Jodee Prouse is a Sylvan Laker who recently released her memoir The Sun is Gone. The book is a candid telling of her family’s struggle through her brother Brett Tisdale’s mental illness and alcohol addiction. The book is on the Amazon Best Seller’s list. Prouse sat down with the Sylvan Lake News to discuss her memoir.
Q: What was your impetus to write this memoir?
A: Alcoholism has been on so many branches of our family tree. I have seen it my whole life, and in 2005 - it became so crazy with my brother that I didn’t think that anyone would believe that alcohol could do this. I didn’t even believe it at the time. I had told him I was going to write a movie about his life, so I think what gave me the courage to continue writing was the fact that he knew I was writing it and encouraged me to do so.
Q: You were very open about your family’s lives in this memoir. How difficult was that?
A: I am not ashamed of anything that has happened. I believe that addiction and mental illness are diseases, so I feel comfortable talking about it. No one would even ask me that question if it was the progression of cancer. That is the reality.
Q: How do you think your experience can help others?
A: I think there is so much to learn about our story. With families, their loved one is sick; their loved one is mentally ill. You are so focused with helping them that you don’t realize that things may be going on that you need help with. That is what I hope they get out of these pages. A lot of times we are sick in our own way.
Q: What did you learn from the journey of writing this memoir?
A: I learned that I don’t think it was my brother’s story. I think that maybe it’s mine. I thought at first that it was a story about alcoholism. Now I feel it is a story about the progression of alcoholism but also about denial, roles in families and maybe even childhood trauma.
I learned more about myself. I was so focused on him that I didn’t realize that some of those stories from childhood affected who I was and my behaviours. I have felt responsible for my little brother since I was five years old and it wasn’t until I was 48 years old that I was able to let that go. I think that was a gift from him.
Q: You had a family secret that you chose to reveal near the end of the book. What led you to eventually wanting to reveal this?
A: My husband and I do not drink. We haven’t had a drink of alcohol in 25 years. Something happened between us and I will say it involved a 9-1-1 call and an orange jumpsuit. We changed and we made a better life for ourselves. I always knew I was going to put that in the book. First of all, because I believe it is a powerful story about change, love and forgiveness, but I am certainly not going to tell the story of our journey without being 100 per cent honest about mine.
Q: Can you describe what it is like to live with someone who has addiction issues?
A: The first word that comes to my mind is torture. The biggest thing is that I would tell families to find help for themselves first. Themselves, not the person that is struggling. Listen to the advice of the professionals. I followed my heart for the longest time. At the time, enabling feels like love - but it isn’t love. It is hell for all involved.
Q: Your husband’s support throughout everything really struck me. Can you discuss what he has meant to you?
A: If my marriage wasn’t so rock solid - I don’t think it would have survived. There are other family relationships in my family that did not survive this painful journey. His support means absolutely everything. I wouldn’t have survived this without my husband.
Q: Even when things were the most dark for you, it never seemed like you condemned your brother for his addiction. Why is it important to continue to try to care, understand and love someone in that situation?
A: Society judges, stigmatizes and has a certain perception. I always say these aren’t excuses, but they are reasons. We know now about addiction, and I didn’t know it then. If I could go back and understand that childhood trauma/sexual abuse can lead to addiction, severe mental illness and even suicidal ideation, I would. My brother had a disease.
Q: Your book is ostensibly about you and your brother, but the relationships with many people in your family are brought to light. How does addiction change the way a family operates?
A: My book opens up with a live from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Those four or five paragraphs are written about us. Addiction destroys families and you need active help. I mean active help for all of us. These things can last a lifetime. Families need to agree to disagree, stay aligned with each other and listen to the advice of professionals. I believe our loved ones’ lives depend on that.
Q: While reading the book I found myself in your shoes, your husband’s shoes, my own shows - basically everyone involved. Did you know your memoir may have that effect?
A: I am so proud you say that because that is how I intended to write it. How can anyone go through life truly happy and healthy if they only view the world through their eyes? That is one thing with addiction and the way it changes someone’s personality. They become so self-centered and narcissistic. They then learn humility when they go off to rehab. Everyone can learn from that. I very much want you to see everyone’s side. It is complicated and it isn’t simple. It touches so many lives: brothers, sisters, parents, spouses and little children witnessing all these things.
Q: What do you hope your memoir can achieve?
A: I hope that people can pick out of my pages what they need. It is dark and it is hard to read some of those pages, but it is what is happening. We can’t close our minds and hearts to that. There are lessons for everyone in our story - even people who have no connection to addiction or mental illness at all. I think you can pick out valuable lessons about life out of there.
Q: What advice do you offer to families living with addiction?
A: What I most believe is get help for yourself first. It is the one thing I wish I would have done differently. If everyone isn’t onboard with that, it will make it very, very complicated. Believe in the people that know so much more then we do - the therapists and doctors. I have read 40 different memoirs on addiction - some of them self-help and some of them memoirs. You can take the names in those books and plug in ours. This is the same for everyone.
A: Do you have anything you would like to add?
Q: I am donating 50 per cent of all my author profits to alcohol and mental illness programs. I very much want the community to feel involved, so that is a way for me to make it a joint effort with everyone. That would have been my brother’s share if he were here.