Most little sisters look up to their older brothers, growing up in Claudia’s family was no different. She can remember her brother in the kitchen cooking chicken wings, and him taking her across the street to subway.
These are fond memories for her, however, her brother Henry has an active Heroin addiction that has strained their relationship almost as long as she can remember.
Addiction affects the whole family, even though their perspective is different than Henry’s his addiction is a struggle for them as well.
Some of her best memories with her brother were when she visited him in prison.
“(In prison) is probably the most time I’ve ever seen him sober. He would look us in the face while we were talking, it was more of a normal conversation.” Claudia said that when her brother’s using he avoids eye contact at all costs.
In her younger years he saw her as more of a burden than anything else.
“I always wanted his acceptance. I always wanted him to be around me, but most of the time my brother was doing drugs, and a lot of the time I never noticed it. I never ever though my brother was doing drugs,” she said.
Even though Claudia didn’t recognize the signs when she was younger they were there, “all over my room there would be straws, burnt spoons … even as far as finding syringes in hidden places like the closet or cabinets.”
At such a young age, only 7 or 8, she didn’t understand what was going on, “I only saw that my brother was moody, aggressive, and very secretive.”
Her mother on the other hand did know what was going on and did what she could to help Henry and shelter Claudia.
“She would remove (his) door handles, she would try to keep me sheltered as much as she could.” While her mother tried to make sure her brothers addiction wouldn’t effect Claudia it turned out to be a very difficult task.
“He would get so aggressive and rage to the point where we would be stuck in my mom’s room while he banged on the door. So she had double pad locks, we even had the police station on speed dial.”
Henry and Claudia’s mother has rheumatoid arthritis, so being the disciplinarian wasn’t possible.
He was in and out of jail and there were many times when he would steal her mother’s car shut off his phone and be gone for days.
Claudia said “My mother and I thought he was dead half the time.”
After repeated episodes like this her mom had to do something.
“Being a disabled mom, raising a daughter on her own, she needed the car. Unfortunately, she had to call the cops on him.” Claudia knows that doing this was not an easy thing for her mother.
“When it came to my safety and my life, she had to do something. She had to put her foot down and she did that as best as she could.”
Growing Up and Looking Back
When she was younger Claudia had no idea why her brother acted the way he did as she got older she had to reflect back and began to understand that her brother had an addiction.
“To me it was just his normal behavior. I thought that he just didn’t like me or he didn’t want to be around me but it probably was the fact that he was using drugs.”
Henry’s mind was always somewhere else “He refused to look at me at all” she said.
“I clearly knew the difference from when he was abusing Marijuana (or) Meth (or) Heroin. It showed,” Claudia said, “He liked me when he was using Marijuana, was never around anytime he was abusing Meth and when he did I noticed it.”
She said when her brother was using Meth he had horrible scabs all over his arms and she could see a difference in his jaw.
“Only one side of his jaw tends to work, almost like he’s being lazy about his speech.”
While she could easily see the differences in his mood and his physical being, it wasn’t until later that she realized that these changes were due to the drugs.
“I just thought he was my brother and he was mad at me.”
Like many addicts Henry had a cycle he continuously when through, which included binge using then coming home with the realization that he didn’t want to live like that. His family would then try to help him, but once he started to withdrawal, he quickly changed his mind.
“He would go and try to find a connection to get more and with my mom be disabled and me being so young … we couldn’t figure out what to do for him,” she said.
“My brother has the greatest potential I’ve ever seen anybody have and yet he has squandered it away with his drug addiction.”
After moving back to his hometown Henry’s Heroin addiction continued.
“He relapsed while driving a car in a residential area, this was one of the moments in my brother’s life when my brother realized he did not want to be an addict anymore and that literally his addiction was out of control. He wanted to be sober, he wanted to lead a sober life and yet the drug had a hold of him, stronger than anything I had ever seen in my whole entire life,” Claudia said
“He had the world, he had beautiful kids, a wife that stuck by his side, a family that is willing to do anything for him, he just needed one phone call. Knowing that he was going home to babysit his younger daughter he decided to shoot up with Heroin.”
After using Henry got in the car, put the keys in the ignition and that’s all he remembers.
“What Henry really did was, he overdosed at the wheel, ran through two stop signs and smashed into two parked cars. Literally two blocks from his own home, where his daughter and sons were playing outside.”
At that point Henry was ready to go into rehab again. While his family was still supportive of him it was hard for them, “It seemed almost like it was too late. By then it just seemed like his deceit and his lies just took over him.”
For Claudia’s birthday she decided to go back home and spend it with her family. Her brother had a month or two of sobriety and he was doing well.
“I was really really excited to hang out with my brother because he was sober for once in my life,” she said.
Unfortunately, Henry lost his job and relapsed after steeling her mother’s car.
“He left my mother, myself and my aunt at a bar. He didn’t contact me until the last day I was in town.”
When he finally returned home she went over there alone to have a much needed conversation about his drug use, but when he wouldn’t make eye contact she knew he was already high and wouldn’t be receptive to her.
Later in the day the situation escalated when Claudia and her aunt went back over to get the car so they would be able to get her to the airport for her flight.
While Claudia was waiting by the car she heard a commotion coming from inside the house. She ran in to find her aunt and her brother in a fist fight over the keys.
“I stepped between them, threw my hands out and said ‘this is not the way it should be’ I pulled my aunt out of the house we got in to the car and we left … My brother was left alone.”
Their mother had convinced Henry to stay with her, thinking that she could keep an eye on him and help him stay clean. In the end Henry took advantage of her in almost any way he possibly could.
Even after a terrifying skype call where she watched her brother physically hurt himself because of hallucinations during withdrawals Claudia and her family haven’t given up hope.
“I’ve never given up hope on my brother. I’ve loved my brother from the beginning.”
Not Placing Blame
“Never for once, have I ever blamed him,” said Claudia. She realizes that in a lot of the situations blame could have been placed but she understands that addiction is a disease.
“I knew that he had a sickness, I knew that he had a disease and when stressful situations occur, my brother uses.”
Having this understanding doesn’t always make dealing with an addicted family member any easier.
“It’s not like he even wants to, it’s just an urge, a trigger something in his brain tells him ‘above all else go get a fix.’ and it hurts. It hurts everybody who cares and loves him so much.”