Editor’s Note: This letter contains details about addiction.
This wasn’t the first time I witnessed him break down and cry, but I had an unnerving feeling that it was going to be the last time.
The last time I would talk to him.
The last time I would ever see him, even if it was only seeing him on a FaceTime call on my phone screen.
He kept repeating that he needed to stay awake because if he passed out, that would be it for him.
I kept repeating to call 911 or to go to the hotel lobby so they could call an ambulance, even though I knew he wouldn’t listen to me.
I had no idea what hotel he was at, let alone what part of the country. There was nothing I could do to help him. Nothing, except tell him that I was proud of him despite everything, that he was a good older brother, and that I loved him, before he inevitably hung up on me.
Everyday, ever since I was in seventh grade, a looming and oppressive fear has weighed and engulfed me. The fear of my eldest brother dying due to his addiction.
My brother, who I will refer to as Parker to respect his privacy and as homage to his life-long favorite comic book character Spider-Man, is a great many things. For one thing, Parker has always had a big heart. He cares deeply for others and for even the tiniest of creatures. When there’s a spider in the house, he drops everything to carry it outside in order to save it.
Parker is the person you would want on your team for any trivia game, especially Jeopardy. He is someone that can almost always make me laugh with his sarcastic and dark humor and his wit never ceases to amaze me.
He’s also an addict, specifically an alcoholic. When I was in seventh grade, he moved back home, and ever since then, he has been in and out of detox centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, sober houses and even jails at some points. It is safe to say that I have seen him at his absolute worst more times than I could even begin to count.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a chronic and progressive disease where someone uses a substance or engages in behaviors compulsively. The disease is influenced by genetics, environment, an individual’s life experiences and the brain.
Addiction is a disease of the brain. It affects and alters brain circuitry and brain chemistry due to the long-term use of an addictive substance, such as alcohol.
Addiction is also a disease of isolation. Addiction grows in isolation, which can lead to an addiction beginning or relapses.
For example, addicts isolate themselves in order to continue using the addictive substance or if someone feels isolated, they can be more likely to relapse because they feel like they can’t get help or aren’t deserving of it. Social stigma also can cause isolation for not only people with addiction, but for their loved ones as well.
Despite strides being made for addressing and improving mental health and mental health stigma, to me, there is a clear lack of understanding of addiction, which causes a social stigma that ultimately leads to isolation.
Social stigma can lead to shame and especially when it comes to addiction, it can cause people to not talk about it, to ignore it. It can cause an addict to not seek out help, to be less likely to stay in treatment or it can make them believe that they will never be able to stay sober.
Stigma and society’s overall lack of understanding of addiction and the shame that comes with it led me to not talk about my brother’s addiction. To not talk about how much it has affected me and my mental health, even to my parents. To not take a day off school or from work because I would have to make up a different excuse as to why or because I frankly wouldn’t be able to miss all those days.
Many people just don’t know what it’s like to have a family member or a loved one have an addiction, so let me give you, the reader, a glimpse of what it’s like.
Imagine someone you love and that they’re slowly deteriorating before your eyes. You want to help, but they have to need it more than you want it for them. Basically, you can’t help them. You can have all the money and resources in the whole world, but you are powerless to do anything about it. All you can do is watch — watch and hope or pray that it doesn’t kill them.
It’s having to go to school or work the next day after rushing them to the hospital the previous night because their blood alcohol level was close to .40 or because they had a drug overdose. It’s having to always worry about where they are and if they are even alive.
It’s having to always answer their phone calls or FaceTime calls to you because you never know if that will be the last time you will talk to them.