Being the Sister of an Addict

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.

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At Heather’s daughter’s Christening

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). 

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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.  

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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.  

Taking Control of Your Body & Mind

Let’s take a trip down memory lane… For a long time I was in a vicious cycle of overeating, gaining weight, and feeling like crap.  I  was completely out of control- and not just with my weight or what I was putting into my mouth, but with everything.  I didn’t even realize that something wasn’t right. All I knew was that didn’t like the way I looked in clothes and I was constantly comparing myself and my body to others.  I was very insecure.  It wasn’t a good look.

I hate that I wasted the better part of my 20’s feeling so badly about myself and my body.  Unfortunately, I can’t go back and change what was, so my hope in sharing this is to shake you awake if you feel this way right now.  Taking control of my health was the very first step for me in becoming who I am today.  It gave me more confidence because I proved to myself that I could do something BIG.  And when I say big, I’m talking about the way I shifted my mindset regarding food.  Losing weight can be super easy once you put your mind to it.  The challenge really starts when you reach your goal weight– you have to figure out how to maintain it!  It requires changes to your diet, your movement and most importantly your mindset. And THAT is a big deal.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on it I was using food for all the wrong reasons.  I was using it as a coping mechanism.  Nervous?  Eat.  Anxious?  Eat.  Angry?  Eat.  Sad?  Eat.  And that isn’t an uncommon theme.  A lot of people do that.  And that’s OK… sometimes.  But you can’t use food as a way to deal with every emotion you ever have (uhh, hi, old me).

Think about the actual purpose of food for one second– food is measured in calories and calories are energy.  Calories are meant to fuel you so that you can get through your day to day activities.  That’s it.  They’re not meant to be consumed in excess or at a deficit.  The goal is to consume as many calories from foods that provide you with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as possible. (Rather than wasting your calories on foods that provide little to no nutritional value.)  But we all know the truth: the ones that provide little to no nutritional value are the ones that we like most!!  Why?  Because they taste good! Because they have sugar in them.  Because they make us feel good (even if just temporarily).

But these foods are “bad” so we tell ourselves we can’t eat them.  But after a week or two or three, we cave.  And then we don’t just eat two Oreos, we eat a whole sleeve of them!!  If you are constantly depriving yourself of food Monday through Friday and then over the weekend you go ape shit on everything you see… are you really solving the underlying problem?  Because at some point, those “cheat days” go from just Saturday to Saturday and Sunday… and then Friday, Saturday and Sunday and before you know it, you’re back to your old habits and the weight comes back on.  And then you feel like crap about yourself.  I’ve been there… repeatedly.

But one day it just clicked for me:  I control what I eat.  I control how I feel about my body.  I control how I look.  I control how I feel about myself.  I AM IN CONTROL.  And since that day everything has been a lot easier for me.  My temperament is better.  I have more patience.  I am less irritable.  I am happier.  I am able to be the mom I want to be.  I don’t complain that I feel fat.  I feel more confident. I have more pep in my step.  I feel in control of myself and my life.

Only you can make the decision to take control.  Control is a very powerful thing.  It’s exciting but it’s also scary.  When you finally take control, you can’t use excuses anymore. I think this is why people shy away from it. It’s easier. It’s an excuse. It’s a way out. But if you have that mindset regarding your health, it usually trickles into other areas, as well. Being in control forces you to take responsibility. Ick!  Take responsibility for my poor food choices?  No thanks!  But the cool thing about taking responsibility and taking control means that you can literally do anything  you want to do!  You have complete control over your own destiny.  And that should excite the hell out of you!!

If food is a struggle for you say this everyday, repeatedly, until you believe it:

YOU are in control of FOOD.  FOOD does not control YOU.

I know it sounds a little silly to do, but trust me!

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It took work for me to get to this point.  It didn’t happen overnight.  But I had to start somewhere.  It started with recognizing that I wasn’t in control.  I let myself be controlled by food rather than me controlling food.  Then I had to figure out why.  If you know me at all, you read my blog, or you follow me on social media, you know one thing about me:  I’m not afraid to tell you that I’m a hot mess of a young lady that’s just trying to figure out life (Spoiler Alert: I’ll never “figure it out”).  I’m 100% happy to share the experiences of my life because I know that I’m not the only person who struggles with stuff– especially food.  And since I feel like I have a pretty good handle on this I’m even more excited to share it.

The day I realized that I was in complete control of my health was the first day of the rest of my life.  It showed me that I can do anything as long as I believed I could do it.   It taught me I could do hard things.  It taught me I could change my mindset and how I thought about food (and everything else while I was at it).  There’s not doubt in my mind that I could never have gotten through the last couple of years of my life if I didn’t have the confidence, mental strength and positive outlook I worked so hard for through my wellness journey. I am so grateful that I had the courage to take so many steps over the past few years to get to where I am today. This wellness wave has been an amazing ride and I’ll continue to show up for it every single day. 😉

My Passion Project

When I started blogging it was part of a secret mission.  I know that sounds super cool and top secret, but it’s not.  It’s been a personal mission to find my passion.  I know this may not make sense to everyone reading this but I don’t want to just have a job or have a career.  I want to build something of my own.  I want to be proud of what I do.  I want my children to be proud of what I do.  It’s not enough for me to say I make “x” amount of dollars a year. I want to leave an imprint on this earth.  I want to impact others.  My blogging has forced me to look at myself from a lot of different angles.  And in order for my blog to be authentic, I’ve had to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly!  This has all been part of the master plan (insert weird creepy laugh here).

Over the past several months I’ve been thinking about all the things I wanted to be when I grew up and all of the things I’ve actually done. The first thing I remember wanting to be was a teacher.  I was always playing school with my grandma when I was a kid– she was the student and I was the teacher, obvi.  Over the course of my childhood and through my teenage years, teaching was always on my list.

At some point, I wanted to be a magazine editor (not sure if I ever told anyone about this one).   When I was a kid I used to love reading magazines.  You know, like Bop!  And then I graduated to Fitness and Self and eventually Cosmopolitan (because what 18-year old prude wasn’t reading Cosmo?!)  I did this weird thing when I read magazines– I literally read them from cover to cover.  I used to read EVERYTHING in the magazine. Even the credits in the beginning. Even the name of the Mac lipstick I’d never ever wear. EV-ER-Y-THING.  But my favorite part of the magazine was in the beginning.  It was the note from the editor, alongside a very beautiful picture of what I dreamed every magazine editor looked like.  I used to think to myself, I want to be an editor of a magazineI want to be the one to approve the themes of each edition and “yay” or “nay” the ideas for stories for each section.  (I literally decided exactly what the editor did even though I had nothing to base it off of…but that sounds kinda accurate, right?).

But that dream faded pretty quickly.

Next up: sportscaster (I even went to college for this one!).  Although I still love to play sports and be active, my desire to follow sports has dwindled over the years.  But back when I was 17 or 18 years old, I was a big Mets and Knicks fan.  I would watch SportsCenter on ESPN with my brother every morning before school and I thought it would be so awesome to be the next Linda Cohn.  But that, too, fell by the wayside within my first semester of college.  Obviously that dream wasn’t the dream.

Eventually I fell into (and yes, I use those words purposely) working with my dad.  My dad worked for MetLife for 29 years.  I began working at his office at the end of my second year of college.  I was the Recruiting Coordinator.  I was 20 years old and had no idea what I was doing, but the girl I replaced must’ve really sucked because they didn’t even let her stay to train me.  I did get some training from my direct manager, but she dealt more with marketing so the actual nitty gritty of my job I kinda had to learn on my own by making phone calls and asking a million questions.

Three years later my dad brought me over to his new company, National Life Group.  He needed an Office Manager and thought I’d be a great fit for the small agency.  He was right… I totally nailed it.  Haha, just kidding.  Okay, okay, I didn’t not nail it, but I had a ton to learn.  I was only 23 years old and even though both companies were life insurance companies there was a big difference between my roles at MetLife and National Life.  I was running the office at National Life.  Good thing I was getting my MBA, right?  (Ha, I laugh at that only because when it comes to running a business there is nothing better than on the job experience.  You can take all the classes in the world but it will never beat out work experience.)

There are parts of my job I love.  For instance, every day is different.  And, I get to work on all aspects of the business—accounting, financial reporting, marketing, training, recruiting and on-boarding, even a little IT stuff.  I’ve grown A LOT since day one.  I’m not sure I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t been given this opportunity at a very young age.  And I am grateful for the autonomy and flexibility I have.  Even though I don’t own the business, I run the business.  And I take that very seriously (like 98.5% of the time).

So why am I giving you my job history?  Relax, I’m getting there!

I have done quite a few things over the years—barista at Starbucks, Recruiting Coordinator and New Business Processor (at MetLife), Beachbody coach, pure barre instructor, Operations Manager (National Life) and blogging.  And I am truly grateful for everything I’ve done because a) I’ve had the balls to go outside my comfort zone and try new things and b) I’ve learned a lot about myself from each one!

I’ve learned where my strengths are.  I’ve learned where my weaknesses are (brings back memories of my business school days when we talked about SWOT analysis).  I drilled down and figured out what I liked about each of those jobs/opportunities and what I didn’t like.  Here’s a list of the things I love:

  • I love to talk (I know… SHOCKER)
  • I love to listen
  • I love to help people
  • I love to lead small groups and work one-on-one with people
  • I love running a business
  • I love writing and editing
  • I love fitness
  • I love to problem solve
  • I love goal setting
  • I love sharing my experiences
  • I love providing motivation and inspiration to others

It took me 14 years of being in the workforce (18 years old- 32 years old) to figure out what my actual dream job is but I finally figured it out!  I’m in the preliminary stages of my endeavor.  Meaning, I’m researching and doing a shit ton of homework.  But let’s just say it involves ALL of the things I love to do.  For now, I’m calling it my passion project.  But eventually, because I’m going to work real hard at it and be real good at it (don’t believe me, just watch), it’s going to be my baby.  The job that will allow me to create the lifestyle I want to live.  I’m not ready to officially announce anything because I know people will ask me a ton of questions that I just don’t have answers to yet.  So hold your horses! It’s coming!

And while I’m working on MY DREAM, I really encourage everyone reading this to step outside their comfort zone and try new things.  Even if those things aren’t the dream, it’ll at least take you one step closer to it.  And don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and actually own your dream.  Because guess what?  You’d be surprised how many people are actually cheering you on versus tearing you down. I’ve never EVER gotten any negative feedback from any one of my blog posts.  In fact, people are encouraging and supportive and rooting for me!  So why wouldn’t people do the same for you!!?!?  They would!! Trust me!  🙂

Making Movement Part of Mom Life

Being a parent is literally the most difficult job I’ve ever had.  There’s always four little eyes watching my every move and four little ears listening to my every word.  It’s a big responsibility and no one truly understands it until they’re actually in it.  It becomes much more apparent when your kids start asking questions or repeating things you say.  You’re no longer free to stare at yourself in the mirror and make comments about your body while your daughter is slipping her feet into your shoes so she can play dress up.  You can no longer hide the candy or the “mommy juice” (aka diet soda in my house) because your son has become very curious and will ask “what’s that?” a million times before you throw a Twizzler at him to try.

Well, I guess you can do those things.  You can do anything you want.  But I think every parent wants to set a good example for their kids.  And don’t get me wrong, we all make mistakes and say unflattering things about ourselves, partake in eat-out-of-the-carton ice cream sessions, and scream or yell at our kids out of frustration.  And that’s all OK because no one is perfect.  We’re all just doing the best we can.

I’m going to take a step back here for a second.  You ever say something and before you actually finish the sentence all you can think is I sound like mother/father?  It happens to me ALL THE TIME!  Some classic lines in my house growing up were because I said so and life’s not fair.   Those are just things I remember my parent saying, but what about things my parents did or behavioral habits they had??

When I thought about this, the first thing that popped into my head was making my bed every dang morning.  As a child I watched my mom make her bed every day.  I was taught to make my bed.  And now, as an adult, I will not leave my house without making my bed.  It’s just part of my life.  It’s part of my routine.  It’s part of my lifestyle.  I watched this habit, I was taught this habit and this habit became a habit of mine (remember, habits are not always a bad thing!).

Creating and teaching healthy habits to my kids is very important to me.  My goal is for my kids to see me engaging in as many positive, balanced and healthy activities as possible.  Positive self-talk is one.  Eating a well-balanced diet that includes everything in moderation and never feeling guilty about indulging is another.  And of course, my most favorite thing in the world to talk about—movement.

The word movement is all encompassing to me. It means parking a little further away from the store because you have two good legs and you should use them.  It also means not sitting on the couch every day from the minute you get home to the minute you’re ready to transition to your bed.  It’s about having a dance party with your kids instead of watching TV.  Or running around outside while cleaning up the yard instead of playing on a tablet (two birds, one stone here people!).  And it also means getting your heart rate up and strengthening and lengthening your muscles with various forms of exercising.

I want my kids to witness and partake in all of the above. I want movement to be a big part of their lives.  I want it to be a non-negotiable.  I want it to become part of who they are are and what they do.  I want it to be part of their lifestyle.

And while I won’t know if what I’m about to share is actually working until later on down the road (I’ll keep you posted by writing a blog post about it in 20 years), it couldn’t hurt to try some of these ideas.

Make time instead of making excuses.  I could probably write a 30-page dissertation on how I hate when people say they don’t have time.  No, you have time, you’re just not making time.  Instead you’re making excuses.  If something is that important to you, you find a way to get it done.  I try not to use the phrase “I don’t have time.”  Instead I say: “it’s just not the highest priority right now.”  Because if it was higher on the list, it would be getting done. Yes, it’s that simple. No, for real, it’s that simple.

If you want to be healthier, more fit, more balanced, more in control, have more energy… then MAKE IT A PRIORITY!  You might have to adjust your sleep schedule slightly or limit your social media scrolling time.  Unfortunately there are only so many hours in a day so you just need to allocate your time better because no one has time.  No one ever complains they have too much time.  We all just say there’s not enough time in the day… or do we just need be honest with ourselves about how we’re utilizing our 24 hours?

Workout while the kids are sleeping: I commend any mother that works out with her kids playing in the next room. I think that’s amazing. I prefer peace, quiet and not having to worry about how many times I’m going to have to pause to break up a fight or “oooh” and “ahhh” over artwork.

When I workout at home, I set my alarm as early as 4:40 AM so I can get my workout in before the morning mayhem begins. I know it sounds super early and maybe too early to some, but your body gets used to waking up early. It’s worth it to get your 30-minute workout done in 30 minutes rather than 45 or 50 because of all the stop and go.  Plus, I’m a working mom so I don’t have much choice– there’s no opportunity for a nap time workout.  And by the time I get home, well I’m lucky if I can keep my eyes open past 8 PM.

Get your kids involved in exercising: However, there are times that I snooze my alarm on a Saturday morning. And I do that knowing that at least one of the kids will be waking up during my workout. It’s usually Ethan and he comes downstairs and sits and watches me.  But really he doesn’t STFU for 30 minutes!!

So while I regret hitting snooze because my workout won’t be as good as I want it to be, I figure it’s a good opportunity to teach Ethan about my love of movement. He imitates me using his Styrofoam weights, uses my step to attempt some cool moves, and works on his plank hug grip while I work on my plank. It’s cute and I love it.

Playground + Walk: I absolutely love being outdoors with my kids anytime it’s over 50 degrees. Every time we go to the “big park” in my neighborhood, I make it a point to remind them in the car: first we take a walk and then we play on the slides.

That’s right, the minute we get to the park I pop the kids in the double stroller and we walk around the park twice before playing.  I like this tactic for two reasons: 1) It’s an opportunity for movement FOR ME! And 2) it teaches my kids patience. They don’t always get to run to the swings the minute they see them.  And now it’s just part of the routine of going to the park.  It’s not like it happens every other time we go.  That means I don’t have to play “let’s make a deal” on the days I want to go for a walk. (I save that for when we leave: Ethan, Alex, do you want ice cream?!) #notajoke

And last, but definitely not least, schedule your workouts into your week on Sunday evenings.  Not like I think I’m going to barre Monday and Wednesday and I’ll run, like two days.  No, like, write it down in your planner and check it off as you complete the workout.

You might not have to write down your workout schedule forever, but I’ll be honest, over a decade into my wellness journey and I still find it useful to write it out.  In a way I kinda build the rest of my week around my workouts.  What I eat, when I socialize, when I have a drink (or two).  It helps keep you honest and who doesn’t like checking something off a list!?!?

None of these tactics are that sophisticated.  I prefer to keep things simple.  My kids are going to develop some of my habits (good and bad).  My goal is to give them as many good ones to latch onto as possible!