I am the oldest child of two alcoholics. That statement tells you a lot about some of the ways the family disease of alcoholism shows up in my life—controlling, caretaking, and people-pleasing being at the top of the list. When I was six years old, my only brother was born, and he became my responsibility. I have spent a lifetime being told to take care of my brother. I believed that it was my job to make sure his needs were met and that he was okay.
He has spent a lifetime perceiving himself as a victim, believing that he couldn’t take care of himself. He lived with our dad all his adult life until Dad passed away. He dropped out of school and has alternated between low-paying jobs and periods of unemployment. He has been homeless off and on and bounced from one crisis to another.
My dad’s deathbed wish was for me to promise to “take care” of my brother, and I have always tried to keep that promise, swooping in whenever he was in crisis to help him, for instance, buy a car, find a place to live, apply for social assistance, get a job, or pay his phone bill. After many years in Al‑Anon, you would think I would know how to “Let Go and Let God” take care of my brother as I learned to do with the alcoholics in my life.
But the challenge for me was that my brother is not an alcoholic or addict. He has no diagnosed mental illness. But, like me, he is a child of alcoholic parents. My Sponsor told me that some people affected by this disease just fail to launch. My brother is one of them. I have spent a lifetime trying to launch him into my version of a better life for him.
Several months ago, my brother lost yet another job and began circling the drain towards homelessness once again. This time, with the help of my Sponsor, my Al‑Anon friends, the tools of the program, and the grace of my Higher Power, I have been able to detach from his situation and quit trying to control the outcome. I talked to him when he called, but during those conversations, I did not grill him about what he was doing to fix his situation, nor did I offer to help solve his problems. I did not shame or berate him. I kept the conversations civil and pleasant. This was not easy for me, but with constant repetition of “Let Go and Let God” as my mantra, I am finally coming to believe that my brother’s life and its outcome are not my responsibility.
And sometimes, miracles happen! My brother called a few days ago to say that he got a job, on his own, without my help (aka interference)! The gratitude and relief I feel is overwhelming. I do not know how long this job will last or what the future holds, but right now I am so very proud of him. And I am proud of myself and the growth I have achieved by using the tools of the Al‑Anon program. “One Day at a Time,” I am learning to “Let Go and Let God” take care of my brother.
By Denise C., Saskatchewan
The Forum, March 2023
Feel free to reprint this article on your service arm website or newsletter, along with this credit line: Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al‑Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.
I resonate so much with this story and this was exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you.
I just had a vacation visiting family. This article was a good lens to view my time with them. I see how I have grown and how I need to grow. I am not alone in living with this disease. Thank you.
Thanks for this article great story, thanks for sharing. Let go & Let God really works
I am the oldest of six children. My mother was the alcoholic, and my dad had other addictions. All problems were “swept under the rug” and not discussed. When I was 10 years old I was given the responsibility of taking care of my 5 younger siblings, whose ages at the time were 2, 3, 4, 6, & 8. My youngest brother & sister said I was more like a Mom to them than a sister. When my youngest brother graduated high school I helped him get a job where I worked at the time. He calls me when he’s… Read more »