You always hear the phrase, “Addiction tears families apart”.
Twenty years ago, when I heard that phrase I rolled my eyes. You see, I come from a very close-knit family. Not only my immediate family, but my extended as well. Aunts, uncles, cousins… we all knew what was going on in each other’s lives, and were supportive of each other.
Twenty years ago, I knew what it was like living with an addict. Having an addict as a brother. But then I had my own children.
Being a parent is a game changer.
Your children become your world, and you do whatever you need to in order to protect them. You put your own wants and needs to the side and make sure theirs are met first.
At the time, we lived across town from my parents, but saw them all the time. My kids went to school by their house, and would take the bus there, where I would pick them up after their homework was done.
It was the perfect scenario. My kids got to go to a great school, and my parents got to spend a couple of hours each day with their grandchildren.
Until my homeless, alcoholic, druggie brother was arrested, and came home to live with them.
I love my brother. At the time, I didn’t necessarily enjoy being around him. It was like walking on egg shells. You never knew how high he would be, what would set him off, or how he would respond.
If things went sideways when I was there, I had the ability to grab my keys and walk away. I could choose to not be around him. I could choose to not participate in his craziness. I could choose to not engage.
My children could not.
As a parent, I had to do the right thing. I started having a friend pick the kids up from the bus stop and take them to her house. My parents were hurt. They couldn’t understand why I would do this. How could I take their grandchildren away from them? What had they done to deserve that?
It was hard to sit them down and give them an ultimatum. They had to pick. My brother, or their grandchildren.
I couldn’t change my brother’s habits. I couldn’t ‘fix’ him. All I could do was love him, and hate what he was doing. But, I could protect my children from him.
I drew the line in the sand and all hell broke loose.
First it was me against the rest of my family, but that quickly changed. My sister took my side, and told my parents that as long as he was living with them, she wouldn’t be coming to visit.
My aunts and uncles told my mom when she complained that they didn’t blame me, and that they’d probably do the same thing.
Then, it became the family against my mom.
I love my mom with all my heart, and it killed me to see her hurting like this. I understood. And I told her so.
“He is your child. You love him. You would give your life to make him happy. You want to protect him from life in the streets. I understand. But, taking him in, giving him an all-access pass to your liquor cabinet, your prescribed medication, and the freedom to not have to work is not okay.”
And then I did the unthinkable.
I told my children the truth. They needed to understand that their uncle was sick with a disease that had taken over his life. They needed to understand that although we wouldn’t be around him and that we didn’t like what he was doing, that he still needed us to love him as much as we did.
Oh man, that pissed a lot of people off.
“They’re too young.”
“They don’t understand.”
Children are smart.
I knew they understood that something was wrong. I knew they didn’t understand the intricacies of addiction. But, I wasn’t about to lie to them. They needed to know why their uncle acted the way he did. They needed to understand why they couldn’t go to Noni and Papa’s any more. I hoped, above all else, it would teach them like it did me, what drugs can do to a person.
My mother went into full denial which fueled the family fires. She finally agreed to do an intervention with him.
When that didn’t work, she turned the blame on me. And I took it.
It hurt, but I understood. She was a Mama Bear, protecting her baby, just like I was. If she needed to blame me, I would let her.
Addiction is an evil beast. The lying, the stealing, the manipulation. The effects ripple through a family. Each ripple moves family members in different directions.
I never understood how it could tear a family apart.
But now I do.
My children are older now; old enough to understand.
Luckily, like I said before, I have a very close family, which I thank God for every day. We were able to pull back together. Not all families are this lucky. Not all addicts are this lucky.
He will always be an addict. No matter what. It’s his disease, and his burden to carry.
No matter how well he is doing, there will always remain a fear that I will get a call in the middle of the night. The call that no family member wants to get. That is my burden to carry; one I know I share with my family.
Family is important. When ties are cut, it’s possible for them to grow back, if you’re open to letting them. Hearts get hurt, feelings stomped on, but the real test is remaining strong and communicating with each other.