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EXCLUSIVE: Wife Links Husband's Suicide to Steroid and GHB Use

In October, Bill Brotherton, jumped in front of a Metrolink train in Dana Point, authorities said. His wife, Kristi Hugstad, is hoping to educate others about the dangers of drug use.

(Editor's Note: In October, Bill Brotherton jumped in front of a Metrolink train in Dana Point, taking his own life, authorities said. His wife, Kristi Hugstad, reached out to Laguna Niguel Patch, hoping to educate others about drug abuse, she said.)

My husband, committed suicide on Oct. 10, by jumping in front of a Metrolink train just south of Dana Point, where we lived. 

What could cause someone to do this?? 

By all accounts, he had a good life and should have been happy. 

We had been married seven years. We were both in the fitness industry. Bill had been a competitive body builder for years, and opened his  gym, Headlands Fitness , shortly after he moved to Dana Point. I owned the Sweat Shop and Xhale Pilates.  After we got married, we combined our businesses into a new gym, Pulse Fitness, which we successfully ran for four and a half years. 

In early 2011, we received an offer to purchase Pulse Fitness, and we sold the business, but continued to work there as trainers. We bought a vacation condo on the beach in Rosarito, Mexico, where we spent most weekends relaxing and enjoying the amazing ocean views, the food and the people in Baja.  

Because of the tough economy in the U.S., the fitness business was rather slow in Dana Point, and in October 2011, we decided to move into our Rosarito condo full time and build up our Pilates and personal training businesses in Baja.   Although the move was more of an adjustment than we’d expected, over our first three months in Baja, we came to enjoy and appreciate the slower and simpler lifestyle.     

Then, in January, something in Bill seemed to snap. He experienced severe anxiety and insomnia, at one point not sleeping for four consecutive days, constantly pacing around the condo. He shouted, cried, and threatened to jump off the building. Friends of ours recommended a local psychologist, and the initial visits seemed to help somewhat.  

Bill learned breathing techniques to help calm himself. But over the next two months, he still couldn’t sleep, and the pacing continued, accompanied by a constant muttering to himself and bizarre arm and hand movements as though he were picking things out of the air.  He’d lost about 30 pounds by then, and it was obvious that he desperately needed help. 

We moved back to Dana Point, and saw a succession of doctors, therapists and counselors. Bill was put on many different medications. Although some medications finally allowed him to sleep, his depression became increasingly severe.  

He often mentioned suicide, and was hospitalized briefly after a suicide attempt with sleeping pills. I pleaded with the hospital to keep him and told them that he badly needed help. However, he was released after one night on suicide watch, since in the morning he “wasn’t suicidal.” 

The next six months were a living hell for both of us. Bill could manage to get up early in the morning and go to the gym to work out and train his one or two clients. He’d then return home to our apartment, where he spent the rest of the day.  

On weekends he didn’t have clients, so he never left the apartment. He became irritable and critical of everything I did. He saw only the negative in everything.  Apart from his training, he avoided people. I began to stay at work longer, take more time to run errands or go for runs, just to avoid spending time in the apartment alone with him.   

Then, he began accusing me of having an affair and having another apartment where I met my supposed lover. As his paranoia increased, he accused me of secretly draining our joint bank accounts and taking the money for myself and ”my boyfriend.”

But despite all of this, Bill could rally when he needed to. His friends had no idea what he was going through and Bill would have been horrified had anyone found out. When his parents came to visit from Texas for eight days in July, Bill picked them up from their hotel every day, showed them around and had lunch and dinner with them. Although he was quieter than normal at these times, someone who didn’t know him well would never have realized that there was a problem.

He killed himself 10 months after his initial breakdown in January.  

I’ll never truly knew what was going on inside his head or how he could have hated himself and life so much to do what he did. I’d always suspected that Bill’s use of anabolic steroids when he was a body builder might have impacted his health. But after researching the effects of steroids and other drugs, he’d taken earlier in his life, I was absolutely stunned. I’m convinced that Bill’s illness was caused in large part by his years of drug use. 

As a body builder, Bill took anabolic steroids for 10 years. And as is common with steroid users, once he quit steroids, he moved on to another drug (in his case, GHB) to combat the anxiety, insomnia and irritability resulting from steroid use. He used GHB for seven years, sipping it in a drink throughout the day. He had to stop GHB after it became illegal, but suffered from anxiety and insomnia. 

So he started what became long term use of benzodiazepenes. He took Halcion and Nyquil every night for seven years, switching to Xanax (multiple doses nightly) when we were in Mexico, because the Halcion he purchased didn’t seem to work. None of these drugs were prescribed by a doctor or taken under a doctor’s supervision. 

Doctors are just now seeing the results of long-term use of anabolic steroids, as athletes who used them in the 1970s and 80s are reaching middle age. Most people are familiar with the term “roid rage,” when users become angry and violent while on steroids. But the long term effects can be even more deadly.   Current literature indicates that steroid use can cause both physical damage, such as heart disease and liver failure, as well as long term psychiatric problems, including anxiety and depression.  

The research on GHB is equally frightening. It is considered highly addictive.  The greatest immediate risk is death from overdose, but even regular low dose use has devastating side effects, including unrelenting anxiety, depression and insomnia.   

During the years we were married, Bill got several phone calls from “Big Phil,” a friend from his body building days, reporting on the deaths of several of their mutual friends at relatively young ages. Bill refused to talk to him or return his calls. I now vividly recall one of Big Phil’s messages:  “Dude, all of our friends are dying!”  

Then finally, Bill got a message from Big Phil’s daughter: Big Phil had committed suicide. 

I’m telling my story because I want to educate young people on these drugs in order to prevent more needless suffering and death. Steroid use has increased over the years, and is now all too common, even among high school athletes.   And GHB is a casually used, easily accessible “club drug.”

 My message is:

  • Don’t use them! 
  • Educate yourself and your friends on the adverse effects of these drugs. They are serious and potentially life-threatening.
  • If you’re already taking these drugs, find a doctor or clinic that specializes in drug abuse and get help to get off them. Quitting cold turkey can be very dangerous, and you may need tmporary treatment with other drugs, so do it under a doctor’s supervision. 
  • Don’t think something like this can’t happen to you– before this year, I would never have believed this could happen to my husband, who seemed to be the picture of good health.      

I can’t bring my husband back, but if I can stop others from destroying their lives in the same way, at least his death will have resulted in some good.     

Stephanie gomez December 04, 2012 at 07:51 PM
I agree those comments were absent of any compassion for another human being who just suffered the loss of her husband. Judging others is easy I guess until you are in it or near a situation like this with someone you care for. You may not be aware of that your judging makes the loved ones hurt that much more, but you know this now. People in a crisis need a hand and support and guidance not a finger of judgment waving in their face,
Stephanie gomez December 04, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Sorry for your loss as well.
Donna L December 04, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Also may I add that as a mother with 2 athletic teens in my home, they will know the dangers of steriod and drug use and how it affected Bill and Kristi.
Gary Hines December 04, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Heartfelt condolences and healing to and for you Kristi. Please be assured that you are on point with your observations and comments. As a former competitive bodybulider of your late huband's era, I also have lost several former competitors and friends to steroid-related circumstances. So, please continue your noble, courageous, admirable and informative work.
May December 04, 2012 at 09:16 PM
What an informative article! I appreciate your willingness to be so honest and open to everyone for the greater good of educating. I know personally I would not have been so brave as to share my life story, struggles, battles, and personal business with the world. Thank you for writing this truthful article and encouraging us to each take responsibility for ourselves and loved ones in learning more about the drugs, pills, etc we put into our body. It is a shame that someone would read this article and choose to purposely write something negative about it. The intent of you opening up and sharing you opinion from personal experience should ONLY be viewed as something positive, commendable, and inspiring to each of us to do our own research and learn from it, not dispute or make judgements. Thank you again for writing this article.
Noelle Mathieu December 04, 2012 at 10:14 PM
As a mother of two teenagers, I thank you for your courage in sharing your story. We live in a world of instant gratification.. Many make choices without realizing the long term impact that poor choices can have. Pressure to be better, faster, stronger must be so difficult for young athletes to bear. Thank you again for your voice on this subject.
jacinda December 05, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Thank you, Kristi, for putting out such a powerful message so soon after Bill's death. Your desire to help others while you are trying to put your life back together shows your courage and selflessness. I hope this will help anyone else struggling with related issues who may not have connected their struggles with current or past steroid use.
Joanna Locke Dobson December 05, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Kristi Keep going I think your amazing!! As a mother of 3 sons, ages 23,19 and 14. I have seen with my own eyes what my son and his Football team have done to get big in the Weight room and fast. I'm talking maybe 8 weeks and these kids look like Gladiators!! And these products are not supposed to be harmful! How do we know really know? And how it effects your brain. It's like the research they are doing on concussions now too!!! Please ignore people who are insensitive and rude. Keep going!! Stay strong! I'm so sorry for your loss, Joanna
ms.sc. December 06, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Stephanie Gomez and Donna L., I agree with your posts and I do apologize for being short in my posts. I am saddened for this family I do not know. What concerns me is the use of drugs in the "fitness" world and the harm they do. I mean no disrespect for Kristi, as she was a victim too. I may not say what I believe so "proper", as Kristi was a victim too and was also afraid. I am truely sorry. My intention was to bring awareness, not pain. Kristi, my prayers are with your strength. I have not walked in your shoes, I am sorry I judged.
Tom Blake December 06, 2012 at 04:12 PM
I knew something "not good" had occurred on Wednesday, October 10, around 5:45 p.m. I was walking to my car in the parking lot of the Blue Lantern Plaza in Dana Point, where my deli, Tutor and Spunky's, has been located for seven years. I noticed a police car come slowly into the parking lot and the officer seemed to be looking for something. When he exited his vehicle, I told him who I was and asked if I could help him, since I'm also the resident property manager for the center. He said that a man had stepped in front of a train who may have owned a fitness center in Dana Point. There is a fitness center five doors down from my deli. I noticed that the current owner's truck was parked in front of the center, and that he was inside. I mentioned this to the officer. He thanked me and went to speak to Stass, the owner. I was puzzled and had no clue who the officer was talking about. I drove to my home in San Clemente, taking my usual route, down PCH, past the Double Tree Hotel, under the railroad tressle, and as I came up from under the tressle, traffic was stopped. It was a very eerie site. The train was stopped perhaps 50 yards down the track. There were multiple police cars along the curb and at least 50 officers and people wearing orange jackets mulling around the train. I thought to myself, this is what the officer referred to. Again, I had no idea who had stepped in front of that train. But it haunted me that night. I will post another comment to finish my thoughts.
Tom Blake December 06, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Part 2. The next day in the Patch, I read that it was Bill, which explained the police officer's presence in the parking lot. The news took my breath away. Bill and Kristi had owned Pulse Fitness, the fitness center five doors down. My deli staff loved them; we've known Kristi for years. They were such wonderful people that we named a sandwich "Pulse Fitness." Even two months later, I can't get my arms around losing Bill. Everyday when I drive home I look at the train track location and picture that train stopped there. Bill, we loved you. Now, on to Kristi's article. What an incredible, wonderful article you wrote--so personal, well done, and delivering a strong message. I am really proud of you for having the fortitude for telling that story. Someday, Kristi, make it a book, at least an e-book. Also, that picture of you and Bill, I would like to post on the deli wall, to honor you both. May I have your permission to do that and perhaps get a copy of the picture from you? You are definitely a part of the 25-year history of Tutor and Spunky's. We hope to see you soon.
Jose Flores December 06, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Jose Flores 25 Martial Artist, and Fitness Trainer I have been an instructor since 2008 and have worked with mixed martial artists, law enforcement, and navy seals. Steroids, growth hormones and illegal substances are prevalent in today's young athletes. At the highest level of competition Its not about who is using, but how well they are hiding it. There are healthy ways to optimize hormone levels in the body without abusing steroids. Coming from a young athletes perspective, I totally support Kristi's article. It's unfortunate that people e are unaware until its too late.. Your article will be a great source of education and something I can refer to regularly. Thank you for your courage, and my prayers go out to you and Bill's family.
ms.sc. December 06, 2012 at 06:56 PM
After reading many of the above posts, I cannot express how sorry I am to have judged so quickly. Thank you for the education Patch poster's. Sorry I was such a "buffoon". :(
Stephanie gomez December 06, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Ms. sc., I respect that you took the time to apologize. The point of Kristi speaking out in public is to bring awareness to the long term affects of use of these drugs to enhance fitness. Like in many competitive sports, from high school to professional, usage of performance enhancing drugs is acceptable amongst each other. The future affects can be deadly. Being she just lost her husband a little over a month ago, I think people are extra sensitive that she is not coming from matter of fact state of mind, but still grieving the loss of her spouse. This problem starts with our kids in high school. We need to focus on that.
Stephanie gomez December 06, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Amen Jose.
George W Haligowski December 06, 2012 at 09:58 PM
George W Haligowski, Rancho Santa Fe Ca, Private equity investor. I knew both Kristi and Bill as I met them both at my beach house and they soon purchased a like one shortly after that. We became fast friends and I enjoyed their company for dinners workouts and adventure. Bill was special as Kristi is... Bill was a gentle giant as that is the best way that I can explain who he was.. My 10 year old daughter also liked him and would often bang on their door and visited them by herself as Bill did that to you.. He made you feel safe and Sophia knew he was a soft touch..This was Bill. I knew about the problems I tried to help and spent a considerable period of time with Kristi talking about the ebb and flow of life, I thought this to shall pass but it did not. I remember one workout down in the gym where Kristi asked me a question in front of Bill " we can teach you ways to get bigger so you can look more like Bill" Kristi was speaking about my workouts and not drugs. I responded that I was not interested in having a body like Bills. In the back of mind as I had seen earlier pictures of Bill during is professional bodybuilding days that I just figured he like our ex Governor took performance enhancing drugs. Bill was simply super human in his proportions. I have very little knowledge as to what the side effects in later life are, but I knew Kristi was very concerned that it was most likely the cause. I hope serious research is being conducted and some treatment is discovered. G
Linda Fleming December 08, 2012 at 06:12 AM
I met Bill when he first began body building and we were married for 10 years. I can tell anyone who questions Bill's dedication, knowledge and strict discipline that I have never known another person with more of each quality. Bill was not big and muscular only because he took steroids. He ate an extremely healthy diet and had more willpower to resist unhealthy foods than anyone I have ever met. About the only temptation he rarely indulged in was vanilla bean ice cream. Bill trained hard and he trained consistently. Steroids are mentally addictive and their users feel as though they must continue taking the drugs to maintain their size. Just turn on the television, today, and I'm sure you can find an ad with a physician in his 60s bragging about having the body of a 25 year old, promoting some supplement and making statements such as "your testosterone levels naturally decrease with age". Bill would have had an amazing physique without the use of the steroids. It is my opinion that Bill had a distorted body image perception similar to the way anorexia sufferers view themselves, but in the reverse. PART 2 to follow...
Linda Fleming December 08, 2012 at 06:24 AM
PART 2....Bill was a gentle giant, as many who knew him have said. He never fully realized how large and muscular he was. I always felt that when he looked in the mirror he saw the skinny basketball player he was in high school. Steroids are a problem, not just in the sport of body building, but in cycling, baseball, football, swimming, wrestling and many others. As for the GHB use, ironically, Bill began taking it to HELP his insomnia, a problem for which it was promoted as helping, when it first became available in the US. It was recommended to Bill by a health food store associate and he purchased it, legally, without ever imagining the detrimental impact it would ultimately have on his life...... With so many new "designer" drugs entering the marketplace, Kristi's message is more important and urgent than ever. Athletes who are taking what they consider a harmless performance enhancing substance, today, should realize they can't fast forward 20 or 30 years and see how these drugs will negatively impact their psyche, overall health and lifespan. With the pressure on them to be faster, stronger and more competitive, it's easy for them to be naive to the long term damage the use of many of these drugs and often legal supplements WILL cause. I know Bill would not want anyone else to suffer the way he did. I'm sure he is so proud of Kristi for trying to help others while dealing with her own personal loss, anguish and pain. Please help Kristi spread her message.
Tess December 09, 2012 at 11:39 PM
clinical depression, whether brought on by substance abuse, economic pressures, genetics, etc. is a growing problem with suicide rates escalating. Women are more likely to attempt suicide, while men are 4 times more successful. Think it's time to step up our mental health programs!!!!!
Neil J. December 10, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Thank you for posting and putting awareness out there. This was a terrible tragedy and people need to be aware of the side effects of steroid use.
Neil J. December 10, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Kristi, " thank you for posting" I could not understand why and how this could have happened. This article gives me the closure I needed.
Neil J. December 10, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Kristi, " thank you for posting" I cold not understand why and how this could have happened to Bill. This article gives me the closure I needed.
DENISE byrne December 11, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Amazing story that should be shouted from the rooftop!!! Thank you for your courage and sharing!!
ms.sc. December 12, 2012 at 03:02 AM
No more drugs in the yoga/fitness world. Drink some carrot juice and be good to each other. Prayers to you Kristi. I am sad you were not aware of your husbands drug use. Your silence speaks volumes. Your courage after shouts "from the rooftop". God Bless you Kristi.
Heidi B December 21, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Why didn't the hospital hold Bill for 72 hours after the 5150 hold was issued? Isn't that involuntary? Why did they let him go in the morning? Where were Kristi & Bill to go for help when the ER failed them? With everything Bill went thru before the ER, one would think the Doctors would have done something. Where are we to seek help if we can't find it in medical community? Much research needs to be done for mental heath issue's, too little conversation about it. Something no one wants to talk about. Thank-you Kristi for sharing your story. I think this topic should be discussed in every school locker room and gym class. It's truly sad that Bill & Kristi could find the help needed.
Heidi B December 21, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Why didn't the hospital hold Bill for 72 hours after the 5150 hold was issued? Isn't that involuntary? Why did they let him go in the morning? Where were Kristi & Bill to go for help when the ER failed them? With everything Bill went thru before the ER, one would think the Doctors would have done something. Where are we to seek help if we can't find it in medical community? Much research needs to be done for mental heath issue's, too little conversation about it. Something no one wants to talk about. Thank-you Kristi for sharing your story. I think this topic should be discussed in every school locker room and gym class. It's truly sad that Bill & Kristi couldn't find the help needed.
John Arcello January 28, 2013 at 09:39 PM
Wow, I'm in shock over this, I went through what bill did. There is a lot more to this then just steroids. I owned the gym down the road and knew bill very well we worked out together. I give Kristi a lot of credit for trying to help him. I have some insight on this and would love to talk to Kristi, I'm getting on my feet now and thank God my outcome was different, it could have easily ended up the same way.
kristi webster February 21, 2013 at 03:11 AM
Hi Kristi, My Name is also Kristi. I have had the complete opposite happen. I married at 19 and had two beautiful south county children. My husband was diagnosed bipolar and ultimately ended in suicide. My two children are very different besides being a boy and a girl. I could not handle the suicide among other traumas that occurred at roughly the same time. I developed an addiction to many different prescription drugs, some prescribed in rehab. My son is 20 and very loving and forgiving but my daughter will have nothing to do with me. I have missed her senior homecoming, winter formal, and for now all other senior activities. She actually moved out while still in high school. This does not only happen to young people. I have a master's degree. I am currently off Soma and Remeron and weaning off Klonopin over the next month. Luckily, I have two doctors, one that is very supportive. I tried to cold turkey and ended up in the hospital. None of this started until I was about 28 years old. I vow to beat this after several horrible years for myself and my whole family. Most people do not understand the time involved in the weaning off process. There were many times I should have died and I vow to go back to school and get a doctorate in psychology with an emphasis in chemical dependency. I am so sorry for your loss. I do not understand why some people survive and some don't.
Oscar Grant March 05, 2013 at 12:32 AM
Is that you Mr. Haligowski..CEO of Imperial Capital Bank?
ms.sc. March 05, 2013 at 10:39 PM
Your daughter "banged" on their door? Was she a "gentle giant" as Bill? Your daughter was only 10? Sorry, but your post is acutally troubling. If you Knew about the "problems" why would you even let your innocent, precious 10 year old daughter "bang" on their door? Kristi speaking about your personal workouts sounds self-centered on her part. I hope serious research is being conducted and some treatment is discovered on Kristi. Something is wrong with this so-called health club.

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