My relationship with my brother is complicated in a way that I don’t even think he or I understand.
He is a drug addict. But our complicated relationship stems back to childhood, before either of us even knew what drugs really were. I think my parents and family and the family friends we grew up with don’t understand this. My mom always tells me that it’s like this because of the drugs, and while they don’t help, I don’t think they are the cause. He and I were close growing up. He was three years older than me and I looked up to him like all younger siblings look up to their older siblings. There weren’t that many kids in our neighborhood and none of our friends from school lived close, so we were each other’s best playmates at home. But my brother has always had issues with managing his temper and taking responsibilities for his actions. He wasn’t a bad kid, and when he’s at his best he can be funny and kind hearted. But it’s hard for me to remember these moments. As we grew older we grew apart a little, as brothers and sisters often do simply do to things like age and interests. But his temper also got worse. I remember being afraid and angry, and consistently feeling like my parents put him before me.
Having a little bit of hindsight on it now, I understand it. He had always needed them more than I did, but it hurt, and it still does.
As we got older I began to adopt the role as the older sibling. I looked out for him when he did stupid stuff. I comforted my mom when she cried. I served as the neutralizer for my dad. And in doing these things I learned to put myself behind everyone else and to keep my feelings and thoughts to myself so not to stir up anything else. None of this is to deny the fact that I had an overall happy childhood. I grew up in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, in a nice town. I never needed for food or clothing or worried about where I would sleep that night. I have parents who have worked their Asses off to not only provide the basics for my brother and I, but also for the extras. Who encouraged me to try new things and provided me with the opportunities to do so. But I don’t know if I would describe my house as “a happy home.” And maybe that’s because my memory is clouded by all the yelling and stealing and hurt of the past few years.
I knew before my parents that my brother was doing drugs. I remember looking in his room for his old textbooks that I needed and finding a garbage can full of weed. (Which remembering this now makes me wonder why he had weed in a garbage can.) I remember finding prescription pill bottles of my parents and ones registered under other people’s names. I think I was probably 14 or 15. Maybe even 13. I think one of the memories that is the clearest to me is being in their with my mom and her simply picking up the empty prescription bottle, looking at it, and bringing it into her room and never hearing about it again.
Overtime, he got into harder prescription pills and eventually heroin. I wasn’t surprised when my dad told me, but I was angry when they didn’t tell me when he went into rehab the November of my first year at college. My dad said they didn’t want it to be something I worried about and had to deal with. I think I laughed when I told my roommate this. How could they not see that I had been dealing with it for longer than they had? I knew before them, I was the one who told them. He was only three years older than me, as much as he and my parents try to make that out to seem like a lot, its not. We knew a lot of the same people, and people talk. I knew the reputations of the people he hung out with.
The third time he was going to rehab of that same year it was spring. He called me at around 2 in the morning while he was shooting up. He started telling me the whole story about how he got into it. In some ways that was actually the clearest, most honest conversation we had in a long time. But I remember him telling me that he didn’t have a choice.
Addiction is an ugly disease. It will take not only your life, but also the lives of those around you. But at some point it is a choice. It’s a choice to start the drugs, and it’s a choice to get clean. When people who grew up on the streets tell me they don’t feel like they had a choice to not start using or selling, I get it. Honestly, I do. Because when your 10 years old and you walk out your door and see the drug dealers and the addicts it just becomes a part of your sight. And when you don’t have teachers telling you that you need to come to class and that you can be better than your surroundings, you don’t believe that you can overcome. And if you see you’re your dad dealing drugs to provide for you, drug dealers who have all the things you want, and you are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty with no end in sight, its not a big stretch to think that drug dealing is your only way to provide for yourself and your family. I understand when people who come from an environment where society as an overarching whole, generation after generation, repeatedly puts them down turn to nefarious acts as a way to get by. This is something that has been going on for most of America’s history. Even before drugs, immigrants started crime organizations as a way to get by. And until we as an American society stop putting people in these crippling boxes, the cycle will continue. It’s a simple fact.
But my brother is not one of those kids. He and I both grew up in the same nice house, in the same nice neighborhood, with the same hardworking parents who always provided everything we could possibly need and more. He and I have both had more choices and opportunities placed before us than many people could dream of. So when he says things like “I had no choice” or “I grew up on the streets, it’s all I know” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Because the only reason he is in the cycle he is in is because of his own choices.
Some people are quick to blame bad parenting, and while I do think my parents are still learning “tough love” it is not their fault. And you can blame genetics, which wouldn’t be inaccurate because we do have the addiction gene in our family; it ultimately still comes down to choices. Because at some point you choose to pop those pills and to shoot yourself up with heroin. You know its not right but all you can think about is the high. But until your ready to admit to yourself that yes, you are your problem you can’t solve it.
Overcoming addiction requires immense strength. It’s a dirty disease that messes with your brain chemistry. I have enormous respect for anyone and everyone who has been able to overcome it, and I have immense sympathy for all those people and their family members who just couldn’t do it. Because the truth is that not everyone is strong enough to do it, and everyday I live with the guilt of thinking my brother, the kid who has taken the easy way out of everything for his entire life, will not be able to overcome this.