National Recovery Month 2023 – Together We Are Stronger

The World Stopped the Day I Lost My Brother

Cathy Chesnoff

The year was 2012; a time forever engrained with heartache and loss.  My brother, two years my junior, believed he had to sacrifice himself in order to provide salvation for me and my sister; a belief he conjured shortly after starting high school, finding both relief and pain in marijuana, oscillating between feelings of devil and deity.  

As kids, he made me laugh all the time, though trying to cope with feelings of abandonment and a lack of protection were patterns he knew well. Growing up in an emotionally and physically abusive environment, our family carried this unspoken burden of Catholic guilt, often leading us to hide our feelings with calls to simply “snap out of it.”  Addressing the topic of ‘mental health’ seemed to only amplify the underlying pain my parents struggled to confront.  

I tried to help my brother but I wasn’t a professional… I was trying to cope with my own depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues that I felt ashamed to share, finding a semblance of refuge in marijuana as my way to escape.  Did I mention we went to Catholic school? 

Through the fog of my high, polarizing thoughts, similar to my brother’s began to surface; my fear felt like a spiritual incarnation of dread that I had no clue how to navigate.  I tried connecting with him about my experience, though it was clear his mind would wander, convincing himself no one could understand. After the first year of high school, once he’d slipped in with the wrong crowd and upped his weed-intake, his deteriorating mental-health gave rise to religious delusions, paranoia, and psychosis; suddenly, we were faced with what felt like an insurmountable crisis. Schizophrenia soon cast its shadow and as he slipped deeper into his struggle, his eyes held an air of inner torment while his essence became catatonic… almost like he’d become a zombie. Despite an avalanche of contradicting evidence, including my sister dropping out of school in eighth grade, and my brother’s friends coming to us, telling us he needs professional help, my parents still believed if someone was depressed it was within their control to fix it, which part of me agreed with.  

Cathy Chesnoff

Honestly, I don’t know if I blame them for the outcome – I mean, I still blame myself some days, but I know the day he left us will forever live in my memory.  

It was a Thursday morning in January; he drove down to Palos Verdes wearing shorts and a t-shirt and found himself sobbing, chanting, and praying on the ledge of a cliff.  It was close enough to the local high school that a counselor and two students happened upon him during a walk and intervened.  Still weeping, he plead his case, that he needed to do this to save me and my sister, and he needed to do it at 11:11.  He spoke with them for two hours, however, sending my mom a text at some point in between, telling her to come down – that he was going to kill himself.  

Freaking out, my mom and I sped to the peninsula, relieved to find him alive with the counselor and girls still there.  We were gentle, but firm on the fact that he needed help.  Though he was terrified of treatment, convinced he wasn’t crazy, ultimately, he agreed, he needed help, though he drew the line at going back with us in the car, pushing my mom out of the way, which someone saw and reported to the police. As fate would have it, an undercover cop was right around the corner.  He parked close to us and right as my brother was about to open his own car door, the cop came sprinting towards him.  My brother instinctively ran towards the ledge, though his car blocked our view.  My heart sank.  

“He jumped…”   

The words reverberated, immediately changing my reality.  A piece of me seemed to die with him.  I couldn’t see or hear… everything around me became still; even talking about it now, I can feel my throat tighten as I hold back tears.


Cathy Chesnoff


It wasn’t supposed to happen that way… why did that cop run at him?… why didn’t my parents help him?   

As angry as I was, I didn’t want to shut the world out.  Perhaps intuitively, I knew that wouldn’t help.  Instead, I leaned on my two closest friends; they shared my spiritual beliefs and their unwavering support served as my only source of comfort as they helped me ground in a higher purpose. Weeks later, after the last home-made lasagna was delivered, I allowed my brother’s tragic departure to light a fire within me, pushing me to advocate for issues that had consumed him. I found purpose at a mental health center, witnessing the comfort and compassion of a safe space, as well as the uniqueness of each person’s recovery journey. I allowed this to spark my passion for administrative advocacy which I’ve found deeper meaning in, working at Hansei.  

My sister found purpose in aviation mechanics, reveling in connection and growth, while my husband, a fellow behavioral health advocate, stands united with me in the desire for change. Within my circle, family and friends have battled addiction and mental health issues and I’ve witnessed the devastating toll.  The toll on physical and mental well-being, the corrosive effects on judgment, the financial strain, the loneliness, the lack of trust, codependency, and the inability to effectively communication.


Cathy Chesnoff



My experience underscores the absolute necessity of advocating for comprehensive, holistic, and interdisciplinary treatment, for each individual. It has also illuminated my own biases and codependent tendencies, urging me to confront and overcome them.

With that, my spirituality has deepened and my values have been fortified, leaving an unquenchable thirst within me to understand, empathize with, and support anyone suffering. My brother could only see one trajectory of what his life was going to be, lacking patience and understanding that life can get better.  Even if it’s not your family, or your friends, or your therapist, your life matters, if you let it matter.  Please, let it matter. 

Cathy Chesnoff


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

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