Lost and found: half sibling edition
July 3, 2014 5:19 AM   Subscribe

I found out that I have a half brother five years ago. I got curious, then thanks to the internet, I was able to locate him a year ago. We (mom included) have been in touch, and he wants to be a part of our family, which I love as I am an only child raised by a single mom. The catch: He has problems with addiction, the law, and being employed.

He is a good man deep down. When I first found him, he was circling the drain, living out of a garage. He was given up for adoption by our mom 12 years before I came along. His adoptive family was not a good fit... there was abuse. He has struggled with addiction and the law for 30 years, and has quite a rap sheet. We live on opposite ends of the country; our mother and I have met him once. We traveled to see him, in jail (it was like a movie... plexiglass window, holding up our hands to his hand, crying, etc.) He has never had a violent offense, but has been in and out of jail many times for DUI and possession. He has no job, no home, no family. He has told me more than once that my finding him saved his life. However, I worry that it is too late for him to have a real life, a fresh start.

His release date is in 6 months, and the state in which he lives has taken an interest in his story (reunited with birth family after 47 years). They have spoken with him about being transferred to our state after his release. I know nothing about the logistics, but it will be tricky no doubt. He has written me to see how I feel about this. He didn't contact our mother about it, and I have my guesses as to why: mostly I think I am a safer audience, as I am more of a bystander. I have discussed it with our mother, and she is overwhelmed. She agrees that it makes sense for him to come here, as he has nothing to go back to where he lives. If he stays there, he will likely go right back to his bad habits, and he has acknowledged this.

I have spoken with a therapist, and she is helping me with boundary setting. I pose this conundrum to you because I want to cast a wide net. I know very little about addiction or the possibility of restarting a wasted life at the age of 47. If my half brother is transferred to our state, he will be dependent on our mother and me, in ways I can't even foresee I am sure. I have looked into sober living homes and they cost money. We are not in a position to support him financially, but we want to help as much as possible, and of course make him feel like a part of the family. He is a good man, but very lost. They say that addicts stop maturing mentally; he has the mindset of a 17 year old.

There is a lot more to the story (there always is, right?) but I wanted to focus on this aspect. Do I encourage brother to be transferred, even if it scares me? Our mom is equally nervous, and exhausted from dealing with her dementia-riddled mother. I want to help him, and I want a brother, even if he has problems. But I don't want to sacrifice the life I have worked so hard to build (a good career, a loving husband, a semi-comfortable lifestyle). How do I help him but stay cautious?
posted by hippychick to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you be honest with him about what he'll find if he moves to your state. That you won't be there to bail him out of jams with the law and, while you can provide some emotional support and be a cheerleader for him, you cannot provide financial or living assistance for him.

Then let him make his own decision and stick to whatever boundaries you have established for this relationship. There are plenty of people who have lived their lives near their ne'er-do-well family members and it doesn't bring them down. You can be one of them too if he decides to move to be with you.

In the end, he's not your responsibility. Hopefully, for him, love and emotional support is enough.
posted by inturnaround at 5:27 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your heart is in the right place, but just to emphasize, don't think of this as your decision -- it's as much or more about your Mom. She is the one likely to feel greatest responsibility; she is the one who is most stressed; she is the one that he (perhaps instinctively, perhaps consciously) has avoided asking. You really have to do your best to act in her interest as well.

You know this, I am sure, but bear in mind that he is also "likely go right back to his bad habits" if he moves to your state.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:59 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh my gosh. Am I the only one who is thinking, "Heck no"?

Boundaries: you don't give him any money, housing, or a job. He is also not allowed to ask anyone you know for money, housing, or a job. He works in a legal job that he gets on his own, and stays sober. If he violates these things (asking for money, housing, job, or asking someone you know, or not being sober) then you limit the relationship even more, or end it.

What does it mean to have a brother, for him to be part of your family? It's about giving him an opportunity to have people who will listen to his stories, who will enjoy things with him, and who he can do things for. It is not about him leeching what you have earned through hard work, for himself. There should not be any transfer of resources from you to him -- and he should absolutely not accept any if he's at all sincere.

I would be really worried about letting this person into my life. Also, this:

He didn't contact our mother about it, and I have my guesses as to why: mostly I think I am a safer audience, as I am more of a bystander.

is an early red flag for me. Already he might be asking favors from the person he sees as more likely to say yes. I'm worried for you. I have dealt with people who are addicts and they can be extremely manipulative and self-serving. There is an expression: "How can you tell an addict is lying? Because their lips are moving." I would be very wary.

It doesn't take teary conversations in prison to establish trust. It would take a long period of good behavior that is by-the-books and using best practices. You have no basis on which to trust this person, currently.

And as emphasized above -- he stands to steal happiness from your mother, not just yourself. It's your responsibility to protect your mother more than it is to protect this guy.

I like where your heart is, but be careful and get lots of outside oversight for every decision large and small for this guy -- from where he lives, to introducing him to anyone you know, to lending him $5. Don't let any decisions be hidden. Make sure you're speaking with addiction specialists, parole officers, whatever. Whoever can protect you.
posted by htid at 6:03 AM on July 3, 2014 [37 favorites]

I hate to say this, but I find this whole deal kinda suspicious. You found him a year ago, and he responds, from prison, talking about how he wants to be part of the family, and if he goes back to where he lived previously, he's just going to start using again? I know that we always want to believe the best of other people, especially when those people are longed-for family, but this really reads to me like you're allowing your desire for more family override a lot of red flags about this guy, not least of which is that it sounds like he's already figuring out how to manipulate you. (Going to you instead of your mom, saying you saved his life, and effectively making his sobriety conditional on you--that's pretty not ok, in my book.)

As kindly as possible: you do not, at this point, know nearly enough about this man to say that he's a good man. This wasn't a one-off legal problem where he did something stupid or was in the wrong place at the wrong time--this is a lifetime of problems. I'm not unsympathetic--he sounds like he's in desperate need of treatment and help--but it doesn't sound to me like you're in a position to give him either of those things, at least not without significant cost to yourself.
posted by MeghanC at 6:05 AM on July 3, 2014 [13 favorites]

I think you and your mother should see a lawyer to discuss your responsibilities and liabilities, if you are going to take this on. I would also want to talk to whatever prison official or parole officer or whoever is encouraging this, to find out exactly what the rationale is and what the plan would be. Honestly this sounds kind of weird to me.

If he stays there, he will likely go right back to his bad habits, and he has acknowledged this.

What about if he moves to your state? Do you get the feeling he is committed to being clean and sober? I think you have vividly-- and compassionately-- described a person who is immature and manipulative. For good reason; he's had some pretty rough breaks and prison probably makes people manipulative. But this is someone who needs help from the professionals and not from someone who is as vulnerable as your mother is right now. I really don't like the sound of the way he approached through you and not your mother. It may be that the best thing you can do is encourage your mother to stay out of this.
posted by BibiRose at 6:14 AM on July 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yea - no offense but this is sending up a whole lot of red flags. I say this as someone who has family who struggled with addiction and have personal experience

There is a lot more to the story (there always is, right?)

Sure, sometimes there is - in this context, it's kinda important. I understand if you don't want to share, but unless there is a very mitigating factor (he got his last DUI after seeing the orphanage was on fire is very different then getting one by being shit faced in a bar after drinking), it doesn't matter. Life hands us bad cards but you know what, there are kids who came from absolute ghetto poverty that went to Harvard while there are kids who had everything handed to them and are on the streets as junkies.

He has told me more than once that my finding him saved his life

I've heard this one a thousand times, especially from people in prison. You didn't and will not save his life, if he's going to kill himself, it's on him. Many addicts choose the bottle (or the pills, needles, etc.) over getting the help they want. That was the hardest lesson for me to learn, you can't save the addict, only they can. Let's not mince words here - that's what he is, an addict.

He didn't contact our mother about it, and I have my guesses as to why: mostly I think I am a safer audience, as I am more of a bystander

Or because she'll see through his bullshit and be skeptical.

He has never had a violent offense, but has been in and out of jail many times for DUI and possession

Another red flag, I would bet that he has been offered treatment and either refused or failed out. Just because he hasn't been charged with a violent offense doesn't mean it hasn't happened - I had a drunk living across from me at one point who beat his wife merciless most Friday nights, never was charged with a violent offense.

If my half brother is transferred to our state, he will be dependent on our mother and me, in ways I can't even foresee I am sure

Jesus, take off the rose colored glasses and see what's happening. You somehow coming into his life is going to save him? You think you can magically save him where so many people failed before? I will place my last dollar on the fact that he was offered help MANY times before either by the community or the state - either refused, failed out, or relapsed (then never got clean again, important distinction - relapse is often a part of the addiction process, but those who really want to be clean, will get clean again)

Listen, I'm going to stop because I can list everything you just said and tell you right now that while there is a small change, he's the real deal who got handed a bad hand and really wants to change but more then likely, he's playing you as convicts often do or possibly he wants to get clean/sober but as soon as he hits the street, will be back in full swing. Give your support - but if your therapist isn't telling you to keep him in his state until you can actually see what's going on, you need to get a new therapist. You have NO idea who this person is, you want to have the magical Hallmark moment where everyone cries, a puppy comes along, and everyone lives happily ever after. I guarentee-damn-tee you that this will not be the case, you will self-destruct trying to save this person.

Set healthy boundaries, support him (NOT financially), but don't rush into this - get him set up in sober living in his state, help him find employment, maybe even get him set up with a therapist but Jesus, don't let him into your life without having him show you that he wants a clean/sober life with you.
posted by lpcxa0 at 6:23 AM on July 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

I agree with htid and MeghanC. Tread very, very carefully here, and put up iron-clad boundaries.

As Meghan said, this is not a man who was stupid, heedless or unlucky one time. He's a meth addict with a long rap sheet. He has no family or friends in his home state. You said his adopted family is abusive; many people cut themselves off from abusive family, so that's not a red flag, but no friends? That is a red flag, to me, when no-one wants to associate with a particular person.

Second red flag - his state seems eager to turf him out to you. A little too eager, if you ask me; I have zero experience with the prison system so I don't know if that's typical, but it seems suspicious that they are so very ready to shuffle him off onto his newly found birth family.

Would your mom be able to enforce boundaries, or is she too worn down with caring for her own mom and too ridden with guilt? It sounds like the perfect setup for a manipulative man to drain her of her money, time and energy. She gave him up under duress, after all. I'm very worried about your mom in this situation.

I would do what htid and BibiRose said: consult a lawyer before you do anything, and talk to his parole officer or whoever is trying to fob him off onto you (Bibi is right, this IS suspicious). Then, if you decide that he is to come out and live in your state, take htid's advice: he is not to ask you, your friends, or your family for money, housing, or a job (though I would be OK with giving him job referrals, helping him with his resume and online job applications, guiding him to re-entry programs, etc.); he works a legal job and stays sober; and no stealing from or lying to you, family, or friends. Again, I would really be careful of your mom in this situation. There are a jillion horror stories of troubled adult children ruining parents' lives.

Good luck, and do NOT let guilt or feelings of family obligation tempt you into turning your life upside down for this man. Your marriage, your job and health, and your mom's health come first.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:25 AM on July 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Uh.

Unlike most of the previous posters, I don't think this situation can be viewed without the context of the adoption. For example, I can completely understand why he approached you and not your mother. The possibility of a No rejection is likely to be less devastating coming via you than via her. And, while you can check the studies yourself, there is substantial evidence that adult adoptees have increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse. There are a lot of variables but in a home with abuse, that likelihood skyrockets.

Anyway, you've been reunited, he is your mother's son, and he is your brother, so IMHO this is not a question of whether you want to let this person into your life and your family as much as it is about how you want to deal with a problematic family member. And I am in no way trying to play down how problematic this family member is. Users gonna use, both substances and people, and addicts gonna lie.

I suspect people saying get him set up in X, help him get a job, absolutely do not support him financially etc. may not know a lot about the tremendous demand for parolee release programmes, the difficulties of job placements for ex-offenders, and the fact that in many states, ex-cons are not eligible for food stamps and welfare benefits. I am a firm believer in boundaries but the boundaries have to be realistic and probably don't include allowing your brother to starve to death.

I wish I had really concrete advice for you but I don't. There is an Interstate Compact allowing parolees to transfer between states, so that is certainly a thing. As astarting point, I would check the laws in your state and in his release state and see if he is eligible for basic supports in either state and, somehow, start from there.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:52 AM on July 3, 2014 [11 favorites]

I have a family member who sounds a lot like your half-brother.

She agrees that it makes sense for him to come here, as he has nothing to go back to where he lives. If he stays there, he will likely go right back to his bad habits, and he has acknowledged this.

It's also very likely he will go back to his habits if he comes to your state. My family member has made connections and found ways to get what he needs in every state he's lived in (at least 3, maybe 4). Being separated from the sources he knows isn't much of an obstacle as he knows the kinds of places to look to find new ones. He's been in and out of jail and rehab for the past 10 years. When he's clean, he's a great guy. But our family knows that as soon as he gets a bit of money and the itch, he's going to get what he needs and disappear for a few days, followed by another jail and rehab cycle. He's stolen from my parents, his friends... anyone he can. We love him, but we have had to set limits to protect ourselves from what he does.

It's possible that your half-brother could actually be ready to clean up. He might even believe it. But you need to be ready to do anything you need to to protect your mom and your family. Because if he's like other addicts I know, he's going to do anything he can to get what he needs if he relapses.

I've also found Russell Brand's thoughts on addiction to be incredibly useful, FWIW.
posted by neilbert at 6:56 AM on July 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Every addict is a good person deep down. They tend to be sensitive, intelligent, creative, and loving. They also do really bad stuff when they're using and most find it hard to stay clean, especially if (as it sounds here) they have spent their entire life immersed in the lifestyle. Your brother doesn't have unique qualities that make him more likely than other addicts to get his life together. Please keep that in mind no matter what you do. He is not a special snowflake, at least not in that regard.

I'm married to an addict in long-term recovery and my dad was a drunk who died that way. Based upon my experience, if were in your shoes, I just wouldn't go there. Him moving to live near you is very likely going to cause you and, more importantly, your mother a lot of stress and heartache. Supporting him emotionally from a distance is one thing, but encouraging him to move to a state where he knows no one except you and your mother - and let's be clear, he barely knows you, either - just sounds like a terrifying minefield to me.
posted by something something at 7:07 AM on July 3, 2014 [11 favorites]

A red flag for me is that he sounds weirdly passive from your description. He suggested moving to your state and you started looking into options for him for housing etc. he's been around the system a long time; wouldn't someone determined to turn their life around have looked into various options with their case worker and presented THAT to you? "I would like to be I. Your state to be close to you, I have applied to these six residential programmes, [city] offers free Nightly [NA] programmes, I am applying to these two job transits ion programmes, etc

Instead, you portray him as your "problem" that you need to find solutions for. But if he is invested in the decision-making he will have ownership of the results.
posted by saucysault at 7:23 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

The people above with first-hand experience with addicts stealing from family members make me reticent to suggest this, but en route to becoming part of your family, is there any way he could help out with your grandmother's care under structured circumstances? That would help your mom and give them a mutual task around which to get to know each other, share stories, etc. and be a way for him to grow past his 17 year old brain, feel useful and valued, etc. Being responsible for- and to- other human beings is one way we grow up and develop empathy.
posted by carmicha at 7:25 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing all the red flags. My loved one was a "good person deep down" right up until the day he died of a drug overdose. One day he cheerfully announced that he was going to visit his kindergarten teacher, despite not having seen her in 25 years, because it would be oh so nice to visit her and catch up. (It was just another medicine cabinet that he wanted to search for drugs.)

Make it clear FROM DAY 1 that no money, or favors that cost money, will come from you.
posted by Melismata at 7:27 AM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, this is the first question I have ever posted here, and I am amazed by the thoughtful responses.

To fill in a few gaps: This half brother, according to a few of his friends whom I've spoken with (all AA friends, all still in the program, all shaking their heads and worried for him) say he's got a heart of gold and that he was productive (with a job, a home) and working on sobriety until three years ago, when his adopted mom died. I've spoken with him about her death; he was not even contacted by the family when she died... he found out through facebook. This sent him into a self destructive spiral. His adopted mom had left him a box, which he had not opened until after I found him (so two years after she had passed). In it was all of the stuff that a mom would hold onto for her son... baby shoes, pictures, awards, evidence of love. (to backtrack: the abuse I mentioned before came from his adopted dad, but his adopted mom was just too weak to protect him). Back to the box... he sent it to my mother a few months after we first got in touch, for safe keeping (since he was living in a garage at the time). So yes he is a convict and an addict, but he was also a little lost boy. He has asked to change his last name to ours. I do believe there is some authenticity there, despite the red flags (which I agree are numerous).

A few of you have alluded to my heart being in the right place. I know that is part of my problem... leading with my heart. But damn it's hard. I never knew my dad, so having an addition to the family, no matter how screwed up, pulls at the strings for sure. My judgment is surely being clouded, but I feel that I have to find a middle ground between protecting my mom and myself and offering this guy a chance.

I will speak with my mom about the lawyer idea; this is probably a wise choice. I should also do some further research about parole and all of that; I know very little about it, and the fact that I have visited a prison is still surreal to me. All of this is.

Thank you so much for the feedback; this is not easy to discuss with friends. Your responses are so thoughtful, it's pretty moving.
posted by hippychick at 7:36 AM on July 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If he does end up moving near you (or really, even if he doesn't), I highly encourage you to check out a few Al-Anon meetings. Speaking as someone prone to enabling, you are already sounding like a kindred spirit. It would be a good idea for you to learn about what "helping" really means in the context of dealing with addiction and recovery. Our natural instincts toward wanting to make life easier for the people we care about can pretty easily get manipulated and confused when those people are addicts.

A good general rule to keep in mind is that it's a dangerous habit to start doing for other people what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves (in this case: finding a place to live and a job when he gets out of prison, seeking out meetings and other tools of recovery). That stuff isn't your responsibility, not even a little bit. I know it might seem like he isn't capable of figuring that stuff out but he really is, especially if he's already got some years of experience in recovery.
posted by something something at 7:57 AM on July 3, 2014 [10 favorites]

No matter how far down the scale someone has gone, or how long they have dwelled there, there is always hope for real and permanent change.

However, it is unusual for that change to come about without the support of people who understand the disease. They don't need to know or understand your brother, as who he really is, is irrelevant when he's in active addiction). Establishing a foundation is of paramount importance.

If you are going to attempt to support him (emotionally or financially) with straightening his life out, I would strongly suggest you speak with people who have loved ones in recovery. Perhaps check out a few Al-anon or Family Anonymous meetings (though I've heard some can be a self-pity, resentment-fest, but there are good ones out there focused on establishing functional relationships with addicts who are trying to or are actively rebuilding their lives).

Please know that whatever you choose, allowing him to come to your state or not, helping him or not, his happiness and long term sobriety will have nothing to do with that decision.

You, your mother, or any addict's loved ones, are not and will not ever be stronger than an addiction. If he straightens out, it's because he put in some work to do it, and if he doesn't, it's because he is not willing to change. House or no house, kids or no kids, wife or no wife, money or no money; happiness, serenity, and sobriety is out there in abundance to those willing to seek it. Honesty, willingness and open-mindedness are the only things needed to change, but those qualities are indispensable. A massive, sweeping change for the better in someone is entirely possible, and it doesn't matter whether you're 16 or 60, or you've been getting drunk/high for 5 years or 50.

This is why it is important to talk about this with at least 5 people who have real world experience with dealing with similar matters and possess principles you agree with. If all, or a majority of these 5 people say the same thing, based on their honest experience and not just opinion, do that, regardless of whether you presently think it's a good idea or not.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:09 AM on July 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like this may end up happening, in which case, I'd take many precautions and figure out your script for how to respond if/when things start to unravel.

I'd try to prepare for a number of decisions ahead of time so that you're not having to make exhausting decision after exhausting decision each time. For me, I do better with a few "ground rules" which can alleviate stress of having to make a difficult choice each time.

Figure out your limits and perspectives ahead of time:

1) If he says "I can get into a home in a month but need somewhere to stay until then, can I crash with you?" What will you do? How do you know it's going to be a month? Assume the move-in date will never materialize - how long would you allow him to stay in your house if he doesn't have a job? What would you "require" him to do? What if he doesn't hold up his end of the bargain, how will you decide to kick him out? This might be neverending. I'm serious - I've seen it happen. Things are always temporary but they last for months and months and can pull a family apart. You might decide: I'll help pay for x weeks of housing ELSEWHERE but you cannot live at my house. No matter what, we can't live together. Then you know your boundaries ahead of time, and don't have to make a decision in the moment. Let him know those limits ahead of time too. "It's not possible for you to live with us, but I'm happy to make calls to local groups on your behalf." Repeat if needed. You don't have to explain why he can't live with you, and you don't have to justify your decision.

2) Will you post bail? If so, under what conditions? Write those down. Share with your mother. Sign the note if it'll help you feel more official. Don't let the emotions of the circumstance sway you.

3) What other support teams do you have in place for yourself? It sounds like you're a welcoming and loving person, but this can very quickly lead to enacting enabling behaviors. I'd suggest getting started with Al-Anon (for family/friends of Alcoholics/Addicts) and a few AA meetings. You need to see what you're getting into ahead of time, and see how even with a heart of gold, folks can wreck many lives in their nearby circle. Al-Anon would be useful for you to see how having very FIRM AND CLEAR boundaries is helpful for everyone, including your brother, mother, partner and self.

4) Are you a member of any local religious organizations? Many churches have figured out that post-jail housing and jobs are some of the most difficult stumbling blocks to getting started on a different path. I'd try to research your most progressive or social justice-oriented organizations and try to figure out a number of options AHEAD of time. It all feels very stressful and impossible when you're trying to piece something together in a moment of crisis, and it's much easier to figure out when you have Option A, Option B and Option C laid out ahead of time.

5) If you decide not to give him money or housing, figure out how you CAN show him support. Invite him over for dinner? Take him shopping to few places to get work-appropriate clothing? Look at job ads with him? Work on his resume and/or set up an appointment for someone to help him? Find therapy resources? Basically - establish what you CAN feel good about doing, tell him about that, and then follow through. Don't get burned out -- think about what you can offer over the many years to come, as a bit of consistent love and support will be much better than "ALL the love" which might peter out to you resenting him and withdrawing support. Slow and steady wins the race.

6) How will you maintain self-care and relationship-care during this process? Maybe establish family meetings to explicitly discuss these issues every month (or once a week if needed) but they aren't allowed to infiltrate every other conversation. Don't let your entire life be hijacked by care for him. It can end up being very exhausting (both emotionally and physically) and can ruin other relationships. Establish how you will deal with conflicts ahead of time too -- if you want your brother to come crash for a week, and your partner says no, what will you do? Will you badger him or accept his answer? Will you resent him for having those limits? Have those conversations ahead of time, even if you don't end up with a solid answer, because having those emotions be out in the open is critical to not allowing them eat away at you. Have separate check-ins with each other to be free to voice concerns and complaints about the status quo so that things don't end up escalating.

7) How will you enjoy your brother? Can you figure out what you both love to do that isn't related to him getting back on his feet? Does he like to walk puppies at a shelter, or play boardgames, or paint model trains, or garden, or take walks in city parks, or play video games, grill different meats on your bbq? Figure out how you can relate and bond with activities and make that part of your priority -- getting to know him, spend time with him and have a relationship that is explicitly not "savior sister and addict-lost-found-brother." That isn't a good dynamic for anyone and whatever you can do to mitigate that will be helpful in the long run.

8) How will he demonstrate his commitment to change and a healthy path? Will you do research work for him and present him with options? What if he does not act on the options you give him? Will you pick up those pieces and try again or wait for some sign from him? Can you be explicit and open about that with him without being accusatory? "I found you a few options and am happy to discuss them with you. I'm excited/hopeful about each of them in a different way and would like to discuss your options with you. Is now a good time or should we do this another time?"

Best of luck to you all. Keep your mother involved, take care of yourself and your relationship, be explicitly open about this difficult situation (going to Al Anon and a therapist if possible) and let yourself make new decisions based on new information along the way. Keep your eye on the prize ---- some kind of possible relationship for many years to come, which means not reacting to every single little bump or request along the way.
posted by barnone at 8:22 AM on July 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

Addicts lie, oh so very well. Addicts are really really good at playing on your emotions. You cannot save an addict they can only help themselves.

I don't know your half brother, maybe he is a good man who fell on hard times. I have watched a brother I have known all my life, who kept up the front of the perfect loving father for years turn out to have been an addict for a big chunk of that time and was stealing from us his family and abusing his wife. His friends all say the same thing to us about him, he's a good man on hard times. He just stole thousands from my mother and attacked her physically, and everyone related to him now has restraining orders against him, but all his friends are like why He's just a good man that has fallen on hard times you should help him.

Do not lead with your heart. Keep your money safe, keep your emotions safer and have an escape plan. I'd also ask yourself what his reaction would be if you said no to him, would he still want to build a family bond or want anything to do with you guys? Really? Do not project your wants and needs onto him.

Oh and this is just me freaking out and seeing 100 red flags about the whole addict part, if I told you the horror stories about my non addict half sister that moved to another country to be close to us (despite our reservations) it would take a novel.
posted by wwax at 8:26 AM on July 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

There is a lot of really good advice above, from people who know whereof they speak. You would do well to think about everything they are sharing, deeply.

You are coming at this from the angle that maybe you can save this person. Maybe you can affect a positive influence on someone's world. That's a very powerful feeling. You will need to check-in with yourself and acknowledge that feeling.

You say that your brother was at a point where he was doing fairly well in life, but one more overwhelming event sent him over the edge and completely off-track, back to practicing his addiction (as though he'd stopped at some point).

The first thing you need to bear in mind is this: that is the story that he wants you to hear. It may be completely true, it may be completely untrue, or it may be a mixture of both, but you have no way of knowing. That's the first thing that folks in this thread want you to understand about addicts: they tell you the story that they want you to hear. And I guarantee you, they always tell the story so that it comes out in their favor.

Addicts say the words that they think will get them whatever they want in that moment. It doesn't have to be about drugs - they are so used to lying that they lie about everything. You have to be super on top of your game to be able to separate fact from fiction. It's the kind of critical analysis that you only learn from painful, sometimes heartbreaking experience.

Now, none of this is what you want to hear. You want to hear how you can help him.

I know you see him as a lost little boy, but you also have to realize that he is a grown-ass man. He has made some bad decisions along the way. He has to learn to make good decisions, and perhaps you can be a sounding board for him and help him in that way, but you cannot make decisions for him. You can't do the work for him. You can't come in and fix things for him. That's how you would treat a child. He is not a child. He can (and should) mourn his crappy childhood, but he cannot continue to live as a child, which is what he's been doing. If you do things for him, solve his problems for him, you are actually hobbling him.

The best way you can help him is to make sure that he has a clear plan for success. You cannot formulate his plan. It has to be his idea. Ask him, what are his prospects for work? What are his prospects for a living situation? How will he get to and from work? How will he get clothes for the first couple of interviews?

Make your boundaries really clear, and let him know what they are at the outset - "Listen we're not in a position to lend you money. I am not in a position to lend you a car. I'll be here to listen, you can come over for a bbq or a meal once a week on Wednesday nights", or what-have-you. Do not offer to let him live in your house. Do not let your mother take him in either. Biology aside, this person is still a virtual stranger to you. He needs an independent living situation.

Spend some time thinking about what you want to get from the relationship too. If he wasn't your brother, if he was your neighbor or you met him through another friend, would he be the kind of person you would want to spend time with? Would you want to go to his house and hang out with him and his friends? Would you want your husband or your kids hanging out with him? Separate who he is today, and who you are today, from the only-child fantasy of having a big family. He has a lot of challenges in his future. Is he going to be a positive influence in your life? Or will it be a complete drain on your time and your energy?

Agh. Your heart is in the right place. Just be sure your head is too. Talk this all through with your husband, whatever emotional or physical energy you are giving to your brother is going to affect your own family.
posted by vignettist at 9:07 AM on July 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you’re going to help your brother, you have to actually help him. Emotional support is great but it’s not realistic to think that a grown man can just leave jail, move to a new state, and start his life over without a lot of help.

In my experience, an ex-prisoner has to have an address to move to for an out-of-state transfer. That means your mother’s home or yours unless you find something for him before he arrives. He is going to need a place to stay, a job, and assistance staying clean and these can be hard to find under ideal circumstances, a criminal record makes it exponentially harder. He’s also going to need clothing, food and household goods. He will not be able to procure any of this without YOUR help.

Navigating social services, recovery resources, housing, employment is going to be tough and it could be that you and he bond over working these things out. If I were in your shoes, I would try to arrange for a ‘soft landing’ so that he can find his footing. That may mean living with you or your mother for 90 days or funding the cheapest, tiniest studio (for 90 days) that you furnish with castoffs and things from Salvation Army/Goodwill, if you can’t find a residential facility/group home for him to move into.

If he does stay with you or mom, require attendance at AA/NA meetings or something similar. I think all the advice to be careful and set boundaries is good. I think you need to keep alert for bullshit and be willing to call him on any crap. You have to keep your mother safe. I would communicate my expectations and intentions clearly now before he gets out. I think you should start going to Al-Anon meetings now and get advice and support.

I don’t think his going to you first instead of your mother is suspicious. Many adoptees already feel abandoned and for her to say no would be crushing. And you may have saved his life; he now knows that he’s connected to someone. He has a mother and a sister! However, don’t let that blind you or your mother to how he could take advantage. Trust takes time. Good luck.
posted by shoesietart at 9:31 AM on July 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think everyone else has covered my severe reservations (and also, "HELL NO" thoughts that are going through my head), but I just wanted to point out that basically, if you have him move to your state, he is going to be parasiting off of you probably for the rest of his life. He cannot support himself. You will need to take care of him like he's a 12-year-old kid. He can't function alone and he probably won't be able to any time soon (or possibly ever given his addiction and ex-con circumstances), and that's at best if he stays sober. At worst, you'll be supporting him and dealing with the consequences of his addiction that will be falling on your head.

Are you really sure you want to take him on as a perpetual addicted child living with you until he OD's? That, to me, is really the question. If he's not super committed to getting and staying clean, which I'm guessing he's not given what he's said, he's going to go down. What you're deciding is if you want to go down with him too.

I know it's terrible to say no to BLOOD AND FAMILY, but... this just screams impending trainwreck to me, and I for one wouldn't be comfortable taking on that burden for someone I'd known all my life, much less someone I don't know all that well yet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:13 AM on July 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

What sort of job skills did he have and will his current criminal record prevent him from working in that field again? I think knowing a bit about his potential to fend for himself financially might be useful. Will he have a driver's license? I would suggest speaking with local organizations that deal with the transitioning prison population to find out what services may be available to him.
posted by megancita at 10:27 AM on July 3, 2014

So yes he is a convict and an addict, but he was also a little lost boy.

Yeah kinda sorta, but No- not really. He's an adult. Every parole officer and re-entry counselor under the sun will tell him where he should be applying to half-way houses. He should have researched that already.

If he's expecting to rely on anyone for anything other than emotional support and the occasional toothbrush/load of laundry it should tell you that you need to keep your boundaries up high and firm. He is NOT a lost little boy. He has a ton of resources and while I'm sure the occasional $25 will be hugely appreciated, he needs to not depend on it, let alone a couch.

I have a number of friends and family who have been in his position, some of whom we've supported, but we did it because they were doing all the right things already- they were DOING the addiction support groups while they were inside. They were DOING the job training when it was available. They were DOING the group counseling and GED training and any and everything they could think of to make themselves self-supporting once they got out.

I would suggest you and your mom go to Al-anon but I see recommendation is already covered. People there will be able to give you some advice on how to put up boundaries without being a dick about it, plus they'll probably know all the half-way houses and other resources in the area, if you want to help him with that (though do NOT contact them for him. He needs to do the legwork. Six months is enough time for this.)
posted by small_ruminant at 11:12 AM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

One more thing that is very important: have you talked with your husband about this? It is vital that you are both on the same page about what kind of help you want to offer your half-brother. It's also important that you respect your husband's wishes in this regard. A spouse is absolutely first priority over any other family (except kids, but this doesn't apply here). You absolutely do not want your half-brother to put a wedge into your marriage.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:43 AM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Substance abuse cancels out the person inside and turns them into an addict, with all the amoral behavior of an addict. An active addict can't feel love, compassion, or respect. They can't be trusted with anything, ever. They care much more about their alcohol or drugs than they do about anything or anyone else.

I say this as the sister of an addict who has been clean for a few stretches but still relapses regularly. I love my brother deeply, but I know he can go back to drugs any time and it can't be predicted. He's kind and loving during the sober times, but still deeply troubled.

Please -- it's not a kindness to give trust to an addict, even one you know well. You need to put your own needs first. I think it's great that you're seeing a therapist, and hope you'll learn more about addiction before you let the half-brother get any closer.
posted by wryly at 1:02 PM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I too have a brother that I would love to be a part of my family. He's also an addict well into his 40's though stuck at age 17, lost pretty much everything and everyone, and has a childhood story of abuse that breaks my heart. I love him very much. But opposite you, I am stepping out of this picture and shutting him out at this point. The door is now closed for him. I have come to realize I cannot save him, and the effort was actively damaging me. My mom is still trying, and probably always will. My estrangement has made no difference to him except maybe being another sadness driving him to drink. It has more of an impact on me and my mom. I cannot visit her because he is in the basement, conversations have huge telling gaps in them because his trials and tribulations are off limits, and it's really hard to balance supporting her emotionally and financially (she's getting older) without enabling her enabling. My mom is a lovely person and she understands why I've cut him off, but it is still an elephant in the room. It is a bitter thing to say, but I hope he passes before her so she (and we) can have a calm life for awhile.
So I get your impulse to be a sister but I need to get pass on some things I have had to press into my soul in dealing with an addict in the family.

1) At 47 he (like my bro) has lived 3 childhoods and only the first was out of his control. Yes, it's sad, but the 4th (if you swoop in) time will not be the charm. He is not a "lost boy" and hasn't been for at least a decade. He is a damaged adult and you need to keep your judgement abilities focused on that.
2) Addicts can still have hearts of gold and lie their asses off. My brother does. It's not because they are mean people, it's because they lie to themselves. They truly believe the version of their lives they tell, their intentions really are that noble, the luck that bad, the obstructions that insurmountable, and they really want to be different people. But they are what they are. In normal people, actions speak louder than words; in addicts actions are everything. It took me almost 8 years with my brother to make a list of what he said vs. what he had done. The only things on the what he had done list that were progress were things forced on him by the courts or things my mom had done for him. Kindly, I hear a lot of my mom in your posts. I recommend waiting for a couple more positive "he did" things before you offer more help yourself.
3) bringing him into your life means bringing him into your mom's and that is an entanglement that is incredibly hard to manage with boundaries or ultimatums. It is incredibly hard for me the sister to cut off my brother; it's impossible for my mom. You need to protect your mom I think - be the voice of restraint. She gave him up for adoption once, do you really think she'll be able to kick him out a second time? That sounds harsh, but boundaries only work if you can follow through and middle-aged addicts will bump against them. Honestly, knowing what I know now, I would have found a way to keep my brother out of my mom's house in the first place even through underhanded means (parole transfers from other states require an approved address). That gesture of support has taken over her life, impacted mine, and not improved my brother at all.

So I guess this is long winded, but I hope my experience can help you. In a nutshell I would strongly recommend that you do not offer or facilitate a move on his part to your location, try to practice filtering the conversations and stories through a more contrarian lens, and do a lot of research on addicts and addiction so you can start seeing just how much of him is special snowflake and how much isn't. I might also recommend talking to someone yourself about a brother entering your life as an adult and how that impacts you. I don't think your emotions or needs sound out of line, but when that brother is an addict I would be really worried about even ordinarily benign fantasies clouding your judgement. Please remember, addicts don't mean to be so destructive, but they are. And by middle age this is not a phase.

Memail if you need more cautionary advice. I wish I could be less of a downer, but there's no "up" in this situation...
posted by dness2 at 1:16 PM on July 3, 2014 [16 favorites]

Addicts can break your heart.. legitimately or manipulatively. The first addict I worked with said "if you could see how I lived (a crack den) you'ld take me home". He was a good man and I swear I could not get him out my head. I have seen more now.

Personally I think it could be a good sign he asked about your view point. Nthing boundaries.. it can be really hard setting them when you love... but abiding by them is the real tester - promise yourself you will - and yours and mums must be consistent.
posted by tanktop at 1:43 PM on July 3, 2014

Best answer: If I could 'favourite' dness2's comment ten times, I would.

My comments are based on working with people who use drugs and, often, who have serious addictions and lengthy criminal histories.

He was given up for adoption by our mom 12 years before I came along. His adoptive family was not a good fit... there was abuse.

You don't mention it, but how much guilt do you, and your mom, feel about this? Don't let that in any way influence your decisions and boundaries. Neither of you are responsible for the abuse. Neither of you can fix what has happened. Do not let guilt be a part of your decisions.

If he stays there, he will likely go right back to his bad habits, and he has acknowledged this.

I can't tell you how many clients have told me that they just "need to get out of this shitty town" in order to cure their addiction forever. They're wrong - and they usually discover that pretty quickly - because addiction follows people. His drug use is not simply a result of where he lives - it's a result of maladaptive coping skills. Unless and until he learns how to cope with the emotions, memories, experiences, mental health stuff, and anything else underneath the drug use, he will likely return to using no matter where he is. A change of scenery may make some things easier, but it will not stop him from returning to the 'bad habits'.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that giving/finding him a place to stay is not going to fix anything. Don't put this in the 'will help" column. At best, it's a neutral thing.

I have spoken with a therapist, and she is helping me with boundary setting.

YES. Yes yes yes. Good. Yes! I hope she is someone who has experience with addictions - particularly the impact that it has on family members. But even if she doesn't, YES to figuring out your boundaries!

However, I worry that it is too late for him to have a real life, a fresh start.

It is never too late for a fresh start. It is never, ever too late for someone's life to change for the better. It is, however, a lot of work to undo almost 50 years of crap. And it will require him - not you, not your mother - to do some really hard, uncomfortable work to turn things around.

We are not in a position to support him financially, but we want to help as much as possible, and of course make him feel like a part of the family.

I would encourage you to print out that sentence and read it over and over to yourself. Make those part of your boundaries. Do not give him money or financial support and make it really clear that this is not negotiable. Not "just this one time" and not "to get me a place to stay" and not "because I ran out of groceries" - those become slippery slopes so very, very quickly.

Help him as much as is possible, while maintaining appropriate boundaries to keep yourself and your other family members healthy and sane. Make him feel like part of a family - not a charity case or a project - by sharing simple family experiences, photos, stories.

Let the professionals do the work of supporting him and helping him problem solve. You can't be his therapist, his drug counsellor, his sibling/mom, his advocate, his real estate agent, his.. etc. You can hand him the metaphoric yellow pages but you cannot make the phone calls.

They say that addicts stop maturing mentally; he has the mindset of a 17 year old.

This is not exactly true - what happens is that drug use changes the structure of the brain and the brain chemistry and how the brain responds to things. In particular, the area of the brain that's in charge of "thinking about the consequences" is often significantly damaged and the person operates very much based on their impulses. That's similar to how children operate - and teens, too. He will also have been impacted by the people with whom he's surrounded - other addicts, people in prison, etc. - and the rules of life in those circumstances are often highly different from the rules of 'straight life'. Most of my clients have the most amazing - and totally f'ed up - skills to get what they need for themselves.

Do I encourage brother to be transferred, even if it scares me? Our mom is equally nervous

I would say no. Here's the thing - if you decline this transfer, you CAN (and should, if you want) continue to build a relationship. You can still visit. Write letters. Send photos. Somewhere down the line, that relationship might be one where you want him to be living nearby for any number of reasons (and then you can make it happen) - or it could turn into one where you are so incredibly grateful that he's NOT living nearby.


Some of the most amazing people that I've met have been really addicted to drugs. Smart, hilarious, attractive, gregarious, caring, kind.. and most, if not all, have had some absolutely awful things happen to them in the past. I am not related to them, nor have I ever been entwined with their lives outside of my job, but it is SO difficult for me to hold tight to boundaries at times because they've been through SO much and they need SO much and it would be SO easy for me to hand over $20 or loan them my cellphone or even pay an overdue bill for them.

I hold to my boundaries because I have a professional code of ethics, my agencies has policies that I have to uphold (if I want to remain employed, and I do) and so I lean back on those heavily whenever I feel 'tempted' to go outside of my role. This is what makes it easier for a professional to help with things than it is for family. Don't get me wrong - the stuff we hear and see and experience absolutely impacts on us (and heavily, at times) but we have the training, the boundaries, the back-up staff, the agency supports, the supervision, to not let it take over our lives. Sometimes I cry, anyway.

The number of people whose lives are completely and utterly ruined by their family member's addiction(s) are stunning. Physically, emotionally, financially.. it's awful. And it all comes down to combinations of guilt ("If I had only done X, they wouldn't be addicted") and hope ("THIS time he'll actually got into treatment! It's worth the money!" - "This time he won't show up high or steal mom's purse!") and the fact that addicts are SO good at saying the right things and showing remorse and knowing all the right buttons to push.

I'm not saying cut him out. I'm not saying to run for the hills! But oh, please please please be careful. Be more careful than you think you need to be - and then even a bit more careful.
posted by VioletU at 3:35 PM on July 3, 2014 [10 favorites]

I have to disagree with the idea that change is always possible. Here's why:

I have two older brothers who "have problems" with addiction, the law, and being employed. Translation - they are life-long unemployed booze-addled drug addicts in and out of jail, and have been for as long as I can remember. Your situation is my fantasy - you get a choice right now about whether you'll let someone like that ruin your life and your mom's.

Shall I tell you a story about how my 83 year old father is supporting two angry, ungrateful, middle-aged men who refuse to lift a finger to help him around the house, who won't listen to him, who won't talk to him, who only put up with him because of his social security and pension checks? About how he lets this happen because he feels a responsibility to them as a parent because their his kids? About how he can't afford assisted living because it would mean they had to fend for themselves, and his guilt won't let him do it?

Or about the 30 years between my first-grade self and now when I had to gradually learn, through heartbreak after heartbreak, that they cared about nothing but where the next drink or pill was coming from? That in spite of having two older, genetically similar flesh bags in my life, I didn't actually have any brothers?

As it is, I get to look forward to the day my dad dies because that's the day I can change my phone number and never have to look at them or speak to them again.

Of COURSE he wants to be part of your family. To an addict with legal troubles, your family is a walking bank account. The question is, do YOU really want to be a life support system for a walking disaster?

Look, I know your brother != my brothers, and maybe your brother is just a decent guy who's down on his luck. Maybe he can change. But you should be fully aware of the potential consequences -- the likely consequences -- of him not changing, after you've let him into your family's life.

And there's also this: You can't do for him what he hasn't managed to do for himself by age 30+. All you can do is make it easier for him to dig himself in deeper. Left alone, there's a chance he could hit rock bottom and start to claw his way up eventually. With you and your mom to lift him up, that chance is less than zero. I deeply believe that the worst thing my parents ever did to my brothers was letting them move back in with them to "help them get back on their feet" when they were in their twenties. I'll always wonder - would I have actual brothers today if my parents hadn't done that? If they'd forced them to deal with their own mistakes?

I say cut him out, and run for the hills - before he has a chance to break your heart and charm your mother into letting him eat up the rest of her life. It's not worth the risk.

In case it helps, here's a look two years into my past, and into your possible future: What are my options for dealing with a disabled (mentally, physically, emotionally) middle-aged sibling when my elderly parent, currently caring for sibling, is gone?

Spoilers: Dad still lives at home, taking care of both of my brothers, on the edge of poverty. Don't let that be your mom.
posted by kythuen at 4:13 PM on July 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

A lot of your hope for the future hinges on him changing. Give up the idea he will change. (Obviously it would be nice, but it is out of your control). Can you accept your brother the way he is now and have NO expectations that he will be any different than who he is? Can you accept that he will be the person he is today, an addict, in trouble with the law, etc for the rest of his life and the rest of the relationship you have with him? It is a lot easier to accept someone, flawed as they are, if there is some emotional and physical distance.
posted by saucysault at 4:42 PM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would also be worried that you are bringing him into a situation where there are already vulnerable people: like your grandmother with dementia. He may not be a suitable carer as suggested above, especially if he has stolen money or medications in the past. Perhaps also ask the lawyer about your grandmother's will, and make arrangements for financial guardianship (if they're not already in place) so she can't, say, give her dear new grandson a lump sum of money as 'missed birthday presents'.
posted by quercus23 at 12:02 AM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I want to help him, and I want a brother, even if he has problems.

While he's already genetically your brother, there is no guarantee that the family relationship of having a brother that you are hoping for will happen. It's something that both of you have to want, and work towards.

Sometimes people end up with "chosen family", people that they have become close with like siblings even though they aren't blood siblings. Since you haven't known your brother for long, you both will have to build this between you if you want it.

Think about how you would feel if you invested all the time and attention such a relationship would require only to find that he wasn't willing to, or that he chose his addiction over building brotherhood with you. Would you still be happy that you had him come to your state?

Talk to a lawyer or estate planner about how to protect your mother and grandmother's assets, whether you bring him to your state or not. Talk to a different lawyer about what your responsibilities will be for helping someone on parole come to a different state. These are two completely different areas of law and it's unlikely you'll find one lawyer with expertise in both.
posted by yohko at 4:31 PM on July 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

« Older How much is fair contribution to broken oven door?...   |   Need personal injury lawyer recommendation in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.