Life never turns out the way our parents plan for us or the way we plan for ourselves. I was 21 when my mom had my brother, Jacob. He was the baby of five kids and the only boy. So, it was easy for him to steal our hearts. Our mom worked a lot and depended on us three older girls to help. Being the oldest daughter, I took on most of the responsibility. So my youngest brother Jacob and my baby sister Jessica, became the closest to me having kids. Everywhere I went, they went. Whether it was running an errand, going to the store, or going to an appointment. My life revolved around Jacob and Jessica. For a while, it seemed to work. Jacob and Jessica would often say, “They did not have one mom, they had four moms,” between my sisters and my mom.

I remember a time when Jacob was five, good-hearted, innocent. We had taught him that guns were bad and only cops could have them, our mother was afraid of guns. One day Jacob was going to the store with me and there were police officers standing outside. Jacob noticed the police officer and said, “Melissa that man has a gun. Guns are bad.” The officer overheard our conversation came up to us and told Jacob that he was right, and guns were bad in the wrong hands, but he was trained on how to use a gun to protect him. The officer showed Jacob his police car and gave him a badge sticker. Jacob wore that sticker until it no longer could stay on.

Later when he was older it was hard to believe the path his life had taken. I learned that he first tried drugs when he was 13. Our cousin and a neighborhood kid introduced him to pot. He said that he liked it because it helped him forget what was happening in his life. During this time there was a lot happening and it was not good. However, it wouldn’t be until years later that we noticed he was in too deep.

I was the first to notice a change in Jacob. I knew the signs right away.  I tried telling my mom and sisters, but they were in denial. It wasn’t until he moved back in with my mom that they noticed a difference in him.

We tried interventions with just us at first. Then we tried another intervention with the nephews that looked up to him. He went to live with my sister in another city and that worked for a couple of months but as soon as he went back to our mom’s house he would relapse. We tried this twice. Finally, my mom wouldn’t let him live with her and he came to live with me.

We all thought I would be the one person he would listen to. With my sister and brother-in-law as back up, we forced him to rehab. The four of us spent a weekend just to sober him up. And at 4:00 am on a Monday morning he entered rehab.

This time we didn’t see the signs of possible relapse but we knew he was only going into rehab for us, doing what he thought would make us happy. It only lasted 55 days. During this time, we would visit every Sunday, have breakfast with him, make him laugh, and take him whatever he wanted. If the others couldn’t go, I would make sure I went. Each time we would talk, he would say things like, “They just want our money.” “I can’t wait to get out of here.” “They don’t care about you; they just want to see what they can get.” “It’s boring because all they want you to do is go to classes.” etc. You name an excuse and I heard it.

He left five days before the day when he would “graduate” to the next level, sober living. Of course I then let him come to live with me. I even rearranged my home to accommodate him. I wanted to make sure he knew he was wanted since he said that was one of the reasons he did drugs. He had gotten a job down the street from my job. He reconnected with an old friend. I remember that first week, he was so excited. He said, he couldn’t wait to get his life back together. I remember asking him, “How are you are going to do that?” Looking back, I should have known he would relapse soon because he deflected the question without me even realizing it. He never answered the question. All he talked about was his job and how much he’s going to get paid (first sign: just thinking about how much money he will have to spend).

During this time things got bad. He overdosed twice. The first time, the neighbors called the police and I had the police knocking on my door at 1:00 am. They were telling me what happened and what they gave him to reverse the effect. The second time, his friend called me, and I had to leave work to go look for him and rush him to the hospital. He even had a drug dealer come to my apartment when he said he never would give anyone my address or gate code. All of this happened, and I kept giving him chances to change.  We made agreements and posted them to the fridge. I would lecture him, yell at him, humiliate him and he couldn’t even go to the bathroom or take a shower with the door closed. Nothing would work. He would say, “Yeah, I know I screwed up. It won’t happen again.” I even went as far as saying let’s get an apartment together and I will put you on the lease. Thinking this would help. I thought it would lift his spirits. However, the next day he bought drugs.

I knew what I had to do but I was so afraid to do it.

It was at this time that my mom introduced me to PAL. My mom had been going for a while and I went once to watch a movie about addiction. My mom had encouraged me to go again and this time I did. When I left, I felt I had the strength I needed to do the right thing. That night, I told my brother that we were not going to move in with each other because of his addiction. Once my lease was up, he was on his own. I’ve never cried so hard in my life as I did that night. He stayed up and sat there listening. He knew he had nowhere else to go.

It would be another month of torture. He had another overdose, lost his job, lost his girlfriend and he started selling his stuff. He was spiraling out of control. He said he didn’t want to do this anymore and that he wanted to go back to rehab. I took him the next day and waited but they told him to come back on Monday. We had a whole weekend ahead of us to stay sober. When we got home and had dinner he said, “I’m leaving. It would be best for everyone.” I cried and begged him not to go. That we can do this together. That I will help. That we all have struggles but if we have the will, we can do anything. I’ll never forget the look of defeat in his eyes. The addiction was stronger. He just said, “Let me go.”  I said, “Once you go, you can’t come back.” He walked out and away. I realized my trying to keep him was not what I should do or I had learned.

The next day, he called crying. He said he was sorry. He said he didn’t want to lose me too and that he needed help and that he couldn’t do it alone. That Monday morning, we went and he was accepted into rehab. He embraced rehab this time. Each week that I spoke with him I knew he was changing. He talked about his new sponsor and how he was older and wiser. He spoke about his goals. How he wanted to help others like him. He was different. He told me about an opportunity he had to help COVID patients and the training he was going to do. He even went into sober living.  More important, he actually did what he said! This time it felt different because I knew he was and I was different due to the PAL meetings. The more I listened to my brother the more he talked about his plan, his purpose.

PAL has helped me change as a human being and as a sister. PAL is not just how to help your addicted loved one but how to help you. I no longer look at my brother as the 5-year-old telling the police officer that guns were bad. I look at my brother as the 26-year-old man who has a purpose in life. I don’t know what the future holds for me or for my brother but for the first time in years, I have hope.

PAL Sister