I find myself, once again, dealing with someone who has an addiction. This time it’s alcoholism, and it’s someone I can’t leave behind. My brother.
I’ve mentioned before that there are 5 children borne to our mother, but there are two fathers. My brother and I are from Mom’s first marriage; the others are from Mom’s second marriage. But all 5 of us were raised by Mom and her second husband.
Father wounds come in different shapes and sizes, and while mine was aggravated by being abused by my stepfather as well as the absence of my real dad, I seemed to come out of all of this okay. I’m not unscarred by any means, but I’m functional, pretty happy, and generally live a peaceful, uneventful life.
My brother, on the other hand, has typical symptoms displayed in men who have been wounded in some way by their fathers. The effect of a father wound is low self-esteem, a deep emotional pain inside and a performance orientation that makes them feel a need to earn love, approval, and friendship and have less of a sense of being valuable simply by virtue of being a human being.
I kind of understand that feeling – the need to persuade someone that you are lovable. It was the undertone of our childhood. Did you get a good grade? Your sister’s was better. Did you make the junior varsity football team? Your brother made varsity. Every bit of approval had to be earned, and every last bit of your efforts would always be determined as not quite good enough. For me, I caught on to this game earlier than the others, since I’m the eldest, and eventually, I stopped bringing my accomplishments to my mom or stepdad for their approval. I internalized the wreckage to my self-esteem and sorted out the mess later on in life.
My brother, though, lived a whole life, influenced by these unhealthy dictates. He distanced himself from the rest of the competitors – his brother and sisters. He successfully built businesses, churches, and re-created his own type of family with his marriages, coworkers and his friends. He bought these friends, who were like a family to him, cars, houses, and other things, and while he was able to earn it, they remained loyal. The minute he wasn’t useful to them anymore, they were out the door. And that included his wife.
Low self-esteem is one of those things that is hard to mask. If you brag about yourself a lot, you are probably trying to convince the people around you something you don’t yourself truly believe. If you flash around money, you tend to be trying to give other people a reason to want to be around you. If you hype up minor accomplishments to spectacular degrees, you again, don’t think people have a good enough reason to like you. It’s a hard path to walk, trying to hide feelings of low self-worth, and I’ve never seen anyone do it successfully.
I am watching, in deep sorrow, my brother grapple with having absolutely no currency to use to secure my love for him, and his complete inability to understand how unnecessary that is. He’s lost everything, and that includes the determination and willpower one needs to get back up again, and he finds himself having to deal in some kind of weird promissory notes.
“When I sell my book, I’ll buy you a….”.
“When I get back on my feet, you’ll never have to live paycheck to paycheck again”
Stuff like that.
I am doing the hard work now of laying a foundation with him, showing him that he can trust me with the truth, hoping that he will see the love I have for him now, when he has nothing to offer me to earn it. And I pray. I don’t know if people this broken can ever really be put back together again, but I’m hoping that one day, my brother will want to try.