Excerpt from Anna’s Recovery Story: ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’

stories-02Through his heroin addiction and recovery, Anna’s brother has taught her so much about life, including the most valuable lesson she could ever learn – you can get through anything.

“… there’s no way I can tell this story without saying that my brother is truly the most inspirational person I know. I am in awe of who he is and what he’s achieved. He has taught me so much about life, including the most valuable lesson I could ever possibly learn – that you can get through anything.”

‘6. Emotional release
My parents could see that I wasn’t really coping with what was happening and they convinced me to go and see a counsellor. I went to see a very expensive psychologist for three sessions. The first two sessions were spent crying and telling the same story I’d told everyone else a thousand times.

In the third session, the psychologist said to me, “Anna, I’ve been hearing a lot about your brother and all of his problems. What about you? Do you think you might have a problem with drugs too?” I said, “Yes.” I was drinking every night to cope with what was going on, and my boyfriend at the time was also a heavy drinker.

She said that I needed to accept that I couldn’t change my brother’s behaviour or anyone else’s, I could only change my own. She also said that I needed to focus on my own life and stop focussing so much on my brother’s.

After the session finished, I went out to my car and bawled my eyes out, but it was a different type of emotional release. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I knew that things would be different for me, and that I could change the way I was thinking and feeling.

It was the first time in about a year that I could see a way forward. I then went to see a counsellor for a while, who was much cheaper than the psychologist, but I didn’t find her all that helpful, and I decided that I already had the tools, I just needed to practice using them.

7. Reaching out
By this stage, my brother had made a number of attempts at detoxing and rehab, but kept relapsing. It was so hard to stay positive – we would get really enthusiastic and excited whenever he went into rehab, and then heartbroken when he quit the programme, disappeared, or couldn’t stay clean.

My older brother who lives in the US, offered to have him come and stay there. My parents discussed sending my brother to an expensive private rehab in Europe. Every option was considered because every day there was a new drama to deal with. Things had really gotten very bad for my younger brother – he was homeless, he had chronic health problems, and he was facing a jail term for armed robbery.

In spite of all this, he told us he’d started going to NA meetings every now and again, and he was beginning to embrace the twelve-step program. I didn’t know whether it would help him, but my parents and I attended Families Anonymous (FA) meetings together. We felt that this was a way we could connect with my brother and understand a bit more about how he was trying to deal with his dependence.

The FA meetings involved a group of women (and my dad), some in their seventies and eighties who had been dealing with their kids’ drug use over a 40-50 year period. It seemed to be a competition between the group members – who had the saddest story to tell, who had the family with the most dramas.

I remember one of the women saying to me rather unsympathetically, “Why haven’t you dumped your boyfriend, the alcoholic, yet? You can choose a boyfriend but you can’t choose your family,” which I thought was a bit unhelpful at the time.

Ultimately, that’s what I decided I needed to do, as I’d made a decision to stop binge drinking and there wasn’t room in my life for two people with drug problems. One of them had to go.

The positive thing about FA was that I felt part of a group of people who understood each other, despite the fact that everyone was very different to me and my family. There was no shaming, no blaming, we could say whatever we wanted and put a voice to our fears, resentment and hurt without worrying about sounding bitter and twisted.

We also shared a few laughs about our family members’ crazy capers. It was here that I learned the importance of focusing on the small steps my brother was making, and his achievements, rather than his failures.

My brother came to stay with me for a night when my parents were away overseas, and he was trying to withdraw from heroin. I begged him not to steal my stereo, as I didn’t have enough money to replace it, and he respected that.

He disappeared in the middle of the night, and I found out later he’d gone to score, but he still managed to keep his promise that he wouldn’t steal anything, even while he was in the midst of an agonising experience where I’m sure he spent half the night thinking, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”’

Why not read Anna’s full Story.