Editor’s Note: This post contains sensitive issues relating to addiction and domestic violence that may be triggering to some readers.
I never understood how a person could turn away from a family member. That was, until I experienced the damaging effects of addiction firsthand.
The sister I once knew has been lost to me for over a decade. I have watched her decline, seen her on her deathbed more than once, and found myself shocked when she lived to see another day. Addiction is a traumatic and jarring roller coaster.
It all started the way it does for a lot of people — with a dependence on prescription painkillers that began following a routine surgery. We have an opioid epidemic in our country, and it is destroying families, including my own. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. My sister became an expert at doctor shopping and convincing health care professionals that she was in chronic pain. But when the prescription painkillers became too difficult and expensive to obtain, she turned to heroin.
One of the most painful aspects of my sister’s disease has been witnessing the damage it has not only caused her, but our entire family. Watching my once loving and caring sister turn into a dark, vindictive, dishonest, cruel, and hurtful person has been heartbreaking. Consumed by her need, there’s no room for anything else. Our family has tried everything to get her the help she needs, but the simple truth is that she doesn’t want to change. Rehabilitation only works when the afflicted can acknowledge that they have a problem and decide they are ready for change.
Sometimes my sister will go through periods where she seems to be doing well and hope is again possible. Inevitably, we let our guard down … only to pay for it later. This is why the little voice in my head telling me to invite her over for Thanksgiving scares me. It may sound selfish, but part of me wonders if doing so will end up ruining our holiday. Another part of me is terrified of re-establishing a relationship with her.
Families are complicated, and mine is no exception. For years, I watched my parents live in denial and enable my sister. I watched her break their hearts, again and again. I watched them make excuses for her behavior and try to “help” her when they were really just allowing her to continue on in her addiction. I became the bad cop, always telling them the hard truth and encouraging them to give her the ultimatum of choosing treatment or no longer living with them.
In the end, my sister became estranged from most of our family. My parents still have contact with her, but are no longer enabling her. It has been healthier for all us us, albeit very painful.
Currently, my family lives within 20 miles of my sister, her husband, and their young son. And although my dad has told me that they seem to be doing well on the outside, we’ve all harbored quiet fears that she may be in a toxic relationship and/or still using. At one point, we even tried to get family services involved out of concern for their child, but nothing came of it.
Still, I made the decision to have my dad invite them over for Thanksgiving, despite not knowing if she’d even show up. To be honest, I still don’t even know that I want her to. But it’s Thanksgiving, after all, and she is still my sister. I will always love her.
Last week, I got a call from my dad, who went over to check on my sister and extend my invite. But when he showed up, the home was deserted, and a note from police hung from the door. Apparently, there had been a domestic violence situation, and my sister and her son had been removed from the home.
I can’t tell you how this news crushed me; but at the same time, I felt relieved that she and my nephew are in what I hope is a much safer place.
Still, there’s much I’m left wondering right now. I don’t know if my sister is clean, or if she’s been using. I don’t know what will happen with my nephew, but am hopeful that his needs are being put first. And although Thanksgiving’s tomorrow, I still don’t know if I’ll see my sister — or at any point this holiday season.
All I know for sure is this: She will always be my sister and I will never give up hope.