My Big Brother’s Battle to Overcome His Addiction

Neil and Carly - sister supporting her brother in recovery

Neil was a normal kid growing up. He loved action figures and dedicated much of his time to Pokemon cards. He giggled and played just as much as he caused trouble and whined. He always loved to be the center of attention. I, unlike him, viewed everything on the sidelines. He was the boss, and I followed. I’ve never looked up to anyone like I have my big brother. In my little eyes he was graceful and wise, funny and unstoppable. We fought all the time, practically drove our mom crazy, but I never wanted to be like anyone more. It was this way for years.

Over time, the trouble began. During middle school and throughout high school, he developed a major inferiority complex. Of course, he would try to hide it, but I saw. He was fading. The things he once owned were now beginning to own him. The brother that I knew was being replaced by a shadow of a person. Hollow and cold, this shadow lacked confidence, and thus was living to simply conform. It shaped itself to be perfect in the eyes of others — it bowed to their will, pleading for their approval. The pressure began to be too much, and the dark creature took over my brother completely as it dove down into a dark abyss. This unknown void that my brother was smothered into was driven by drugs, and completed with alcohol. He was addicted.

Neil fought with the dark creature; he struggled to pry free its grip on his throat. He fought to stay alive, to overcome the addiction that was suffocating him. He battled to breathe. I could see him growing tired and weakening every day; the shadow became stronger. It consumed Neil, feeding a fire that was meant to destroy him.

This battle ensued for years. The shadow never retreated; instead it wrapped itself so intricately around my brother that he was now dependent on it for survival. The initial parasite that lived on him had forced Neil to live on it. I’m not sure when exactly it happened, when Neil realized he needed an army to help him fight. It could have been the point when he noticed his body was so dependent on pills, he would get sick when he didn’t take them. Maybe it was when he saw the look in our mom’s eye as she strained herself to keep him afloat. Maybe it wasn’t one thing at all — it could have been dropping out of college, spending his paychecks on drugs, even stealing from our mom. All of it somehow contributed to his breaking point. Whatever it was, I came home from school one day and my brother was gone.

It wasn’t until later my mom explained that he had gone to rehab. At the time, I wondered if it would even help. But when I saw him for the first time after he left, I immediately knew my brother was coming back to us.

I sat in the passenger seat playing with my phone as my mom drove our family to Williamsburg to visit Neil. When we arrived two hours later, I woke up groggy from a short nap. I saw him come out and get in the car, but I didn’t get a real look at him until we were all in the Walmart parking lot fifteen minutes later.

He was clean cut with short hair. Instead of wearing his baggy shirts that I had grown so accustomed to, he was now wearing khaki pants with a long-sleeved gray sweater. He no longer had blotchy hairs covering his chin from weeks of no shaving; in fact, it looked like he shaved that morning. The rose color had returned to his cheeks, and his skin didn’t look quite as transparent. His eyes were bright and full of life. However, it wasn’t just his appearance that changed. His personality had too.

In his darkest days, my brother had grown to be irritable and full of rage. The aggression had dissolved from his expression, replaced by sarcasm and playful jokes. I could see the shadow still lingered in the air around him, but not in the same way. Neil was now strong, he had the power back in his struggle with his demons. He was returning to the big brother that I grew up with and loved.

He still fights to stay afloat, but he’s in control. He has a great job now, lives on his own and reads millions of books. I like to joke sometimes and call him ‘Buddha,’ because he’s become very aware of himself and the world. I’m incredibly proud of my brother. He faced, battled and overcame his demons. He still fights today to keep those same veiled figures at bay – his recovery is and will be a part of his life forever.

He may think himself weak in his times of temptation, but my big brother is the strongest person I know.

Stay Engaged When a Loved One is Struggling

Drug use doesn’t happen in a vacuum — there are other factors at work that your loved one needs your help to face. Watch this short series of videos focused on proven skills to get them the help they need.

CRAFT skills to overcome addiction

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