Alcoholism is a devastating illness. It is an equal opportunity destroyer. It distinguishes neither age, class, gender, nor race. And its effects are far reaching. It not only wreaks havoc in the life of the one suffering from it, but the lives of everyone that cares about that person. I know from personal experience. All three of my older brothers suffer from alcoholism.
I have spent my life watching alcohol slowly usurp the willpower and self-control from each of them. My brothers started drinking heavily in high school. It started at weekend parties, but quickly became a favorite hobby. Before long, they were hiding six-packs in the local river, to keep them hidden (and cold). They would go to the river and drink before school. They would get to school, and by second period, they were “good and buzzed.”
My brothers were very popular in high school. They played football, and had many friends. Everyone knew and liked them. They began experimenting with alcohol at weekend parties. Each party got a bit wilder than the last. This “upped” their cool quotient. As the adulation increased, so did their drinking.
They never got busted for drinking at school. And they never really got into any major trouble with the law. At least not in high school.
Two of my brothers still drink pretty heavily, but have relatively normal lives. I guess you would call them functional alcoholics. Their personal lives are usually a mess, but they have a roof, clothes and food. My oldest brother, though, has had a much rougher time with his alcoholism.
My oldest brother has been in and out of rehab, AA, and crisis intervention more times than I can count. I have had to have him Baker-acted a few times for attempted suicide. (Not a pleasant experience for a doting little sister, let me tell you.) I cannot recount the heartbreak and utter sorrow and despondence my mother and I have experienced in trying to help him recover. I suppose it is what I have witnessed while growing up that has pushed me to get my degree in Psychology. They are so screwed up; I want to “unscrew” them.
The first few times my brother went to rehab, it didn’t stick. He fell off the wagon almost immediately. He did it for show, for the family. He half-heartedly did the program and figured out exactly what he needed to say to get out again. He told them what they wanted to hear, went home, and continued as if nothing happened. He continued to drink as if he had never left. Two broken marriages and three kids later, he ended up losing almost everything. He entered rehab again, this time with the intention of making it work. And it did work-for almost seven years. He got his life back on track, and he found faith. He was attending church services every week, often more than once a week. He was even helping other men get and stay sober. He had just gotten a brand new house, and a truck that actually ran. Everything was wonderful. Then he fell off the wagon again.
This time when he fell off the wagon, he fell HARD. He even began doing drugs in addition to the alcohol. He stayed off the wagon for quite awhile, neglecting family and work. He didn’t pay his bills, and he didn’t really care. He would often call me, telling me he couldn’t understand why he kept on doing this to himself. I assured him that he was the only one who DID know why he continued to do it. I told him he kept doing it because he liked it, and because he could, that he knew deep down what he had to do to stop-he needed long term rehab. I let him know that I would support his decision to go to such a rehab, but that until he committed himself to doing it, that I couldn’t take any more phone calls from him. I let him know how it broke my (and our mother’s) heart to see him throw everything he has worked so hard for, away like trash, how very much I love him and how I want only good things for him. I also warned him against “copping out;” I reminded him how he remained sober for seven years, and how very good God had been to him during those years. He agreed, and the next day checked himself in to a long term facility, where I wrote to him every single week, letting him know how we all are doing, what things were going on, reminding him that we love him, that we are proud of his effort to get his life back, and that he was in our prayers.
My brother is sober today. I can’t say he won’t slip up again. I can say that I’ll be there to help him get back on track when he does. Recovery from alcoholism is a life long process. One is never fully recovered. With a determination to quit and stay sober, a supportive family, and “whole-lotta help from God,” it can be done.