I get a strange feeling when I'm asked if I have any brothers or sisters. It's a simple question but I don't really have the answer to it. I had a brother but he's dead, so does that count? My brother died at the ripe old age of 39, the age I am now. I'm finding this age a struggle because in the back of my mind I'm thinking how awful it would be if something happened to me at this age too. My parents would have 2 children that didn't make 40 and I think what a terrible thing that would be for them. My brother missed his 40th by 2 months and 1 day to be precise. I say his 40th like there would be some kind of celebration but we wouldn't have seen him, and the day would have passed like any other for us. You see he was an addict, an alcoholic and a drug addict with heroin being his drug of choice.
I read the news like everyone else but when Whitney, Amy and Kurt are hailed as heroes I have to turn away. I prefer to focus on the family and their battles they are also victims of addiction, except they didn't get a say in it. The last time I saw my brother conscious was about 2 years before his death. Our last moments were spent with him telling me exaggerated stories of how he had been trying to turn his life around but somebody had stolen all his money and how he needed more. He became increasingly agitated and increasingly aggressive when I refused to give him any. His pleas became more desperate and angry with him explaining how he was going to have to eat out of bins that night. This left me unmoved, you see this was a favourite plea of his particularly to my mum, because he knew no mother could bear the thought of her son raiding through bins. He had money to eat but he chose to prioritise drink and drugs over eating. He lived pretty well off his disability allowance. His only complaint was that he didn't get the higher level of disability payment . He was bitter about that. The government provided for him nicely and even gave him free methadone every day which he promptly sold on. I wasted a lot of time trying to offer ways for him to get help but talking to a brick wall would have been more effective. Addicts don't want solutions they want money. I finally handed him the £15 I had in my purse but only because I knew that it was a small price to pay to get away from him and his anger. It wasn't enough, he wanted more but I can tell you it was more than enough for me.
He had every chance, a supportive family, a girlfriend, a baby and a son he was going to adopt. He had a job and the chance to go to rehab but none of it was enough. One by one he lost us all, preferring the company of drink and drugs. He had a house that my Auntie and Uncle let him have (that they inherited) for a low price to help him start afresh and before the property boom. He sold the dilapidated house shortly before it was due to be repossessed and walked away with £60,000 in his pocket. The money would be gone within a year, his son didn't see a penny of it nor any of him for that matter. He also forgot about the child he was supposed to adopt.
I may sound harsh and maybe I am but whilst drugs were killing my brother, they were killing us too. His idea of responsibility was that he had a sharps box to put the needles in that he used to inject heroin into his veins with. He felt this was responsible as it prevented the 5 year old daughter of his girlfriend from pricking herself on them. He wasn't feeling so responsible when he allowed his girlfriend to inject him with some insulin they had stolen from the Drs Surgery my mum worked at. I'm not sure how the little girl felt when the neighbour popped round to see her mum, my brother and her 18 year old brother all half dead and foaming at the mouth. I don't know how responsible he felt for the policeman knocking on our door and telling us, if we rushed to the hospital we might just get to see him alive before he died. He didn't actually die but any thoughts of me ever having a brother died that night. I can't tell you how responsible he felt when the little girl was finally taken into care or that his own son was suffering from behavioural problems. In his defence perhaps he didn't know because he certainly never asked. I'm certain he didn't feel any particular responsibility on the rare occasion he saw his son but left him waiting whilst he popped to the off license and never returned.
I don't pretend to understand addiction but what I do understand is the impact an addiction has on others. I don't want to see drugs decriminalised, I don't want to see them promoted and I don't want to see people blasé about them. But having an addict as a family member also teaches you that you don't always get what you want. Watching my brothers last hours with my parents is something that will haunt me forever. Even in his dying throes when all his organs were failing, he still refused a transplant. He continued to down bottles of neat vodka and inject heroin the moment he was physically able to walk out of hospital. This surprised me as he was always afraid of death but he was afraid of being sober even more. Twenty three years of addiction robbed us all of a son, a father, a brother and a husband. There is nothing heroic in being an addict, not even if you're a good singer.
My brother's death not only freed him from his own suffering but freed us from it too. It also made me want to live every, single second of my life. I don't want to waste a minute. I'm impatient to do so many things and maybe that's because I feel I have someone else to live for, to make up for a life unlived. If you're ever in any doubt then choose life because I promise you, the drugs don't work.