A sister's perspective on recovery from addiction
Reprinted from "Parenting" issue of Vsions Journal, 2004, 2(2), p. 26
I adore my younger brother. He means the world to me. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for him if it meant that he would be happy.
My brother and I are 14 months apart in age, so we went through the same stages together. We partied together at university, experimenting with alcohol and pot. As siblings, we formed an alliance and shared in our silly and irresponsible behaviour. Together we made an invincible team, popular and busy. When I left home to study law abroad, my brother and I were sadly separated. It was while I was obtaining my degree that my brother's illness surfaced and changed my life forever.
I will never forget the family intervention we held in the kitchen, mid-morning on a sunny summer's day. I was the one who guessed crack cocaine. I felt such guilt as a sibling when I discovered that I was the one who survived the haze of those years unscathed. It's like names were pulled out of a hat and I got lucky. I got to move on with my life while my brother got to enter a treatment centre. We were all so fragile and scared and so ill-equipped. I craved knowledge and understanding and peace. I watched my parents wilt and fade. This was the hardest part of all, to see their sadness and helplessness.
The easiest way I can explain the dynamic of my family is to say that it is like a triangle. In the right-angle corner is me, and I have one kind of relationship with my parents and one with my brother. But it is the relationship between my parents and my brother, the hypotenuse, that is the most difficult to watch. I remember one Mother's Day when I called to wish my mom a wonderful day and to say the flowers were on their way. All my dad could say was that my brother had called from jail in Iowa. Jail in Iowa and I, a thousand miles away. How was I to comfort them and who was there to comfort me?
Discussing an addiction is a difficult thing, especially at a young age and in a peer group and society where overindulgence is socially acceptable. I had had to alter my own beliefs and ideas of addiction and was not yet ready to fight against the stereotypes of others. It was a lonely and confusing time. Every time I called home, the updates grew more and more depressing. The conversations were always about him: my brother, the addict.
During my brother's relapses, our relationship seemed to collapse, and during times of recovery, we made the effort to rebuild what had been lost. This continuous rebuilding is what took the most strength and was the most exhausting. After the tears dried, I spent hours listening and trying to understand and forgive what he had done. The forgiving was always faster for my parents. They carried him endlessly through relapses and recoveries. As time went on, the debates between my parents and I on how to deal with my brother grew sharper and louder. He was taking up so much time, money and energy. I did not have to forgive him as quickly or support him as readily because he was not my child. As a sibling you can keep your distance, but my parents felt that distance and it was hard on them. In the end I would always relent and let my brother know that my love and support would always be there for him. It just took longer sometimes – to tell him, to see him, to hug him again.
This past summer, my brother performed the ceremony at my wedding. He was four months clean and on controlled medication. I was really seeing him for the first time. In his speech, he thanked me for being a key element of support in his rough road to recovery. Little does he know the impact he has made on my recovery. My brother, my hero.
About the author
From Grief to Action is a non-profit advocacy society working to improve the lives of drug users, their families and friends