My Brother’s Addiction Taught Me How to Open Up to My Husband

man and woman holding hands

One month ago, I got married to a wonderful man. The day was more and bigger and better than we planned for—cold and snappy, but bright and beautiful. So much sweetness and love poured in on us, like the heavy beams of sun that shone in our hair and on our faces through the windows when we were exchanging vows. Everything felt so bright and close that I couldn’t look my husband in the eye throughout much of the ceremony—tears wobbled at the edge of my eyes, and I stared at a freckle on his cheek, focusing all of my jittery love into that one spot while promising to love every other spot of him, now and forever. I felt like the sun was in the room, each pair of eyes beaming with rays of light—it was both beautiful and slightly unbearable.

Last week we learned my younger brother is addicted to heroin. My parents staggered into our apartment as my husband was cooking dinner and I was sitting down to start my grad school homework. It was exactly one month after our wedding day. They left, and I sat in cold stunned silence, assaulted by the strange observations I remembered over the summer that suddenly made sense. The requests to borrow money, accompanied by bizarrely complex reasons and overblown gratitude. The disappearances. The times I would talk to him and his voice sounded far away, and his eyes were half-lidded and I assumed he was either really tired or high off weed. His reoccurring flu that seemed to come back every week or two (he got really sick right before the wedding and I was naïve enough to hope nobody else would catch). Coming back from our honeymoon and finding wedding cards already opened, with no real explanation. The way he sobbed at the wedding (everyone laughed and mused about what a sensitive soul he has).

Last weekend we put him on a train to a month-long rehab program in the woods. I will never forget the look on my mom’s face as she cleaned his car, finding straws, old bandaids, shoelaces, spoons, statements from check-advancing places, neckties. All of us are all still blinking slowly, simultaneously blindsided that this could happen and amazed that we didn’t see it sooner.

My husband and I have been together for six years, but I’ve never faced anything like this. I’m learning how to process my emotions with a partner, which is something new for me. The first night we heard the news, I walked into the kitchen, ducked behind the refrigerator and started to cry. My husband held me and told me to stop hiding—“that’s the whole reason we got married!” I keep trying to remind myself of this, but it’s hard. I don’t like crying in front of anyone—it’s like I need to shield my eyes from these huge, otherworldly creatures, both heavenly and monstrous alike. I’m grieving the same death over and over—all of its past, present, and future manifestations. My husband understands this, but not on the same visceral level as I do.

As much as I’m grieving for my family of origin and for my past and my parents and for my old dreams about future family life, I have to take solace in the fact that we make a solid family, just us together with our baby cat. He makes me stronger, and he has already adopted my family as his own, taking care of logistical details that none of us can face right now. He’s patient and kind and calm.

I’m having trouble looking at our wedding photos because right now they feel like a lie, with all of us obliviously grinning our heads off and my ashen-faced brother smiling through the pain. But all the same, I packed some up for him to take to rehab because they’re some of our only family pictures. I hope that he can feel support and love from them, even if I can’t look at them without crying right now. I hope one day this will all be a sad memory and he’ll be an uncle and a husband and a friend. Even if that hope doesn’t come true, I know I have the choice and the power to create a happy, vibrant home of my own.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • anon for this

    Hugs to you. I have tears streaming down my cheeks. I hope this all will be over soon and that your brother will recover. I understand your pain, I have been in a similar situation (though we are not sure about which substances a family member has been using). I hope it will all be better soon. Know that you are not alone.

  • Ali

    Regular reader for more than a year and first time crying over a post at work. I know what you´re feeling.

  • Sending you so much love in my thoughts. And yes to learning how to process things as a unit rather than a singular unit. Hard stuff is awful and hard, but being able to KNOW deeply that there’s someone there for you, ready to find you by the fridge…that is so wonderful. Hugs.

  • Sending warm thoughts to your family and big healing ones to your brother. I’d wager many of us have some experience in this area . . . and it is so, so hard. I’m also not one to cry in front of others and rarely put my feelings “on display,” so it’s been difficult to open up to my fiance when I’m struggling. But the struggle is part of the journey — and that’s what we’re there to share.

  • I’m so sorry that your family is going through this, especially during what should be a happy time for you and your husband. I really hope your brother’s recovery goes well, and it sounds like you both have a lot of people around who deeply love you and care about your well-being. Even if no one wants to experience something like this in a new marriage, I’m glad that you and your husband have created such a strong family unit.

  • Hannah

    Sending hugs your way. While I definitely can’t understand the enormity of this situation, I can understand how hard it is to let go and cry in front of someone. I’ve had a lifetime of telling myself to hide my emotions and pain, and now that it is suddenly okay to let it out in the open it’s hard, but also nice to know that I’m not alone.

  • This breaks my heart for you. I watched my mother go through similar issues with her sister while I was young and I can’t even imagine the enormity of being in the middle of this sort of thing myself. Hopefully your brother and your family get the chance to start healing soon.

  • I want to say that the way you describe your wedding rings so true for me. I, too, stared at a freckle on my husband’s cheek!

    I had my own family pain immediately following our wedding, but it was nothing like this. I can’t know what you must be going through. But I ache for you. And I’m glad that you have such a strong and supportive partner. And I hope you and your family heal.

  • Celesta

    You are so brave for writing this post. I went thru the same thing with my brother just before he got engaged. He was a substance abuser, closet homosexual (although we all already knew this, he was just so afraid to be open to us about it) and suicidal. We also had to pack him up and ship him off to rehab. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. But know this: your joy on your wedding day doesn’t mean less because of what your brother was going through. It is still present. It’s important to remember that.

    My brother has sense sobered up and is doing great after rehab and much therapy. We are all still very protective of him, but he is finally on the right track after 10+ years of self abuse and misery. I hope the same for your brother as well. And my hope for you is that you are able see the other side, and look back on your wedding day with joy, because you did feel it at the time. The shadows will clear.

    Hugs to you!

  • Hugs.

    I understand about not liking to cry in front of your partner. Actually today I cried and I picked up a throw pillow and was hiding my face behind it and he took it away because, really, what does it really hide?

    Otherwise, all I can say it is endure. I’ve not had a personal encounter with this, but as you just found out I can put myself in your shoes and think how would I react if it was my sister or another loved one?

    I pray your brother comes out sober on the other side and hope that it will be a sad memory, but that’s all.

  • One of the hardest things for me in this marriage has been learning to let my husband help me deal with the difficult issues that come up…my family, my job, my health. I’ve been on my own and doing it on my own for so long that it is really, really difficult to let him–or anyone else for that matter–in.

    I hope that things are better for your brother, that he receives the help he needs to be better and whole. My thoughts are with you as you go through this process.

  • HUGE hugs for you, and your family.

    I too am someone who does not like to let others see me cry. And I am so grateful my husband recognizes what it means when I do break down in front of him. And even more grateful that he allows me to see him mourn the things close to me as if they were his own.

  • Anon for this

    I’m so sorry, Anonymous. Hugs and good wishes sent your way.

    Both my partner and I have close family who we discovered were addicted to heroin fairly recently. Now, after a few false starts, they’re both sober and in recovery, and doing very well. I hope your brother comes out the other end strong and healthy. I can tell you love and care for him very much.

    And as Celesta said above, I hope that, in time you don’t feel like your wedding was a lie because you did feel that joy at the time.

  • Adi

    Two months after we got married, my husband’s father died. Being able to support him as his wife has meant so much to me, and I think our baby family has helped him, in some tiny way, manage losing part of his original family.

  • “My husband held me and told me to stop hiding—’that’s the whole reason we got married!'” I got chills reading that (and throughout much of this post). My heart goes out to you and your family (family of origin and your new family).

  • Leoka

    It’s so hard when one of the partners can’t let the other into their sadness to help carrying the burden of it. My husband has a younger brother who abuses substances and has been in different rehabs for many years now. Also, his dad was diagnosed with untreatable cancer not too long ago, which resulted in us getting married sooner that we probably would have otherwise. I’m so grateful that my husband was able to let me in and let me help. It’s unbearable to see your loved one hurt – either physically, or emotionally, and it’s even harder when they are not willing to let you support them.

    Sometimes one aspect of life gives us unexpected hard blow in the guts, and we can’t focus on anything else, but that sharp pain. But that one pain doesn’t cancel out all the goods that we have, they are just harder to see in those moments. That’s why we couple up – to have that other person, who can still think clearly, to keep our heads out of the water, until we can get to the shore and walk out on our own legs again.

  • Class of 1980

    This is a little bit deja-vu. My former brother-in-law and sister-in-law were older than me and got married in 1972, long before I ever knew them.

    A few months after their wedding, her sister died from a heroin overdose just before Christmas. She didn’t cry. There was just stony-faced anger.

    She was angry at her sister for years after her death and never talked about it. After a couple of decades, she seemed to have a change of heart, and put out some framed photos of her sister. It took her that long to make peace.

    I’m just glad you still have your bother and he is in rehab. I know it must feel unbearable, but a little hope is a wonderful thing. I’m hoping he pulls through this.

  • Lu

    I just wanted to say to the writer, it gets better. My brother is 11 years sober and I am grateful every day.
    As part of my wedding I gave letters to each of my family members and my letter to my brother thanked him for choosing sobriety every day. Even 10 years after the fact, it is still something that gets me choked up.
    It is difficult and there are a range of emotions and issues you will deal with, guilt, sadness, embarrassment, anger and fear to name a few.
    Unfortunately this is something that is now repeating with my nephew, but on the bright side we are all learning how to deal with it a lot better and that is helping put him on the road to recovery a lot faster.
    It is a difficult road no doubt but there is hope and it may turn out that on the other side you greet a brother who you are closer to than you were before.

  • Jess

    I encourage you to take care of yourself during this time, & to seek outside help–individual counseling, Nar-Anon, whatever works for you. I’ve also found self-care through acupuncture & yoga helps me in dealing with anxiety related to similar issues. Heroin addiction (all addiction) is ugly, & the experience of trying to cope can be a serious rollercoaster. I wish you & your family the best.

  • LIZ (SINCE 1982)

    All the hugs in the world to you and your family. Your brother is so lucky to have your love and support and I hope you will all look back on this time someday as a hardship you overcame together.

  • SN

    I’m in a similar situation. My future husband’s brother is an addict and has been for a while. I know it upsets him but it’s hard for him to open up. I just try to be there to listen and hope he opens up to me when it’s particularly hard to bear. Best of luck to you and your family.

  • AnonForThis

    Thank you for this post and I’m so sorry that you’ve all been thrown such a horrible curveball. My sister is also recovering (?) from an opiate addiction (though not heroin). I’ve been told that it gets better and I’m hoping, for her and me and you and him, that it does. I’m so glad that he’s going to a rehab program. There might be a lot of ups and downs, but it’s so great that you have a good support system. Keep taking care of yourself and keep your head up. Internet hugs.

  • ShanK

    Ahh this hits so close to home. Three months before my wedding I found out my sister and brother-in-law were addicted to heroin (after about 10 years of prescription pill use and on and off methadone clinics). I felt sad, angry, hurt, betrayed and helpless to do anything. I know exactly what you mean when you said your wedding day felt like a lie, I felt like the person I was closest to all of my life I didn’t even know at all, it’s such an indescribable feeling. And of course all of the warning signs were there, and I was angry at myself for choosing to ignore them and to believe that she was okay.

    After a 30 day stay in rehab, both of them back to back, my sister and brother-in-law were more present at my wedding than I have seen them in over 10 years. It’s been almost a year now and every day I can’t believe the change in both of them. I truly believe they needed to hit rock bottom (which happened to be heroin) to come out of this completely sober. They are so full of life and so happy, and now I just enjoy who they are since they became sober instead of harping on what I lost when they were addicted.

    It looks like you have an amazingly strong close-knit family, and my sister really feels like that’s what has helped keep her sober this long and get her the help she needed. I visited her when I could and sent her letters (also my husband sent her a book and letters as well that she is forever thankful for). She also followed the AA program so I read it the same time as her so I would have a better understanding what she was going through. It’s hard, and I’m so sorry you have to go through this, but once you see your brother sober it’ll be worth the battle.