The Original JB__ By: Jacqueline Barlow

I read an article tonight, one like many I have read before, titled “’My Heart Died’ When I Lost My Brother to Heroin.”  I’m not exactly sure if this particular one affected me more than the othersor made me cry more or just brought out other feelings that so many before it just hadn’t touched on.  None the less, here I am, with a pad of paper and a pen writing, again, like so many times before.  Except this time the message is different.  This time, it’s not just for my benefit.  Ya see usually, when I write, it’s to help myself… To calm my nerves… To ease my anxiety… Soothe my soul (for lack of better terms.)  I rarely share what I write.  Even if it’s addressed to someone, my writings, stories, poems, letters and essays, they are for me.  Reading that article made me want to reach out and touch the author, hug her, tell her not to be so hard on herself, try to help her understand that there’s no right or wrong way to live with, deal with or love an addict, no matter what the professionals say.  So maybe this may not get to her, but if it helps just one person, then by God it was worth it!  

For starters, the name of the article, My Heart Died… For quite some time I thought my heart died too.  But to this day over three years later now I have said and will continue to say a piece of my heart died that day, a piece that will forever be gone from this earth like his body.  However, in his death, his huge heart managed to give me one last gift.  I believe through this tragic experience my heart has gotten stronger, bigger and more compassionate.  Yes a piece of my heart died, but many pieces grew!  I am quicker to forgive, have a more kind soul, a gentle approach and sensitivity about me that I’m not so sure I would have “grown” into as “maturity” snuck up on me.  Let’s face it, at the ripe ol age of 27 I’m not so sure my stubborn, grudge holding self would have ever evolved as a person.  

But all that there… That wasn’t it… What really got me, what had me sobbing like a baby as I hid in the bathroom at work with a puddle of tears at my feet… what really set my mind racing as I lived out the quote “No matter how long it was been, there are some times when suddenly it becomes harder to breathe” is the amount of guilt she lives with every day about the tough love tactic she used while dealing with her brother through his addiction.  I just wanted to hug her (and I’m not even big on hugs) and whisper in her ear “don’t you do that… don’t you dare do that to yourself!”  We are all so very different and have different strengths and weaknesses and like I said, there is no right or wrong way to live with, deal with or love an addict.  At the time you did what you thought was in his (or her) best interests; what you thought would help them; what you thought could save them.  As I sat huddled in the bathroom I started to play devil’s advocate.  Wondering which way was “better” or “easier” to live with after you lose your loved one for good.  I personally thought up until that moment I had no regrets with how I chose to “deal” with my brother’s addiction.  I never turned my back, I was always there to just love and you know who had it tough, ME!  Which guilt is “better” or “easier” to live with?  The guilt of enabling someone and watching them self-destruct right in front of your face and not being able to do a damn thing to change it or help them?  Or the guilt of getting real with them and tough on them in hopes it forces them to hit rock bottom and make a change but they don’t get a chance to change and rock bottom was the very end of their struggles.  I’m not here to say either way is better than the other, but I would like to help ease that self-destructive guilt that some people live with.  Trust me when I say whichever way you choose to attack the addiction that has taken over a loved one, it had its pros and cons. You must take comfort in the fact that you did the best you could in a shitty situation.  Not only would your loved one not want you to beat yourself up over it, but it’s only going to do further damage and I think we can agree you have been through enough.  I cannot honestly speak on the tough love route.  (I can honestly say I attempted it at some point, but it didn’t last long.)  What I can speak on is the guilt and hardships I experience from taking the not-tough love approach.  


A lot of people who enforced tough love on a loved one who lost their battle with addiction often immediately speak on the good times and remembering them a certain way.  (Either way we have those memories to hold on to.)  However, if you didn’t give them tough love, some of your more recent memories aren’t that great…


And this is where my openness to speak on my own experiences slows down and frightens me!  In this article the woman says “I will not hide my brother’s struggle behind shame and disgrace.”  This gives me a bit of courage, but not much.  To many people I am a care free, open minded, beautiful spirit who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  Which is true to a certain extent.  When I lost my brother I was so many more things than sad and heartbroken; I was angry, humiliated, scared and mortified just to name a few.  I immediately deleted my social media sites once the initial breathtaking shock wore off.  I didn’t want anyone to know what really happened.  I didn’t want my sister to alert the Delco masses of the demise of Superman, and me to have to witness any of it.  I wanted everyone to remember him as a badass that nobody messed with.  I didn’t want anyone to witness his weaknesses as I had.  I wanted everyone to remember him as the big brother I so desperately wanted back to look up to and idolize once again.  His strength is what inspired people, his strength is what people recognized him for and I didn’t want anyone to know how vulnerable and weak his addiction made him.  He fought it for over a decade and if that doesn’t make for a strong individual than I don’t know what does.  This all leading to another struggle of taking the road less traveled of non-tough love.  When you take the tough love route sometimes you aren’t over exposed to such weakness or if you are it’s momentarily.  You see me, I struggled severely with the fact that here I was, all in his face, in his business and would constantly beg him to stop!  I would switch back and forth for years begging him to stop for himself and if he wouldn’t do it for himself I thought he loved me enough to do it for me!  (His children were not born at this part of the timeline and during most of his really bad years or I would have begged him to do it for them, and I truly believe those little girls were the closest to saving him and we got some really significant years out of him because of the love he had for those girls, he stayed clean longer and fought harder, with everything he had because of THEM!)   It was very hard for me to accept and understand how there was no direct correlation between his love for me and staying alive and his addiction.  What haunts me isn’t the guilt of tough love, it’s fights I had with him trying to check his arms and him being so mad (or pretending to be so I wouldn’t push the issue.)  A time where I snuck out of the house to meet him at a hotel to pay for a room because I wouldn’t give him money and him getting upset with me for not trusting him, just to tell me never mind and to turn around.  How at one point shortly after that my dad sent reinforcements in the form of my cousin.  I had become addicted to saving him.  This addiction affected me some of the same ways his addiction affected him.  I couldn’t eat, sleep or focus.  All I was worried about was stopping him from getting his next fix.   I lost so much weight that you could see my ribs and the bones in my neck.  It was such a heavy burden to carry and I carried it with every bit of strength I had until my dad had enough of watching me slowly kill myself as well.  My cousin (under my dad’s orders) came to my job and pulled me out of work and tried to make me understand that letting it consume me wasn’t helping my brother.  I won’t dare tell the story he told me about loving heroin more than anything in the world but know it’s one that haunts me to this very day! Keep in mind this was also a time before this drug was a house hold name.  The only time I had heard of or seen anything to do with heroin was in the movies, and here I was living out a horror film.  The time I went to see him before he went to rehab and him asking me to leave because he was going to get high again.  I’ll never forget that day.  He looked like a six foot skeleton.  He was anxious and not my brother.  He hugged me and asked me to leave.  I was so hurt and I refused because I thought as long as I was there he wouldn’t get high.  I was wrong and I know how hard it was for him to admit it to me especially in the state of mind he was in.  That is how much he respected me, he could have easily not said anything to me at all and just tried to be sneaky.  He didn’t want me to see him that way but he gave me the choice.  His exact words were, “I would rather you see me high than go through the crazy withdraw I am about to go through.”  I begged and begged “Please Jay, I don’t care about that.  I’ll sit on the bathroom floor with you and rub your back as you get sick, please I don’t care, please don’t get more.”  He looked me in the eyes and said “you don’t understand [sister] I have to.”  I left!  It took a long time for it to click, he did love me… I found comfort in a message that I got after his death (while still struggling with the fact that he left me, he choose to pick up again after significant clean time and if you take some of those words out, he choose to leave me.)  I screen shot the text I got, and still have it, “I know he was like your hero.  I watched him and (my other big brother) with you.  No one loved you like he did, not even your dad sorry to say that but it’s true.  No one.  I hope you know that if not I’m confirming.  I used to get jealous because I wanted the same love and felt like I didn’t get it.”  I would be willing to bet it’s the same case for the girl in the article and anyone that has lost a sibling and more so an older sibling who made it their life mission to love and protect you!  

Needless to say, if this huge tangent isn’t proof enough of the tremendous amount of guilt I live with on a daily basis, let me just reiterate the case in point and drive a few more things home.  Guilt and what seems like regret go hand in hand with grief and losing a loved one.  There’s a million what ifs and just writing that down completely stumps me and clouds my train of thought.  At the end of the day you MUST remember that they wouldn’t want you to live with such regret and guilt weighing down your heart and soul.  They wouldn’t want you to be sad and/or stop living your life.  Whether you gave them tough love or not they know the impact they had on you during active addiction (and recovery) and they don’t want you to live that way anymore.  They don’t want it to consume you or make you bitter with yourself.  You may have told them they were or were not a burden but trust me at some point the thought has crossed their mind that they were and they hurt you so and they don’t want to do that anymore.  So many people say and write the words “RIP no more suffering” but that’s not the case for us loved ones left behind.  We will suffer from heartbreak for the rest of our lives and as they watch over us they know that.  If they see that we are adding to that suffering with a tremendous amount of guilt that just continues this vicious cycle.  


The most important thing to remember is that no matter what route you took on this roller coaster ride that it did not affect the outcome.  Whether you thought tough love was the answer or you put your life on hold as you chased them around trying to force them to stop, the outcome (I’m sorry to say) would have been the same.  It’s hard to accept and a tough pill to swallow but it’s the truth.  No one knows that more than the lost loved one and if they were able to they would tell you that themselves.  Please try to remember that the next time you are beating yourself up over everything and pray… As cliché and ironic as it may be the Serenity Prayer is extremely fitting.  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.  

Jacqueline thank you so much for sharing your experience. Hope Street is grateful for people like you will to come forward and stand up for people who do not have a voice.  We appreciate your honestly.  It it not easy to share those hard time, but in your story there is hope love and compassion.  NEVER GIVE UP

Erin GoldnerComment