I love my brother. Forever. There is nothing he could ever do to change that.
Although my love for him was tested time and time again through appointments with doctors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, 911 calls, suicide attempts, lies, prostitution, debt, and destruction. My brother—a sweet, kind, soft-spoken, magnificent man—due to his illness eventually did things few could fathom and I was along for the ride. It was like I got on my first roller coaster at a carnival, and I was not quite sure what I was in for. It was full of twists and turns; I felt sick, scared; I was holding on for dear life and I just wanted it to stop. And it didn’t, for twelve years.
No one taught me how to be a sister; I just became one. I entered the world in a particular birth order that I didn’t choose, but it defined the role I took on in this world. My brother would become an alcoholic and I the sister of an alcoholic. It is a job that came with a lifetime’s contract but no one gave me the skills to complete the assignment.
Once upon a time, over forty years ago, we were an average, everyday, normal family. A beautiful nurse mom. An oldest sister (me) who loved her family very much. A little boy, four years younger, with a round face and a huge heart. A baby girl, one year old with big piercing blue eyes, white blond hair, and still the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. And, an alcoholic daddy.
I was affected in different ways by different people. My dad’s drinking and the things I witnessed would change who I would be forever.
“Normal”? My daddy didn’t pick us kids up from the daycare when it was closed because he was with his friends at the bar. Which in turn, left a two-year-old boy and his six-year-old sister feeling abandoned, forced to snuggle close together on the couch, watching Sonny & Cher until the little boy’s eyelids were too heavy to stay open. And our mommy would come and get us late in the night after she finished her job at the hospital.
I didn’t know that not all daddies kiss other women; I didn’t know that not all Daddies come home drunk every Friday night, yelling at mommy, crying, screaming, and fighting. I didn’t know that not all nine-year-old sisters would crawl down from the bunkbed above beside the brother that they love, to rub his short brown hair and whisper a lie in his ear, “It’s alright, everything is going to be alright” just so he would stop crying. I didn’t know that not all big sisters would have to find a coat in the middle of the night because we were leaving daddy. She led her frightened and wailing little brother out the front door; their Daddy stumbled in hot pursuit; mommy and the children sped away in mommy’s car
These experiences would make me strong, stoic, confident, and able to take on the world. I know these things seem like great attributes to have, and certainly they have afforded me the ability to withstand and come out flourishing, happy, and healthy from many hardships in my life. But at times I am a little too rigid, trying to always do what is right, always being so damn scared that my life would turn out the wrong way.
I believe my little brother, although not able to really remember those events, was also affected, but in a different way. Knowing more now about some of the causes of addiction and mental illness, I believe he had lasting repercussions from what he “felt” about those Friday nights. Growing up scared, fearful, lacking in confidence, and with anxiety.
In early adulthood, I redefined my interpretation of “normal.” I loved my parents but I was going to do things differently. Better. My husband and I chose to have a sober home, to give our children a different life so that who or what they would become would not be based on alcohol.
So, I have no excuses; I am not making one. During my journey with my brother, I knew that I was hurting my own family. I knew that I was allowing my children to witness things that were unhealthy and could have an impact on who they would become. My own sons witnessed things, which from my perspective, were so much worse than I ever lived through as a child. I remember the hurt and heartbreak in my husband’s eyes when, after years of the struggles to help my brother, my husband asked me, “If it was me, would you have divorced me by now?”
I didn’t reply. But the silence was deafening. The answer was yes.
Addicts aren’t the only ones who feel ashamed, lost, broken, tired, sick, and alone.
My brother’s addiction took over my life; I sacrificed my health, my career, and my marriage. My brother was not responsible for that; I was. Every minute of every day, I was consumed by the same thought ringing loudly in my ear. “Someone I love is going to die.” And that thought propelled me, fed my head and my heart false information. Just like my parents fed me false information when I was just a little girl.
My brother is etched deep in my soul. It took years of therapy and healing to come to terms with the most powerful truth that I have to live with. Why did I sacrifice the well-being of my own two young sons for that of my brother? I loved him like he was my own son.
Addiction affects all of us in different ways; which is why it is called a family disease.
If I could rewind things, I would do them differently. I would get help for myself first. Run. Get help. Stay aligned as a family. Agree to disagree. I would not follow my heartstrings, whether it was my brother or my own son. I would listen to the advice of the professionals. But I can’t rewind; life is about moving forward.
My brother lost his brave battle with alcohol addiction on March 18th, 2012. Would I do this all over again for twelve years? Yes. But I would set myself a healthy boundary that I would work out through the help of the professionals in therapy. I would understand what is best for me, for my own family, and what ultimately is also best for the addict.
I love my brother unconditionally. Forever. There is nothing he could ever do to change that. Even though we had a much different interpretation of “normal”.
Jodee Prouse is a keynote speaker, blogger and author of the Amazon category best
seller, The Sun is Gone: A Sister Lost in Secrets, Shame, and Addiction, and
How I Broke Free. She is an outspoken advocate to eliminate the shame and stigma
surrounding addiction and mental illness and empowering women through their journey of
life and family crisis. Visit jodeeprouse.com