Few illnesses affect the family like addiction does. It can leave lasting scars to members of the family who were by no fault of their own born into a family with an addict. There is much talk about how addiction affects parents, children, and spouses, but there is little talk of how addiction affects siblings. These siblings are often overlooked by their parents, because their beleaguered mothers and fathers are busy dealing with an active addict, and few people afterwards think twice of how their brother or sister’s actions may have affected these siblings. This can lead to feelings of neglect, anger, jealousy, and shame that can take years to overcome.
A good friend of mine was kind enough to share with me a story that summed up her experience living with her brother who was an addict. If you are currently the sibling of an addict or alcoholic, I hope that her story helps you to know that you are not alone and gives you hope for what is possible.
My friend had moved back home from college a few years prior to the incident she describes, only to find out the true extent of her brother’s addiction to heroin. She told me how she couldn’t believe that her father was letting this go on and how no one seemed to address the fact that her brother was emaciated, nodding out during dinner, stealing, and constantly lying. She told me how she felt like she was going crazy, because no one else seemed to be affected by it, and what’s worse is that she felt like there was no one that she could talk to.
The story she told me was that she had some friends from college over one day. It was one of the few times that she had people over the house, because she was so embarrassed by the unpredictability of her brother’s actions that she didn’t want people to see him. Well they were hanging out in the kitchen and he came down from his room in a complete stupor, totally out of his mind, and started to grab a bunch of kitchen knives out of the drawer and line them up on the counter. He looked at her and said, “I love you and I have to go and handle something.” She wasn’t sure if she should laugh or call the police, but since she knew her brother well, she thought that he was just being completely delusional. She told me that he took the knives, went outside onto the front porch, somehow managed to cut his hand pretty bad, proceeded to bleed all over the porch, and come inside as if nothing had happened.
Needless to say, she was mortified. I mean how do you explain that away to your friends. Well she didn’t. She just told them that he was a drug addict and he was probably high. This is the case and point though, living with a sibling who is an addict or alcoholic results in incidents like this and it leaves the sibling dealing with shame and guilt that is not theirs to feel. She did nothing wrong in this scenario besides just living in the house with an active addict, but yet she had to experience the ramifications of his addiction.
Luckily, for my friend her brother got sober, her parents finally sought a crisis intervention service which got him into a treatment program in Florida. She told me it was also a strange experience when he got sober. She said he was sent to Florida shortly after that incident with the knives and came back for a visit 9 months later talking about God, a completely changed person. She told me that she didn’t really believe it or she thought he had joined a cult, and when he made an initial amends to her, she accepted it, but still wanted nothing to do with him. She didn’t understand how he could just wreak havoc on the family for all of those years and then get the privilege of being sent to live in sunny Florida, while she still had to deal with the wreckage of his past, and now take on the responsibility of being the only child at home. She didn’t think it was fair and she was also pissed that he, if he was telling the truth, seemed to come to peace with his past, while she was still left with all of her anger.
She told me how she carried these feelings for 2 years and as she watched her brother on his subsequent visits, she started to realize that he really had changed, which lead to further anger and now jealously because she wanted a 12 step program like he had, so that she could get the measure of peace that he appeared to have.
This is about the time that my friend started going to Al-Anon, and she discovered everything that she had been looking for there. She started going to the meetings and finding people that she could relate with, people who had been through what she had been through, and had found their way out of the bog of shame and anger that she currently waded through. She started to work the steps and started to make friends with whom she could share openly and honestly with.
When her brother had about 3 years sober and after she had been in Al-Anon for about a year, she flew down to Florida for a visit. She met with her brother one night for dinner and proceeded to tell him exactly how he affected her during his years of addiction and during that dinner a real amends took place. The two of them now have a great relationship, but this wouldn’t have been made possible, if it weren’t for her joining a 12 step based program, so that she could deal with her issues related to her brother’s addiction.
It almost seems unfair if you think about it. Addiction is such a powerful disease that people need to seek help from the 12-steps just from being around an addict for too long. While to a certain extent this is true, another way of looking at this is that through the destruction that her brother brought into her life, she was able to, in her own words, experience something that she never really had in her life, a relationship with God, and a blueprint for living and handling life’s situation that she never had before.
So if you are currently dealing with a sibling who is an addict, know that there is help out for you, even if your sibling is still using. You do not need to suffer alone, nor do you have to put up with their disease-fueled insanity. If your parents are not doing anything about it, it might be time to talk to them openly and candidly, but even if they will not address it, you can still take care of yourself. Know that this too shall pass.
Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.