This post has been floating around in my head forever. I guess it’s time it finally came out. Sit back and relax…it’s going to be a long one.
It’s actually quite exhausting to try to sum up what it’s like being related to my brother Eric (not to be confused with my husband Eric). The simple fact is that he has always been an exhausting person. High energy from the very beginning, really for as long as he has been alive. Outgoing, popular, self-confident. Always quick to make friends. But also selfish, demanding, and exceedingly self-absorbed.
Here’s an old story – I’ll never forget one year on our annual beach vacation when he decided he needed a very specific logo screen printed onto a t-shirt. I can’t remember what it was for, or why it was so important – rest assured that it was not required for any event or team, just that he got it in his head that he needed it. He couldn’t have been more than 10 at the time. We literally spent the entire week stopping at various print shops all over Maryland trying to find someone who could create this specific t-shirt he had dreamed up in his imagination. My grandmother, an artist, tried to draw him the exact logo as he described and even that wasn’t good enough. He talked about it day and night, and our planned family activities were all cut short in order to just “check out one more place to make the shirt.” Several shirts were made but none of them were just right, and so we had to keep trying, daily, for the entire week. In the end, I don’t think he was ever satisfied with the dozens of shirts that were printed for him. But also, more tellingly, he felt absolutely no shame over hijacking the entire summer vacation and ruining everyone’s good time in order to get what he wanted. In his mind, he was – and is – the only person who matters.
That my parents allowed him to act in such a way and endlessly bent to his wishes has always been a sore subject. He was for a long time the only boy and the baby of the family – the stereotypical golden child who could get away with anything. But then again, he was obnoxious to the point of delirium. If they hadn’t taken him to every screen printer on the Eastern seaboard, he would have just kept repeating himself and pleading his case ad infinitum, until we all wanted to jump off the 20th floor balcony of our beach condo (or just push him off – which in retrospect, would have solved a lot of future problems).
This is just one example of many to illustrate the sort of person my brother is and always has been. The first descriptor that comes to mind when I think of him is selfish. He is spoiled and selfish and for the past God knows how many years, he is also a drug addict.
And yes, these traits go hand in hand, though I think the selfishness in this case did precede the addiction. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Intervention, then you know that my family’s story is hardly original. (Though I do feel like, on Intervention, there’s always that moment where the text appears on the screen that says, “And that’s when Carrie’s dad left,” when you can say to yourself, ahhhhh, ok, now it all makes sense. In my brother’s case, I can’t think of any obvious moments like that.)
I come from an upper middle class family, a safe neighborhood, two loving parents and a relatively normal upbringing. We’ve always had more than enough and as I’ve already mentioned, my brother has always had even more than that. Naturally gifted and athletic, he was a nationally ranked wrestling star with a bedroom full of trophies and medals and more friends than I could ever keep track of. Despite the fact that I was seven years older, people would always refer to me as “Eric’s sister,” and most of them didn’t even realize he had two older sisters since neither of us played sports or stood out in any way – at least not compared to him. He was outgoing and talented and impossible to ignore. And then, at some point, it all fell apart.
Part of the problem is that we lived this nice, innocent, normal existence and really had no inkling of the warning signs of drug addiction until they were smacking us right in the face. Even then, it took my parents a really long time to admit how bad the problem was. They both worked long hours and relied on us kids to be self-sufficient – we were left home alone and expected to take care of our own after-school snacks, homework, and entertainment. My sister and I never had a problem with this. For my brother, the lack of rules and structure turned out to be disastrous.
Who knows how it started, when it started… at this point, I’m sure it doesn’t even matter. It’s been going on for so long that my memories of those early days are hazy and it’s really not worth going back and rehashing every painful moment (plus, my memory has never been that good). There are just a few things that stick out in my mind–
All the things he stole. Oh, did he steal. Things from my parents, mostly. Irreplaceable things. All of my mom’s jewelry, both my parent’s class rings, the silver flatware we used to eat Christmas dinner, phones, iPads, tools, cash, purses, televisions, car batteries… everything. Anything. Things we still don’t even realize we are missing.
Once he stole my father’s air compressor and sold it to a pawn shop. My dad went and bought it back. Then Eric sold it again.
The worst for me was when he stole my laptop, which had pictures I hadn’t backed up and would never see again. The next morning we brokered a deal with the drug dealer he sold it to and offered him $600 cash – no penalty – to get it back. We of course never got it, and the cash disappeared, too.
You know what, that wasn’t the worst. The worst was when he stole my little sister’s gift cards that she got for her birthday party (maybe she was 4? 5?) and told her that he took them because he planned on taking her to the movies. He never took her to the movies.
All the times he has ruined. I guess the beach story was just a harbinger of things to come. He has a knack for choosing moments to ruin – mostly vacations, and always Christmas. Eventually it just became commonplace that he would fall asleep at the dinner table or need to borrow a car and go out on some urgent errand. That he needed money for the errand. That he would pester and plead and threaten and scream until you gave in and gave him what he wanted just so he would shut the hell up. Then he’d bring the car back with fenders missing or giant dents and no reasonable explanation, only that it “wasn’t his fault.” I can’t tell you how many of my parent’s cars he has ruined.
Or how about the Christmas when my mom was cleaning his room, getting ready for the guests we have every year, and pricked herself with one of his used needles. My mom is so strong but when I walked in and saw her crying, helplessly, I genuinely didn’t know what to say or do.
All the potential he wasted. You see stories of these kids, born into poverty, toiling day and night and to get into decent colleges and then working their asses off to become doctors and lawyers…my brother is the exact opposite of that. He was born with every opportunity, with so much talent and potential, on the fast-track to getting a full-ride to college on a sports scholarship and then doing whatever he wanted with his life. Making money, being successful, making his dreams come true. Instead, he got kicked out of high school, eventually did get a GED, and has had yet to hold down a real job. He mooches off my parents or whatever girl he happens to be seeing and has absolutely nothing to his name. You know what he has? He has one small duffle bag of clothes and a cracked iPhone. That’s about it.
There was a brief, shining oasis in the middle of this when I actually thought he was “cured.” I remember it was 2010 because they allowed him to leave rehab to be in my wedding – and he looked better than he had looked in years. He smiled, made eye contact, engaged. Didn’t disappear mysteriously. Acted like a normal human being. It was the longest I’ve ever seen him sober and the difference in his demeanor was astonishing. Naively, I allowed myself to imagine it was over.
It wasn’t. It isn’t. His drug of choice these days is heroin, and has been for a long, long time. Maybe I should just count my blessings because it’s actually much better than crack – crack makes him wild, crazy, uncontrollable. Heroin, at least he can function. He can pretend to the point that I wonder if he’s still doing it right up until the point that one of my parents mentions he’s in rehab – again.
Writing this post was supposed to be therapeutic but now I don’t even know. I’ve written this much so I might as well finish. There is no ending, no resolution – he still is who he is and I stay out of the drama as much as possible. It’s just a fact at this point – either he’s finally going to get clean, or he’s going to overdose and die. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference now.
For me, I’ve managed to distance myself emotionally, because what else can I do? He and I were never close – I’m 7 years older, and in general just a very different kind of person. He has always frustrated me, even before the drugs, and now I just can’t muster the sympathy.
I’ll be honest – I can be hard on people. I don’t understand weak personalities and self pity and addiction in general, despite the fact that I’ve known many addicts. I’m familiar with it – but I’m not the most sympathetic. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through some heavy shit in my own life and the most wallowing I’ve ever allowed myself are a few “woe is me” blog posts and some nights spent crying inconsolably. I’ve never numbed the pain with drugs and alcohol. I’ve always been of the mindset that life is tough, and you should buck up, work hard, and get over it.
The only people I truly feel bad for in this situation are my parents. I hate what he is doing to them. It’s funny, I often think of myself as more worldly, and more able to handle things than my parents – and in a way, like I need to protect them. Sort of like when I watch a movie and tell my mom it’s “too graphic, with too much nudity and violence” for her. My parents are former band geeks, high school sweethearts who have been married for 32 years and go to church every Sunday. My mom has never even smoked a cigarette. I really cannot fathom how they ended up with a son living this kind of life.
I think addiction is selfish. I do recognize that it’s a disease, and I respect that, but every time he goes to rehab (I’ve lost count, it has to be anywhere from 50 to 100 times by now), I expect things to change. He detoxes the drugs out of his system – gets sick – suffers. And then it’s a clean slate. A new beginning. Every. Single. Time. He’s lucky enough to have parents who are still supporting him (maybe not like they once did, but he is on their insurance, and has the opportunity to go to rehab in the first place). And yet, he comes home, and makes a call, and starts the cycle all over again. I just want to shake him. STOP MAKING THE PHONE CALL. START OVER.
So yeah, I’m tough, but I also don’t hold grudges. I will forgive and forgive as many times as it takes. If he were to get clean, for real, tomorrow, I wouldn’t constantly remind him of the past or harp on all the Coach bags that I still think about and will never be able to replace because they don’t even make them anymore. I would embrace him and forgive him and tell him he’s doing a great job. But with each passing day, I become less and less convinced that day will finally come.
My brother Eric is 24 years old and every year I doubt he’ll make it to the next one. This year he went really went off the deep end right before our summer vacation (of course) and we heard that whatever girlfriend he’d been crashing with had kicked him out and he was living under a bridge somewhere. I thought for sure we’d get *the call* while we were on vacation. (And even then I thought, yet another vacation ruined). But we didn’t.
These past couple months since we got back from vacation I haven’t heard much about him and I haven’t asked. It’s just easier for me not to know. Then this past weekend he was suddenly at our weekly family dinner, ostensibly making a 2-day pit stop at my parent’s house between detox and rehab. It was weird to see him. He didn’t know Molly could walk, didn’t know I was having a boy. I’m not sure when I’ll see him again.
And I might be too exhausted to care.