and I thought, “Okay, Bubby, I get it. I get why you died for this.” I couldn’t sit and cry, but I wanted to. My eyes tingled, and I just kept working. So when it came time to spread his ashes, I felt a lot of joy. I was happy to be able to bring him back to his favorite place.
I made a short TikTok video of it as well: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMJDkRRY7
What advice do you have for others with loved ones going through addiction or suffering from addiction themselves?
Man. That’s a hard one. It is such a journey. Whether you’re suffering from addiction, personally, or a loved one. My best advice is that you’re not alone. God is with you. You are loved, and YOU CAN be sober.
A lot of times, I think Brandon felt very isolated by his addiction, ashamed, and he would lie to people about it. So, I want people to know they are not alone. We all have struggles, and your addiction does not define you. You are MORE than your addiction, and YOU CAN OVERCOME THIS.
So this photo of you wearing Grundens with a huge fish…how long have you commercially fished?
Actually, this was my first time going out commercial fishing! I grew up fishing here and there. My dad had an ocean fishing boat. So we’d go out for halibut and tuna. Brandon loved fishing the rivers in Oregon. But this was a first for me.
What made you decide to commercially fish, and did you fish on your brother’s boat?
I am an adventurer, and I don’t say no to many things. It was a different boat than he was on, but his captain asked me to help him out for a couple of weeks, and I couldn’t say no. (An opportunity to prove my brother wrong, too!)
Have you or someone you loved struggled with addiction? If so, what helped you the most? Please help others out there, and share in the comments below!
In case you missed it, licensed therapist Christy Leigh shares her personal story on losing a loved on and explains the stages of grief: