About a year ago, I was sitting at my desk at The Frisky when an email from my mother popped up. She was writing to tell me that my brother had checked himself into a rehab facility because he had started using drugs again. He had strained his back at his job, but didn’t tell his doctor about his past history of heroin and OxyContin addiction when he asked for a painkiller prescription. So he started taking Vicodin. And when he became addicted to the painkillers, he hid his drug use from his girlfriend. When she overheard him buying drugs on the phone, she kicked him out. But he did even more heavy drugs another night after that, and he woke up the next day realizing he’d hit “rock bottom” again. So my brother did another stint in rehab and when he checked out a month later, we watched warily, worried. But he lives in another state and, by choice, I hardly ever see him. Judging by the few holidays where I do see him, I assumed he was sober. Then a few weeks ago, he called me on my birthday and I holed up in the office conference room for 20 minutes to catch up. We actually had this really great conversation, talking about a lot of personal stuff. Between my brother and me, that just doesn’t happen. I felt, for 20 minutes, like I actually had a normal big brother for once. And when he urged me to come for a visit, for probably the first time ever, I thought I might do it.
But not one day later, news passed through the family grapevine. More trustworthy sources said that my brother was not 100 percent forthcoming during our phone call. I can’t confirm or deny anything yet, but it would seem things are not the way he portrayed them. Now, I feel lied to. I feel like a boob. And I think this time, I feel really, really done. Not because I don’t care what happens to him, but because I’m burnt out on the addiction loop-de-loop.
I’m four and a half years younger than my brother, so I don’t have too many childhood memories of him that don’t involve screwed-up problems. But in the memories I do have, like the little sister that I am, I just so badly wanted his attention. I wanted him to allow me into his bedroom, to want to kick a soccer ball around or play Sega together. I can remember being really happy he wanted to play with me, up until I was about 8 or 9 years old.
My parents said he was just becoming a teenager, but it clearly wasn’t just that. My brother would punch holes in the walls of his bedrooms, throw furniture, scream and rage; I was terrified of him. He was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but I’m not sure how much the medication helped, exactly, because he was doing so many drugs. He checked into rehab for the first time the day before my 14th birthday.
I hated living at home with him and my parents, but during my high school years, in a perverse way, I welcomed the fact that my brother completely distracted my parents. When one kid is getting arrested for drunk driving, or flunking out of his classes, or selling drugs, you don’t worry about the “normal” ones. So I had a lot of freedom and space to individuate as a teenager and I think it made me mature more quickly. But the other side of the coin is that I felt ignored by my parents a lot. They had to divide their attention among five children and I resented how my brother took up a heaping tablespoon from screwing up.
By the time I left for college, though, I felt really embarrassed by my brother and even more resentful and annoyed. I had passed a milestone he hadn’t — graduating from high school — and I started to feel really cynical about the way he was living his life. That only worsened throughout my college years as he checked in and out of rehab at least three more times. Did he really enjoy hanging out with people who used drugs and drank too much? Didn’t he want something more out of life? Didn’t he want to do something? Doesn’t he realize OxyContin and heroin can kill him? I worried about him, too, especially after he had an overdose and ended up in detox. And the older I got, of course, the more I wanted to be treated with respect like an adult; I just felt lied to when he’d fall off the wagon yet again. It meant he was pretending to be sober, but using drugs and drinking behind everyone’s back.
But lot of addicts are absolutely charming people. My brother certainly is. Even people who are well aware of his addictions, his criminal records and his lies — people like my best friend, or my ex-boyfriend — will ask about him fondly and tell me how much they like him. My brother makes everybody laugh, makes everybody feel good about themselves, has a deep heart for rescuing animals, and is extremely generous and playful with little kids. I’ve heard many a woman swoon over him. (It probably helps that he resembles a more attractive-looking Kevin Federline.) And I’m not immune to his charm — even though as his sister, I should know better.
That’s where I’m at right now: You should know better than to trust him. I should have been more guarded and not let myself think everything was great and my brother and I were actually having a nice, normal phone call. But I guess there’s this part of me that got really encouraged when he stayed sober — I think — for about four years straight. I understand a heroin addiction is a damn hard thing to kick; I understand living with bipolar disorder is no picnic either. So, of course, it’s alluring to believe he’s got his life on track and the worst is behind us.
I don’t know exactly what’s going on with him right now. The thing is, I don’t know that I want to know. His past history really tired me out and I don’t want to see my parents, who are getting up in years now, to suffer again. As much as it goes against my nature as a genuinely caring and giving person, I don’t want to get mixed up with him again. I have to remind myself that my brother is an addict and he is always going to be an addict. I have to stop myself from giving my trust to someone who hasn’t earned it.