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The Thing People Often Forget About Addicts

It's simpler than you think.

1995

I was 15 years old when I learned my brother was an addict. I knew before he did, even though at that point he had already been struggling for a few years.

I was hanging out with my boyfriend. We got on the subject of my brother and he pointed out that someone had seen him at one of his friend's houses doing lines of coke. I knew he smoked pot, I knew he partied. He was 21. But I didn't know this. To many, cocaine has become a casual party drug that people experiment with. But to me, in that moment, I knew it was more than that. I felt sick to my stomach and I burst into tears. My boyfriend's face showed he had no idea I would react in that way and he regretted his decision to tell me instantly. Unable to gather myself, I texted my brother and told him what I had just heard. He immediately called me. I remember staring at the phone wondering if I would even be able to hear him because my heart was beating so loud. I thought over and over before answering, "Please, please just don't lie to me,"...but he did.

I spent the next 5 or so years enabling my brother. It's taken more years than that to realize that and admit to it. I answered his calls at 4 AM. I drove in the middle of the night when I had to get up for school in the morning to pick him up and take him places. I gave him whatever money I had any time he asked. I didn't ask questions when he showed up lumped up or 20lbs thinner. I felt helpless. I couldn't say no.

I kept pretending that it wasn't that bad, that he would get over this. He himself would ensure all of us that he was fine. He would hold a job, he would get a car, he would look healthy. Things would feel normal again.

It would never last too long. I picked him up one night, he was claiming the people he was staying with attacked him for no reason. I knew he probably owed them money or drugs. We drove in silence until I heard him weeping in the seat next to me. He said he couldn't live like this anymore. That he wanted to die but couldn't bring himself to do it because he was raised in the church and he couldn't do that to mom or the kids. I lost it. He finally spoke it into reality. I had no choice but to accept it. I told him he had to do something, that he was killing our mother and if he made her bury her own son I could never forgive him. He said in the morning he was getting on a bus and going to rehab. Whatever he had to do, he would do it. And I foolishly believed him.

A weight is temporarily lifted when an addict admits to having a problem. But like a ton a bricks, a new challenge arises with sticking to their word of getting help. You learn that addicts don't really have an addiction of choice. My brother originally preferred uppers. But all it took to change that were a few sustained injuries and he was on to downers—a whole new ball game. It didn't matter what it was, as long as it gave him that temporary false sense of happiness. Numbess. For my family, every time the phone rings or there's a loud knock on the door, a sinking feeling washes over you and you suspect it's the news that he's become a statistic.

For a short time I became my brother's keeper. I still had so much hope and anything standing in the way of him getting well had to be destroyed, including my own habits of enabling him. I discovered that an old friend I had went to school with was seeing him and when I contacted her to tell her to stay away, I didn't receive the answer I wanted. I was absolutely livid she couldn't respect my word enough to just walk away. God, how stupid could she be? The answer is very. She fell into his trap and in my eyes, began ruining all of our progress with our new zero tolerance policy. They showed up to my mother's one afternoon to pick up some of his belongings, and me being wiser at this point knew that he was doing this to go to the pawn shop. Before I could think, I was outside in my bath robe telling her to get out of the car. Screaming that if she wanted to act blind to what was happening I would help her see. I guess she wasn't that stupid because she stayed inside. I raised a brick to her window but before I could do what I wanted with it, my brother was outside grabbing me up. That was the start of the end for me. I started to see how much this was eating me alive. I started to see that I was so angry with her because she was a reflection of myself.

I could go on and on. Hell, my mother could write a book—just about what we have been through. And it's terrifying because we don't even know the half of what my brother has done and experienced. It wasn't until I had my own child to protect that I really began distancing myself from him for my own health. It kills me now more than ever though. I still have faith. I'll never stop praying for him, loving him, and rooting for him. Still learning to accept that that's all I can really do.

So what is it. What is it that people always forget about the ones struggling with addiction?

They're people.

Living, breathing human beings just like you, with complex emotions and needs, desires and dreams. A past. Families. But there's these misplaced judgements, why, because you know a guy who uses drugs and he's a real piece of shit, or you used drugs before and you're not an addict, or they chose to use drugs in the first place knowing the possible consequences? Let me just clarify quickly, physical dependency and emotional dependency are 2 different monsters that like to work together to destroy people who are already predisposed to mental illness. Period.

Really I'm more upset with our current substance abuse epidemic because of what it has done to the people who AREN'T using. The media has convinced people that things like Narcan are a waste of "tax payers hard earned money." That addicts aren't worth saving. That they're just weak and need to get over it. That if they want to die so badly just let them... you have been conditioned to stop valuing life. That we're allowed to say who deserves to die. Just think about that.

Think

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