B Minus or A Plus – Grade This Essay

The youngest member of Midwestern Mama’s family writes about his brother’s substance use disorder.

When someone in the family is using drugs, it’s only a matter of time before one person’s problem becomes everyone’s problem. Our youngest son is 15 years old, a freshman in high school, and he recently wrote a “coming of age” essay for his English class where he talked about growing up with an addict brother.

He was nine years old when his brother began using drugs. For a year or two, he likely didn’t notice much, but by fifth grade we couldn’t hide it from him, nor did we want to. It was the year that things started to implode and it was the year that his class would participate in D.A.R.E. We believed it was important that he understood the chaos (in an age-appropriate manner) and to let this experience shape his own future choices, behaviors and attitudes towards drugs.

As we tried to work with our older son to move him toward treatment, we also worked hard at helping his younger brother and older sister process things. We talked openly with them, asked for their impressions and ideas, and we encouraged them to talk with a counselor or attend Ala-non or Ala-teen to put things in perspective. They saw us at our best and at our worst. They saw us for who we are.

One day our youngest was particularly distraught. In his recent essay, he wrote: “My life was ridiculously hard for a fifth grader.”

He knew that I had been working with a therapist to help myself manage the emotional roller coaster of parenting a kid with substance use disorder, so I offered to let the two of them meet and chat. It seemed to help little brother embrace the idea that he didn’t have to go through this alone and that there might be merit in talking with someone other than his family members – someone more objective and trained at these sensitive topics.

The next day, our youngest went to his school counselor. They hit it off, and she shared with him that she had a sibling with a substance use disorder. For the next couple of years, he would talk with her whenever things felt out of control, and through these conversations, a middle-schooler worked his way through some tough, scary, emotional times.

Just how did he feel during fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades? His essay reveals: “D.A.R.E made my problems even worse. I already knew a lot about what drugs did to the body because I had seen what they did to my brother.” He went on to say: “My brother’s problems affected my life in many ways. I (wanted) to be his friend … it was difficult to do so when he constantly was high or on the crash from drugs.”

They essay continued to talk about all the times when his brother had stolen his wallet, when he was homeless and his hygiene deteriorated – “He would smell like rotten apple dipped in crap drizzled in vinegar,” — when he was arrested for underage public intoxication, when he went to treatment but ran away … In just a few pages, my youngest son detailed the many low points he witnessed during his brother’s active addiction.

He concluded his essay by writing: “Knowing all I’ve been through is scary. The purpose of writing this (essay) was to (say) people have crazy family problems. I am outgoing and energetic, but deep inside, I still have problems. The best thing I learned through this experience is to stay strong. Talk to friends and counselors. Don’t let your problems overcome who you truly are. You are allowed to be affected by these tough moments in life, and at times you will feel worthless. Stay strong and it will get better. If life doesn’t have ups and downs, you’re (not really living).”

Little brother’s essay was as heartfelt and honest as anything I’ve ever read. It was also full of insight and perspective. I give it an A-Plus. His teacher, however, because the essay was riddled with typos, punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors, gave it a B-Minus.

Oh, well. I’m glad there’s another writer in the family who is willing to share this story – a story that has impacted each family member and a story that has had dark chapters, and now, over the past seven months of sobriety, is changing to chapters that are becoming increasingly bright.

Midwestern Mama with excerpts from her youngest son.

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