Three or four years ago I would’ve judged an addict as someone less than. Less than worthy. Less than respectable. Probably even less than human. Definitely less than worth my time.
That was until addiction entered my life.
Facing that addiction caused me to question my faith in god and in christianity. It also forced me to challenge my misconceptions and judgements.
I have a younger sister (4 years my junior) who fell victim to the numbing effects of alcohol and prescription drugs. She was in a bad marriage. Without going in to detail I’ll just say that she felt undervalued and neglected in that marriage. It was very painful for her. She often cried to me and I would quip the christian responses at her that “marriage is for life” and that “she made this choice therefore she must live with it” or “keep asking god for strength. He will not ever give you more than you can handle.” My christian beliefs, along with the beliefs of her christian peers/family, made her suffer in a lonely silence. She was dying inside. She was lonely. She was afraid. She was overworked and under appreciated. She became unnoticed.
In fact she became so invisible in her pain that she was able to silently begin her descent into addiction without any of us even noticing. Drugs and alcohol became her companions. They carried her burdens better than we had.
At first it was just the drunken nights that I was ashamed of her. The nights when she would drink to the point of drunkenness and make embarrassing comments or act overtly sexual or demean her husband in front of us and others. The next day I would call her and tell her she needed to show her husband more respect. She needed to back off and be more submissive. Make him feel like a man. What a fucking fool I was!
Then it escalated to the time when I saw her handling her foster child like a rag doll. She was so drunk she couldn’t even manage holding him safely. She was drunk and belligerent. But again I shrugged her off…but this time not as easily. That night would remain on automatic replay in my mind. Over and over again. The woman I knew her to be would never hurt her children. I know that she was not intentionally being flimsy with G. She loved L and G with all of her being. So that nagging sat with me…”what is going on with her that is causing her to lose sight of what’s important? Why has she changed and what has changed?”
Eventually I began to question her husband about her drinking habits. What he was witnessing at home.
He didn’t provide me with many answers and I began to feel like I might be the only one who cared enough to notice or ask questions.
She began to waste away, literally. Her body weight dropped significantly. Her eyes began to look sunken. She was no longer a woman that I knew and recognized. But I could still see the bright, smart, witty person deep under that depression. She had simply lost her way.
She began to pull away from all that loved her. She became unreliable, uncaring, lethargic, and unpleasant. The signs were becoming more and more clear but still I needed more. I began to sympathize with her husband more than I did her. I began to feel sorry for him and campaigned in anger against her. She was disgusting. Her behavior ungodly and abhorrent. I lost empathy for the person she was deep inside that addiction. I had to be hardened to protect myself before I could find empathy and expose myself to the possible pains that lie ahead. So, in a sense, it was easier to feel angry, pull away, and let her suffer from her own choices. It was easier not to love. What I couldn’t understand during this period was that she did not want to be this way. She didn’t want to be addicted. She would choose freedom and love over the addicted person she had become if she thought it were possible. I couldn’t see that through my anger/protect-myself knee-jerk blinders.
I remained angry until those final days when she was found passed out while caring for her daughter and foster child. Until that day I snuck in her room to find a duffel bag full of empty alcohol bottles. Until that day I learned of her affair with a genuine asshole. Until that day when I realized she was escaping something. That day when I began to understand her pain was real and god was not taking it away. Until that day that I realized it was truly time to take action or she would be dead. DEAD. My first need was to protect her children but I also needed to attempt to help her.
I began to rally to save her. I didn’t want her to kill herself by accidentally overdosing or mixing the wrong alcohol and RX together. I didn’t want her to suffer alone any longer. I could no longer ignore the human being that had been swallowed up by the pressures of life and had become a slave to addiction. I ventured on a journey that would be so painful yet so powerful. That day I called CPS (child protective services) and reported my own sister for neglect and possible endangerment to the children in her care.
That day a piece of me died.
Soon after that day investigations began by the christian agency that had placed G in her home. They too had suspected drug/alcohol abuse but had failed to push for evidence.
And soon after that day action had to take place or we would be burying my sister. She would die a horrible, early death of self-medicating her pain away.
I had never heard of interventions but after much research had decided upon using an interventionist to help convince her that she needed help. We hired Debbie Knauss and she flew in the next day to meet the family. Little did we know that she was world famous as one of Dr. Phil’s interventionists. But she was amazing. Amazing! She had each person involved sit down and write down a list of boundary statements to read to my sister. We wrote what we had witnessed and what we would do if she rejected treatment and our choices if she were to accept treatment. These were horrible to write. Painful. But necessary.
The following day we all met at my sister’s home while she was passed out drunk in the next room. We formed a circle, woke her up and sat her in the circle. She immediately knew what was going on as she and her husband were avid fans of the show Intervention. She quietly listened as each of us read our letters and boundaries (her mom,stepdad, dad, stepmom, sisters, BIL, brother, husband, SIL, MIL, best friend) and thankfully accepted treatment…reluctantly…but accepted nonetheless. Debbie Knauss immediately packed her bag and Debbie/Mark escorted her directly to a detox facility in Austin, TX. She was to remain there for a minimum of 7 days detoxing and during that time we as a family worked tirelessly to find a rehab center for her while covering for her at work and taking care of the home front while she was away. It was a bitter/sweet moment watching her drive away in that car. A moment of hope that everything was going to be okay. She was going to choose life over death. She was going to choose her family over alcohol/drugs. She was choosing to heal and that took a tremendous amount of courage.
Seven days later I was on a plane to pick her up in Austin and escort her to a facility we had chosen in Tucson. Cottonwood de Tucson (an extraordinary facility and staff…and mostly covered by her health insurance!) I have never been so nervous. I knew she was angry with us. I knew she was still in a state of need…a need for alcohol and drugs. I knew she could still say no to treatment. And I knew she was still deciding between her husband and this douche bag of a guy that claimed to love her. I was scared of her and the decision she would make. What would ultimately be more important…the guy who wanted her to believe she didn’t have a problem or the family who was begging her to get help and become the full potential of who she is?
It was a long plane ride for me (maybe for her too) but eventually we were sitting at the admittance desk at Cottonwood where she agreed to stay for an entire month of therapy.
That month was the most beautiful and most painful month of my life and I’m sure hers. She made astounding progress as a human being. She began to see the roots of her addictions. She began to see the beauty in the person she is. She began to believe she could overcome. And all of this without god. All of this without a deity to pull her through. No, this battle was hers. This battle was one she would win for herself.
Family week came. As a family we were educated in the science of addiction and the addict. We were taught to understand the reasons behind addictions and were able to understand the vulnerable humanity that encompasses each human being addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. During family week she invited 4 or 5 of us to come and she would discuss how we have hurt her and how we have helped put her in this situation. How we had enabled her behaviors. This week she would declare what she needed from us. I agonized each morning when I could see exactly the neglect she was feeling in her marriage (again I am avoiding details here). I felt physical pain when I would step in to fill her role at home and see what a shitty role it had become. I began to understand how quickly one could succumb to the enticing seduction of numbing when one was so completely ignored and under appreciated. I got a sliver of light that all could not be healed by god alone and that god did not sanction every marriage. I got a sliver that women are not to submit over and over again until they have lost all sense of themselves. But I only got slivers. Not enough to see the entire light.
Four weeks passed and my sister left Cottonwood a whole new woman. She had left the affair, recommitted to her marriage/family, and most importantly she left with the integrity of knowing how to handle her pain with proper tools. She was a confident and empowered woman. And we were a more educated and empathetic family.
During this time of enlightenment god’s “workers” decided to kick my sister down just as she was taking steps in the right direction. Not long after she was home (maybe weeks later) she and her husband decided to divorce. She badly wanted things to work but he was unable to forgive her for the affair. There was too much baggage and too much work to move forward. Nor was he willing to change.
When the foster/adoption agency heard of the impending separation/divorce they decided that G was better off in a group home. You know, since God only wants children placed in two parent christian homes.
I received a call from the agency telling me that they were going to remove G from my sister’s home the following day. My husband and I could foster/adopt him or he was going in to a group home. I began to bawl. Mark and I had discussed this possibility months earlier when my sister was suffering from the affects of addiction but not recently. Mark was on a plane to NY for 3 weeks when I received this call and they needed an answer within the hour. You have got to be fucking kidding me… a life decision within the hour…are you fucking nuts!?!
I immediately called my sister with the devastating news that she was losing her son (whom she had since birth and he was now almost 2 years old). I asked her if she would want us to take him (because we were willing) or would she rather let that part of her life go and have him go to a group home or family she did not know. Being the upstanding person she is she replied “I would so much rather him be in a loving family than a group home no matter how much it hurts me”. I gained a tremendous amount of respect for her when she uttered those words. I sometimes wonder if I would’ve chosen differently. If I would’ve chosen to lessen my own suffering rather than protect the son I was losing. She, in her addiction and pain, was constantly teaching me more about myself. Teaching me to grow. To accept pain. To pick up the pieces. To stop judging. It was a beautiful mess.
And so G became a part of our family. They brought him to me two days later and he’s been with us ever since.
I worried so much for my sister. For the pain of losing a child. I wept for her. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child. I can’t imagine resisting the urge to drown that sorrow with the alcohol and drugs that had carried me through so much and comforted me. But she found strength and integrity to feel that pain instead of numb it. She was evolving. In fact, Mark and I fought the courts to allow her to have her child back. She had proved that she was willing to get better. She had successfully completed a treatment program. She had remained clean and sober. Why should she not be allotted the same allowances that a birth parent would be granted? Why? The answer, divorce. Divorce killed her chances. This christian agency believed that divorce was the ultimate straw in removing this child. Ugh, my faith in god diminishes. Why, God, Why? Why torture a mother and child beyond what you already have? Why? Why not allow him the love of a mother who worked so hard to get clean? A mother who wanted to raise her son but got lost along the way? Why would you add so much to her pain? And, why, christians would you kick her when she was down? The christians who were supposed to be by her side…you failed her. I failed her. We all failed her! We judged instead of loved. We turned our backs when we should have been lifting her up! We encouraged her with the wrong advice! We failed as christians. We failed as human beings. We simply failed.
And in that failure she was punished. G was punished. L was punished. We failed.
I am so fortunate that addiction touched my life. It opened my eyes to people who are struggling. None of them want to be addicted. All of them are masking some type of pain. And so many of us who sit in our seats of arrogance are just sips away from bad situations turned addiction. We are not so different. Only more fortunate.
I am all the more richer for having experienced this in my life. I can see addiction for the pain and bondage that it is.
Nobody…NOBODY WANTS to be addicted. Nobody.
We are all human. All humans just millimeters away from fully understanding addiction. From fully experiencing it for ourselves. Your addiction, my addiction, your spouse’s addiction…they might just be a little less obvious. A little less life altering. But they exist. We are all escaping pain and sorrow. Just in different vices.
So tomorrow when you feel superior and more christian than that meth addict prostituting herself on the street ask yourself, “Who hurt her?” “What happened in her/his life that caused him to want to cover that pain?” Find empathy. Only then will you really begin to understand that we are all equal. Addicted or not there is bondage in our lives and we all wish to be free. Every last one of us. And god does not cure addictions. It is the power within us that cures it. It is me. It is you.
In honor of my baby sister, clean and sober, living a life full of love and acceptance. I admire you and respect you beyond words. Thank you for opening my perspectives on life. Thank you for teaching me that we can all pick up the pieces even when life knocks us to our lowest points. You are an inspiration to me. I love you.