Our father left us when our mother first began showing signs of mental illness. In between psychotic episodes, my mother told my brother Bill that he was the man of the house. So he did his best to take care of her and his two little sisters.
The problem with living with a crazy parent, especially if it is your only parent, is that you don’t realize they are nuts when you are a kid. Their craziness is normal to you, because that’s all you know.
Mom liked to sleep late on weekends, and would always be mad when we woke her up. It’s hard for little kids to be quiet. One day we did our best to let her sleep, and she slept until 4:00 in the afternoon. It was a great accomplishment for us, but she was mad that we let her sleep.
When Mom attempted suicide the first time, Bill found her and called for help. She was committed and received electroshock therapy, and it frightened us to see her afterwards. She was “out of it,” but she liked it, because she got lots of drugs.
As we grew up, we were passed around to relatives and back to our mother during her lucid times. The moving around made it difficult to feel like you belonged anywhere.
My brother’s drug use started in earnest after Mom’s second commitment. Certainly, it was an escape. The commitments always followed the suicide attempts. We felt that if we could just be “good enough” it wouldn’t keep happening.
Drugs not only permitted Bill to escape our home environment, they permitted him to escape from his feelings. He began using at 12. Mostly pot, but by 21, he had been on every drug you could name. He managed to stay in school and get good grades, but when he left home, he did more drugs.
Still, he kept a job and appeared to function. He got married and had a family. He was a good husband and father — surprising, since he really had no personal role models. Then he got into crank. Perhaps our sister’s suicide started that.
For this drug, Bill lied, stole, and hurt the ones who loved him most. When he reached bottom, he asked me to assist him to get help. I got him into a program, but he did the rest. A week went by, he was still sober; then it was a month, then a year.
He began putting his life back together, in part by helping others who were also in trouble. He went back to school, got a nursing degree, and dedicated himself to helping others.
The great thing is that Bill helps folks without putting them down. And I have my brother back. He has been sober for seven years. My brother is a drug addict — and I am proud of his accomplishments.