Reflection of a Brother

All traumas exact their own price, but the unique pain of an addiction in the family is that it exerts an agony that is both unbearable and mindlessly mundane. For fifteen years I witnessed the unraveling of my brother as he descended further and further from us into an addiction I could neither accept nor understand. As this went on, I still remember the moments when each of my strands of hope broke. The belief that I could reach him. The hope that things could not get worse. The terrible fear of the ultimate consequence. These threads snapped over the course of years, both breaking my heart again and again, but also habituating me to their reality. I would never have believed that what we got used to in those years could not only be borne, but actually become normal. The emergency rooms, the scouring of London streets and doorways at 3am for a body, the aggression, the terrible moments at which he could still be glimpsed in his torment. These passed from the realm of exceptional, life changing experiences and just became what we did. In retrospect we did what we needed to in order to survive and not be burned up by it. It was both dehumanising and tender beyond belief.

And then, after years had gone by and anger had changed unwillingly to acceptance, something changed. Somehow, the storm eased and passed, and there he was. Emerging out of this, he was in some senses changed beyond recognising. He was broken and new, but he was whole again. The depths that this has plumbed in him have created a capacity and a tendency for compassion and empathy that I now recognise would be impossible in someone who had not lived through this. In a totally surprising way, his journey was redemptive and healing in the end.

The restoration of my brother ranks along with the birth of my children as one of the defining experiences of my life. After hope had gone and we knew we had lost him, he somehow found the strength, through daily work and diligence, to pull himself through and back to us. I have since been asked by friends what made the difference and I always recognise the urgency with which this question is asked. Addiction is common and families suffer what we suffered, usually in silence, for decades. After reflecting deeply on it, I can honestly say I have no conception of what happened to make the impossible possible but I do know this; the fact that someone can go so deeply into the abyss and come home, whole and clear, is an experience of grace that I never thought I would have in my life. The thing about grace is that is hard to control. All you can do is show up, day after day, bringing whatever kindness, love and understanding you are capable of at that moment. If that space can be held then there is always hope.

I believe that Alex has done something truly remarkable, but I also believe that the path he has taken is open to all others who suffer still as he used to. His determination now to widen the narrow path he eventually managed to navigate is truly to his credit and, as time is beginning to show, to the immense benefit of those he meets.

I am very proud to be his brother

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