One Part Alcohol - Two Parts Self Esteem
This is a painful story to tell. If you want to read something lighthearted, stop reading this.
It is, however, a story of a person; perhaps it could be any person, but this one's my brother!
And it's the story of the life he chose but also the role his family may have played in making him the man he is today. If you read stories from others about the damage of alcohol, they almost always say that it's not the families fault. It's a disease that can only be cured by the alcoholic. The best thing, apparently, for the family to do is walk away from the person. They say it may be the only way this person will ever come to grips with his problem and perhaps reach out for help. I don't disagree with this but I also don't necessarily believe that a person becomes an alcoholic without a push! And I think, that during formative years of his life he had been pushed by negative messages, messages of criticism and failure.
Living, now, in a nursing home, looking depressed and broken, is this person who, although two years younger than me, looks much older because of the ravages of his chosen past time with alcohol.
Alcohol Isn't Pretty!
For years, he went from job to job ending up living as a homeless man, going, then, from person to person for a night's sleep, living for a time in a run down vehicle, and finally landing in one room in a cheap hotel. Life by then was spending days sitting in a common lobby watching endless television shows, smoking rolled cigarettes, and drinking his own brew of homemade wine (something he could make with ingredients bought with his food stamps).
For years, we judged him because, truthfully, alcohol isn't pretty! When he would call, I shuddered because often, soon into the conversation, I could tell that he was just drunk. And when I would say that I had to go, he'd get angry...you know that drunken kind of anger. When he would show up, I cringed because his hair was long and matted, his clothes were dirty, and he smelled of unwashed body.
So, why would I think of taking any blame for how this brother of mine ended up? Why wouldn't I do as other's suggest and turn my back on this mess of a person? For sure, that is what I did for years along with others in my family. And did that work to help him "see the light"? No...instead, he sought out others like himself and dropped deeper and deeper into this unhealthy existence. And others like him became his family, his friends, his supporters.
He's My Brother!
I tried to turn my back, not answer phone calls, not allow myself to get sucked into the unspoken pleas for money when he did call. It got to the point where I couldn't sleep in my own warm home not knowing if he was warm or cold each night. So, to ease my mind, I paid for that room in that cheap hotel. And then feeling like I had fulfilled some godly obligation, I could again turn my back and let him continue to carry out his life however he chose.
Two or three times a year, my sister and I would go visit him and truthfully were disgusted by the state of his room. He cared nothing for cleanliness. His clothes laid clean and dirty together on an old broken couch. Tin cans and dirty dishes covered the small counter top. Cigarette butts were piled high in a bowl used for an ashtray. And a trash bag full of aluminum cans was being collected for the cash it would bring. Fruit flies flew around his home brew!
So, we would do what we could to clean things up and then, do as we had always done, lecture him on how he should not let it get so out of control. And he would do as he had learned to do, basically ignore the lecture and just smile obligatorily and say "Ok". And of course, he didn't change.
So you're still asking yourself why did we go back, why didn't we just turn away? Were we really just supporting his habit?
It's because of this statement:
"I Probably Wasn't Good Enough!"
I went to see him, now in this nursing home. He lays there, unable to walk from a broken hip but also unable to use his right arm due to a stroke, and now also dealing with stage four cancer. And we talk. I get him to tell me a little about his past and the jobs he had. I said "You were a good welder." And he said "Thank you!", surprised by the compliment. I then say, "I can't believe you haven't asked me if I would bring you a beer today." And he says "Well, I know you won't, so why bother." Then I say "Do you ever think that it was the alcohol that caused you to lose jobs?"
And his answer is "No!"
"Why do you think you lost jobs then?"
"I don't know, I guess I probably wasn't good enough."
And this is the comment that haunts me!
We Had Told Him That!
The statement haunts me because I know...I remember the lectures from my brothers, from my mother and from me.
When he was a little boy and then later as a teen and young adult, he was lectured about everything! He wet the bed and sucked his thumb for too long. He didn't keep his room clean enough. He'd start a project and not finish it. He'd park rundown cars in the driveway with plans to restore them and not get it done fast enough. I, personally, don't recall ever giving him a compliment until this last week.
All his life he had been told to stop, clean it up, move it, hurry up! He was never good enough. All his life, I think he was treated as a failure...and it seemed he always failed!
Life is an echo! What you send out comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get. What you see in others, exists in you. Do not judge so you will not be judged. Radiate and give love and love comes back to you.
And now I think that maybe alcohol wasn't the first thing to take him down! Perhaps we had pushed him to it. Perhaps he turned to alcohol to find strength and power to cope with the lectures, the words that told him that he was a failure, the words that had to have left him with a low self esteem.
I Got The Chance to Say "I'm Sorry"!
Today I was with him. I told him that I was haunted by his comment and felt that I had not been a very good sister and that I remember him being lectured often by me, mom and his brothers as well. He just laughed and said "I didn't care about any of that! It didn't matter." But I got to tell him that, at least as for me, I was sorry.
And then, we let it go and spent time looking at pictures and sharing stories. I realize that I never knew him as a success. I didn't know that, as a young man, he played harmonica and sang at open mic nights in our hometown. I didn't know that he built things. He had a picture of a chicken coop that he had built and he shared how he had raised chickens and turkeys. I never knew.
But it was when my sister joined us and put a song on asking him to listen to the words that he cried. It was a song about riding a train...another thing in his life that he had done often. He had lived and worked for years in New Orleans. What I didn't know was that he would ride that train, meet people, play his harmonica, and of course drink all the way from New Orleans to home and back again. It was a life he loved. It was during those times that he felt like a successful person. He cried because of good memories. He wasn't thinking about how poorly he was treated as a kid. He was thinking about the great times he had in his life, the people he had met, how he was treated as a talented man, and yes, probably wishing he could just have a beer. Our lectures had not made him feel successful...alcohol had!
His life had been filled with hopes and dreams, just like your's and mine.
He doesn't blame us nor does he blame the alcohol for how his story played out. I blame us for not being there to build him up when he most needed it...and I blame the alcohol for becoming his best friend and then for leaving him such a broken man. I do not blame him! He wanted to be loved just like everyone else. He found that love with others who drank. He didn't find it from us. We were told to turn our backs and that would surely shake him into sobriety. Not so. It pushed him further into alcoholism. He thought we didn't care.
It's now time for me to send out a message in hopes that it echoes. I need to give him my love and not judge this brother of mine. So I call on God, now, and the spirits of my mother, and father and brother, to please wrap your arms tightly around him. He needs all our love!
Please God, give him the strength that he needs to endure through cancer treatments...without his best friend - Alcohol!
Is There A Moral To This Story?
Yes, there is.
Human beings are sensitive and learn unintended lessons. We had been taught that good parenting was harsh and punitive. And so we were just that. While this parenting style instilled fear in me, it did the opposite for my brother. He rebelled! He turned his back on anyone who tried to tell him what to do and instead embraced those who did not judge.
True to his beliefs, he does not, today, judge us, so why should we judge him?
But...if we had the power to reverse time, would this story have a different ending? iI we had treated him with more encouragement when he was that little boy who wet the bed or that teenager who wanted to try to fix cars, would he have found the strength to not become addicted to alcohol? We needed a parent who helped guide learning instead of punish mis-steps. We needed lessons, as siblings, on kindness, support, and respect.
We needed then and still today to truly practice the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would treat yourself. While it's understandable that one should not support the lifestyle of an alcoholic, we should have found ways years before to support our brother.
- My Selfish Friend - Alcohol!
This is the story of alcohol; a selfish