Damian’s dead body was found on the floor of his flat when he was only 34-years-old.
I was his baby sister and I was only 23 at the time.
Neighbors had seen Damian through the window, lying on his kitchen floor. But they didn’t think anything of it because it was a daily occurrence for him.
On my worst days, I often wonder how long Damian laid there before he died. Could he have been resuscitated? Could he have been saved?
The coroner’s report says he died from toxicity of alcohol and prescribed medication in the blood. It was unconfirmed as to whether it was a suicide or an accidental overdose.
Regardless, Damian was always chasing his meds down with copious amounts of piss and this would be the final time.
When I think about my big brother, I feel conflicted. On the one hand, I feel sadness for him that he was unable to be saved from himself.
And on the other hand, I feel anger about all the pain and suffering that his life caused my parents and I.
Alcoholism infects the entire family. Like a malignant tumor, it’s cells multiply and spread until you’re all diseased.
I was 10 years old when I first realized that my brother was different. At that point I hadn’t heard of the term ‘alcoholic’.
But when Damian didn’t turn up to his own 21st birthday party, I thought that was very odd.
I mean what kind of person doesn’t love party food, balloons and presents? It was incomprehensible to my naive 10-year-old self.
That was the starting point, in regards to being aware that my older sibling used alcohol in a different way to other people. It was also the starting point of 13 years of hell until his life-journey terminated.
I witnessed my brother beat my elderly parents.
I sat with my beautiful mother as she held her finger together in a blood soaked tea-towel after Damian bit through it.
I begged her to go to the hospital and she responded with: “I can’t Vanessa because then people will know.”
Our whole family wore a coat of shame. Shame about the bruises and cuts that appeared on our bodies. Shame about the police cars that were called to our house every week. Shame that this ‘horrible human being’ was related to us and had the same blood running through his veins.
We covered for Damian. We made excuses for his behavior.
Alcoholism was OUR BIG SECRET.
And it was tiring to have to ‘keep up appearances’.
At 15, I was sitting with my friends in the school cafeteria and left them because I was feeling unwell. I went to the computer room, which was located in the school library.
All I remember is feeling out-of-control and reliving what I’d seen Damian do to our mother the night before.
When I finally came to, I was being held down by three teachers. I had pushed the keyboard and computer off the library desk.
My parents were called to the school.
A doctor was called to the school.
And I was placed in a psychiatric ward for three weeks, diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
(And you can only imagine the gossip-mongering that went on after the event at an elite all-girls private school).
I was just reacting to what was going on at home. I wasn’t crazy! It was Damian that needed to be locked up in a mental institution, not me.
I was 15 for fuck’s sake!
As it turns out, I’m grateful for that day at school because it was to be a new starting point in our lives.
Mum and Dad sold our house and we moved to an address where Damian couldn’t find us. Eventually my parents organised an apartment for him and visited him weekly up until his death.
I’m forty now yet I still carry the scars and trauma from living with an alcoholic. I love my brother but I hate him too. I love him because we share the same DNA. I hate him for the turmoil and pain that he caused my parents.
In 2008, I wrote a feature film script about my family’s journey through alcoholism. But I admittedly bailed on the Melbourne film director when he began pre-production.
Looking back, I wasn’t ready to face my past publicly and artistically. Perhaps, I’ll never be ready?
But being able to pen this column about my brother’s fatal addiction shows that I’m willing to try.
And that’s a start…