the first step


"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/drugs—that our lives had become unmanageable."

Day 1 of Family Week at the rehab center my brother is attending. Not as much crying as I thought there'd be, and actually quite a lot of warmth and laughter and understanding. I feel like I'm in high school or college all over again, chairs in rows facing the front, with a white board and a big adult who's seen it all. This is a day of unburdening from the past, dismantling preconceptions and convictions and feelings and positions. There is so much I feel clueless about. Brain chemistry. The physiology of addiction. Addiction as disease. The addict as someone with a disease. Family systems - the roles everyone plays as a child, and how none of this really changes. The ways in which that serves and doesn't serve. Patterns and their repercussions.

After a fairly dense and intense day in session, I am thankful for the neutrality of this hotel room, and that my mother is in the bed next to mine, and that I can hear the slightest wheeze of her snoring. I am thankful for the shower and the clean sheets and the cheerful containers of shampoo and lotion. I am thankful for the heater working properly. I am thankful that I have this chance to see more clearly, more accurately, more honestly, how and why my brother may have found himself in the grip of something he could no longer control. I am unbelievably thankful that he is alive so that I could be alongside him while he pursues his recovery.

It is a very scary thing to place my faith and trust in him right now. I know that I can't quite do it. He looks and sounds great - chipper and chatty and full of hugs and excitement and clarity and perspective - but right now this feels more like the euphoria of coming out from the shadows than about deep and healthy and consistent change, and I'm cautious - though optimistic - that he is, indeed, making that first step. I've never doubted for a second that healing is possible. I've never doubted for a second that the man who is my baby brother is capable of finding freedom.

Perhaps what I haven't known is how to come to terms with my own powerlessness. How to absolve myself of the responsibility - and the guilt and the rest of it - of making the big fix. This is about letting go of the ego-self, in some ways, stripping down into the vulnerable, fearful, anxious, grief-body that has been weathering the storm. And at the same time, this is about reclaiming my own health so that I can freely let him reclaim his.

Tonight, what strikes me is the great mystery - how nothing I've experienced could have prepared me for this, and the strange beauty of not knowing. And this: the slimmest outlines of what might be, a light just beyond. A story on the cusp of its own telling.