Addiction crushes a family, dreams
At some point long in the past, I took to answering middle-of-the-day phone calls from my mother by asking, demanding, actually, “What’s wrong now?”
Because if she calls me around that time, then, usually, something is wrong. And more to the point, then, usually, something is wrong with my youngest sister.
Something along the lines of: She was fired from her job. She was arrested for stealing. She was booted from the treatment program. Again.
The latest of these calls came the other week — I happened to be in the Gazette newsroom, writing one of the stories in this series.
This time around, I was told, she’d been put in jail. Sentencing violation. A probation officer showed up at the house one day, suspected something, and sent her off for a drug test. She failed.
It wasn’t much of a surprise. My family and I knew she had been using. We just weren’t sure what. Maybe heroin. Maybe Xanax. Or whatever else she had managed to get her hands on.
In one sense, the news was a bit of a relief. After all, she’ll have to stop while she’s in jail.
Anyway, I bring this up as a matter only out of a sense of honesty. Having reported much of this series, I felt I had to disclose that addiction has touched my family, too.
To do otherwise, felt, in some sense, dishonest.
We’ve been coping with the fallout from her addiction for about nine years now.
And life in that time has been but a never-ending string of problems. That’s one of the insidious things about addiction. It lays waste not only to the person suffering from it, but it hurts the people who are closest to them.
And we are heartbroken. And tired. And angry. And a hundred other things.
But mostly we are not whole, as a family. Which is the thing that hurts most. One of us is missing.
I’m reminded of it every time I walk into my mother’s house and look at the photo of us all hanging on the wall.
It’s there because my sister put it in a frame and gave it to my mother as a present. Inside the frame is a piece of paper that says, “Happy Mother’s Day.” It’s written in crayon.
The photo was taken around Eastertime nearly 30 years ago. We're sitting in front of a big inflatable egg. She was about 3 then. She's in a pair of bright red overalls, sittting on my lap. We were all laughing.
But that girl, the one who used to chase bugs in the backyard and did well in school, who later played softball and wanted to go to college, is gone. In her place is this other contemptible person who lies, steals and manipulates.
That’s the disease personified.
Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two. And honestly, it’s easier to be angry than it is to be understanding, which really, is just the thing needed here.
What there is to understand is that although she has made some stunningly poor choices in her life, they are largely the result of a disease that compels her to be as she is. I rather knew it to be true before I started working on this series; I know it to be all the more true now.
She had hopes and aspirations, and none of them were to become addicted. Yet, she is.
And there isn’t anything my family can do, except to hope that she takes responsibility for her well-being.
The first step would be that she fully accepts her problem. Nine years on, she has yet to do so.