In the distance, I notice a young girl, she’s maybe 10 or 11. She has long blonde hair, she’s smiling and seems as well put together as any other child. When I approach her and ask her who she is, she looks lost and confused. She responds: “Who do you think I am?” Who do you think I am? Now I am the one who’s confused. I expected an answer of excitement. After all, I had just seen her dance, jump and play with her friends.
That young girl was me and I had absolutely no idea of who I was. No idea of my capabilities or talents. It’s only in the last two years I can see the amount of trouble that young girl was in. That was my life, living with addiction and chaos every single day.
We grew up with our Mam and Dad. Dad drank a lot; he wasn’t a good role model or provided any steady structure to our lives. I lived in this house and always remember not wanting to be there, not understanding what was going on. I thought this was normal; not knowing what to say, or when to say it. I remember as a teenager sitting in one day with my Dad, not feeling like I could leave the house because he had gotten so drunk that I was worried for his safety.
As time pushed on, my Dad’s drinking only got worse and it became morning, noon and night. There was no break, no normality. He would wake, drink, shout abuse and sleep; only to do it all again. I encouraged and hoped my Mam and Dad would split up and at the age of 16, they did. At school, other friends were upset at their parents having problems, or splitting up, I wasn’t – I was relieved the addiction had left the house. Little did I know that was just the start.
I am now 30 I have two brothers, Mark and Jack, both of whom are in active addiction right now. Mark is the older brother and my last memory of him not been an addict is when I clung to him for safety, when one of those chaotic moments at home was happening. I still see him now as a strong boy – a king in my eyes – and he could have achieved anything he wanted to. He still can, if he finds the courage to fight addiction.
Jack is younger than me and a bit more vulnerable. Jack has a heart you couldn’t compare and a softness I have never seen. He also could achieve many things if he chooses to fight addiction.
As Mark got older, what we thought was experimenting turned into full-on addiction. Mark was energetic and full of life but that temperament, mixed with drugs, was toxic and so he was like a ball of fire. We know now that Mark had learned the fine art of manipulation and we were his willing enablers. When that ball of fire went out, we would tip-toe around the house not to make a sound and we would regularly tell any friend that called that he wasn’t there.
Jack seemed safe in it all and was almost afraid of becoming an addict. He moved out with his then-girlfriend and had a baby. All seemed fine until it wasn’t and he was in serious trouble.
Both their lives spiralled and both ended up on the streets, both on heroin.
All the while, I was having babies and building my home and thought I was relatively happy. It’s only now I am realising that I was trapped in a body and mind that knew nothing but a bad feeling. So, long after leaving the family home, I was living with chronic anxiety, chronic fear and still enabling – because I knew no better.
Only when I had my children did I stop enabling my brothers. I felt guilty for not answering their calls, or saying no to their requests of money, but I knew if I kept saying yes they would just keep asking and turning up at my door and that wasn’t OK for my kids.
I lived my whole life feeling uncomfortable. In the last two years, I have challenged this feeling and it’s been one of the toughest things I have had to do.
Two years ago, I went to a family support meeting at Tabor lodge. I thought I knew it all, but I couldn’t believe how many people there felt the same way as me.
When I first walked in, I was nervous but the room was comfortable and relaxed; the facilitators were welcoming and approachable. They didn’t force anything. I spent the first few weeks just listening to others; then I spoke to others about their situation, before feeling brave enough to tell my own story.
At one of those meetings I was having a hard time. Mark had a seizure and was in Intensive Care because of drugs. Jack was also in hospital with a life-threatening infection in his arm because of mixing drugs and injecting them. I was due to have surgery myself and I remember breaking down crying at the meeting, saying I wanted the surgery and I didn’t want to wake up. It’s then I realised that just because I had learned to say no to my brothers, I still had huge amounts of work to do on myself.
Because of my whole life living with addiction, I had developed personalities to protect myself and bad habits – OCD, anger issues, lack of patience and no trust in anyone. I had zero confidence, zero self-worth and believed I deserved little in life.
I always felt safe at Tabor Lodge, even when I was saying nothing at all. I go every week and it’s invaluable. I have learned that I was addicted to my brothers and that it’s ok to have time for you. I used to feel guilty if I went and got my nails done, I felt I didn’t deserve to have a life of my own. The penny has now dropped, I don’t feel selfish, I deserve to get my nails done!
With the help of Tabor Lodge’s meetings for families, I grew and I learned and I began to change when it came to my brothers. I no longer felt the same guilt or sadness and accepted their path was their own. I could only support them when they were ready to support themselves.
To anyone in a similar situation, I would say: Don’t just think about it – go to Tabor Lodge Family Support. You don’t have to do anything, just listen, sit there and make time for you. Go again and again and again; don’t ever give up!
I am now on a journey to discovering who I really am, what I really want and the things that make me smile. I am learning to put myself first, to treat myself and to do whatever it takes to feel my best.
If you, or someone you love, is struggling with addiction, get help not only for yourself, but for your children as well.
Tabor Group is a leading provider of residential addiction treatment services in Ireland. We provide support and care to hundreds of clients suffering from addictions to alcohol, substances, and gambling. For more information on Tabor Group’s services, click here.