Article by Jodee Prouse, originally posted in Recovery Today Magazine, April 2017. Recovery Today is a FREE online magazine for Addiction and Recovery. Visit www.recoverytodaymagazine.com to learn more.
I was made to feel responsible for my younger brother when I was five years old. By the age of six, I had already decided that the alcohol-fueled life my parent had was never going to be mine. Never. I could not have been more wrong.
I am the step-daughter, grand-daughter, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, niece, great niece, aunt, cousin and sister to alcoholics. We enter the world in a particular birth order that we don’t choose and that order often defines the role we take on in the world. My brother became an alcoholic and I the sister of an alcoholic. It was a job that came with a lifetime contract, but I had no skills to complete the assignment.
As my brother walked the thin line between life and death again and again, I experienced gut-wrenching highs and lows, obsessively doing everything I could to get his life back on track. Mistakenly, I sacrificed my own young children, marriage, career, and personal health. Like the many people worldwide who love someone addicted to drugs and alcohol, I truly believed at the time I was doing all the right things. But we are all lost in a world we do not understand.
It is five years since my brother lost his battle with alcoholism. I am exceptionally proud of how far I have come as I consciously choose to turn these painful life experiences into positives for myself and others.
Sometimes, I feel anxious, writing and speaking so openly and honestly about addiction and what happens behind closed doors. After all, I am not in recovery, not in the typical sense anyway. What I realize though is that everyone involved needs to “recover.” I continue to work hard to educate myself and bring attention to what goes on so I can help other family members find the courage to change. So, while I do’t know what it is like to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, I do not what it is like to feel alone, tired, and powerless over something that took control over my life. It is difficult (emphasis on difficult, not impossible) to break patterns of all we have ever known, even when our choices hurt us or the ones we love.
Looking more carefully at my own life, instead of focusing all my attention to my brother’s which I should have done all alone, I began to see things much more clearly. After finishing the first draft of my memoir, I commented to my husband, “I would have understood if you had finally had enough and forbade me to see my brother back then.”
I meant that as a positive. I meant that I have since learned about codependency, childhood trauma, heredity, denial, and enabling. I knew I hadn’t made the healthiest choices for myself, my family, or even my own brother.
I always knew why my husband didn’t put his foot down. And finally, he had the courage to say it outloud:
“If I had made you choose back then you would not have chosen me.”
And I began to cry as hard as on that fateful day when I learned of my brother’s death, feeling so much guilt and shame in my heart, as I knew my husband was right. I would have left my own husband and children back then to save the one I loved, the little boy with the round cheeks and the big heart.
Addiction is a family disease. We all need help. Run. Get help.
Wishing you all love, happiness and courage on this continued journey. Hugs, Jodee