My brother’s back

This morning at 7.30am I received a phone call from my brother Steven. I have received numerous phone calls from my brother Steven over the last 6 weeks. This may not sound like anything different to other families but to me each and every phone call I now receive is better than the last and each and every time I hang up the phone I have a smile on my face.

Instead of tears and shaking and wondering if I am ever going to hear from my brother again.

I am unsure of when his drug addiction began. I myself left home when I was going on 16. It wasn’t long after I left home that my Mother and Stepfather divorced and my younger brothers lived with my Mum. I believe that both brothers dabbled in smoking marijuana. Both brothers moved to Sydney at about the age of 18 and lived with me for a while and then lived with friends. I believe this is when he started using heroin, speed and whatever he could get his hands on.

I remember for a long time he would just turn up at my house and ask for money because he was late for the rent or he just needed 50 bucks. I was working and earning good money so didn’t mind helping him out. It was a fair while before I found out he was using heroin and whatever else and I was paying for his drugs when he had no money left. Once I found out about his habit and he came over I did what I could without giving him money. I would always try to cook him a good meal as he was starting to look very undernourished and sick and if he said he needed money for food, I would go and buy a heap of groceries and give them to him instead of money. I tried to help as much as I could without feeding his habit.

Steven was the topic of discussion on many phone calls amongst the family, everyone was so hard on him at times and yet at the same time loved and wanted to help him but none of us knew how. In the end all I asked of him is that he call me just to let me know he was alive. Steve was only 24 and I was asking him at 24 to just stay alive. The phone calls became few and far in between, the visits so little and even when he did come around he was usually coming off some sort of drug and looked so ill I thought at times he is going to die here in front of me.

Sometimes there were phone calls that he made just to let me know that he was still alive but only just, he was sleeping on the street, he was psychotic and seeing things, he was so angry and abusive and the worst were the phone calls in which he was going to kill himself because he could no longer live like this and then times where he was going to kill himself because he could no longer let the family worry about him living like this. Each and every phone call would end with me spending hours crying and wondering if I would ever hear from him again. I would pray over and over again, God please if you are there just let him live and get better, just let him live, please don’t let anyone hurt him, please don’t let him suffer and it goes on and on and on.

Our Mother lived overseas a lot of the time and I suppose or I should say I know that I became his Sister/Mum. Our Mum tried to help from overseas and tried to see Steven every time she came home and it may even have been harder for her because she felt helpless living overseas. At times I felt that I could no longer cope with it all but then I might get a “good” phone call from Steve, he was still alive and living with some mates (who usually turned out to be drug users like him) but as long as he was off the street and had actually rung me I was able to deal with it for a little while longer. At times I felt no support from the rest of the family, they had their different ideals on how to deal with him and we didn’t agree on a lot of them. I was probably the more “softer” sister that thought I could heal him with lots of love and support. At times when I saw him and he looked so terrifyingly close to death I just wanted to lock him in a room until he was better, I didn’t care what he smashed, what he said I just wanted him off the drugs, but he would always go and leave me again wondering where he was, and of course if he was still alive.

Steven would work no matter whether he was going through a good or a bad period and unfortunately his line of work was roof tiling. He was very good at it but if he was using he had the most horrific injuries. One day he turned up with over 50 stitches in his leg, another time he had just as many stitches in his arm, probably the worst one was when he fell through a roof and landed on his backside and bleeding from his bottom. The injuries were no doubt a result of his lack of senses due to the drugs. This was just another time of concern for me, even though he was working was he going to die falling off a roof. Was there ever a time that the concern stopped? NO.

Another time Steve had weekend detention, he was so badly beaten up in jail that he never went back again. No matter what the cause was for him to be beaten up it made me fearful in another way for his life, if the drugs weren’t going to kill him, was someone else?

I vividly remember one night when Steve was at one of his worst periods and I had recently received one of the “I’m going to kill myself phone calls” a friend came around and when I heard the knock on the door I asked who it was, the friend thinking they were funny yelled out “The police” before I even could get the door open I was crying and sobbing and shaking because I thought that they had found Steve somewhere dead. This was it, this was my worst nightmare, I had failed him, he was dead, he was dead, he was dead, oh god why couldn’t I just help him just that little bit more, make him stick to rehab, make him get better, oh my poor brother, when I finally opened the door and saw it was friends, I broke down even more and they felt so bad as they had no idea what I had been going through with Steven.

Steven did try many rehabs, some of them worked….for a week or two, some had no effect on him at all. Each time he went into rehab, he would become the “gunna” man. When I get out I’m “gunna” do this and I’m “gunna” do that. And each time he relapsed and would hit an all time low. At one stage I was visiting him every weekend in jail. I never thought I would be giving up my weekend to visit a family member in jail but I just kept going and taking him things so he knew that he was still loved. Believe me I wasn’t thinking he was an angel and couldn’t do wrong, I knew that he had done some very bad things but it was not for me to punish him, it was for me to try and help him. Sometimes the family gave up on him; we didn’t stop loving him we just plain gave up. If he didn’t want to help himself how could we? I used to say to him, I love you so much Steve but because I have never experienced what you are going through I don’t know how to help you, I can listen to you whatever time of day and night but I just don’t know how to help you. I would tell him that if there was ever a moment that he thought he would overdose and kill himself he had to ring me first, just so I would at least have the chance to talk him out of it. I was full of guilt for having a reasonable life and not being able to give him one, or even be able to give him the motivation to be able to have a reasonable life himself.

Sometimes when Steve turned up he would smell, a putrid living on the street smell. I would give him some of my husband’s clothes and send him in to have a shower and wash and disinfect his clothes. I would try to do it in a way that wouldn’t offend him so that he didn’t feel like yet another person had given up on him. I then started buying clothes when they were on special so that I would have clothes ready for him if he did turn up. (Cheap because I knew that he would “leave them at a mates place”) Usually the clothes he had on his back were the only clothes he had at all, all the others had been “left at a mates place”. Sometimes and no matter how guilty I felt I would think please don’t give anything to my son, he would be so skinny and sick I thought he could have hepatitis or anything and wondered if he could pass it onto my son. The worst thing about this was that Steven loved and adored my son. He used to just sit and laugh with him and play with him and I have no doubt that if he wasn’t so sick with his addictions that he would make the best uncle any kid could have. In return my son adored Steven, maybe because he didn’t know he had an illness and only saw the goodness and the fun side of Steven.

Of course in between the bad and the really, really bad times there were some good. When he was back to his almost normal self and was the most gorgeous brother. The thing about Steve was he was always a beautiful and kind soul. When he could be normal he was helpful and funny and witty like you wouldn’t believe. He was intelligent and had the most amazing artistic talent at drawings, I was in awe of what he could achieve when straight. The phone calls were wonderful and the worry went away, but then the phone calls would stop and then I knew with dread that he had slipped again.

The last time I saw Steven before he went into rehab in QLD, he arrived at my house with a black eye, looked the worst he ever had and once again the tracksuit on his back were the only clothes he had. He had just turned up and when I saw him and he said he was going to go into rehab, I knew that if he didn’t go this time and make it through that he would die. There was no doubt whatsoever. If he didn’t die from an overdose or a disease he was going to be killed. His stomach looked like it was sucked in and was touching his back, he face was skeletal, the black eye certainly didn’t help and his whole body was one of defeat. He had a train ticket booked which he showed me as proof as I didn’t quite believe everything he said. I of course cooked up a big meal, of which he hardly touched; this also confirmed to me he was close to death, as he never knocked back a good meal at my place. He laid on the lounge and instantly went into this exhausted sleep. I made a bed up for him in the spare room and woke him to move in there. That night I slept in the room next to him and would get up constantly to just go and check that he was breathing, if I thought I couldn’t hear him breathing I would shake him just a little to get a movement out of him and then leave him to check on him in another half hour. This was really truly it, I even had told him when he said he was going into rehab that he had better do it or I was going to cut him off and he was going to die. I had never been this harsh with him before and the look in his eyes was one of terror, he knew himself that he was going to die if he went on another day living the way he did. Finally he realised that his life was going to end, finally he was scared of death. How long it took and what he went through to finally feel like this and I thought how scary this must be for you to feel this way. I felt no anger, I felt nothing but pity. I had never pitied him before, I had only felt worried, scared, angry, sorry, guilty and every other emotion but never pity, now I felt pity, because this man knew that his life was going to be over unless he did something, and he only had himself to do it.

The next morning Steven put on his one and only tracksuit and I made heaps of sandwiches and snacks for him and sent him on his way. This was it, this could be the last time I see him ever or this could be the last time I see him looking like this.

Well almost 2 years later it turned out that that was the last time I saw him looking like that. He has turned his life around and completed almost a year in rehab and is now living a normal life. He has of course been through a different kind of hell in getting over his addictions, a lot of hard physical work through going cold turkey and probably even harder than that a lot of soul searching. I have seen him in person and seen him in photos, I have still been able to be the “softer” sister and send him my love and support. His whole family have been there for him to help him through this new journey of his life, at least he now has a journey. And a life. He is working and paid off his debts, he has more respect for himself and those around him. His life will always be a struggle against these terrible addictions but at least he has the control and not the drugs have the control over him. He is once again the most adorable funny, witty and loving brother. And I am so very, very proud of him.

There are so many periods of darkness when a loved one is addicted to drugs, they are not the only ones lost, the family around them are also lost on how to help. Somehow Steven has become one of the lucky ones that have made it through; there are others that don’t. I am just so glad of every phone call I get now from him, before I was glad to get the phone calls just to know he is still alive, now I love getting the phone calls just to hear the positive note in his voice and to hear how he is making the most of his life. And each time I get a phone call I smile and think I am so glad he’s back.