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Learning to Love After Recovery

My brother came home from a 12-month stay in rehab. My confidant, my jokester, my BFF is back!

His year in rehab seems to have passed in the blink of an eye, but in the moment it seemed like every minute without his free spirit in our home took a lifetime to pass.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed my anxiety has doubled, no, scratch that, it’s tripled without him. His year away brought me to tears because I missed sharing jokes and experiences with him. But at least I knew he was safe. He was free from the temptation of the bottle. Now, he’s home and the tears come to my eyes for a different reason: fear and uncertainty.

There’s so much I don’t know. I don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know if these new freedoms are tugging at the alcoholic in him. I don’t know if he will run into temptations from his former life. I don’t know his triggers. I don’t know if he’ll fail. I am also terrified to discover, that I don’t know how to help him.

I find myself in a constant internal battle. I know I can’t protect him from life, but isn’t it my job as his big sister to try? And is his journey through sobriety authentic if I’m constantly shielding him from temptation? How much of this battle should be fought by those around him, and when is it time for him to pick up his sword and fight for himself?

Part of me knows my protective nature is selfishly motivated. He talks to me with clear eyes now and his quick wit is back. He laughs from deep in his belly at the littlest things again. And I don’t ever want this side of him to go away. I finally have the version of my brother that I knew existed inside the depressed alcoholic that dominated his personality for so long.

But I have to ask myself, am I helping him by protecting him? Or am I hurting him?
The last thing I want to do is rob him of his recovery journey. I know he needs to develop lasting coping mechanisms

As he is learning how to recover, I am learning how to best support him. That means I’m actively paying attention to what he’s doing without being overbearing. If he needs to talk, I’ll listen and if I have questions, he’s the one I should go to.

When I’m falling asleep at night I can hardly control the excitement and fear. But through it all I’ve found solace in one thing: My brother was sick, and he was strong enough to give up an entire year of his life to get well. If that’s not a testament to his character and strength, I’m not sure what is. This is valuable to him, and for it to work, it cannot be more important to me than it is to him.

I may never know exactly what role I should play in his recovery, but you can bet I will do everything in my power to figure it out.

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Mimi Jones is a graduate student in Southern California with deep familial ties to the world of addiction. She is the child of alcoholic parents and she shares her experiences as she strives to maintain balance and support her recovering family.