In grad school, we were asked to write a personal narrative about something in our lives that affected us that had to at least be loosely based on culture, multiculturalism and society in my counseling program. I just came across this file on my laptop tonight. It really made me miss grad school and what it was all about, and made me reflect on how much I’ve really grown as a person during these past few years.
Virtually, the personal narrative could be literally about anything. But it had to be something personal about us. No big deal, right? The catch was, we had to read it in front of our whole class. What I wrote about was stuff that I still face everyday, especially living back home. I remember sweating bullets, because I knew right from the get-go what I was going to talk about. But it was talking about it to 30-something people that terrified me. Now I’ll share it with the world-wide internet.
Drug addict. What do you picture when you hear that term? I know we are all counselors, so we probably don’t have a set stereotype of one. At least I would hope not. There is a terrible stigma that exists out there of people who have problems with addiction. Society imposes this stigma, and the damages that it causes, looking at addiction as a character flaw or a weakness that can be cured, when with most, it is a lifetime struggle. Some see it as an embarrassment and try to hide it. Others see addicts as lazy, trouble, selfish, losers, and even criminals. At least, that’s how it was seen in my family.
My brother has an addiction. He has an opiate and stimulant dependency that is still ongoing, and is far from being cured. His opiate use has consisted of codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone, and has used cocaine and marijuana. I was a sophomore in college when my family found out. At that point he was using since I was in the 7th grade, and managed to hide his use from us until then. 7 years. When we did find out, I was away at college, only hearing the story on the phone with my mother. That’s how I would hear about it since. My father never talked to me about it, maybe because he was ashamed, embarrassed, or maybe he wanted to protect me. Little did my family know that I was educated about drug addiction, having taking multiple classes on it, and having an internship at an outpatient addiction clinic. I guess that’s the most frustrating part. When you have so much to offer, and want to help, but you cant. I never felt like it was my place, mostly because my father never talked to me about it, and because my mother never wanted me to tell my father to what extent I knew about what was going on.
My family always saw my brother as being lazy. So this wasn’t any different. My brother dropped out of college his freshman year, because he didn’t want to do the schoolwork. My mom always held that against him, and proceeded to push me to go to college with the reasoning to ‘be better than my brother’. He was more or less the black sheep in the family. I grew up in a family that I thought was perfect and flawless, which was naïve yes. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, middle class family, and I went to a great public school, and my parents were together. I was given every opportunity to succeed and my parents were always there for me giving me support. During the time that I grew up, my brother never really existed. He grew up with his parents being divorced. He was the subject of a lot of fights my parents had when I was growing up, because he would get into trouble a lot. I would later find out that my brother admitted that he resented me because I grew up in such a different family than he did. When my brother came out and admitted his problems with addiction, that’s when I finally realized that everyone’s family has issues and we weren’t perfect.
For the longest time, my mother was too embarrassed to tell anyone in our family about my brother’s problems with drugs. They would ask how he and his wife were doing, which at this point she left him and my 4 nieces and nephews. She would lie and say they are well and everything is good. Far from the truth, huh. Yes, he has 4 beautiful children who are all the same age. That’s probably the worst part of this situation, is that they are being affected too. My brother started to steal some of my codeine that I had when I got my wisdom teeth out, and my mothers leftover cough syrup that she had when she was sick. Once they found out this was happening, she was furious. So while my father was in denial about dealing with the situation, my mother sought out to think of him as every stereotype in the book. It only took him lying about borrowing money from us for things other than drugs was when she screamed at him and said he wasn’t allowed at the house anymore.
Because talking about it was taboo in my family, my mom discouraged me from reaching out to my friends, because she didn’t want ‘the word getting around’. She was so concerned about what everyone else thought that she didn’t take the time to understand how my brother was feeling, or even me. I ignored her wishes and talked to my best friend, because part of me didn’t know how to handle what I was feeling. Being educated about this, and knowing everything that was going on, I knew this was the wrong way to handle what was going on, and I didn’t know what to do, and how to help.
As far as I know, my brother is 4 months clean. At least I hope that he still is. He has reached out after he slipped a few months ago, and since then my dad has reached out to me and asked me about different treatment options. My family has become a more united front and we openly discuss this. My mother and my father have realized that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about, not to judge him and to be supportive and help him. I feel so grateful that I am educated about being a counselor, because it has given me so much understanding on how not to judge someone, and how to understand addiction. One of the most important factors of recovery is to have a good support system and a supportive family. My dad has been reading one of my textbooks on addiction, and they are now helping my brother explore these options. I know it will be a lifelong struggle for him, but he’s doing it for his family, and his children and most importantly himself, and I am so grateful to be apart of a family that is supporting him.