Kaitlyn Taylor of Orangeburg, New York, was one of the 10 finalists in the My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. Her essay talks about her big brother Colin's addiction, and how it impacted her. Katilyn attends Dominican College in Orangeburg. I'm happy to share her writing with you.
By Kaitlyn Taylor
My big brother, Colin, has always been my hero and my protector. We had a lot to deal with growing up with a verbally abusive alcoholic father, but Colin was always there for me. When an issue would arise at home, he always wanted to shelter me from the fighting and yelling because I was his little sister. Even when I was at school, being a quiet, shy, and insecure girl, I felt a little safer knowing Colin was in the same building. As we got older, the issues at home escalated and Colin found himself needing his own escape from the chaos.
When we were in high school he began using marijuana. The abuse at home became more than Colin could handle and more often than not would escalate to physical altercations with my father in order protect my mom and myself. Colin began slipping further into his addiction. Marijuana was simply not enough anymore and he began searching for an even greater high, which he found in cocaine. In my eyes he was still my amazing big brother, but I hated when he was under the influence. When a fight would occur, I would beg him to stop fighting with my father and it was like a clearing of clouds after a terrible storm in his eyes. He had a weak spot for me in his heart like I had one for him.
In a few short years his abusive relationship with drugs escalated very quickly. He began to steal from our family to support his habit. He could no longer maintain a job and would often go missing for days at a time. We would not hear from him during those missing days and always expected the worst. My mom vented to me, her only escape, and I felt the pressure of not only wanting and needing to fix my brother, but also to be there for my mother. It soon became apparent that I was better at handling these situations than my mother was, so I felt I had to be strong for both of us. I did not understand why when I begged Colin to stop I no longer saw clarity in his eyes but rather a frightening emptiness. I remember going to a wake for a friend’s brother who had passed away from an overdose and seeing my brother in the casket. My friend said to me, "We knew this was how he was going to die, we just didn’t know when it would be." Those words still haunt me to this day. Nobody should have to feel that way, yet I understood what she meant all too well.
Colin began getting more physical with my father as his habits continued to get worse. He started adding pills to the mix and it was not long before he was snorting and injecting heroin. He had moments when I thought he hit rock bottom and was willing to go to detox and rehab, but this became a cycle when he felt he had no other options. He always used again and I began to feel helpless. There were many nights with minimal sleep because I had to drive him to hospitals to detox, and I began missing work because I had to drive him to rehab each time he decided to go back after leaving. If I wasn’t driving him, my mom wanted me to come because she needed the support.
I realized his rock bottom was a lot lower than most other people's when he began to steal from my grandmother. Around this time I was away getting my undergraduate degree. When I came home for breaks he would ask me if I wanted to go visit our grandma, who had severe Alzheimer's at the time. I was thrilled with this idea and hoped seeing her would give him some reason to stop using. Once we arrived at her house he would always need to use the bathroom, and it was not long before I caught him with our grandmother's jewelry to sell to support his ongoing habit. When I returned home for the summer, my mother told me my grandma was dying and plans were being made to bring her home on hospice. My mother also told me that Colin had continued stealing checks from our dying grandmother’s checkbook and that he had also stolen $7,000 from me. I wanted nothing more than to break down, but I had to stay strong for mom who was losing her mother and had to deal with her drug addicted son and alcoholic husband. The day my grandmother died, I watched Colin sneak into the refrigerator to steal the morphine provided to my grandmother. I could not tell my mother and add more to her plate, so I took it upon myself to watch him.
For years I was conflicted with feelings of anger and resentment toward my brother but ultimately I loved him. I went through periods of not talking to him and then forgiving him as he went through his cycle of using and getting clean. I knew it upset my mother when I would ignore him, so I would suck it up and forgive him. I told him as long as he was clean he was forgiven for stealing all of my savings. When Colin started using heavily, I felt added pressure to be the stable child. I matured much sooner than most people my age. I could not understand when I would beg my mom to take action against my brother for stealing from all of us and she would simply reply with, "I can't he's my son." I could not comprehend this; was I not also her daughter? Could she not see what this was doing to me? My feelings and needs were pushed to the side and that hurt the most.
I don't know if it's part of his addiction or that he’s just a terrible person, but he picks on my mother's insecurities. He tells her if she kicks him out he will end up dead in a ditch. He calls her fat, and miserable, then tells her that she is a horrible mother. I have stopped asking her to force responsibility on him because of how he yells at her and treats her. I only asked her to because I know how much she does for him and that she does not deserve to be treated this way. My mother says she is a prisoner in her own home and I feel the same way. I am stuck at home because I can barely afford school so I definitely cannot afford my own place. My entire family, including my father who has been sober for 2 years, has to walk on eggshells around my brother. I do my best to cheer my mother up when Colin treats her so poorly, but she feels such immense guilt and responsibility for the person he has become that anything I do or say hardly makes a difference. Through my attempt to understand addiction, I have read that a person stops maturing at the age they start using, therefore, my 26-year-old brother is still mentally 19. All he has to do is yell, throw a fit, and break some things in the house and nobody wants to deal with him. He knows that we will always love him no matter what, and he takes advantage of that.
I recently was accepted into a graduate program for Occupational Therapy and will begin in the fall. For the first time in my life I feel like I belong and I am doing the right thing. My mother has no money to help me pay for school and so that burden is on me. I am still trying so hard to be the responsible one and at this point I work three jobs, go to school, and pay for my own financial expenses. I am taking everything on as loans. I would be incredibly appreciative of the scholarship money. I thank you tremendously for the opportunity to participate but also for the chance to get some of my frustrations out about my current situation. Siblings of addicts are often overshadowed and for the first time in a long time I felt that my feelings mattered. I am very excited to take my first step toward a career where I can help people, people who truly want and need the help. I have pushed myself harder than ever to be accepted into this program. I know it will be difficult, but more importantly I know it will be worth it.