You may not know him by name, but you know of his story. Out of the 20 Prescott, Arizona’s Granite Mountain Hotshots, Brendan McDonough’s life was spared. That fateful summer...
You may not know him by name, but you know of his story.
Out of the 20 Prescott, Arizona’s Granite Mountain Hotshots, Brendan McDonough’s life was spared. That fateful summer day in 2013 still can bring haunting memories for Brendan. Are ones fraught with depression, despair, post-traumatic stress disorder, and one all-encompassing thought: Why me?
After the unfathomable loss of his brothers battling the fire, McDonough suffered from seemingly insurmountable bouts of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress. But the light of hope that inspired him to keep living in one of his darkest moments — his daughter who needed him — inspired the firefighter to fight on against depression and inspire others to find their best selves. McDonough’s courage to find support at his weakest has inspired others to find their own tribes of support. Building a sense of brotherhood within communities gives McDonough great joy – because it helps this fighter honor the legacy of his 19 lost, but not forgotten, brothers.
When it comes to digging deep in recovery, in work, as a family man, and in faith, Brendan McDonough is living proof that Breaking Down Barriers leads to success in recovery.
Before becoming a Hotshot, Brendan already had overcome incredible barriers by recovering from a crippling heroin and alcohol addiction, with his then-unborn daughter as inspiration. Staying off of drugs after the emotional trauma of losing his brothers was yet another seemingly insurmountable barrier.
Instead of ultimately succumbing, he faced his addiction and behavioral triggers with grace and continues to walk a meaningful journey with the memory of his fallen Hotshot brothers compelling him forward. And moreover, believing there to be a powerful reason his life was saved.
Today, Brendan’s growing family can be proud of their father, who walks in service of others as they encounter sobriety one day at a time. At CARE, you’ll hear how he threads these incredible lessons into the fabric of his life, his work, his family, and most importantly, his faith in his higher power. You won’t want to miss Brendan’s story first hand.
Tell us about your life growing up and at what age did you start using drugs (and) drinking?
I was born in southern California, my mother was a single mom when I was two and didn’t meet my father until later in life. My mother and I moved just about every year all around Southern California. I first used marijuana around the age of 12 and started drinking shortly after. I grew up in and out of the church, but the relationship with Christ never stuck for me until I was older. I quickly tried to fill the void in my life with drugs and alcohol. My behavior progressed in high school with different party drugs leading to pills and heroin after I had graduated high school.
You not only had struggles with addiction, but also trauma, grief, and PTSD after the fire. Was there a single moment you when realized you had to get help?
There were many moments that I knew I needed help, but my brothers had just died, and their families had lost everything, I thought to myself “who I am to complain or be in pain?” I tried to be tough and suck it up, I was a Hotshot, a firefighter, and the “man up” mentality was instilled for generations before me. I honestly thought I was dying because I had no clue what PTSD was. I would get blood work done to make sure I wasn’t sick or to ensure something wasn’t severely off with my physical health. I would have my doctor check me out and tell me my physical health was fine and that I should probably see a counselor… I would laugh. I spent many nights drinking, sleepless, haunted by nightmares, suicidal, depressed and suffering from PTSD. It wasn’t until a little over a year after a national memorial service at a bar in Maryland that my lifeline had walked in.
That day it was not shots but glasses of whiskey. I had heard their names enough, the bell ringing and the bagpipes haunting me. A counselor who had traveled with us (the 19 families, fire service members and I) came up to me at the bar and asked me “How are you doing”?
I thought to myself for a split second should I give her the B.S. answer or the real one. I told her the real answer. The previous week I had a gun to my head and wanted to end it all. I told her that if I had to live the rest of my life living like this, I couldn’t do it. She just listened and asked me if I wanted to get help. I told her if you can find someone to help me, I will trust you and I will go. She told me it was going to be hard and a lot of work. I thought to be a Hotshot with 16-hour plus shifts for weeks at a time was tough until I walked into counseling to face my demons, what haunted me at night, and the men I missed so deeply. Nine months after intensive counseling I walked out a changed man, not perfect — but a man of peace, understanding and hope.
What advice can you give parents if they notice signs pointing towards addiction in their children?
Educate yourself, reach out for help and don’t be ashamed. The disease of addiction is deadly and complex, as well as trauma and other mental health struggles. Reach out for help, you willingly go to a mechanic for your car, a plumber for your pipes, and a doctor for a broken leg. For addiction and mental health, you need to go see a professional. I am on a personal mission to break the stigmas associated with addiction so that people can come forward and respectfully get the help so many of us need.
How do you maintain your sobriety today?
I maintain my sobriety most importantly by having a relationship with God, taking care of myself, my family, focusing on my purpose and being of service. I have no shame in saying Jesus Christ saved my life and has made me whole again.
Talk about your passion for recovery and trauma work.
My passion for recovery and trauma work led me to open the Holdfast Recovery Center. It is my true purpose and I am completely honored to be able to walk alongside those who struggle with addiction, PTSD, and mental health problems. I know what I was willing to sacrifice as a firefighter for my community and those in need — and I know that I am still willing to sacrifice it today. Not many people will go to the lengths myself and our team are willing to go to help others, it’s in my blood and instilled in my life and our program at Holdfast Recovery. Myself and our entire team of professionals at Holdfast are committed to serve and love others and provide them the help they need.
Do you have an advantage when helping people with shared experiences?
I have had a lot of different trials and tribulations in my life, or as I like to call them “Scars” as have many of our staff at Holdfast Recovery. We not only have sympathy for those struggling but have true empathy as well. I’ve abused drugs and alcohol, come from a broken family, been though trauma, lost brothers in a fire and to the disease of addiction. I have had tremendous amounts of experiences in my life and a lot more yet to live. I plan on using those experiences, good and bad to serve and share with others. “Holdfast, Stay True”!
For more information on CARE, visit celebratetheartofrecovery.org