This week I wanted to share another very personal topic. As my sister mentioned in her blog post last week, she is a recovering heroin addict. Reading the first draft of her post and reading those words were difficult for me. For a long time I wouldn’t say the words out loud. You know how that is, when you actually say the words out loud, they become real. It was easier to skirt around it– my sister has problems or my sister has had issues with drugs. But actually saying my sister is a heroin addict or my sister is a recovering heroin addict was, and still is, extremely hard.
It was hard to read. It was hard to admit out loud. But it was even harder to live it.
Earlier this year she had actually asked me to write on this very topic but I wasn’t quite ready at that time. I knew that I’d share some things that she wouldn’t want to hear. And probably some things I didn’t want to remember or admit was part of our family’s truth. And most importantly, I never wanted to offend anyone who is an addict or a recovering addict. It’s not something I can empathize with. I’ve never been an addict so I can’t understand what it’s like to be one. And so my hope is to provide some comfort to those who are struggling as a friend, relative, or spouse of an addict. It’s not easy. And we all know it can end a million different ways. We all say that it’s important for people who suffer from addiction, sickness, etc. to have a support system. I think it’s just as important that the support system has a support system.
So here goes…
There’s a 4 year age difference between me and my sister. But it seems that what went on when she was in high school versus what went on when I was in high school was light years apart. People drank alcohol and smoked weed. But as far as I could see that was really the extent of it. I admit that I was super naive back then (and maybe I still am?). I went to my fair share of parties, hosted my fair share of parties, and drank my fair share of smirnoff ice drinks (insert gagging sound here). But I never got involved with anything beyond alcohol. I’ve never even smoked weed. Ever. I personally think it smells gross. I did, however, try an edible brownie once or twice. Needless to say I got the section of the brownie with no weed in it because I felt absolutely nothing. And let’s be real, I just wanted a brownie. Nom nom nom.
So to say that I was on the straight and narrow when it came to experimentation of drugs would be an understatement. I just never had an interest. I went away to college, but only for a semester before I ended up at Stony Brook University. I commuted for three years. I started working full-time with my dad at the age of 20. I was living up to the expectations of being Lauren.
Heather, on the other hand, had always been the most rebellious of the three of us. She was the one with spunk. She was the one with a cute little personality. And when my mom got sick and then my parents got divorced, she clearly didn’t handle it well. As she said, she became a terror. She was sent away to boarding school for the last year and a half of high school. I was about 20/21 at the time. And I have to say, it was the most relaxing 18 months of my life and my parents’ life. She was safe and that was most important. But as much as that 18 months was good for us, the effects on Heather were both good and bad. Heather’s issues prior to going to the boarding school were mostly behavioral– skipping school, hanging out with a bad crowd, stealing the car, lying, manipulating, etc. At that point she hadn’t started dabbling in hard drugs. But when she went to boarding school, she met a lot of kids that had.
When she graduated she was all set to begin her new life as a happy, well adjusted, college kid. But that ended pretty quickly. She began hanging out with kids she went to boarding school with. And had boyfriends that were into drugs. And from there, it spiraled out of control.
I can’t even pinpoint the moment the drugs started because she had been acting out for long that it all seems to mesh together. But the 9 or 10 years from when she graduated from high school until she became pregnant with her daughter were extremely difficult for everyone in my family. My mom just couldn’t deal with her bullshit, so for a long time they had a very bad relationship. My mom refused to let her live in her house (understandable if you saw how Heather acted). My dad had gotten so fed up with her at times, as well. He also told her she couldn’t live there anymore. (I think that was after he found out she had been stealing money from him, so again, very understandable). So Heather bounced around from place to place with her boyfriend at the time. And lo and behold, he too, got fed up with her issues. And while he wasn’t a drug addict himself, he was a dealer, so in my opinion, he wasn’t much better.
Those years were terrible. There were times we wouldn’t hear from Heather for a week or two at a time. It was scary but almost a relief. No calls = no drama. But no calls also made us all worry like crazy.
Heather tried to get sober a couple of times. I watched her detox in the emergency room at a hospital. The doctors pretty much just let her lay in a bed. It was excruciating to watch. But the minute she left the hospital, she started using again. It was a cycle. A terrible, and vicious cycle.
And all during this time, I heard about so many overdoses. Like, so many. From my sisters friends to a co-worker’s child to people from high school. Heroin addictions had become so common. It seemed like every other month I’d hear about someone overdosing. Every time my phone rang from an unknown number, I would get nervous. I hate to say it, but it almost felt like it was just a matter of time before my phone would ring or my dad would show up at my house crying with the bad news. (I literally played these scenarios out in my head countless time. It was probably a defense mechanism– like I was preparing myself for the possibility that it could happen, which is really sad).
I feel like I’m incapable of truly expressing what it felt like to go through all of that. But just like everything else, I try to look at everything in my past as a learning experience. What can I take away from the experience, what can I learn from it. So here’s a few tidbits that I thought I’d share:
- No matter how much you want someone to get sober, or lose weight, or fulfill their potential, it will never ever happen until they’re ready and 100% committed. As a supporter, you being committed is not going to cut it. The person wanting to make a change has to be ready for it. Because if they’re only trying because you’re pushing them, what’s going to happen when you take the day off or you can’t actually be there for them every second of every day? They’re going to go back to their old ways. You have to let that person run their own path. They have to come to you when they’re ready. And they might do it a few times before they’re really ready.
- It’s very difficult to understand and connect with someone who has or has had an addiction if you’ve never had one because it’s so far out of YOUR reality. The only thing you can do is be there for them.
- It sucks watching someone you care about live through a terrible addiction. Especially when you know that person has so much to offer the world. No bright side here, it just sucks.
- I can only speak for myself, but there were times I felt absolutely guilt-ridden for living my life while my sister squandered for her’s. It seemed almost incomprehensible at times that I was able to live my life as if her struggles didn’t even exist. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt that way. But the truth is, not living my life wasn’t going to help her live hers. There was nothing I could do to help her if she wasn’t ready herself. So living my life was the only way to ensure that I wasn’t wasting my life too.
- People say that addicts have to hit rock bottom before they “see the light” and decide to get clean. Unfortunately rock bottom is different for everyone. I am beyond thankful that Heather made it past her rock bottom because so many people don’t get that chance.
- Heroin addiction has become a global epidemic. We’ve all been affected by it one way or another. One of the things I tried to explain to Heather was that when you’re sober, you actually feel things. The lows can be very, very low when you’re not self-medicating with drugs. And those times can suck big time. But the highs are so much higher. When you can actually experience, be present and remember all the good things– there can’t be anything better!
I think the scariest part of all of this is that no matter how long Heather has been clean from her heroin addiction, I still worry at times. I know how easy it is to slip off track with “addictions” that are waaaaaay less addictive. Obviously she needs to understand her triggers, continue to work on herself, have a support system, keep busy, focus on her family, etc. in order to avoid slipping backwards.
My sister is full of life, full of energy and she’s got a lot to offer the world. Seeing her work through her addiction, become a mother, and take control of her life, has been a blessing. I hope she continues to believe in herself and her vision for her future because the world needs her sparkle.