An addict in the family




It’s not an easy thing to admit that I wish I was born to another family. It had been nearly 20 years since I had last seen my older brother when one day, out of sheer curiosity, I Googled his name.

Thankfully he was not deceased. I had heard over the years from those who knew of his whereabouts that he was homeless, and an addict.

Of course this didn’t surprise me. My brother had dealt with a lot of emotional and physical abuse as a child. I can remember the day, as a teenager when he snapped, and would never be a functioning member of our society.

But, nothing really prepared me for the headline that appeared on a Kitchener Post article: Man allegedly found masturbating in music studio. I clicked the link to learn that my brother had squatted in a young woman’s music studio, stole two of her handmade guitars, drank all her liquor and when discovered, was watching pornography, smoking crack cocaine, and well, yeah, masturbating.

There was a Reddit thread too, of people who knew my brother, none had a kind word to say. I was beside myself with grief. I wrote both authors and asked if they would remove their pieces. I thought, maybe in righteousness, that my brother still had a fighting chance at rehabilitation. That maybe, sometime in the future, he would be able to come back from this and get a job. But if anyone Googled his name they would find… these. I argued that his crime was not in the public’s interest, that it added to mental health stigma to not give someone in my brother’s situation a second chance. I explained to them why he was the way that he was. The trauma that led to this.

But they didn’t care. My brother committed a crime, I was not arguing against that. He deserved punishment, clearly. And so, that is what he received. Both through a jail sentence, and through online shaming, the latter of which is all too common nowadays.

In the last few years, as I’ve come to terms with what I was raised in, I have attempted to speak to people about my past, about mental health, but nothing has really helped me come to terms with any of it. Living with addicts is not easy. In fact, it’s downright impossible sometimes. My brother was not good to me. He had a particular malice for me when I was growing up, a hatred. He would hit me, ridicule me, but as my sister told me later, as repressed memories rose to the surface, my older brother received much of the physical abuse, whereas I received not only physical abuse but emotional and mental torture.

To put it bluntly my father was a bully. He hit us, beat us, threw my mother down stairs. To go into detail would be an exhausting task. My older brother was somewhat of a hockey prodigy, but he was short, so he never made it any further than the junior leagues. Ultimately this disappointed my parents, who lacked the emotional and intellectual intelligence to raise five children.

There was various types of torment, insults, plenty of ridicule. When I was older I bravely wrote to my parents about my memories. At this point in my life three of their oldest children no longer spoke to them. But I wrote to them seeking connection. One memory, burrowed itself into my psyche.

One night, when I was only 12, my family was vacationing in Cape Breton, as we did most summers because that is where my mother was raised. My brothers and I were surrounded by our aunts and uncles when my father wanted to leave. My mother had one too many glasses of wine, merrily reminiscing with her family, yet she acquiesced and we returned to the cottage we were renting. Upon entering the front door my father pushed my mother to the ground and flew into a rage that clearly frightened all of us. Even though we were witness to many of his hysterical outbursts over the minor of grievances, we never learned to live well with them. My brothers and I ran into our shared room and hid under the covers as we heard my mother crying and my father screaming at her. It was probably only minutes, but seemed endless. He stormed into our room and proclaimed that he was going to divorce our mother and asked us to choose who we wanted to live with: her or him. Of course, we were all too frightened to say that we wanted to live with our mother, so we told him in unison that it was him we chose. My mother wailed in the other room upon hearing this.

I relayed this story to my parents in an email believing that they would reach out to comfort me, or to talk. But instead my father rang and yelled, hollered, attempted to intimidate me into silence. I told him that I no longer feared him, that his hysterics would not cower me. In that brief moment, I felt I had finally reached adulthood.

My father often beat my older brother and I together. But he always beat my brother harder. He must have known it, and he must have resented me for getting a lighter punishment. And he showed it in his treatment of me. He never had a kind word to say to me. Not once did he demonstrate any brotherly love towards me. My sister has informed me through the years, that he has expressed to her deep regret about how he behaved with me. Still, he has yet to call.

Sometimes I wonder why I did that for my brother. Why did I try and have those stories taken down? Surely I would have felt some sort of smug type of vengeance over how he had treated me. Finally, revenge! But all I felt was great, overwhelming sadness. All the loss of never having a normal family hit me at once. All the horrors that I had witnessed, the child abuse, the helplessness, the wish for a better childhood for not just me, but all my siblings.

Homelessness and addiction comes from great pain. That’s how I view it, because in my experience, that’s what it is. Pain. When I see an addict, I see an attempt to bury that pain. I know most likely my brother will never be rehabilitated, the statistics are grim on this issue. And I no longer have the hope that I did when I was younger that he will be ‘normal’. Experience has taught me not to be cynical, or negative, but more honest with myself about reality.

All I have left is this stark truth: it’s not okay. And I have to learn to be okay with the fact that it’s not okay.

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