Content warning: This story contains references to drugs and alcohol that might be triggering for some survivors.
“Addiction Doesn’t Let Go,” anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
You know the quotes people share about their sisters? One I see a version of often is this―"Having a sister is like having a best friend you can’t get rid of. You know whatever you do, they’ll still be there." ~Amy Li
These quotes always make me wonder what my relationship would be with my sister if her relationship with Meth had not started. Sometimes these quotes are nothing more than a painful reminder of the relationship I still wish for, but do not know how to create.
My sister’s addiction started young, at age 13/14 with a plethora of different substances before she picked her drug of choice, Meth. As a sibling of someone with addiction I don't want to tell you her story, only she can do that. I do think often siblings of addiction are in a hard spot. Watching your parents relationship bend and almost break time after time over what to do, and how much to support, enable, or let go of their child. Watching the sibling you love fall deeper and deeper into their addiction, logically knowing they are sick, emotionally being so angry, scared, hurt, and even at times jealous. Not hearing from them for months, even years at a time. Being so afraid to answer the phone after a certain hour. Knowing it could be the hospital again, and this time not to release a live person.
All the attention of your parents and family are going to save the life of the sibling you love. At times it felt like there was nothing I could do to redirect. Every phone call from family revolved around my sister’s addiction. I moved to Michigan, and no one could visit me, my sister was pregnant and all the time, money, and energy needed to go to supporting her. My brother got lost in the shuffle. I started avoiding phone calls because I couldn’t handle hearing them complain about my sister, or hear about the most recent disagreement between my parents about what to do for her. Worse was when there was a good day, I knew would be followed by disappointment.
Watching your parent’s hope crushed over and over is a hopeless feeling.
Every time my sister got pregnant the hope would come back to my parents. This time! She will get better, because of the baby! And she did try every time. But her addiction also made it hard for her to remember others.
Leaving for a trip? She is likely to have a crisis and need you.
Birthday―no, addiction makes people some of the worst versions of themselves.
Holidays? Great time for a breakdown.
Death of a beloved grandmother―addiction meant stealing from your grieving mother.
Over and over again.
My mother was going to help me move for graduate school one summer, we were supposed to leave on a Monday, the hospital called Sunday night, she was there, we hadn’t heard from her in months. Instead of leaving for graduate school I got to help my mother find a rehab center that would take my sister and our insurance. I told my sister you either need to go to rehab or I am taking you to a women’s shelter because you can’t stay here anymore, my parents couldn’t do it, not to their daughter. While my mother sobs in the room next to us and while my father is outside speaking to the officer who came to let us know she was wanted by the police. Her one year old son toddled in and out of the rooms confused by the tension in the house that day.
Addiction doesn’t let go.
Have you ever resented a baby? It is a horrible feeling.
But knowing the child is enabling your addicted sister because no one will make her have to take care of her child, for a real fear for the child, and seeing the loss of your parents golden years to raising another child, sometimes two - is infuriating. Don’t get me wrong, I love my niblings like they are my own children, heck one or more of them is likely to come live with me at some point. Every time my sister is pregnant it is not the socially constructed celebration on a hallmark commercial.
It’s a devastating blow:
Will they be healthy?
Who will feed them?
Where will they live?
How will they live?
And since I work in higher education I go further and wonder―
Will they continue in the cycle of teen pregnancy and addiction?
How can we educate them and support them?
Will they have mental health support and opportunities?
The list goes on.
Sometimes her addiction has meant crying in an airport coming back from a work conference begging my parents to call child services. Sometimes it meant avoiding going home for holidays, or knowing holidays would not be restful but stressful. It meant throwing myself into positions where I could learn as much as possible about addiction and substance abuse.
It means working with students on college campuses around these topics and being able to watch people overcome and work within their addictions. It means wishing I could give my sister the same resources my students have. It means knowing all the right things to do, and still being helpless. Sometimes knowledge is power, but it also creates an understanding of when you are absolutely powerless to help someone.
Recently someone told me―a mother can only be as happy as her least happy child. Nothing has ever made more sense to me and described our family dynamic over the last 7 years of my sister’s addiction. As the child who wants to make her parents proud and happy, it feels impossible at times with the overshadow of addiction.
After two different rehabs, Child protective services taking away one of her children for six months, three children, and countless sleepless nights as a family―my sister seems to be in recovery. She is asking for help, and using it. She is actively seeking what she needs to care for herself and her children.
She recently called me. The first time in 5 years. She asked what kind of dress I wanted her to wear to my wedding. After the phone call I broke down in tears, it was like having someone come back from the dead, well really worse than death since I believe when people die they are in a better place and I could see she was not in a better place. Sometimes I think I might get the sister relationship all the quotes talk about, but I always worry that addiction will come back to take it away.
About the art:
The painting I made for this survivor is based on how addiction has changed their family's lives forever.
This painting is not my usual style but is much more messy and chaotic because addiction is messy and chaotic. The darker colors at the bottom represent the isolation and depression felt during the dark times of addiction when it comes back and takes hold.
The trees growing at the top represent how something great can emerge even from the darkest times. There's a quote at the bottom right that says, "Sometimes when you're in a dark place, you think you've been buried, but you've actually been planted."
I like this quote because even when life is especially difficult, great things always emerge out of them. Often it's not easy to see at first, but takes many many years to show (much like how a tree grows). I hope that whenever things are looking dark, this survivor can look at this panting and know that eventually, growth will arise out it.