Journalism

It’s not easy being a big sister…

By Amira Haroen

His childhood wasn’t the worst, even though his parents got divorced and his father wasn’t there for him. Still, when he grew older he was easily caught up in drugs and in the end lost himself completely.  Maybe that was his way of shouting out that he needed help…


I haven’t spoken to my brother in almost a year now. It’s not because I don’t like him but because I always get that sad and painfulfeeling when I am around him. I have been an aunt for a year and a half now, and not having spoken to my brother also means not having been able to spend time with my niece either. All this feels like a continuous circle of emotions I wished I could bury deep down inside me.

I only have one picture of my brother with me in London. We are probably around 4 and 5 on Christmas day. Back then we didn’t know that we would grow up to be two completely different people. All we wanted to do at that time was play together, make up games and get lost in our fantasies of being detectives in our rooms. The present

now looks completely different. We have grown from children who loved each other to teenagers who despise one another, to grownups who no longer even know each other.

Drugs can kill someone who is addicted and knowing that it could happen any second, any time, any day is an unsettling frightful feeling not many people know of. I have always been very protective over my brother. That changed when we became older. He was only 17 when he had to spend some time in the emergency room for abusing alcohol to an extent where he was poisoned.

I remember my mother sitting on the sofa when I came home, her eyes filled with tears telling me that he could have died. She was always our rock, especially for my brother. But it had come to the point where not even she could stand strong for all of us anymore.

Karim wasn’t an easy child and I think he knows that. At 12 he was diagnosed with ADS and had to take an intelligence test which resulted in an underneath average result. Now he was not only the boy who could not sit still, he was also the dumb one in his class. I can only imagine how he must have felt: useless and unable to concentrate for 45 minutes in the class room and always being picked on for not sitting still.

Our parents got divorced when I was nine years old and the only thing I remember was that they fought a lot before and after. I think my father was just too young to look after us. Back then all we wanted to do was spend time with him, especially Karim. He needed someone to look up to, but there wasn’t really anything to look up to if you never see your dad. Karim and our father drifted so far apart from each other that my brother even stopped seeing him during the weekends.

As children we always stuck up for one another when our mother tried to punish one of us. Whenever we were grounded my brother would persuade my mother otherwise with his charm. We used to get on really well and when I ask my mum how we were as children it always come down to, “both of you where always up to no good,” with a hint of a smile.

When you’re a teenager you want to be part of a group and so did Karim. He wanted to belong, be heard and accepted. I think he felt most comfortable in a group where it didn’t matter that he was Arabic born or that he didn’t succeed academically. Everything that mattered was to be cool. Their definition of cool was beating up others, robbing them and doing what everyone else does: drinking and smoking.

This must have been the beginning when he got into contact with ‘legal’ drugs. Our parents, especially our father, always made it clear how bad any sort of drugs are. Probably because he was addicted to heroin himself in his 20’s. But of course we didn’t know that back then.

I remember that Karim came home and told me he smoked weed and seemed really pleased with himself. For me, drugs were something I was afraid of and I still am, people change and become complete strangers to the point where you don’t even feel comfortable around them anymore. Karim didn’t care anymore what happened to him at school, it was just a waste of time and felt pointless as he would never succeed anyway, at least according to his teachers.

Feeling like a nobody must be a horrible feeling. I have never felt like that but I know Karim has and maybe still does. My mother arranged a job for him in Frankfurt. I don’t know when he started taking harder drugs, but all I know is that when he came back on the weekends he slept a lot, went out at night and was generally unpleasant to be around. That is how a drug addiction works though; it gets you high and then down. The turning point was when my mother got scared of her own son. Why? Because he had grown from the smallest boy in class to the tallest and had become very aggressive towards our mother and me. It wasn’t until a phone call that we all were faced with the facts about Karims addiction. It had gotten to the point where he had sold almost every gadget he owned to buy drugs. He also wanted to pick mushrooms from the woods and take them as drugs. Any mushroom you don’t know and eat will kill you, especially the ones that you take as a drug. He lived like a tramp in his room so that his boss didn’t see any other way than to call our mother.

Remembering my brothers big brown eyes, knowing that he just didn’t care about us, knowing he could act out any second reminds me how powerless we where back then and how scared I felt all the time. Karim had managed to make my mother believe he would change and stop using. I guess that is what all drug abusers tell their parents and friends because they know it is what everyone wants to hear because nobody really knows what to do or how to help. I think my mother realised how bad it really was when he took over 700€  from our father for his gun license. He had to take it in order to become a forester, a job he has only gotten because of my mother. He came back home with no licences telling us this amazing story about how he took the test and failed the last part. I believed him even though I could always tell when he was lying. He never took that test. He paid off debts and spent the money on more drugs, as well as stealing various things out of our flat to sell them. I felt so betrayed I thought he would never steal anything from me, ever.

Thinking back I was so angry and upset and I hated him for all this lying, stealing and hurting. I was always hoping he would find his way back, but instead it only became worse. He was taken into a care home, then to rehab where he became clean for a little while. My father, who himself was a heroin addict when he was younger, said to me “your brother is only waiting to get out to do more drugs. He is telling the psychologist just what she wants to hear.” My father was right. The second my brother was released and had the chance to buy drugs, he did.

It has taken years of all of us being together and being apart again. I think there is just so much distance a family can have and I am certain that my family never had it easy. All the time my parents had to spend hoping and fearing what would happen to their son made them grey haired.

Since then it has never been the same. One good effect it had was that my parents started to get along a lot better. But the hard fact was that my brother wasn’t getting better anytime soon. He had to make the decision to go back to rehab, and this time he would have to do it all by himself.  The therapist explained to us that he is the only one who can make the decisions now and that we could not do anything for him.

My brother was always a very soft person. As a child he was never able to hold on to his pet rabbit, which then ran across the whole room and left dirt everywhere. It was hard for him to stick up to others and it was very difficult for him to like himself. This is probably the reason why he was so easily taken by hallucinations. There are drugs that cause anyone to hallucinate, where you won’t be able to tell what is real and what not. Everyone has heard of people thinking they can fly when they are on drugs. That is exactly why they take a drug that plays with their fantasy and brain.

When he finally decided to go back to rehab I didn’t want to take part in it anymore. I told myself that it is because I just didn’t care and what good would it do anyway? But now I can see what good it would have done. I would have been there for him. I would have been his ally, the one who would not judge him because I know him, because he is my brother.

But what did I do?  I judged him, left him and moved away. Of course, I was only 19 years old back then and had my own future to deal with, my own battles to fight and was just too scared of what would happen if he would relapse again.

Having to see my mother look around on the underground for him makes me so upset that I wish I could drag my brother in front of her to prove that he is alright. But unfortunately I can’t do that because it is not true. He might not be skinny with his bones sticking out anymore because he had lost appetite.  He might not be so dirty that the bathtub would have brown marks after he washed, but he certainly is not on a better track now than he was before. All we hear now is that he is dealing drugs, which is an even riskier business.

I can’t really say that I don’t understand, because I do. He doesn’t know what else to do. Selling gives him the feeling that he earns money with which he can buy himself whatever he wants. What I don’t understand is how he can do this to his own child. Then I am back again, wondering how someone who should be so close to you can be so far detached. Someone that you should love, but you only feel sad and frightened for them. The worst is that I cannot even say I love him. I only love him because I have to, not because I want to anymore. Isn’t that the worst thing you could think about your own brother? I am scared for his life every day, I just wis he would understand the consequences and be as normal as everyone else’s brother who doesn’t take drugs, who doesn’t deal and  who never gets scared of losing him. It’s not easy being the big sister.

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