Welcome to the first in our An Addict’s Sister series, a first-hand account of how a sister comes to terms with her brother’s addiction. Following, our guest author shares the moment she realized she had to let her brother go… to hopefully get him back one day.
Gazing out the kitchen window of our family home, I could see that he was gone. His disease was here. Ferociously and ambiguously, it glared back at me, and I was paralyzed. You see, on this day in particular, his addiction had him… and my eyes were wide open. He was thin and frail, his skin was grey, and his face, drawn in. Drug addiction will make you unrecognizable, and he was now a stranger to me.
Holding a young child in his arms, he was stumbling. His eyes were fallen toward the wooden deck. This has gone too far. I intervene – I don’t raise my voice, I don’t argue – I take the child and we walk away.
What is the point of making a scene in this moment? He won’t remember. He won’t understand. I can hardly bear the pain of looking at him, let alone bring myself to speak to him.
The man standing on the other side of that window could not possibly be my brother. My baby brother. A boy full of joy, full of empathy, full of compassion. A man with strong moral values, raised to be good, to be kind, to be genuine and unapologetically be himself. I don’t see that man. At what point did teen parties, beers and weed turn to this? I missed the moment where our fun went too far.
Now you have a new best friend: Heroin. I feel replaced.
Heroin is a Monster
Looking out the window on that day, I saw it clearly. I could no longer be your crutch. How could I possibly face this monster for you? A monster. Heroin is a monster. This disease is a monster. Your loss of self-control, self-respect, and self-worth is a monster.
I am only your sister. I can’t protect you from this. You see, you have fallen in love with this beast. You are blind to what it has consumed from you. You are blind to what it has consumed from me.
Our entire existence together, I have never questioned where I stood with you. I never questioned what role I played in your life. I would listen to you, laugh with you, stand up for you, stand beside you. Now, I am lost.
A Family in Triage
You see, this tale is not just about you. It has never been just about you, because just as you lost yourself, you lost me, and I lost me. Now, we are a family in triage, a family facing this beastly disease of addiction. A family swallowed up by this big bad wolf.
Crisis: A time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger. A time where a difficult or important decision must be made. The turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death. (Oxford Dictionary)
I am terrified. My defense mechanisms have been activated by this journey with you. Repression, moments I bury down deep and look past your addiction. I try to find a glimpse of who you were. Try to forget that drug addiction has taken you, all the best parts of you, from me. I hold onto small moments that I can find recognition of who you once were.
Displacement and compensation, my relationship with our parents is crumbling. I cannot control what is happening. I love control. I’m diving into my education, I’m working three jobs, I am overcompensating, anything to be away from home. I lash out at them, I stop sharing my thoughts and feelings with them, I am hardly around and, when I am, I cannot control how angry I am. I want them to do something. I want them to save you.
Rationalization, I tell myself this is a phase. You are young, I am young. We are experimenting, testing our boundaries. I pop a pill here and there. I overindulge in alcohol . I smoke weed too. I am no different than you, right? There are days I am frozen in denial. This is someone else’s life. This is not ours.
An Ambiguous Loss
Ambiguous: doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness (Merriam-Webster)
Ambiguous Loss: Pauline Boss PhD of Minneapolis, Minnesota has spent over 40 years building a career in the interdisciplinary studies of family stress. She is the principal theorist on Ambiguous Loss, and coined the term in the 1970s. There are two types of Ambiguous Loss: the person or persons are physically absent but psychologically present, such as a missing soldier or a person who has been kidnapped, and the reverse, the person is physically present but psychologically absent, such as a person in active addiction, psychosis or the dementias. (Boss. PhD 1999)
The loss of you truly is ambiguous to me. I am confused, I am in turmoil, and you are stagnant. You are there, standing in front of me, a shell of what you use to be. I yearn for time to swing backwards, to go back to being siblings, confidants to one another.
Instead, I am left with this grief. Grieving you while your physical being is right in front of me. How surreal is this. How immobilizing is this. My eyes are forced open to see how irrational life can be.
Every day, I am scared this will be your last. Every night, I am creeping into your room to listen to your breath, hoping and praying I can still hear it. My thoughts about you have become so disorganized. I love you. I hate you. Fix yourself; I know you can’t. I have become exhausted by this cyclical disease of addiction. I know you are exhausted, too.
Leaving… and Hoping
Now I must make the choice to leave you. I am becoming sick watching you in a constant state of despair. I feel selfish admitting this to myself, admitting this to our parents, admitting this to you… but I cannot stay. I quickly find myself an apartment, I need a place of sanctuary. I cannot watch you die; I cannot watch this disease take you away.
Goodbye, my brother. I hope you find your way home.
– An Addict’s Sister