One of the great regrets of my life, at a certain time, was the effect I believed I had on my brother in my early days of addiction. While we can pontificate on the nature of this beast – the way addiction as a disease works and manifests itself in individuals – I think it’s safe to assume that being surrounded by substance use during your formative years can negatively impact even those amongst us with the most promising, bright futures. When I became lost in the separation of addiction – fully operating from a standpoint of maintaining intoxication by any means necessary – I didn’t think about how I was hurting my family. I didn’t think about all the ways in which I was letting the people close to me down. I didn’t think twice about exposing my brother to a way of living that was detrimental to the fullest extent of the word. I simply didn’t have the capacity to see it outside the narrow framework of my sick thought process at the time.
Unfortunately, after hanging around me and experiencing a taste of the lifestyle I was beginning to lead, he followed a similar course. Addiction doesn’t typically begin with full-on IV drug use behind a dumpster; it usually starts with the party. Cutting loose, blowing off steam and stress, even connecting with our peers and “relaxing.” From the outside looking in using substances to have fun can feel enticing to teenagers. Being a part of something is attractive. Our culture informs this to a certain degree as well; it’s fully expected and even promoted in some ways that young people will experiment with alcohol and drugs. Frustration, hormonal changes, puberty, learning to navigate the world as your own person – these are challenging experiences for young people. Not to mention crucial in the form of psychological and emotional development.
With the added component of myself in his life and that of his friends – the wild card of madness I was quickly becoming at the time – and the access to alcohol and drugs that I became, things took a turn for the worse. As I traveled deeper and deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole, he in turn followed suit. What had begun as a mindless experiment in casual substance use to alleviate the stresses of growing up sank into full blown chemical dependency.
Obviously, anyone who has an addict for a brother or sister, doesn’t in turn become an addict themselves. People who experiment with drugs and alcohol during their formative years aren’t automatically catapulted into immeasurable pain and suffering from an incurable brain disease. But in this case – that’s what happened. In some way shape or form we are products of our environment. And because that was what happened in this case, for a season of my life, I hated myself.
I hated that I didn’t have the foresight to see how my actions would hurt him. I hated that I never stopped at the time to reflect on the terrible role model that I had become. I despised the fact that I was so lost in the woods that I completely lacked the capacity to be anything but a negative footnote in the story of his life. I held myself personally responsible for his downward trajectory, and carried guilt and shame with me wherever I went.
Thankfully, this story didn’t end there. Through working on myself – through therapy, community-based support, spiritual and physical recovery – I eventually came to a place of acceptance. Acceptance of my place in his story. Acceptance of the fact that despite however much I wished, hoped, or prayed, I simply could not change the course of history. I could not set back those things already placed in motion; they were as they were, they existed, and that was as it was, regardless of how I felt about it, or how I chose to assign it meaning. I began to understand and internalize that his struggle was simply not the result of me solely; that there are multiple contributing factors in all of our lives, choices we ultimately all make on our own, that hold equal footing in our futures. Surely, I wasn’t a positive influence in those days. It was the acceptance of the things I could control moving forward that made the difference.
Part of my decision to live life rightly, was a living amends to him. That regardless of the outcome, he might see healing in me and recognize that as a possibility in his own life. He was able to see me recover. He was able to see my transformation from the nightmare that I was into an individual that lived and walked amongst the earth freely; no longer succumbing to the depravity my disease brought forth in me. No longer a slave to my own unbearable self-centeredness and single-minded, narrow worldview. I was able to experience a second chance at life – and have a second chance at being the role model I never was before.
So that’s what I did. I continued on the path of recovery by any means necessary. I went to my brother and made amends; I laid out my transgressions before him and simply stated: If there’s anything I can ever do to right these wrongs, I will do it. I will live my life in accordance with whatever you wish within reason if it means I can make this right. I will go to any length to set things straight between us and be the person I should have been 15 years ago. His response was simple:
“Keep doing what you’re doing now.”
This time, when my brother followed me, it was in a different way – no longer down the tunnel of insanity and madness, but into healing. While I don’t count myself as the sole motivational factor in his decision, I firmly believe my experience held weight for him. Recovery is predicated on attraction; not promotion – its foundation can lie within our ability to see others who’ve struggled like us triumph – and modeling our own movements after theirs to achieve similar results. He entered treatment, took guidance and direction, and embraced freedom. He lives in recovery, alongside me, to this very day; no ill-will or grudge exists between us.
I’m grateful today for this experience. I’m grateful that I learned how to let go of shame and regret over all the ways I failed in those days as a brother. I’m grateful that our lives have been transformed by the healing spirit of forgiveness and recovery. That I was able to forgive myself and move forward, setting things right as best I could, with no expectation. That I was able to become the person, and the brother, I never thought I’d be able to be.
Anything is possible,
You can read, comment and ask questions for Sean to address in his blog on the PAL website, home page – www.Palgroup.org