Addicted to heroin and unable to stop on his own, Brian Storm finds himself sitting on the tracks waiting for a train to come and take his life. But things weren’t always this bad for Brian, an aspiring white rapper from Philadelphia who had a good upbringing. In Brian’s early teen years, he discovers that drugs and alcohol are the perfect solutions to his low self-esteem issues. Like most addicts and alcoholics, Brian believes that he can stop at any time, so he doesn’t see any harm in continuing to drink and smoke weed. What he doesn’t know is that with every sip and every puff, he falls deeper into a world of crime and desperation.
The Struggle is a gripping true story that takes you through the life of an alcoholic/addict who hits rock bottom but quickly learns that the more he tries to dig himself out, the deeper that bottom gets. It takes a blessing in disguise for Brian to finally get the help he needs, but when he does, he learns that The Struggle is far from over.
Despite the title, there’s excitement and wit here, too. Writing with crisp clarity and power, plus an eye for the telling detail, Storm digs into his love of hip hop, his youthful penning of rhymes, and the way trouble at first seemed manageable. But some of the kids living on the edge in any high school fall off. For Storm, working in a Xanax blur at McDonald’s at 16 soon leads to hustling “works” (syringes) on the street, subsisting on “sugar sandwiches” made from purloined sugar packets, and working with an addict whom he fell for in detox to shake down her ex-boyfriend.
Tense confrontations, dope-sick sweats, HIV scares, a murder, lost time with loved ones: The Struggle lays out its tragedies and miseries without a sense of romance or braggadocio, instead relating the facts (as Storm recalls them) in prose that moves quickly and never suggests self-pity. Material about AA and recovery proves as compelling as the dark stuff, and the everyday victories in the final chapters—marriage, home ownership, a degree—are especially moving.
Takeaway: This searing but wise account of addiction and recovery inspires as much as it harrows.
Great for fans of: Nic Sheff’s Tweak, Koren Zailckas’s Smashed.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Brian Storm said he needs to remind himself that he’s only one bad decision away.
A 15-year drug and alcohol habit had led the former Tacony resident down a scary path in his teens and 20s. Now 13 years clean and sober, Storm has published his memoirs in an effort to help others.
“After sharing my story at an AA meeting, this guy came up to me and said I should write a book because it would help a lot of people,” Storm, now 42, recalled. “I thought it was a good idea and that planted the seed. I didn’t go home that night and write it, but it wasn’t long after that, I started writing one chapter a day.”
Storm’s story, The Struggle, is an honest and vulnerable chronicle of his personal demons of drug use and attempted suicide. The Father Judge High School graduate now lives in South Philly’s Grays Ferry neighborhood and has been working the last seven years at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Thomas F. Donatucci branch on Shunk Street in Girard Estate.
Growing up in Tacony, Storm said he had a normal upbringing but started down a dark path with drinking at age 12 and drugs at age 15. Thinking he could stop at any time, Storm spiraled out of control and nearly took his own life sitting on train tracks, waiting for an oncoming train.
“There were a couple rock bottoms,” he said. “But the one that really did it for me was the withdrawal from heroin in a jail cell. From there, the Philadelphia Treatment Court sent me to a rehab and that’s what really did it. I tried to rehab on my own in the past but it never worked. But the last one, because it was court mandated, it gave me the push I needed.”
As part of a 12-step program, Storm began sharing his story and realized it benefited himself as well as other recovering addicts.
“In the 12-step program, to stay clean and sober, you have to help others,” Storm said. “One way you do that is to share your story at meetings. But I wanted to write down my story and put it into book form so that other people can read it, not just in meetings, but anywhere across the country. It was really just about helping other addicts.”
That was 10 years ago when Storm released the original version of The Struggle. Since then, he went back to school to receive his Associate of Arts Degree and started his career of working at the library. He decided to revisit The Struggle and polish it up for a re-release.
“I didn’t know much about writing then,” Storm said. “I just kind of ran it through Microsoft spell check and called it a day. But since then, I’ve taken college courses and I work in a library now and I know a lot more about writing so I wanted to do it right.”
The Struggle: 10 Years Later hit bookshelves on March 14 and can be ordered on his website brianstormbooks.com. Storm holds nothing back in a gripping tale of his early life addictions. He said the honest look at his failures is what keeps him on the right track.
“When I was getting high, everyone knew I was an addict,” Storm said. “They saw what I was going through. I never tried to hide it. When I got clean and sober, why would I try to hide it now? And writing about it and putting it out there reminds me that I’m still an addict. I’m one bad decision away from going back to that person. By writing about it, it’s actually helping me.”
And he’s already avoided a few possible slip-ups. Coping with the anniversary of his mother’s death and learning he had contracted HIV nearly tripped him up.
“The first year was tough around Mother’s Day,” he said. “My mom died when I was 20. That first year sober, I had to deal with her death without drinking or getting high. And when I was 90 days clean and sober, I found out I had HIV. And I was this close to getting high. I was downtown and I was coming back to rehab and I had to pass by Somerset Station. When I heard those doors open, I started walking. But I stopped and got down on my knees and started praying and it got me through it. I was so close. I didn’t know anything about medication back then so I thought I was going to die at the time.”
Storm says the stories in the book feel like a bad dream, but he’s healthy and happy now living in South Philly with his wife Monica. He loves his job and the married couple help rescue animals.
“I love animals,” Storm said with a smile. “We save all the kitty cats out on the street.”
And he also centered a children’s book around an animal, too. Released in November, The Monkey on My Brother’s Back is a metaphoric story about drug addiction and other dangers.
“It’s a picture book about teaching kids to listen to your parents,” Storm said. “Because if you don’t, you’re going to hang out with the bad kids. (In the story) they break into a zoo and he gets a monkey stuck on his back. A metaphor for drugs obviously.”
Storm said he just hopes his message gets across in one way or another. He hopes his success story will inspire others.
“I was addicted to drugs for a long time and I just wanted to write a book about it to help other people,” Storm said. “But now, I went from selling drugs to running a chess club here on Thursdays with little kids. I still can’t believe it.”