Addiction is a Family Disease
I grew up extremely jealous of my elder sister. She was the girl who always had it all while I was the younger brother who always messed up everything. Neither of us really cared much about school; however, she made education appear effortless while I constantly struggled with my grades. Our parents adored her. They were proud of her accomplishments: sports teams, music, art, and drama club. This is a story about an addiction and family coming to blows.
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While my parents never expressed it, I suspected that they wondered why I wasn’t more like my sister. We were polar opposites, and that created sometimes created distance between her and me. We both strived to please our parents. However, that stress drove her to success but led me to depression.
She passed high school and college with flying colors. She was married and then divorced. Whenever I saw her, she had a drink in her hand. She’d never failed at anything, so she was trying to cope with that failed marriage.
I didn’t think anything amiss by her drinking. Hell, I liked drinking and enjoyed getting drunk on occasion. Our parents often drank, and all family occasions were toasted with alcohol. Our father had drunk daily for over thirty years, so this was the status quo for us. In fact, drinking was so often encouraged in our family that we had no reason not to drink.
It was just how things were, and I believe we missed red flags as a result. That’s the connection between addiction and family, I think.
From Having Everything To Having a DUI
My sister’s health declined. She appeared unwell. She became stressed out when she didn’t have a drink in her hand. She’d even confessed that she’d reported to work drunk a few times. She drank alone in her apartment every evening until she passed out. Passing out, in fact, seemed to be the only way to stop her drinking. She was not paying bills, and she was giving up.
During this time frame, I took a job out of state and escaped the entire situation. At least, I escaped it for a short while.
One evening I received a disturbing telephone call from my mother. She stated that she was en route to pick up my sister from the sheriff’s department. My sister had been arrested for DUI. After being charged, my sister was being released to my parents’ custody as her car was impounded.
That night, my concern for my sister morphed into fear. All the signs that indicated she was drinking too much were too large to ignore. However, our parents were only concerned that he had driven that night; they still asserted that she was an adult who could choose her own path.
After all, my sister was the one who’d been the shining star of the family. Now, however, she didn’t know her own nose from a wet paper bag. For the first time, I was the “good child,” but I couldn’t take pleasure from that now.
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When Addiction and Family Collide
So, I watched from afar as she continued to spiral downward. She needed help and moved back home with our parents. She, along with our parents, continued to drink—together!
Due to her arrest, she was ordered to attend self-help group and outpatient treatment. Because she was without a license, Dad drove her to the 12-step group and sometimes stayed for the meetings with her.
Fortunately, Dad was paying close attention during these meetings. He soon discovered that for my sister to recover, that my parents also needed to stop drinking.
We Had To Become A Family to Beat Addiction
We reached a turning point as a family. We finally understood that addiction was a family problem. Our parents had stopped drinking while my sister was living with them and recovering.
With the support of our parents, alcohol detox, and regular attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous, my sister reached five years of sobriety. She had to make many life changes. In time, she moved back out of our parents’ home to a home with a friend who’s also recovering. They keep each other on track and go to their self-help group together.
My sister swears to this day that she could never have reached her five-year milestone if our parents had continued drinking, or if she hadn’t found her 12-step group.
As for me, I now fully understand that addiction is a dangerous disease in my family. As a group, we help to stay clean and sober. I’ll do anything I can to support my sister in her sobriety. That’s what being a good brother is all about.