In Her Words: Emily Note on Addiction and Family

5 years ago by

I’ve always enjoyed being a big sister. I’m the oldest of three kids, with two younger brothers: Bobby, who is now almost 27, and Bryan, who is nearing 23. Bobby and I are pretty close in age, I’m 29, and I have such fond memories of constantly creating adventures together. While I was starting my first business at the age of 9 (it was a baking business, I was really into chocolate chip cookies), my brother was excelling as an athlete, playing every sport imaginable. He was always outside and with some form of a ball. When Bryan was born and we became three, we started to settle into our familial roles. I was the over-achieving oldest, a goody two shoes and a bit of a drama queen. Bobby, the athlete, was charismatic and emotional, but quite a mischievous middle child. To this day, he still can give you this look—it’s a mix of a smirk and a smile, with a certain twinkle in his eye—that means he’s up to no good. It’s a look we’ve all come to know quite well.

I can’t remember exactly when I realized my brother wasn’t just a classic middle child, but an addict.

I don’t think it was when he was in high school—I was in college—and he was smoking a ton of pot. He was always stoned, and always in trouble. His teachers couldn’t understand how it was even possible we were related. I was always a perfect student, and he was always a nuisance. Constantly asking why?, challenging authority, sleeping in class, and eventually bringing drugs to school.

It may have been around the time he was kicked out of school all together, when the trouble started to get more serious. The police were involved occasionally. My parents were stressed all of the time. Our younger brother was growing up around all of this, a decent student and a strong athlete, but very high strung and sometimes angry. I felt detached from what was happening because I was away from home, in school in Washington, DC. I realize now I was blissfully ignorant of the deep hole my brother, Bobby, was digging himself into. Only recently did I come to learn that not only was he high all of the time—now with various drugs, not just pot—but he was also dealing, and stealing, and breaking into houses. That he could have been arrested, thrown in prison, he could have died so many times.

I felt guilty and foolish when I learned all of this—primarily while we were sitting in the car waiting for my grandfather’s funeral to start, when it seemed that Bobby had drunk a truth serum and decided to anecdotally share a lot of it with us—because I had somehow missed all of this. How did I not see the depth of what was happening? And even worse, had my overachieving drive created some sort of resentment that manifested itself in all of this behavior?

But, I definitely realized he was an addict after he went to jail for the second time. It’s hard to remember what exactly the charge was, but after spending a few days in our local jail, my parents put him on a plane to go to his first rehab in Southern California. He had finally admitted to them that he was addicted to Percocet, and was ready to get help. Since then, my brother has been in and out of rehab more times than I can count, has had a baby with a girlfriend he’s no longer with, started using meth and heroin, and just recently—as in, this week—was released from prison again. This time for violating his probation to come to my wedding in Italy. I’m sure you can imagine the complicated feelings that come with that. Getting Bobby there was a feat unlike any other I’ve performed—it took so much planning and coordinating to get a functioning addict on an international flight on his own—and I burst into tears of relief when my parents called to say they had met him in Rome, he had made it and gotten off the plane. He spent his first few days in Italy going through withdrawal, but trying to put on a good face for all of us. And by the time we made it to Tuscany he had returned to the bright, beautiful boy of our childhood. Smiling, laughing and making jokes. Walking my grandmother down the aisle. Dancing with me and my mom. I know he came without permission because he knew how disappointed I would be if he hadn’t been there. But I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible and guilty for the position he’s in now.

For someone like myself, being the sibling of an addict is (not was, it still very much is) something I don’t really know how to cope with. We grew up with extremely loving and supportive parents, who through my eyes treated us exactly the same way. But it often feels like there are decades that separate us, rather than years, and a completely different life view that I still can’t reconcile that we don’t share. He’s been using some form of a substance for at least 12 years and I was terrified of drugs when I was the age he was when he started using. I’ve never even taken Adderall and Sudafed makes me feel high. And for a long time I couldn’t figure out why he just couldn’t get his shit together. I thought he kept making terrible choices for himself and I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand that he is suffering, and that he’s lost the ability to truly be in control—that the drugs he takes have robbed him of that.

So for years, I think I tried to ignore what was happening to Bobby. Our relationship became pretty much non-existent. He would only call me when he was in trouble and was too afraid to deal with mom and dad. Or if he needed money, which I’ve foolishly given him so many times, thinking that I was helping him in times of need when he was clean, only to realize later that of course he had been using. I read in David Sheff’s book, Beautiful Boy, similar experiences where you want to do anything you can to help, where you become blinded to your best judgement by the overwhelming sense of love and powerlessness that you feel when you love an addict and you do stupid things. I’ve done a lot of stupid things for my brother, usually at the detriment of myself, and ultimately of him.

When I would go home to see my parents he would float in and out of the house for an hour or two at a time and we’d only make small talk with each other. I also realize now that the number of actual conversations we’ve had in the last year about real things can be counted on one hand. This is probably the thing that still upsets me most—that this wonderful human that I love so unconditionally and I are totally disconnected from each other. He’s disconnected from my parents and my other brother too, I realize it’s not just me. And ultimately, we all serve a different role in his addiction. My mom has so much empathy for him that it sometimes blinds her, enabling him—it’s something I know she struggles with deeply, and that she’s suppressing so much anger and pain. I think it makes my brother feel guilty, and so he avoids her. My dad is more confrontational, and less empathetic, and incites a certain anger in Bobby. When he needs tough love without the emotion, he’ll reach out to my dad. My younger brother and Bobby seem to be even more disconnected than he and I are. I assume that Bobby feels a lot of guilt for putting him through experiences that I can’t categorize as any other way but “fucked up” when he was too young. And with me, he’ll return my calls out of obligation when he’s doing okay and avoid me when he’s not. And I try to give him life, no bullshit, with little emotion—to be a guiding light when and where I can, although it’s likely that my advice is falling on deaf ears 99% of the time. But when he’s sober, he’ll call me and we’ll talk.

There have been periods of his sobriety where I can recognize the person I’ve known. Where there’s a haze that lifts and a brightness that returns and we can talk again, and laugh again, and he has ideas and plans and dreams. Periods where he realizes that his life is worth living, and he’s getting himself together. These moments have been few and far between over the last few years but we—my family and I—cherish them and hold on to them and they continue to give us hope in other moments of darkness. In the moments where I’ve convinced myself that he’s overdosed somewhere, and in the dread I feel each time I get a call from my parents at an unusual hour and I just know it’s the call that I’ve been fearing for all of these years. I’m sure most loved one of addicts, especially opiate addicts, understand this sense of all consuming dread. There’s this idea that the person who is my brother as I knew him is already, in a sense, dead when he is using. His soul doesn’t exist when he’s on drugs, just this body full of foreign substances that have stripped him of his consciousness. But as long as that body is still breathing, there’s always a sense of hope that he’ll come back to us. That he’ll re-inhabit his flesh and bones with his deep, emotional and loving soul. But if his body dies, then our hope dies with it, and it’s another experience of grief that I’m certainly completely unprepared for. This fear of his bodily death are the moments that have become the majority of my thoughts about my brother.


About two years ago, I decided that this experience—of being the sibling of an addict—isn’t really something you can just ignore or brush off, and that it was affecting me in ways I couldn’t fully comprehend. It became the only thing I talked about with my parents—if we were on the phone and didn’t mention Bobby and how he’s doing it felt like there was just a big elephant in the room. It had created moments of deep contention and strain in my relationship to Josh, my now husband, who has been with me through the darkest moments of Bobby’s addiction. And inside of me, it had manifested a lot of sadness, and anger, and fear and anxiety that I continuously was forcing further down into the depths of my body and my mind so that it wouldn’t taint the beautiful life I’ve been building for myself, quite tirelessly, for all of these years. It’s like his addiction is the attic in my house that I never want to visit—it’s too frightening, too dark—yet it’s always there, just above your head, hanging over everything. And as much as you want to avoid visiting the attic, you can’t avoid it forever, because there’s stuff you cherish in there, and it’ll always be a part of your house.

After my brother was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, I decided I had to climb into the attic. I started seeing a therapist and the majority of our conversations are still about Bobby. In a way his addiction has taken over my life as much as it’s consumed his. It’s become a dark cloud that covers the brightest moments—and for me, the biggest challenge is that it’s not something I can fix. No amount of problem solving in the world can cure him of this disease, and I now understand that it’s truly what it is. This has always been a marked difference between us: I am constantly running at problems and trying to solve them, whereas my brother avoids them in a way that just creates more problems. On top of that, under all of this, he is a perfectionist and has very high expectations for himself—something we both have in common. But he lacks the self confidence needed to get there. And this is where the disconnect happens when we try to talk about his future. I realize now that Bobby is not only an addict, but is incredibly depressed and also deals with anxiety. His addiction stems from and has exacerbated mental health issues that continue to be undiagnosed and untreated, regardless of the fact that he’s been in rehab so many times and has also seen various therapists over the years. The failures and incongruity of our mental health and criminal justice systems is, quite frankly, disgusting.

But the therapy has been helpful—I cry each time I talk about him, a sign of the hurt that I feel, but also the opportunity for a release. Though the thing that’s been most transformative in my parallel journey of my brother’s addiction was our time at the retreat.

For weeks I had been telling Garance—who has stood by and supported me through a lot of dark times with my brother too— how much I needed the retreat, but I couldn’t articulate why. This year was so good for me, I got married and my brother was even there for it, clean and present and wonderful (although I didn’t know at the time that he was there without permission to be). But each time a new issue arose with Bobby I could feel myself plummeting into darkness again and again. In October, just a few weeks before the retreat, my parents flew back to Philadelphia from California, where they are now living, to find my brother passed out on the kitchen floor, our house that we grew up in and he still lives in now, in complete shambles. I was disappointed again when he decided not to come to New York for Thanksgiving, opting to spend the day alone at home, with possibly the opportunity of a few hours with his daughter, my niece, who he is surprisingly a fantastic parent to. Yes, that may sound surprising, but it’s true—seeing the two of them together and the affection they have for each other is incredibly fulfilling. And I’m constantly impressed to find him looking for activities to do with her, rather than just sticking her in front of a screen, or giving her healthy snacks rather than the sugar she’s given frequently when with her mom. My feelings are so mixed about the safety of him being responsible for her, but I also see that when he’s with her, he does feel responsible, and loves her so unconditionally, and that her presence may be what’s keeping him alive. It’s quite possible that she is what he is living for.

So when we arrived in Chile, I brought Bobby with me. My entire body felt heavy when we touched down in the Atacama and there was this sensation of emotion bubbling up inside of me. On the second day, the tears started coming and they didn’t stop until we left. On the third day, even though I had been thinking about my brother during our meditation and free journaling practices, I needed to share, and as we sat in a circle, talking through one of Susan’s teachings, I let go and let it out that I have a brother who is an addict. And that his addiction has been consuming me for years. As the day went on, and the week went on, I shared more and so did everyone else. I learned that many of the women in the room also had a loved one who is an addict. That there were other complex challenges that each and every person was also facing in their lives. So we shared, we told stories, we offered advice without pretense, we cried, we held each other. And we continued to meditate and to journal. And in this experience and those practices, I was able to see thought patterns and negative self-talk that I hadn’t recognized in myself before. I was able to gain perspective. I was given very selfless advice about coping with my brother, but also coping with my brother in the context of my other relationships. And I was able to come home feeling like the clouds had started to lift and in their place there were warm rays of sun enveloping me that certainly came from these other women.

I’m taking what I learned on the retreat—both in practice and in self observation—and applying it to the newest set of challenges I’m facing with Bobby. I’m actively releasing myself of the responsibility I feel for and towards him. I’m not trying to problem solve for him unless he asks for my help specifically. And I definitely stopped giving him money. I’m trying to just communicate to him that I love him unconditionally, but take everything else out of it—the guilt, the criticism, the frustration—all of it. I still feel hopeful that he will get better, but I also know it will be a lifelong process. And I know I couldn’t have gotten to this point where I am right now, feeling a bit lighter and continuously more hopeful, had it not been for my experience in Chile. I hope that I’ll continue to create those connections in my everyday life back in New York, because I now know that I don’t need to do this alone.


For those of you who are dealing with something similar, our experiences are all very different, but I’ve found it incredibly useful to connect with others’ stories about addiction. The book Beautiful Boy was very helpful for me to read. And talking with other women at the retreat was profound. For those of you who are interested in connecting with other readers of the site who are going through this, I’d like to offer the opportunity for those of us in New York to meet together. And for those of you outside of New York, I’d be happy to connect you with other people in your cities who also reach out. Please e-mail me,, and share your stories in the comments, if you find it helpful. I know selfishly, it will help me greatly.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please refer to these spaces for additional information and help:
Addiction Help Today
National Institute of Drug Abuse
Narcotics Anonymous
To Write Love on Her Arms


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  • This is a beautiful post – thank you so much for sharing. I had the experience last month of going to the funeral of a dear friend’s brother, who overdosed on heroin in their family home. Their grief was profound and humbling, and will be a long road. We must talk more about addiction because it is real, it is an illness, and it is treatable.

    For those looking for information on evidence-based (as in, clinically proven to work) treatments for substance abuse, this is a great resource:

  • Merci d’avoir partagé cette partie de ta vie, ça fait du bien un peu de profondeur !
    Je n’ai pas d’expérience avec la toxicomanie mais une soeur qui a de gros problèmes de santé psychique et ça fait 20 ans que ça pourrit la vie de notre famille.
    Au décès de mon beau père j’ai réalisé que quand ma mère ne sera plus là, elle n’aura plus que moi pour l’aider, et j’ai commencé à faire de grosses crises d’angoisse.
    Je ne veux pas de cette responsabilité, et on parle très peu des relations d’assistance entre frères et soeurs. Je suis allée voir une psy pendant un an, qui m’a entre autres fait relativiser mon implication. Ce n’est pas mon enfant, je n’ai pas choisi ce lien, il m’a été imposé et nos relations ne ressemblent à rien. Par ailleurs, je ne peux pas faire grand chose.
    J’ai pris aussi beaucoup de distance par rapport à elle, et je verrais bien comment je gérerai ça le moment venu, mais je ne me mets plus de pression. Je ne peux pas dire que tout va bien, il ya toujours ce putain de nuage, et du déplaisir en famille, ça engendre des relations pourries avec ma mère qui sacrifie sa vie à s’occuper de ma soeur, mais disons que j’ai compris que je devais me protéger vis à vis de tout ça, pour éviter que cette spirale m’atteigne trop fort.
    Je te souhaite du courage et de la distance, parfois c’est tout ce qu’on peut faire, se protéger soi même…

  • Thank you Artycrush for sharing–I truly feel that mental health and addiction go hand in hand. The diseases may be different, but often times one is rooted in the other, and the impact it has on family can be quite similar–and yet totally unique to each person, each family, etc. The distance and letting go of the responsibility is so hard but often times the best thing. I also believe the more we take care of ourselves, the better we are for our loved one who is struggling. How can we expect them to be better when we don’t take care of ourselves? It’s something I remind myself and helps to keep things in perspective.
    Sending you a big squeeze and lots of love. <3

  • Oh, Emily! This was so beautifully written. Your family is so lucky to have you. Keep hoping and keep healing. I send you and your brother positive energy and love. I hope to read one day your article about him being sober for decades.

    PS On a selfish not, you guys have now officially made me completely regret not finding a way to be able to afford going on this retreat in Chile. But I know there will be others, and I’ll eventually make it to one of them. Here’s to women empowering women, without judgement and with pure love! Love to you guys for making this happen.

  • Thank you Ghazal! I hope to write that story one day too.

    And yes, we are working on more retreats in different locations around the world! And I very much hope to meet you at one of them. Love to you!

  • Dear Emily,

    You wrote so beautifully about something so horrible. My youngest sister is an addict. We are going on ten years of so much of what you describe above- jail, rehabs, ER visit after ER visit. At the beginning, my parents, brother and I were so confident that with our resources (which we were lucky to have) and love, the help we could provide her would solve all. That seems so long ago now and very, very naive. At times, it’s consumed me and at other times, I try to put some space in there, focus on my children, my life, etc. For her, there is a a past of sexual abuse that started when she was 13 and continued until she left for college. So there is additional guilt and shame we all carry for not knowing, not seeing this. When she is sober, she is brilliant, talented and beautiful. But after a really good year, last year was not good, and she is once again broken but trying. I’m sending you lots of love because I know how difficult it is. Make that important time and space for yourself. You sound like an amazing sister! – Liz

  • Bravo pour ce témoignage – Mon frère a fumé de 14 à 34 ans dans des proportions suffisamment grandes pour dire que c’était une forme de toxicomanie. Ca a beaucoup altéré son comportement et sa vision de la vie. Mais nos liens ne se sont jamais distendus. C’est mon petit frère, 10 ans nous sépare, il est comme mon enfant :-) Il a ruiné sa relation avec la mère de son fils mais le jour où elle l’a quitté, il a tout arrêté – Pour son fils – c’est un papa formidable, il s’est battu comme un lion pour lui et n’a plus retouché à un seul joint depuis – Il reste cependant hyper sensible et addictifs – C’est évidement cette hypersensibilité qui mène aux addictions, c’est pourquoi il est essentiel de décelé cela très tôt et de beaucoup beaucoup parlé avec ses enfants tout en mettant des cadres qui ne sont pas négociables – Ma mère était, comme la tienne, beaucoup trop dans l’empathie et la victimisation alors qu’un enfant/ado qui commence a se droguer cherche la confrontation et l’intérêt des siens. Il lance un appel et je pense qu’il faut être très très ferme dés le début. Et toujours toujours gardé le lien même si ça peut être usant mais les liens du sang ne sont eux non plus, pas négociables :-)Courage – il va y arriver !

  • Merci pour le partage de cette histoire touchante . C’est pour cette raison que j’aime ce site : ce mélange de futilité et des témoignages puissants et vrais. On a vraiment besoin des deux. J’espère avoir un jour les moyens de m’offrir une retraite parce qu’on l’expérience de soutien et de partage est sans doute inoubliable. Bon courage à toi et à ceux qui te sont chers . With Love XX

  • Hi Emily, this is beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing! Warmest hugs and much love to you!!

  • Thank you Tina! Love to you too! xx

  • Emily, thank you for sharing this. I can’t imagine how many tears were shed while writing this, but it is so beautiful and moving. I think you are right – the hardest part of it all is realizing it’s not something you can fix. I wish you the best of luck on your journey and lots of love and support. Because I think that’s the only way to get through sometimes.

  • Thank you so much Shannon. Lots of tears in deed, and lots more to come I’m sure, but I’ve been overwhelmed today by so much love and support. Thank you for your comment. xx

  • Thanks for sharing your story, Emily.

    Al-Anon is an important resource in dealing with a friend or family addict. It’s free, it’s everywhere, and it works.

    “Let God, let go,” as they say…

  • Yes! My mom has started to attend Al-Anon meetings in California and she’s found it to be incredibly helpful. Thank you for your comment. xx

  • Jorge Alexandre Teixeira January, 11 2019, 1:56 / Reply

    Bravo pela Coragem desta partilha,Em! You’re Brilliant and Mr Yeston, your Beautiful Family ,all of your Friends are privileged to have you in their lives!!!

    E FORÇA, Bobby!!! Do it for you, Man !!!
    um Forte Abraço de Lisboa!!!

  • Thank you Jorge! Thank you for always sharing such positivity with our community with your comments–you are a ray of light! xx

  • Thank you for having the courage to share your story with us, Emily. Sending you love and light on this journey. One moment at a time.

  • Thank you for this. I connect with your feelings and experiences so much. The holidays were really tough this year. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  • SunnySide January, 11 2019, 4:29 / Reply

    Quelle souffrance ! Je suis sonnée par ce que je viens de lire et je pense à ton frère. Quelle douleur a-t-il vécu à un moment, qu’il n’a pu supporter et s’est anesthésié pour ne pas souffrir. Je connais un proche dont le fils est addict, ils ont fait une thérapie familiale, les parents se sont remis en question très profondément, surtout le père, et le cercle infernal s’est arrêté. Une passion aide beaucoup pour retrouver naturellement le “high” désormais inscrit dans les cellules, le corps doit faire circuler l’énergie autrement et c’est long pour se nettoyer et éliminer, mais c’est possible. “L’ombre est l’écrin de la lumière” (Pierre Reverdy) ton frère cherche la lumière, une forme d’illumination dans un monde terriblement affairiste, son addiction est un “device” où il est dans la transgression, le fusionnel mortifère. C’est peut-être un homme qui est dans l’être et non pas l’avoir. qui cherche sa cathédrale intérieure. Médite avec lui, entre dans son silence, la force de votre coeur fera le reste.

  • Hi Emily,
    Thank you for sharing this story in such a beautifully written way. I feel for what you’re going through and realize how important hearing others stories is. I grew up with a Father who was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes which shortened his life. I married a man whose Mother also had those addictions. Fortunately he did not but he has other addictions – food, exercise, work.
    Too much of even a good thing when it gets obsessive and is used to cover up depression and anxiety isn’t healthy. I totally understand what you wrote about feeling responsible to help, to fix it, of feeling like there’s a cloud overhead even in happy times. I’m so glad you’re starting to release that and wish you peace. Self- discovery is a wonderful life- long process of understanding and letting go.

  • Very brave, Emily. And I’m sorry for the hell that you and your entire family are going through. Good treatment is key, and it can take several tries, but don’t give up hope! It is out there. You never know when it will take. And hopefully that will happen before something tragic. I wanted to suggest you try Caron in central PA. I worked there for a long time; not only do they do a great job at dual diagnosis issues, but they offer a wonderful family component as well. and great post-treatment support, too. I was always impressed. Best of luck to you!

  • Hi Susan–
    Thank you so much for your note, and also for your recommendation for Caron. My therapist has also recommended their treatment center, and it’s great to hear from someone who has worked there. xEmily

  • J’ai senti votre souffrance a travers ce temoignage tres emouvant.
    Il faut beaucoup de courage pour pouvoir s’ouvrir comme vous l’avez fait.
    Je vous souhaite encore plus de courage et beaucoup d’amour.

  • Merci Sevan. xx

  • So much of this is similar to my family – including sex and birth order of rhe siblings, the jail time, the ups and downs, the depression and anxiety, etc. I really struggle with the balance between rather cold distance and emotional separation and over-involvement/fixing. I can’t manage to approach him as might a friend in a similar circumstance, and am astounded at how our whole family dynamic has shaped around his challenges. So much history. You seem to be finding a good balance – I applaud you. It is so, so difficult. Sending empathy your way.

  • Sending empathy to you too E. I agree it’s quite crazy how family dynamics can shape around these things, and how that can impact other places of your life. I hope that you’ll also be able to find something that works for you too, and that you’ll be able to take care of yourself–I know how hard that may seem, but I promise you’re so worth it. xEmily

  • Thank you for sharing, Emily, I am not used to comment a lot but your story and your courage touched me so much.

    As you said, we all have this dark place in our mind where we’re afraid to go. It can be an addict brother, a difficult past or anxiety… It helps to know that we all have it and shouldn’t be afraid of it, but instead share our stories to accept it with serenity.

    I found your idea to connect people so great ! In the end we’re all going through the same fears… sharing them makes us realize that we’re able to live with them and hopefully someday, overcome them.

    Lots of love

  • Sending love to you too M! So glad we’re able to create a space here for us to share and to explore these challenging subjects.
    xx Emily

  • Thank you for sharing your story. As painful as it may be to share it, it will surely connect you to so many others who carry the same pain. My brother is also an addict, and much of what you describe rings true for me. Although my brother has been sober for 13 years now, I know it is still something he struggles with each and every day. So I give thanks each and every day that he stays clean. I admire him for his strength in dealing with this disease and taking care of his mental health by seeing a therapist to keep addressing some of the core issues that are at the root of his drug and alcohol abuse. Although much of the suffering we went through as a family will never disappear completely, it has faded with time. Even though only your brother can fight this addiction on his own terms and in his own way, please hold on to your hope and your vision of him as your brother.

  • Thank you Mandi. I’m so glad to hear that your brother is in recovery, and admire his strength too as I understand from my brother’s experience how challenging sobriety can be. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for giving those of us hope that are still going through this with your story. xx Emily

  • I just want to say that I very much understand what you are talking about.

    I truly believe that talking and sharing can make things better. The worst thing is hiding and supressing your feelings.

    So many people go through similar things. Together we’re always stronger.

    I wish you all the best!

  • Thank you R! Wishing you the best too. So glad that we’re starting a dialogue about this here. x

  • Merci chère Emily pour ce témoignage d’une rare tendresse, délicatesse et émotion. Je t’ai lue les larmes aux yeux sans décrocher une seconde de ton histoire familiale et de ton vécu. Partager tout cela est une preuve de courage et de confiance que je trouve admirable. L’amour évident que tu portes à ton frère me touche énormément, car oui, la vie familiale a beau être bien bousculée, un frère reste un frère.

    Le mien est comme celui d’une lectrice plus haut, tout à fait incapable de vivre en se prenant seul en charge, souffrant de problèmes psychologiques et de carence affective. Mon enfance, mon adolescence et surtout de la vie de mes parents a longtemps ressemblé à un champ de bataille. Avec beaucoup d’amour, d’espoirs et de défaites. Oui, je vois ce que c’est de pleurer pour son frère, d’avoir toujours peur de sa mort quand il ne donne plus signe de vie trois jours, de ne parler à ses parents presque que de cela, et d’en être lassée au point de vouloir être loin, de ne plus savoir aimer. Le monde tourne, dans ces familles autour de ça, autour d’un problème, autour d’un être.

    J’ai 44 ans, et ai perdu mes deux parents récemment. Aujourd’hui, comme l’évoque aussi cette lectrice plus haut, je suis dans la situation que j’avais si longtemps redoutée : être la seule “en charge”. Savoir que jusqu’à la fin de ses jours ce garçon – que j’aime et qui m’aime mais qui se / nous complique bien la vie – dépendra en partie de ce que je pourrai faire pour lui, matériellement mais surtout affectivement. Et tu sais quoi, il y a quelque jours, j’ai pleuré, mais pour une chose différente. Pour la première fois de ma vie, en pensant à sa mort, je n’ai pas eu peur pour lui, j’ai eu peur pour moi et pensé à moi. Parce que si il meurt, c’est tout ce qui me reste ma famille et de mon enfance qui meurt (j’ai beau avoir un mari et deux enfants que j’adore, ce n’est pas la même histoire). Et je me suis dit que j’étais heureuse de réaliser qu’il m’était aussi précieux, car il faut bien l’avouer, avec un frère si difficile, on a peu d’espace pour penser à tout ce qu’il peut nous apporter de positif !

    Emily, je ne sais pas où tes chemins familiaux t’emmèneront, je souhaite énormément d’amour et d’union à ta famille et plus que tout à tes parents, mais je suis sûre que partie comme tu es, tu sauras aimer bien et longtemps.
    Bizarre de dire ça à quelqu’un que l’on ne connait pas, de l’autre côté d’un océan, mais voir la fusion de la force et de la tendresse dans un même témoignage c’est très beau et enrichissant.

  • Sarah–

    Thank you for sharing. I am sending you much love and much strength as I understand the fear associated with your position, it’s one of I’ve thought about many times. I hope you will be able to continue to give your love to your brother, and also to your family (I know it’s not the same but they are two loves unique and both equally important). This journey you’re on is incredibly brave and full of so many challenges, I hope that life will reward you in many ways as well. xx Emily

  • Dear Emily,
    J’aurais aimé vous répondre en anglais, mais comme vous le décrivez si justement, ce sujet est trop important et impactant pour me perdre dans des mots imprécis.
    Mon fils cadet a connu l’addiction. Pas à des substances aussi fortes que votre frère. Mais j’ai vu mon fils de 15 ans défoncé 24h/24 presque du jour au lendemain. Il ne consomme quasiment plus, mais je sais que tant qu’il n’aura pas arrêter définitivement, l’addiction rôdera.
    Je suis psychanalyste. Si par mon métier je sais où sont mes propres réserves vitales, devant un enfant addict, on est personne. Nul n’est prophète en son pays.
    Pour le tirer d’affaire, je n’ai pas de recette, mais je sais quels ingrédients j’ai utilisés: une veille permanente, un mur, un chat, des voyages. Lequel a marché … ?
    Ma 1ère “chance” fut de m’en rendre compte très vite, au bout de 3 semaines. D’un fils sportif anti-tabac, drôle et fringuant, il s’est rapidement transformé en être léthargique, agressif voire violent, devenu manipulateur et menteur, plus tard voleur. J’ai d’abord cru à la malédiction de la crise de l’adolescence! Rapidement, ses mensonges et ses manipulations de la vérité ont enclenché un warning chez moi, sans savoir quoi ni pourquoi. Ma propre psychanalyse m’a apprise à me fier à mon instinct. Après qq semaines, j’ai compris et j’ai trouvé ce qu’il consommait. J’ai d’abord eu peur de lui en parler. Comme si je craignais de pénétrer un périmètre (comme la sexualité) qui ne me concernait pas. Je me suis ravisée, et je suis aller le trouver. Il s’est excusé la 1ère fois, et ce fut la seule fois. Car il y a eu tellement tellement d’autres fois. Au fur et à mesure, il s’endurcissait face à mes sermons, mes punitions. Cela a duré 3 ans.
    J’élève mes 2 fils complètement seule depuis la mort de mon mari. Je savais que je ne pouvais compter que sur mes propres ressources. Pour le faire décrocher, j’ai choisi de devenir un mur: ne rien laisser passer, je n’ai jamais accepté, toujours refusé, toujours jeté dans les toilettes devant lui ce que je trouvais. Plus je m’opposais, plus mon fils devenait agressif et violent. Ce fut très compliqué de garder le cap. Je me suis quasiment battue physiquement avec lui à plusieurs reprises. Aucun psy ne cautionnera une attitude pareille ! Et ils auront raison! Pour mon enfant, je savais qu’il avait besoin de cette confrontation aussi maternelle que paternelle. Une fois, j’étais tellement effrayée d’en arriver là et épouvanter d’être confrontée à la violence physique de mon enfant, je m’en suis fait pipi dessus! Ce détail pour expliquer comme l’addiction ébranle tout. J’en sortais moralement en miette. Mais à chaque fois, telle une gladiateur titubante et fracassée, je retournais dans l’arène et je continuais à m’opposer. J’ai eu la chance de bénéficier de la solidarité et la maturité de mon fils ainé. Il a 12 mois de plus que son frère.
    L’argent est vite devenu un pb, il lui en fallait toujours plus. J’ai essayé de fermer ce robinet, il s’est mis à dealer. Donc ne plus en donner du tout n’était pas non plus une solution.
    Le mensonge était omniprésent: il a volé et utilisé ma carte bleue, celle de son frère. Il a vendu un de mes “beaux” sacs à main dans un dépôt-vente. Je m’en suis rendue compte, je l’ai récupéré 12h plus tard. J’ai dû quitter mon bureau en urgence pour aller le récupérer au poste. La drogue était au cœur de toutes ces situations.
    Parfois, après mon travail, je ne voulais pas rentrer chez nous. J’ai eu envie de fuir, c’était trop dur. Mais je finissais par revenir à l’arène. Pour devenir cette goliath en état d’alerte h24, je me suis physiquement transformée en goliath: j’ai pris 15kg! Je ne trouvais le sommeil qu’à condition de prendre des anxiolytiques. Je me réveillais parfois en larmes à 3h du matin. Je sortais de mon lit pour prier (je ne suis pas croyante) afin que l’on me rende mon fils.
    Petit à petit j’ai découvert 2 autres alliés:
    – L’affection que nous partageons pour son chat m’a permise de ne pas rompre le contact avec mon fils, de faire prévaloir la notion d’amour et de soin de l’autre, même contre le gré de l’animal inconscient de son mal. Effectivement, la zoothérapie et l’équithérapie sont des thérapies très efficaces sur les ados.
    – Les voyages: l’hiver de ses 15 ans, nous partons 3 semaines au Canada. Impossible de passer de la drogue dans les bagages, trop compliqué de se fournir sur place. Mon fils est sobre, je retrouve un jeune homme formidable. Je comprends que ces voyages vont nous permettre de tous nous faire souffler. Alors que je maudissais la cadence infernale des vacances scolaires, je me mets à la chérir. Toutes mes économies y passent et je m’endette même. Autant que possible, je fais des échanges de maison dans les 4 coins du monde (merci Homelidays), pourvu qu’il soit compliqué de se fournir sur place. Donc partout sauf Amsterdam!
    Aujourd’hui, il prépare un concours pour rentrer dans les forces de l’ordre !!! Toute population a besoin d’être protégée par un mur si besoin… dixit mon fils !?!?!? Je n’en croyais pas mes oreilles! Son choix professionnel nous a permis d’aborder la question de la mort: là où il y a du danger, la mort n’est pas loin. La mission des parents est d’amener vers l’autonomie affective, physique te intellectuelle. La mienne s’achève bientôt. Je respecte son choix, par conséquent je lui confie la responsabilité de lui même. Sa vie (et sa mort) lui appartient.
    Je sais que mon fils sera vraiment hors de portée de l’addiction quand il se confrontera à l’idée de la mort, et surtout celle de son père. J’ai tout fait pour qu’il consulte, il a refusé. Un jour viendra, j’ai confiance en lui. Quel que soit le temps que cela lui prendra, une gladiateur continuera de veiller au loin, un chat sur l’épaule !

  • Mel,

    I wish I could reply to you in French but again my words are not there. I can’t thank you enough for your story of such strength and bravery. Addiction can really push us into places that we didn’t even know we could exist in. You have so much courage to be so strong, such a wall. To see this battle the way you did. And to also find these allies in your battle. Travel has been important for us too–when my brother was at my wedding it was so beautiful to have him there as the person I know and love, and not the person inhabited but these substances. I hope we’ll be able to continue to give him space in new places to return to himself.
    It’s incredible to hear about this work that your son has found–the way you speak about the confrontation of life and death and how it’s manifested in his job choice is so fascinating. I wish him much success in his venture, and I wish you continued strength, and also love from your sons–both of them–you have been an incredible mother to endure and to show up for both of them in the way that you have.
    Sending you my love and warmth, and hope one day we’ll have a chance to meet.
    xx Emily

  • Anastasia January, 13 2019, 7:06 / Reply

    Dear Emily,

    I just want to give you a hug… Beautiful and brave piece. Living with a family member’s addiction is excruciating and sometimes hope is the hardest part in it.

    Lots of love


  • Thank you Anastasia! Love to you too. xEmily

  • Bravo pour votre franchise votre post est très émouvant.

  • I was having my breakfast when I read the title of your post. I immediately thought about my story, my brother was an addict since he was 14, and he passed 4 years ago because of his addiction. Thank you for sharing your story. Yes you are right my brother’s addiction is the attic of my house that I never want to visit. I cried when I read your story but it helps so much to understand why I am not always happy in my life…I need to visit this attic and probably Should see a therapist to talk about it. Thank you Emily!

  • Hi Valerie,
    I’m sending you and your family so much love. Therapy has been incredibly helpful for me, and even now I’m exploring other things like meditation and breath work. There are so many wonderful ways that we can explore ourselves, explore our grief and these challenging moments that I do believe can lead to a self-knowledge that is incredible. Thank you for sharing Valerie and a big hug to you. xx Emily

  • Un immense merci pour la générosité de ton partage

  • Christina January, 13 2019, 12:06 / Reply

    It’s called co-dependency. It looks like you’re slowly finding your way out of it.

  • Thuridur ros sigurthorsdottir January, 13 2019, 2:44 / Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing,
    My brother is a alcoholic and two years younger than me. And every thing you wrote I can relate to.
    The hardest thing is how much I miss my best friend (my brother).
    But Now he is doing better so I enjoy the moment.
    Thank you!!

  • I am so happy to hear your brother is doing better! That is wonderful. And also so important to appreciate how hard it is for him, because I know it is a challenge for them every single day. Sending you and your family love. xx Emily

  • Christina January, 13 2019, 7:12 / Reply

    Thank you for being so courageous and sharing this heartbreaking story. I’m so impressed with your honesty. My ex-husband is also an addict (recovering) and I can relate to how incredibly difficult it is to remove all of the baggage and just deal with the issues as they arise. The guilt can be all consuming. Wishing you so much strength and to your brother as well. Thank you again.

  • Thank you for sharing Christina. It’s such a challenge that we live as the loved-ones of addicts and it’s so wonderful to know that we can be there for each other and support each other knowing how incredibly difficult it can be. Sending you a squeeze. xx Emily

  • Thank you Emily for sharing this with us. I grew up in a house with a functioning addict (booze) and can relate so much to the confusing feelings and to the tendency to keep it hidden. I am so glad that the retreat was so impactful – I attended one in November that was also life changing for me. The opportunity to be with yourself and share with others is so incredibly valuable. You are helping your brother by healing yourself and setting boundaries. Sending you love and light.

  • Stella–
    Thank you for sharing with us here. I am so glad that these different retreat experiences are becoming available to us. Traveling alone and spending time for yourself to heal and to share is so so important. I hope to meet you on one of our retreats in the future. Sending you my love. xx Emily

  • Susan Marie January, 13 2019, 8:24 / Reply

    Thank you for your bravery, Emily. Our world is experiencing unprecedented rates of addiction and far too often, we hide the issue under the rug, afraid to face the sorrows plauging our brothers and sisters. Yes to more honesty. Yes to more bravery. Yes to more love.

  • Hi Susan,
    I couldn’t agree more. We’ve made so much progress with so many diseases, but what I hope the world is waking up to is that addiction is a disease too–and it equally deserves the attention and the research and the treatment possibilities as some of our hardest diseases, like cancers. Thank you for your support!
    xx Emily

  • Zaza of Geneva January, 14 2019, 5:23 / Reply

    Dear Emily,

    I was pleasantly surprised to find your testimony on a blog mostly dedicated to the somewhat superficial world of fashion.

    What an honest and raw statement, which is in total break with the general tone of this blog which very often seems to promote people living what seems to be ideal and idyllic lives (perfect jobs, perfect partners/kids, perfect appartments, perfect clothes and perfect figures). It makes you look amazingly human. I am afraid there isn’t much I can tell you apart you have all my admiration for being so honest in describing what you are going through, being honest in telling us that your life is not as ideal as what we might think it is. This shows us that event people who seem to have a “perfect” life have their own issues, simply they will not necessarily feel like talking about it in public. As they say, “you never know what’s going on behind closed doors”.

    Big, big hug from me. Courage.

  • Hi Zaza,

    I think like most of the wonderful women I know, our lives are complex. Our interests may sometimes be in fashion and things that may seem more”superficial,” but it also doesn’t mean that just because we love style and a beauty and a wonderful trip that we don’t have complex lives and complex interests of much more deep subjects. I hope that as time goes by, you and our readers will see the stories we tell on the site like the complexity of any of the women we know. Sometimes we will go quite deep, and we will always be very honest. And sometimes we’ll be excited by a pretty dress or a pair of shoes.
    I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to share my story in this context–and for my work to always keep in mind that life is as beautiful and frivolous as it is difficult and painful. In fact you probably can’t have one without the other. So I look forward to being a place that continues to tell both stories. And I so appreciate your kind words about my story and my experience. I hope sharing and talking about these things will make it less shameful for other people, as I know that is how I felt for a long time. Hugs to you too. xxEmily

  • Dear Emily,
    thank you so much for sharing your relationship with your brother Bobby. My brother is called Frank he is my elder brother. He is addicted to drugs since he is 16 years old. All drugs you can imagine. He went to jail twice. I felt responsible for him all the time. Because I love him so much. For more than a year I haven´t heard a single word of him. I don´t know what to do. Maybe I will try to call him just to tell him that he cannot disappoint me and that I am going to be there for him. No more, no less!
    So thankful for your words!!!
    Warm regard
    Britta from Hamburg, Germany

  • Hi Britta–

    Thank you for sharing, and I’m thinking of you and of Frank. No more, no less–it’s a great way to think about things. Sometimes our love is all we can give!

    xx Emily

  • Bravo Emily !! you are not only an excellent writer, but also a wonderful and brave human being and sister !! and I am sure a daughter, too. So honest and open with your feelings and fears. So deep and responsible, but believe me.. you are not responsile for your brother, nobody is. Your parents did whatever they could and family life was completely fractured and involved with his addiction. So please, live your life the better and happy you can. You have a lot to give and a lot to receive.


  • Thank you for your honesty and humility. Alanon and Naranon are wonderful and free 12 step support meetings available for those affected by a loved ones addiction. Addiction is a family disease, not just that of the identified addict. These amazing programs offer valuable support and information on how to find our own happiness wether the addict is using or sober. You are not alone.

  • Thank you for this, Emily. I have an older brother who is an addict, and over the past few years I’ve been struck by the devastating ripple effect it has had on the lives of everyone around him – my parents, my siblings, his children. It’s so difficult to come to terms with your feelings about it, to learn how to live under a cloud of long-term uncertainty, to navigate the balance between helping and enabling and all the other family drama and pain these things dredge up. You and your family aren’t alone, and I hope you can all lean on one another for help. I’m so glad you had the opportunity to go on the retreat! Thank you for echoing the frustrations and feelings that so many of us share with you so eloquently.

  • GO TO ALANON meetings- its for relatives and loved ones of addicts- your situation is not unique and you will learn to not let your sick loved one make you sick as well.

  • Pardon mais je ne peux trouver les mots justes en anglais… sans doute parce qu’avant de parcourir ces quelques lignes je crois que je n’avais pas réalisé combien moi aussi je me sentais responsable et coupable de l’addiction de mon jeune frère. Comme toi j’ai eu un parcours exemplaire de sportive de haut niveau et de bonne élève. Comme toi mon frère est héroïnomane. Comme toi je me sens à la fois forte et fragile face à cette entité noire, incompréhensible, impalpable. Forte car différente, capable de lui tenir tête, de le sermonner, de le materner aussi. Fragile car je n’ai pas su lire dans ses yeux, malgré l’amour et les doutes, ses mensonges et manipulations. Il suit un traitement, a un travail, une petite amie, une vie qui semble en apparence retrouver les contours de la normalité. Cependant l’angoisse et l’incrédulité ne sont jamais très loin, je n’y crois pas vraiment et j’attends avec effroi la prochaine révélation. Peut-être n’arrivera t’elle pas. Peut-être que si. Tes mots en tout cas me donnent envie de monter moi aussi au grenier pour façonner cette chose sombre. Lui je ne peux rien faire mais ce qu’il m’inspire je peux y travailler. Merci.

  • It’s so great to read your article. My mother, brother and father all addicts. I am the only one in my family who isn’t, thankfully. It so hard to watch the toll of addiction take over someone you love, watch them lose friends, family, money and squander away their life. It has always been particularly hard of me because as the youngest in the family I was often caught in their trail of deceit and self-destruction, left to clean up their mess and with no one to talk to about how messed up my family was and still is.

    The good news is my brother pulled it together after being addicted to heroin for over a decade. It’s such a relief. When we’re younger, I watched so many of his friends die from drug abuse. Opioids are so dangerous. He still comes home from work and drinks beer (like the physical labourer that he is) and has track marks running up his arms from injecting drugs, but at 41 years of age, he is no longer a junkie. He has a good job working with solar energy and believes that he’s making a difference in this world.

    My parents, the ones my brother seems to have inherited his addiction from, they’re another story. Both have degenerative diseases from drug and alcohol abuse and their mental health is fragile at best – they have become so miserable from their abusive lifestyle it is very sad. I tried for years to have a relationship with them, but it isn’t worth it. The heartache was too much. After starting my own family, I realized that I need to pour that energy into my own child, where I know I can make a difference.

  • Thank you for sharing. You somehow managed to so accurately capture what it’s like to love someone suffering from addiction and the darkness it can place over your life. The hardest thing you can do is release yourself from the responsibility you feel for them and I commend you on making that choice.

    Much love,
    Ronnie from Sydney

  • Bonjour Emily,
    Tout d’abord, un immense bravo pour ton texte. Il a dû te falloir beaucoup de courage pour l’écrire et le publier (on a injustement tendance à croire que les membres de l’atelier Doré font des cacas pailletés voire pas de cacas du tout, et que vos vies sont bien éloignées de celles des communs des mortels).
    Ton texte résonne en moi, même s’il n’y a pas de toxicomane dans mon entourage. Mon père a une grave maladie mentale. J’ai même envie de dire qu’il est fou, même si c’est politiquement incorrect. Il ne vit pas dans le même univers que nous, ne comprend pas la vie et ne sait pas être avec les autres. Il a passé (il passera sans doute encore) beaucoup de temps en hôpital psychiatrique. Là bas, on ne pouvait pas le guérir, on pouvait uniquement le “gérer” : faire en sorte qu’il dorme, qu’il se nourrisse, qu’il prenne sa douche… Des choses qui sont normales pour les “normaux” mais difficiles pour lui. Il est fou comme les personnes super bizarres qui tiennent des propos incohérents dans les transports en commun et qui mettent mal à l’aise tout le monde. Je n’ai aucun espoir pour lui. J’essaie de ne pas être désespérée pour autant. J’essaie de me dire que moi, je vais bien, et que c’est déjà bien. Comme toi, je sais que je suis impuissante, mais ce n’est pas ma faute. C’est la vie, c’est comme ça ! Je te souhaite d’être en paix avec toi même concernant ton frère. Je ne sais pas s’il ira un jour bien, mais je lui souhaite du calme, du courage et de la douceur.

  • Thanks for sharing. I’m going to share this with my friend at a Rehab in Arizona Very much appreciated

  • HopeLives February, 20 2019, 1:21 / Reply

    Thank you for sharing. I understand that we all have experienced some sort of pain in our lives that affects us.

    I cried reading through your entire post because I am suffering too. Except it’s with my daughter. No matter how I look at it, I feel guilty. Even though I shouldn’t. I understand that there are a lot of factors involved when it comes to addiction.

    The crazy thing about this is — it actually reveals the truth about ourselves. It reveals the trauma that we also need to heal from. The issues that subside, but are always there until you figure out that there’s more than just the person that you love that is suffering. It’s everything that you have experienced and everyone closest to you that’s involved.

    I always wondered why did she start using drugs and how did she hide her addiction for so long? I know I shouldn’t feel guilty, but I do. Now going through the process of recovery with her is a tough balance between trying to protect her too much and giving her space. I feel like I’m losing her love most days which hurts the most. I realize when she says things like, “I don’t want to be around you…” it just means not right now. It’s very hard and I know it’s a lifelong process.

    My question is who heals the healer when you are exhausted from it all? I just want her to know that I love her so much and would do anything for her to be better and to take any pain away….

    I’m going to meditate on this. Thank you for providing additional resources. I wish you and your family love and light. Stay faithful. xo @thedailymollie

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