My half brother and I share the same father and are 18 years apart. I looked up to him all my childhood and for a little while wanted to be in the army just like him. My brother served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He met his wife in the military and once they came back home they got married, had a child and settled in Kentucky.
My brother kept serving until he was medically discharged with a back injury. Up until then my brother looked like he had made it. However, with a mix of the back injury and undiagnosed PTSD, he started to abuse opioids and pain meds. It had become so severe that after only a couple years, he and his wife divorced, he lost custody of his daughter and was living with opioid abusers like himself.
I remember vividly in the summer of 2015 when I was 16 years old my parents fighting in the kitchen because my mom didn’t want my dad to fly to Kentucky and bring my half brother home, thinking he’d have a negative impact on me. On that August day I thought my family had just fallen apart. The fight they had was so bad. My dad was planning on moving out and I thought my brother was going to die. I cried in the shower because I didn’t want my parents to know how sad and nervous I was. Fortunately, my parents did not get divorced but I still can’t believe how my father forgave my mother after saying all the mean and nasty things about my brother. My father and older sister flew to Kentucky and brought my brother home.
I have never had a deep conversation about how I felt about my brother’s addiction. The truth is I didn’t want to talk about it and my brother didn’t want to talk about his problems either. I’ve never had real closure because I haven’t been able to express how I felt and why. I come from an upper-middle class ex-military family living in the suburbs so I thought that if I talked about my brother’s addiction people wouldn’t care because people would think I was just trying to complain about something. Everyone has problems. I have a friend whose dad left him, I have a friend who doesn’t know his real father and I have a friend who doesn’t have a steady home to go to right now. They don’t really talk about their problems so why should I? Why should I be the one who gets special treatment and attention? I only told a couple friends about it but I never went into detail. I just wanted to let them know whats up but I wanted to be a man about it and fight the feeling. I especially didn’t want to talk to my parents about it because I didn’t want them to worry about me more and I didn’t want them to make special arrangements with shrinks or tell my teachers or friends or whatever. So for the most part I buried my feelings but if I could have an honest conversation about it I would say this…
My brother’s addiction confused me. He was my childhood hero and I used to want to grow up like him in a way. But after what happened I was confused about how I felt about him. I was mad about him for making our family almost tear apart. I mean how selfish could he be for not thinking how it would affect other people in his life? But I was also mad at myself and my parents for not helping him enough sooner before he hit rock bottom. He was so far away from home at that time. I wanted to help him but I couldn’t do anything for him. If he was an addict back when he lived at home with me I think I could’ve done or said something sooner to stop him from throwing everything away. But I never saw him when he was on drugs because he lived in Kentucky and I lived up in New England.
It’s the worst feeling when you know someone you love is hurting so bad on the inside and is hurting themselves because of it, but you can’t do anything to help. You just get updates with bad news. All I could do was pray, asking for my brother to be saved so he wouldn’t die so far away from home. So that’s what I did.
Flash forward to now, it’s been three years and my family is stable again. My brother is self-reliant, has a steady job and a serious girlfriend. He’s able to see his daughter for months at a time out of the year. It’s as if his addiction never happened which confuses me a little but I’m very happy for him. I have seen the opioid crisis take shape and complete full circle from relapse to recovery. I haven’t told many people about my story because I don’t want them to talk about me and my family’s problems when I’m not around. But if I had just two words to describe that summer it would be this— Family Matters.