Branden Connelley always thought he had a fairly normal childhood, but unknown to him risk factors for a substance use disorder were in place. He remembers his father drinking too much, and his parents getting a divorce when Branden was in high school. As a teenager, he struggled emotionally, and often felt out of place.
While in high school, Branden started using marijuana and alcohol and his substance use quickly escalated to harder drugs. “I was doing whatever drug was around. I had pretty much done all the drugs I have ever done before I turned 19,” he remembers. “It was all very fast.”
After he finished high school, he had “no plan at all”—he didn’t know what to do with his life. His mother, Roberta Connelley was starting to get worried. Branden seemed unable to motivate himself or find a job. “After about a year—and he hadn’t gotten a job yet—he came home one night and said he was going to join the Army,” Roberta remembers. “I thought that was the answer to my prayers.”
Unfortunately, Branden’s military career imploded quickly because of his continued substance abuse. When the Army tried to send him to a treatment program, Branden refused to go. He was not ready to embrace recovery yet. He had tried to make a change to escape his addiction by joining up only to be discharged for substance abuse.
His sister Angela Conrad began to suspect there was something terribly wrong with her brother. “We all had a hard time because we thought the Army was the answer for him. He seemed lost. That was his career path, now he was back at square one.”
In March 2015, his family found out that Branden had been injecting heroin for some time. Angela took him to the emergency department at the local hospital only to find out that they don’t “treat heroin addicts.” They were sent home with a few phone numbers to call in the morning although Branden was going into withdrawal.
Branden’s case illustrates dramatically that addiction is a disease that affects the entire family. His ordeal was such a tough challenge for his mother and sister that Branden’s sister Angela felt compelled to make a documentary about her brother’s recovery to give hope to other families battling with addiction.
Although his family was now directly involved and trying to help, Branden was still not ready to commit to recovery and finding the right addiction treatment was a struggle. He joined an outpatient program but quickly relapsed. Eventually, he hit bottom in a McDonald’s parking lot where he used a large amount of heroin while thinking of ways to kill himself. After a suicide attempt he is briefly admitted to a local hospital.
Relations with his family started to deteriorate and Branden was no longer allowed to come home. “We had to tell him he had to leave. We were afraid for our lives,” remembers his mother. “We didn’t know how deep he was into the dark.”
Recovery at The Farley Center
Things changed dramatically after Branden was admitted to The Farley Center at Williamsburg Place. He still wasn’t ready and willing to embrace recovery but he was prepared to participate in therapy. “I just went with the flow. For the first time in a while, I had three good meals a day and a bed to sleep in,” he recalls. “I learned a lot about myself and about my addiction.”
His family took the opportunity to benefit from Farley’s Family Program Weekend. “When we went to the family weekend at Farley, I learned such a great deal about what addiction is and what it actually does to you,” Angela recounts in the documentary. “How it affect the mind, the soul, the spirit and just what happens physically. It was eye opening.”
Among other things, participants of the family program learn about addiction’s impact on each member of the family, working toward recovery as individuals and as a family, and building awareness of relationship changes in addiction and in recovery.
For Branden it took a few months before the lessons learned at Farley finally clicked. “Occasionally, I thought about getting high but a voice in my head said, ‘you kinda don’t want to do that, you have a good life now, and you’re talking to your family again’” Branden remembers. Around six months into his recovery, he finally realized what he had to do. The benefits of being sober finally outweighed the cravings for drugs and alcohol.
His sister Angela felt great relief. “When he was finally at Farley, I definitely saw a change in him, he was doing very well and was 100 percent committed,” she recalls. “I’ve seen very few people that committed. He turned out to be one of the strongest people I know, next to my mother.”
Roberta Connelley also recognized a dramatic change in her son. “It was an amazing transformation. I didn’t realize how unhappy, how distraught he was. His whole life changed, his outlook—he’s a totally different person now.”
Branden’s sister agrees: “He is definitely a happier person, fully committed to his recovery. He is a spiritual person now. He prays every day. He is a normal person which I don’t think he knew how to do before.”
Branden now lives in Florida where he works on his recovery every day. He serves as a mentor for others with addiction and has a full-time job. He travels the world and loves life. On September 16, Branden celebrated three years of sobriety.