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Cover Story


My Brother: The Stranger



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 Woof! Woof!” My brown-and-white Chihuahua, Oliver, jerked on the end of his leash and started barking as he saw an unfamiliar car pulling into our yard. I recognized the driver, a family friend.

When the car stopped, I walked over to the driver’s window. “Oh, hi, Cody,” I said as I took a closer look to see who his passenger was. My long-lost brother grinned as he peered anxiously into my eyes.

“Shorty, don’t you recognize me?” 

I had always liked my brother’s affectionate nickname for me. While he had shot up to 6 feet, I’d stayed at 5'3". But now, I swallowed hard to keep from bursting into tears. 

“Well, not at first.” I stepped back and studied his appearance. His black jogging pants hung loosely on his gaunt frame. His bushy hair tried to compensate for his missing teeth. I honestly hadn’t recognized my own brother! What had happened to him?

“Brock, wh-where have you been the past few months?” I stammered. “You didn’t call or write me, or Mom and Dad, either. None of your friends could tell us where you were. They said they didn’t know.”

“Oh, I’ve been working in another state,” was his vague reply.

Mom had come outside to investigate. “Emily, who’s here?” she called out. 

I watched as she approached the car. From the look of disbelief on her face, I could tell that she, too, was shocked at Brock’s appearance. 

Her question, “Where have you been?” was left unanswered as Brock got out of the car and made his way into the garage. There, he plopped into a lawn chair. No one spoke for a few awkward minutes.

Finally, I announced, “I’m going in the house to call Jared. I bet he’d like to see you. And McKenzie and Katelyn. They’ve missed you, too.”

Jared shared a special bond with both Brock and me. He’d been adopted, too. McKenzie and Katelyn were our cousins who lived nearby. All three showed up within half an hour. Meanwhile, Mom had called Dad, and he was able to come home early from work.

Not knowing exactly what to say, everyone made small talk and then briefly described events that Brock had missed the past few months. 

After an hour or so, Brock stood up and muttered, “Well, I gotta go now. It was good to see everybody.” Jared tried to persuade him to hang around longer, but in vain.

“Seriously, Brock, you need to stop drinking and taking drugs,” Jared pleaded as Brock turned away and got back in the car. Cody started the engine, and the car pulled out of the driveway. Our cousins and Jared hugged me, and with a “See you later,” they were off.

That evening, Mom and Dad and I walked around the house in a daze, relieved that Brock was safe, but concerned about his destructive lifestyle. I forced down a few bites of supper and then headed for the living room. Mom and Dad followed. 

“What’s happened to Brock?” I asked as I plopped on the couch and absentmindedly stroked Oliver behind his ears. His expressive eyes stared back at mine. Dogs always seem to understand. 

“Doesn’t Brock care about us anymore? Before he started acting out like this, we always had fun together. Mom, I love him—even though we’re not flesh and blood, he’s still my big brother. I’ve always looked up to him. This is the second time he’s disappeared for several months.”

“I know, honey,” Mom said sadly. “We’ve all felt hurt and betrayed by Brock’s behavior the past few years. Dad and I have had a hard time understanding this whole thing, so I did some research on addictive behavior.”1

Mom sat down beside me. “I learned that addicts have two sides: the normal side and the addict side, which is totally controlled by their addiction to whatever it is. It can be alcohol, drugs, money, power, sex, food, relationships, shopping—any number of things. The ‘Self,’ or the normal side of the person, does care about others, but the ‘Addict’ side does not. The ‘Addict’ side doesn’t even care about the ‘Self.’ ”

“Addiction is an illness, somewhat like cancer,” she went on. “People do not understand it, but addiction changes one’s personality, just as any long-term illness does. While most people turn to family and friends and God for support and guidance, addicts become preoccupied with their addiction. They can’t have meaningful relationships with others anymore.”

Sometimes he acts like his old self again,” I reminded her. “Then I begin to think my brother is really back to stay. But soon the ‘Addict’ side of him takes over again, and he barely speaks to us, maybe a ‘Hello,’ on his way out the door. It hurts to see him ignore us like that.”

Mom agreed. “Yes, it does. The ‘Addict’ side of your brother has turned away from family, old friends, and hobbies, all the things that make life really meaningful. He must feel like a stranger inside himself, being cut off from others and even from himself.”

“Emily,” Mom shook her head, “we can’t understand what a terrible struggle this is for him. We learned recently that his entire birth family are alcoholics, and even though he wasn’t raised with them, he obviously was born with the alcoholic gene and a natural attraction to alcohol.”

“Couldn’t you and Dad have somehow stopped him from going down this path?” I asked, searching Mom’s face for an answer. 

“Honey, we couldn’t keep him confined to his room 24/7,” Dad said from his recliner across the room. “We tried grounding him, withholding his allowance, taking away privileges, crying, and pleading with him. Nothing worked.” 

Mom continued, “Addictions are so powerful—it’s like Satan taking over his body. Only God can deliver him from this, along with serious treatment, which will only work if he really wants it to. Ephesians 6:12 is so true. It says, ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the . . . powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil’ ” (NIV).2

Mom sighed helplessly. “All we can do is pray that God will somehow deliver him from Satan’s power. I believe God has His hand on Brock. Remember last spring when he came home, he told us he had choked on a piece of meat and had to go to the ER? He could have easily died from that.”

I nodded. “And he said that once he was riding in the passenger side of a car when it was broadsided by another vehicle. He walked away without a scratch. Do you think angels were watching over him?”

“I believe those two miracles were answers to our prayers,” said Mom. “Every day I pray for Brock’s safety, and so do Grandpa and Grandma and your aunts and uncles.”

“Can we pray for him right now?” I asked. After we had once again committed my brother into God’s care, we felt peace and knew that whatever happened, God was in control. He would give us courage as we trusted Him.

This whole scenario repeated itself several times during the next few years. Every time, Brock apologized for his behavior and seemed to be genuinely sorry. He would vow never to drink or use drugs again, only to fall back into the same traps. He was in and out of jail. 

Every time we went to a wedding or graduation and saw happy families lined up for pictures, we cried. We knew that Brock, because of his own bad choices, would not be in our family pictures. My friends’ brothers were at their family events, but mine wasn’t. Indeed, he was not able to attend my high school graduation, Mom and Dad’s 25th anniversary party, nor our grandpa’s funeral. Not even my wedding, several years later. 

 

Through it all, we have continued praying, asking God to help us trust Him. I don’t know God’s purpose in giving me the brother that He did. But we do know that God is in control, and when we get to heaven, He will explain everything! 

 

Epilogue: It is now 14 years since this incident happened. My brother has been married for nine years, although it’s been rocky, and he still struggles with addictions. He has three children who visit us often. 

 

1 Information is from Craig Nakken’s book The Addictive Personality (Center City, MN: Hazelden Foundation, 1996). 2 Scripture quotations marked NIV are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.Emily Fields, a pseudonym, is a fourth generation Seventh-day Adventist. She has taught in Adventist schools for over a decade. 

 

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