There is a saying “you are only as happy as your unhappiest child”, and nothing can be further from the truth. As a parent of three children I admit when two of my three children are having a great day and the third is not I am not completely happy. I am happy that things are going well, however I cannot completely focus on their joy when the third is suffering. It hard for people without kids to understand. The best way I can explain it is to compare it to a tooth ache, the rest of you is fine but for that one tooth and you are compelled to cure this pain. It’s the same for a parent, your children regardless of how many you have don’t exist as a separate entity rather they exist as a whole and when one is hurting all of your efforts are focused on the child in need. I often wonder how this is interpreted by my kids, do they think I don’t care, or what they do is not as important? What happens however, when one of your children did not simply have a bad day, but rather were an alcoholic? I have blogged in the past about how addiction and alcoholism is hard not only on the sufferer but on the family as a whole; parents are on edge and their energies are primarily focused on their needy child. How do the siblings of addicts deal with their situation? Do they feel that their own challenges are muted in comparison to their addicted sibling? Or do they jump in and help save their brother or sister? Therapists agree that sibling experience a whole different set of emotions than their parent and in genera,l deal with family’s situation in one of three ways;
Separate: This person will completely withdraw from their addicted brother or sister, and choose not to deal with their addiction and the accompanying drama. They do not want to address the topic for a variety of reasons, they can stem from guilt that they are ok while their brother or sister is not, or do not have the mental and emotional fortitude to deal with all of the issues surrounding their sibling’s addiction. One person described that when his family got together with his alcoholic brother it felt as though he “sucked all the air in the room”, leaving no room for him to talk about his life. When his brother was around it was as if the challenges he faced and wanted to discuss with his parents were insignificant, and because of this he choose to simply remove himself from family gatherings.
Save: This is a brother or sister who charges into save their addicted sibling. They are the most supportive of their parents, and will actively seek out help for their brother or sister. They too feel a sense of guilt coupled with sadness which prompts them into action rather than disconnecting.
Confront: These sibling struggle with their brother of sisters addiction. They are confrontational and seek to appeal to their sibling sense of decency, morality and fairness. Unfortunately, for someone struggling with addiction these factors simply do not signify. This person will confront their brother or sister with arguments like “Can’t you see what you are doing to mom and dad?”, and ultimately views them as selfish and destructive. Furthermore these siblings tend to be very weary if not cynical towards any attempted or sustained sobriety.
It is important to note that these behaviours more often than not overlap, particularly with the separatist, and the confrontational groupings. Furthermore, it has been noted that those siblings who are predisposed to save their brother or sister can also have moments of anger or frustration which cause them to remove themselves for a short time.
While there is a great deal of support for parents of addicted children, there are support groups available for siblings of addicts as well. These groups help the individual deal with the profound effect their brother or sister’s addiction has in the context of their own life. CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) is a great resource for not only information but for helping you source support groups in your area.