I Battled for My Brother, the Addict

Nothing could save my beautiful brother until he decided to save himself

Verity Largo
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readDec 21, 2018

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Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

June 2014

My younger brother Jake* jumped in front of a train. It was his daughter’s birthday and the anniversary of our mother’s death seven years before. He survived, miraculously, and I’m with him in the intensive care ward at the hospital and feel like I am his appointed representative in the world of the sane. I’m one of the few people left who can get through to him, and it has been this way since he was first detained under the Mental Health Act 30 years ago. I don’t want him to die. Our parents are dead, and he’s all I’ve got.

The next few months are very hard. He has to learn to walk on crutches as his broken pelvis heals, and he has $15,000 in drug debts to pay off. He has been using drugs since he was 13, and he is now 46. In the past 10 years, heroin and crack have overtaken everything else in his life.

I spend up to 30 hours a week with him at the mental hospital, writing lists, cartoons, maps of advice, all the suggestions I can think of, but knowing that on the bad nights, when cravings kick in, he’s weak and suicidal. I try to distract him. We play Scrabble. We have picnics by the sunflowers in the community garden. I make him look up toward the sun. He looks remarkably well and is washing and eating regularly. There are few visitors; most people there have attempted suicide.

I decide to get some support myself after years of bottling it up. It’s a relief to talk to someone who knows the damage crack and heroin do and who can help me prepare for what the next few years might be like if he does choose to stay alive and clean. I sob as I talk to this telephone angel in ways I never have to friends or family.

December 2014

After months of negotiation, we get Jake into a small, highly supported, 24-hour care home for people with mental health and drug challenges.

Within in a month, he walks out, having stolen money from the office to buy drugs. He has resisted their efforts to get him to be clean — a mandatory requirement for staying in the house — and leaves all his possessions on the sidewalk to go back onto the streets.

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Verity Largo
Human Parts

Inspired by Martha Gellhorn. Favourite food rillettes. Happiest when belting out a few jazz classics or on horseback. Best job: teaching journalism, Mozambique.