Seventeen months ago, if I were a betting man, I would have put money on my brother being long dead by now at the tender age of 35 or 36. He had endured multiple hospital stays by that point and had one foot in the grave due to liver failure. My baby brother seemed determined to think alcohol didn’t also have its hooks in him, until he too found himself in the hospital with irregular heart beat this January and who knows what else that was at least partially caused by the sauce.
Now I know I’ve written about it before, but it is truly a miracle that Brother #1 is even alive and that Brother #2 has gotten help too. I rarely use the word “proud,” as in many cases I think pride is undeserved and inflated, but I am very proud of where they are today. They’ve both had a stronger conviction than I would have guessed, and they are a testament that rehab does work. Brother #1 was in an in-patient clinic for awhile where I know he struggled. But he met others that were in a similar boat and he’s made life-long friends with some as they came out of the fire like Phoenixes. Baby brother did an intensive out-patient program and did his meetings until he figured out his triggers and root causes.
Both have taken this second chance at life to start making small steps towards family and happiness. After his near-death stint and getting sober, Brother #1 was out of work for a long time, essentially homeless and living with my parents and Brother #2, getting some sort of gubment assistance. After a long recovery process, he improved his health to the point he was healthy enough to work once again. So he moved in with another relative to be closer to his three kids that he adores (instead of driving 2+ hours to see them) and got a job in his profession as a temporary employee. He’s interviewed (and feels a strong likelihood he may be offered a job) for another position that is permanent, makes better money, has insurance, and sounds much more mentally stimulating. Making baby steps each step of the way, he’s on his way to bigger things he wants to accomplish, like losing weight and beginning to exercise to the extent his body will allow.
My other brother is a bachelor, and since getting sober he’s found the inspiration to purchase a bug-out property with land that he can get out of town and shoot his guns at. I can tell it brings him mental calm to get away from some of the environment that brings him stress and contributed to his “need” to drink. He gets no cell reception, really no television, and is a couple of steps above a cabin in the woods. Perfection for him. I love it.
I’m not sure what caused the downward spiral, but maybe there are some lessons to be learned. Baby brother is simply a big, extroverted party guy without any real obligations in life. I believe he simply was bored and drinking was a way to make life feel better and less dull while spending time with his friends. His health deteriorated as his weight went up, but he never got a DUI, never got into any trouble, held down a decent job. He just let his problem impact his health. I’m hoping he finds passions and hobbies to live for, but he’s still figuring that part out. Oh, did I mention he likes guns? At least that’s something.
Brother #1 is more complex. He went from a funny, but mostly serious, guy with a positive outlook on life to a depressed shell of a man over a period of years.
I remember 10 years ago as he had gotten into biking, was recently married with a young kid, and seemed so happy. His relationship with his wife started out like many others – he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant so they married, plus they loved each other. At least at first, and in some ways even now they still do.
They had a second kid, bought a house, and I have a feeling it was a typical blue pill marriage. Wife wears the pants, husband isn’t the leader or has much of an opinion on many matters, and maybe is even a little lazy. Stress builds. Fights and blame occurs. Alcohol becomes a coping mechanism for the stress and unhappiness. Brother loses his job, starts drinking more. Finds another, loses another. It must have been really, really hard on them as a family and him as a person. I can’t imagine how beat down you feel when you are laid off, or let go, and you have to rely on your wife as the breadwinner when it used to be you. The bruised or broken ego, and loss of pride and identity. Or how the wife must feel for her husband, who is struggling with depression from that situation. She must want to support him mentally, but not get dragged into his sad world, and is likely feeling more pity than attraction to him.
So that’s what happened. I’m leaving out a lot of facts here, stuff that made me not have a relationship with him for years. They went through bankruptcy. She cheated on him. They had a third kid. After a few years of trying, and the same issues with my bro, they got divorced and got foreclosed on. He was absolutely crushed by the divorce and cheating, and spiraled out of control after that.
I don’t wish that experience on anyone – the whole thing. Depression and alcoholism go hand in hand, and they become so intertwined you can’t separate the two. Those two things were the key contributors to the whole collapse of a family, and what I thought would finally kill him.
But it didn’t. And a funny thing happened. His ex-wife became his biggest cheerleader and they actually became better parents after this fiasco. They still have old scars, but he’s let go a lot of the hurt and anger (maybe not all of it, but most of it), and is now looking to the future, instead of being trapped in the past.
That’s a great lesson for all of us, though sometimes you need to put the past to bed before you can look forward. Therapy is a good thing, don’t be afraid of the cost or perceived stigma. It’s helped my brother. It’s helped friends who have had major past traumas to overcome. It’s helped friends who didn’t think they had any family issues (ha!) but were encouraged to go. It’s helped me. Finally, when you can understand past events and triggers, and put those to bed, you can look ahead and plan your next step to life and the awesomeness life holds.
For most of us, thankfully, we aren’t in this boat. It may impact our ability to look better than we do (empty calories, impacts testosterone production), but usually the social lubricant is fun on occasion. If you think you may have dependency issues, or have loved ones who do, there are resources. But you can’t make someone change, or change yourself, if the desire is not there. Despite some circumstances that weren’t ideal (how’s that for an understatement!), both my brothers came to the realization that they needed help, wanted to live, and cleaned up to pursue a better life. And we’re reestablishing a positive relationship as best we can, this time without booze to lube things up. Things are happier and more positive in both their lives, and I’m thankful I have the opportunity to enjoy them for hopefully many years to come. My sober brothers.