You’re Gonna’ Carry that Weight Forever

I had one brother. Only one. And I knew his name his whole entire life, even before HE knew his name because he was my little brother. He did not grow up to be the kind of adult every parent dreams of and the “why?” for that has been the subject of many theories and discussions among family members and friends. In almost every respect, he was his own worst enemy.

I’m a conventional person, overall. I’ve always been basically OK with the way things are. I didn’t really rebel against societal norms. I have never done any really interesting drugs. I didn’t run away from home. I tried to do well in school. My dad taught me a lot — just in small messages, the size of a gumball, but they stuck with me. Lessons like, “Picasso? Yeah, he does a lot of abstract work but he didn’t start doing that until he could draw things the way they really are. Then he was a master; then he could choose.” “Don’t do anything to your mind, MAK. That way, if something happens to your body — like me — (he had MS) you can still work, you can still have a life.” “Some people get funny when they’re drunk; some people get mean. Your mom gets mean. Let’s go for a ride.” There are more lessons like these, little moments that have steadied my course.

No lessons like that reached my brother who was a troubled soul, violently, destructively, troubled.

For most of his life he was an alcoholic. I don’t honestly know how long — I think it could have started in junior high. Back in the 50s and 60s drunks were often portrayed as “funny” by comedians, particularly Red Skelton. My brother ALWAYS thought they were hilarious. He wanted to be funny, too. It was his main way of being socially accepted. I don’t exactly know what my brother’s problem was (I suspect ADHD) but he had a hard time in school and many fights after school, which I usually fought. He would not fight back. Another axiom from my dad, “MAK, if you’re going to fight, fight right and fight to win. I’ll teach you.” A punching bag was installed in the basement…

My brother depended on me. It was a co-dependent relationship — a term I neither understood or believed in until my awareness was awakened in therapy. I ‘d been raised with the little saying from Boy’s Town, “He ain’t heavy, father. He’s my brother.” So, when my brother called and asked for money, he’d say, “Martha Ann? This is Kirk, your brother, you know, the heavy one.”

There was ever, only, the one.

Anyone who’s ever loved a drunk who doesn’t recover knows how much it hurts and how long (forever). The feelings and questions one is left with are so unclear, most of all, “Why couldn’t he stop? A lot of people stop. Why didn’t he?”

Around the time I learned of my brother’s death, I met a man — Chris Bava — who had been a junkie, drug smuggler and dealer. In conversations with him I finally expressed my perception of what had happened to my brother. I said, essentially, that he’d lost the battle for his soul. My friend agreed. “That’s exactly what addiction is,” he said. “During the time I was in the pen, I got clean. It was wonderful. I wanted to stay clean and I believed I would, but years later I got cocky and smoked some shit and BAM, I was hooked again. It was Satan, absolutely. Temptation, arrogance, Satan. I had to do it all over again, but I didn’t waste any time. I knew the difference. Sounds as if your brother never really wanted anything else.”


23 thoughts on “You’re Gonna’ Carry that Weight Forever

  1. Never again will I listen to that Beatles song as casually as I have in the past. Your words, and the song, touched me deeply, Martha. At the moment, I can’t find the words to tell you why. I will have to let it seep in a little, I think.

    • I was driving home from the store (still in CA, still close to the events around my bros’ death) and that song came on the radio. I had to pull over, I was crying so hard. I was lucky that my friend Chris pulled me into a Facebook group of people like me to counsel others — family members and addicts — on getting through it. Helping others helped me.

  2. Garry and I have often talked about the “culture of drunkenness” that came out of Hollywood in the ’30s. Now that Garry is sober and has been sober for a long time, we wonder how much the culture of drinking was part of how he got sucked into that world. When he was coming up in media, EVERYONE drank. Later, many years later, AA began to be downright fashionable among those who had somehow managed to not crash and burn their career and life. There were a lot of casualties. Alcoholics don’t start that way. They start out as social drinkers. I really hate alcohol and people who encourage drinking.

    • I hate alcohol, too, though, about once a year, I have a martini. Tell Garry congratulations and give him a hug from me. The people I like most and honor most are those who sobered up. ❤

      • For a while, I didn’t think we’d make it. But he did it and we did. I can’t touch the stuff which probably makes it easier because WE don’t drink. Someday we’ll talk about my history with alcoholics and drug addicts. Oy.

        • ❤ My friends drink and they feel weird drinking around me. I don't do anything to show disapproval, but the troubling part is that everyone changes when they drink. I do not know anyone I like better when they're drunk. Most of my sober friends are also fundamentalist Christians so…seems we live in a world in which many people feel they must be intoxicated on something. Baudelaire gave us three choices in his beautiful poem, "Enivrez Vous": wine, virtue or poetry. I have chosen the third.

  3. Martha, thank you for writing your experience , it’s so very moving. I lost my good friend in 2014 to drugs and alcohol, he was 50. I can relate so well to your words.

  4. Martha, I don’t feel awkward drinking around you. Just so you know. Hope you don’t feel awkward about me drinking around you. I don’t drink to offend, I drink to… well, I don’t really have a “good” reason. I’ll let you know if I come up with one.

    • I honestly don’t care, Sallie. I learned my lesson with my brother that everyone is responsible for his/her own actions. The painful thing is when someone likes my brother lays the burden on other people AND they pick it up. Most people who drink aren’t drunks, either. I’d probably have a glass of wine with everyone at dinner, but I can’t have anything to do with grapes or I could go into anaphylactic shock. My reasons for not drinking have a LOT to do with that. Don’t worry about it at all!

  5. Thank you for sharing this story. It was very sobering (pun not intended).
    Just this past weekend, I had a conversation with my younger-older brother about alcoholism and how some people manage to outgrow the “wild years” of their youth and others continue the hard drinking that is eventually their downfall. I like your description of “losing the battle for his soul”.
    So many of my brother’s high school friends (he’s now 65) are already gone from a life lived hard. All of them had more advantages and potential than most people. You’re right … alcohol changes everyone.

    I’m so sad for you and your loss.

    • A really talented friend of mine (a recovered alcoholic) explained my brother in this way — that he did not know how to live up to his promise and/or didn’t want that much work, so he felt burdened by it. I think there’s something in that, and I think, at a certain point (early on) he drank to fit in. Still, whatever the reason, it’s a waste of a life. Thank you for your kind words. 🙂

  6. I believe that alcohol dependence can run in families – a chemical intolerance, perhaps? It certainly ran in mine.

    And in my experience, it can also be a crutch to cover up social ineptness, perhaps, or some other perceived inadequacy, or to forget a disappointing life for a while. But there are probably as many reasons as there are alcoholics, don’t you think? The problem is. for some folks virtually one drink is all it takes and they’re hooked, even if they don’t get falling-down drunk in the beginning.

    Seeing my parents change because of drinking is probably one of the big reasons I don’t drink myself (although I also don’t like either the stuff itself or the aftereffects. I really, really like having my head together!)

    • I definitely agree that there are as many reasons — and no reason — for alcoholism as there are alcoholics and maybe even individual drinks in their hands.

      I learned from this experience that knowing “why” wasn’t really very useful. I paid for my brother to go through rehab twice and both times included extensive counseling and therapy for him. I’m sure all the “whys” were brought into the light of day and maybe I even know/knew them. Ultimately, so what? That knowledge didn’t inspire my brother to change. It was an important lesson for me.

  7. You’re right, of course. It makes little difference WHY such things happen. That’s just me, wondering, as always, about the whys and wherefores of everything under the sun. And it certainly does nothing at all for the pain and grief of having loved ones who slowly drowned inside a bottle. I’ve been there; I should know better.

    • I think “why” is a natural question. I think we all hope for some kind of rational explanation for irrational things. It’s a lovely thing about humans, actually, the idea that if we could understand something it would be acceptable or we would know how to act or we could change ourselves or the thing we’re worried about. That thing Einstein said really hit home the first time I read it, “Not every rational question admits of a rational answer.” Really, without therapy I wouldn’t have discovered how futile that “why” was.

  8. It was both sad and sweet how your brother called himself, “…you know, the heavy one.” Even with those that do recover, you kind of hold your breath for awhile, almost waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sooner or later, you just have to exhale and go on with your own life. Such a great post, Martha.

    • You’re right; it was both sad and sweet. But it was a con, “Oh, he knows how he weighs on me. If he knows that, he’ll probably stop soon.” Worked every single time. 🙂 It’s true, too. The two times he sobered up after rehab it was impossible to relax about it. It was exactly “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

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