Ask an Expert: Should I Visit my Untrustworthy Addict Brother?

By Jay Westbrook 01/29/15

Today's question is on whether it's a good idea to visit a brother in treatment who you have a bad history with.

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My brother is 26 and has been in a non-luxury recovery facility for heroin abuse and has been asking for me to visit him. I have always had issues with him and been reactive to him and I know that's not good for him, especially now. He's often been so difficult and selfish and self-absorbed that I don't trust him. He's very manipulative. I'd like to forgive him but it's hard to trust him. This is his second go-round. Is it best if I don't visit him? And if not, what advice would you give me as to how to best handle the visit?  I am two years older than he is, by the way.

Jay Westbrook: You sound like a very caring sibling, and I applaud you for seeking greater perspective before making a decision about visiting your brother.  Here are several points for your consideration:

1)  1) You are under no obligation to visit your brother, period. If you do decide to visit him, it would be very useful to know why you are making the visit. What is the purpose of seeing him? Would the visit be to support him, to shame him, to check up on him, to catch up with him, to guilt-trip him, to offer encouragement, etc. – the list could go on and on. Please make sure your motives are clean.

2)  Since you’ve always had issues with him, what steps are you going to take to protect yourself, to avoid becoming reactive, and to assure that you are not manipulated? Perhaps placing a call to his counselor at the treatment center, and asking that he or she be present during the visit, or even arranging a structured visit with that counselor could create a safer and more productive visit.

3)  You said, “I’d like to forgive him, but it’s hard to trust him.” The similarity between forgiveness and trust is that they are simply decisions on your part. The difference between them is that forgiveness is for you, so that you no longer sit in anger and resentment. It does not mean that you condone or excuse his past behavior, does not require that you trust him, and does not even require that you allow him back into your life. You forgive so that you can be free of corrosive thoughts and feelings. Trust, on the other hand, is also just a decision, but a decision you base on his behavioral change over time. If you don’t observe consistent behavioral change, you would be wise to maintain an untrusting posture and vigilance around your brother. You might also work with your brother’s treatment center counselor to identify and communicate the behavioral changes you would want to see before being willing to consider offering your trust again.

I hope these suggestions helped, and please let us know your decision and the outcome.

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G Jay Westbrook, M.S-Gerontology., R.N, is a multiple award-winning clinician (Nurse of the Year), Visiting Faculty Scholar at Harvard Medical School, speaker and author who specializes in both substance abuse recovery and End-of-Life care and is an expert in Grief Recovery©. He has both consulted to and served as a clinician in multiple treatment centers and hospitals, guiding clients through their grief, and working with them and their families on healing broken relationships. His lectures to physicians and nurses include trainings in When Your Patient is a Substance Abuser: Currently or Historically. He can be reached at [email protected]or 818-773-3700818-773-3700.   Full Bio.

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