This picture was taken on my brother Danny’s 40th birthday.
Just a few hours later we, and our two younger sisters, were sipping champagne in a nightclub. Just a few months later he was telling me he needed my help as he’d been taking heroin. Just five years later I was reading the eulogy at his funeral.
I applaud all those who are trying to support people and raise awareness about addiction. And I take my hat off to every single brave soul that has shared their story publicly. You are all incredible and should be enormously proud of yourselves. 👏
But I want to share something from the other side. I want to speak directly to the families of addicts. The people that feel they can’t carry on.
My brothers addiction caused me so much pain and frustration because I loved him so much and couldn’t keep him clean. He lied to me and our family. He caused our parents so much worry that my mum lost the ability to sleep. And sometimes, I’ll confess, I thought my life might be easier if he wasn’t around. Watching someone you love self-destruct and hurt your entire family, and being powerless to help is horrible and my sympathy goes out to anyone in this position.
When Danny died I felt (and continue to feel) that he had fallen off a cliff. I was trying to reach him but couldn’t quite grasp his hand to pull him back up. I was so used to there always being another day, another clean period, another reason to believe, that I couldn’t and still can’t comprehend that there is no hope. For he is gone. We are out of second chances.
And now he’s not here we see and continually talk about how incredible he was. We miss his humour because he was so full of banter, never missing an opportunity to wind someone up. We miss his kindness and loyalty. He was so fiercely protective of us all that it feels as if these invisible arms we always had wrapped around us have disappeared. We miss the way he supported and loved our mum and dad, and the incredible bond and relationship he had with his teenage son. We miss everything about who he was. He was so much more than the addiction that stole him from us.
I felt inspired to share our story in the hope other families could learn something from us. My book, The Counsellor, tells my brothers story and the impact he had (both wonderful and painful) on my family. I share the first year of my grief, the heartbreak of losing my dad just seven months later and how through it all, I developed an understanding of addiction in a way I never had before. I often think about everything I have learnt since his death and wish I knew then what I know now. But as I can’t turn back the clock the least I can do is share my thoughts with you. So here goes…
- I wish I knew that only he could save himself. I wish I had encouraged him to seek help more and not tried to do it for him. I couldn’t fix him.
- I wish I had listened more. He tried to tell me and help me understand but I had already judged him and thought I knew best. I should have listened.
- I wish I was able to talk about his struggles openly and release the shame that comes with addiction. I am not ashamed. I love and idolise him more now than I ever did as I appreciate how hard he had to fight.
- I wish I checked in more. Days and milestones mattered so much and I wish I had paid them more attention. If you are reading this and you’re in recovery, well done. We are all so proud of you.
- I wish I knew that the gift of time was precious and not to be taken for granted. I wish I had appreciated every minute and wish we’d had more of them.
Loving addicts is not easy. It’s downright hard. But losing them is so much harder because you/they don’t get another chance to try again. The hope that you spend your lives clinging on to is gone. As I say at the end of my book, if you think it hurts watching your loved one self-destruct, you are going to hate how it feels when you have to accept they are never coming back.
No matter what you are going through, keep talking. Sending you lots of love.
Learn more about Alison Kerwin’s book The Counsellor: A powerful true story about addiction, grief and love.