Collateral Damage- “injury inflicted on something other than an intended target” (merriam-webster.com)

Of all the many regrets, I have in dealing with my oldest son’s addiction, none stands out more than how my decisions affected my non-addicted youngest son. My youngest son is the brother of an addict and has been for most of his life. Although I tried, I could not protect him from everything, especially me. 

I will never forget finding my oldest son sitting against my garage door crying hysterically. He had hit “rock bottom” again. The heart strings were strummed and I let him come back home. When my youngest son was told, his face dropped and his eyes became so sad. I will never forget how bad I felt. He was in school and doing well, but now his world was rocked. He was thrust back into intense drama to include arguments, helplessness, frustration, tears, and instability. At the time, I let my older son move in, I was not thinking of anyone but him. My youngest son had fallen to the back of the line once again. I later realized I had failed to protect him in that instant.

The non-addicted sibling becomes collateral damage when there is an addict living in the home. The family’s attention is on the addict and the non-addicted sibling becomes invisible. Depending on the age, they may not understand what is happening and feel all the stress is somehow their fault. Parents may not offer an explanation to protect the non-addicted sibling, but sometimes the unknown is worst. I do feel honesty is the best policy, however, the truth does not always lessen the hurt. The non-addicted sibling may have to watch someone they love go down a deep dark hole under a wide vail of mistrust. They also get to witness their parents coming undone so all stability goes out the window. The sibling may keep their feelings and emotions to themselves so as not to burden the stressed-out parents. It is a no win situation.

“10 Things That Suck About Being An Addict’s Sibling” by Dawn Clancy (addiction.com)

  1. “They Choose Drugs and Booze Over You”
  2. “You Don’t Trust That They’re Sober When They Say They Are”
  3. “You Have a Parent Who Enables Your Sibling and It Drives You Crazy”
  4. “You Love and Hate Your Sibling”
  5. “You Had to Cut Your Sibling Out of Your Life and You Feel Horrible About It”
  6. “You’re Always Preparing Yourself For That Phone Call”
  7. “You miss the Person Who Was”
  8. “You Deliberately Downplay Your Success”
  9. “People Think That If Your Sibling Is an Addict, You Must Be, Too”
  10. “You Feel Like No One Understands What You’re Going Through”

*****I would highly recommend reading the above article in its entirety.

Here is what I wished I had known earlier.

  • EXPLAIN: The sibling needs to realize that this is not their fault.  Be honest and explain what is going on but within age appropriate limits. Lying is not protection.
  • TIME: Spend individual time with the sibling and make it all about him/her with no distraction.
  • ACTIVITY: Exercise and physical activity of any kind with the sibling can help decrease stress and can help initiate the right setting for conversation.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE: Celebrate the sibling’s achievements and special occasions.  Don’t forget!
  • TALK: Allow the sibling to express themselves. There should be no limits. Anger, hurt, sadness, and frustration should all be allowed.
  • STABILITY: The sibling’s routine should be kept as consistent as possible. School and outside activities help provide escape from stress. As the parent, trying to keep yourself on an even keel will do a lot to help stabilize the rest of the family.
  • COUNSELING: Seek counseling for everyone in the family-especially the sibling.

According to Jim Lapierre (choosehelp.com), “Meeting the needs of each family member to the greatest degree possible promotes healing and supports the well-being of the family unit. This starts with the parents/caregivers getting on the same page to accomplish two important tasks:

  1. Ensuring enabling does not occur
  2. Renewing their commitment to meeting the needs of each family member.”

RESOURCES FOR SIBLINGS OF ADDICTS:  

  • Al-anon, Alateen
  • HereToHelp.bc.ca
  • StepsToRecovery.co/family
  • Sibling Support Program  sharc.org.au