☼ The Addict Has A Younger Brother

Brothers ForeverOn the day Rick was born, his big brother was eagerly waiting for him. At 2-1/2 years old, Joey was going to be Rick’s faithful friend and special act to follow.

And follow, Rick did.

Rick followed as Joey demonstrated how to crawl backwards and forwards and sideways, how to ride a bike without training wheels, and how to catch fish with just the right flick of the wrist. Rick watched and learned the art of good aim in the bathroom, of fair play in the backyard, of epic whoppers and burps, and of raw loyal love. For thirteen years my sons were Best Brothers. (Well, on most days.) But now, at ages 24 and 27, they are strangers.

My sons are strangers.

Addiction did this.

Instead of fishing — or even fighting — my sons no longer know who the other is.

Ten long years have passed since the addict stole Rick’s brother’s place. The scary stranger showed up when Rick was in the eighth grade, so Rick was just a kid when Joey was last a part of his life. Well, that’s not quite right. Joey has been a big part of Rick’s life, even in his absence. Sucked into the vortex of his older brother’s addicted chaos, Rick’s life has been affected by choices that weren’t really choices and by cataclysmic loss. But, somehow, even before his boy-voice cracked and turned deep, Rick understood a love that wasn’t always fair or easy. Bug-eyed and reeling, Rick was never resentful as his dad and I tried to save his older brother — chasing or dragging Joey and his latest problem across the country or world — not when we abandoned him on his sixteenth birthday or his first days of high school in a new town or even when we left him parentless in a foreign country.

When Rick graduated from high school, Joey was in jail and deep trouble, and when he graduated from college, Joey was completely unaware of the accomplishment and in even deeper trouble. The ghost of Joey’s mistakes hovered over everything Rick did (and didn’t do), and so did his dad and I, skittish and fearful and trying to learn from our own mistakes. Growing up could not have been easy for Rick, but he is strong and stable, forgiving and loyal, in spite of everything. Rick is a fine young man, walking his own fine path.

One of the many things addiction has destroyed is the natural order of things.

Rick is now Joey’s special act to follow.

(If only he would.)

The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction  is available in bookstores and libraries.

25 thoughts on “☼ The Addict Has A Younger Brother

  1. Rhonda

    The Joey Song drew me right in. I read it in one day. This story hit home in so many ways and taught me a lot about this disease. My son is also an addict and is 45 days sober today. I had to have him sectioned by the courts to save his life. He will be moving on to another intense program in August to continue his sobriety. I pray he continues this path. I’ve done all I can, the rest is up to him.
    Sandy, thank you for sharing your story. ❤️

  2. Donna

    Thank you for sharing a Rick’s story. It is unfortunately a very familiar one to me. My 2 youngest have done every thing in their power not to end up like their older brother. They have succeeded so far. It’s like they had to grow up very quickly and it was so unfair to them but they have thrived in spite of it. Big brother had cleaned up his act for now.

  3. Janis

    Thank you for your stories. I just found you yesterday through ‘The Addict’s Mom’. My son is 19 and I ‘let him go’ three days ago. We have struggled for years to get him help, but that’s not what HE wants. I’m broken. I can only pray he comes back to his family. Your stories are real and truthful, which is exactly what I need.

    I have lost my son. My 9 year old son has lost his brother. My 24 year old daughter has lost her brother, and the Uncle for her 1 year old child. So much loss. My soul hurts.

  4. Sandra

    Sandy, your book (which I just finished reading last night) touched my heart deeply. So similar to our life except for the moving every few years. I have 3 sons and my oldest is an addict. He is 22 and was a much loved big brother at one time. But a practical stranger to my 2 younger sons now (15 and 11). The picture of your boys is adorable. I was just looking at older photos of my boys together last night. Smiles for a few good years then no smiles on my oldest son’s face. Such a tragedy. I pray everyday my 2 younger sons make safe choices as they grow. And perhaps someday my oldest will fight to stay in recovery and be able to join our family once again. Thank you for sharing your story of your sweet sons and may Joey find his way home soon.

  5. kim barone

    First, a huge thank you for sharing your story with us. We are reminded that we are not alone is this unbearable torture of addiction. For some time, I felt that my family was not right, or understanding of my sister’s addiction. I kept thinking am I the only one that remembers that cute little blonde girl of years gone by. I missed her. Didn’t they? I wanted her back. Was I the only one thinking that? It added to the grief I felt for my sister. The more I read and learn about other people’s stories, I realized many things. My sister did not choose this life, but I am sorry that it chose her. I can still love my sister AND my other siblings. They might not feel as I do, but I would pray that they still have some love in their hearts for her. I also learned that I have to have respect for the decision they have made to keep her out of
    their lives. They have been hurt by the addict as have I. I want them to respect my feelings as well. The horrible underlying thought or feeling I get from families of addicts is grief. Grieving for the living doesn’t come naturally, unless you love an addict, like the one that has my little sister. I pray for her and other and their families every night. Yes I pray for those I don’t know by name or face, but I know them by this shared pain and grief. My heart knows them and it breaks for them. Peace to you.

  6. sheila hart

    i could have written these same words. i have 4 bio kids, and raised many others, but i have one still lost deep in the nightmare of addiction. he is 28 now, been using since 14. 2 of my others are in college and working full time and thriving. my oldest is just about to bless me with my 4th grandchild. my lost son is so very lost…. i share your pain. s.

    1. Allen M Graham

      I’m currently at work reading your words and feeling your pain. I’m a product of addicted parents at one point in my life, but they turned it around, and became less dependable on state help (welfare). Sometimes the environment can predict your growth and development your self esteem. I became something I never wanted to be because I seen the Distruction and the hurt that it caused, and I ask God everyday to forgive me and everyday I get reminded of my pass sins. The children I work with on a daily basis is my jail sentence that I avoided growing up in Emory Grove Md. I have to see what my drugs did to these kids who were unborn at the time a was supplying their parents. I can’t undo what is already done, but I vowed to make a difference and I have. There’s no greater reward than to receive a thank you letter or, a letter stating your the only father I ever had. “I love you Graham”. To see those diplomas an to know what it took to get that child to realize his importance, not just to himself but for us. I needed them way more than they needed me. I really don’t allow folks in my life but I guess I owe this to you. I’m sorry for being a dealer, but now I’m a healer. Thugsinc.org.

      1. Sandy Swenson Post author

        Allen, you wrote ” I’m sorry for being a dealer, but now I’m a healer.” Thank you for that. And, best to you on your recovery road and in your good works. Hugs!

  7. Joan Murphy

    We too have 2 sons. John, is 2 years older then his addicted brother, Ryan. John is everything you could ask for in a son. Ironically, in some ways, so is Ryan. He is very sensitive, sweet and loving. But Ryan wants a chemical fix for every problem he encounters. You name the drug and he has taken it. It’s not easy to be Ryan’s brother. When they were little, I used to say they were either madly in love or madly in hate. Now, those intense feelings of brotherly love are gone and they just live side by side with little connection. It is so sad.

    1. Donna

      Sounds similar to our situation. I have two sons, three years apart, (32 and 29)the oldest is the addict. The younger had to deal with all the drama his hole life. The addict started with mental illness starting when he was a toddler. Drugs started in middle school off and on to this day. My younger son(Alec) is successful and has anxiety from all of the situations that have become our whole lives. There is no relationship between them. His addicted brother represents everything he despises. It IS very sad.

  8. Kathy Frasier

    Five years between my daughter and her brother, an addict. He has been so involved in his life as an addict that the times when he is clean (jail or rehab) he is astounded to discover she is no longer 9 years old. He was shocked when she got her driver’s license and more so when she graduated from high school. He spent most his teen years on the run, in juvenile detention or in rehab. His adult years have been full of active using, rehab and prison. They have no relationship and sometimes she misses him yet she does not want to see him. So sad..

    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Kathy, so so sad. Addiction is such an awful disease, so relentlessly destructive. So complicated. Thanks for writing. Hugs to all of you.

  9. eileen royael

    in our case “The Addict had a younger sister” and unfortunately my son died. Three years ago he was prescribed painkillers and the addiction began and changed all of our lives, and yes his younger sister by 10 years was like you Rick- I pray that she is strong and stable, and finds peace- God Bless you and I will pray that Joey will find the strength to overcome this horrible disease.

    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Eileen, I’m so sorry that addiction stole your son away. My heart breaks for you, your daughter, all of you. And for my sons. So much loss. Thanks for your prayers. We all need them. Hugs to you.

  10. Debi

    This is much like my children. Older sister addict. Younger brother, upright, doing well. AD says…the only thing she did right was showing her brother how NOT to live. : (

  11. Author Catherine Lyon

    My Heart, & prayers to you Sandy……..It is sad what your having to go through with your son. It’s an example that ADDICTION had NO bounds of who it takes. I was a hard working woman in Banking for 20yrs, good wife and daughter until addicted gambling & booze to over my Life! addiction does not care who it destroys……..God Bless you & your Family!
    *Catherine* 🙂

    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Catherine, you are so right, addiction knows no bounds. I wish you continued success on your recovery. Thanks for writing. Sending hugs.


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