Back in November, I asked some brave souls to share their stories of addiction and recovery with me. One of the first people to want to share was my very own sister, Michelle. I can’t lie. . . I hesitated. I was thrilled she wanted to share her story. Absolutely thrilled. But, I was scared. I hadn’t heard my sister’s story yet. Obviously as my sister, I knew a great deal about her story. But I didn’t know it all.
Michelle sent her story to me on Thursday. I just read it a short time ago today (Sunday). My heart breaks for the things I did not know. I am going to share pieces of her story while trying to protect her privacy.
My sister is now 40 years old. Her addiction began several years ago with narcotic medication prescribed to help manage pain after fracturing her leg. She began to use the medication to numb the pain she felt in her heart (details kept private). Her doctor continued to prescribe refills for her and she eventually began to steal my grandmother’s medication as well. Eventually we caught on to her usage. We asked our Pastor to help us with an intervention and we brought her to a two-week program at a Fridley hospital. It worked for a bit. As her family, we put this “treatment” thing behind us and felt like we had kicked it’s butt. We really had no clue. . . Eventually signs of use appeared again. A troubled marriage, a messy house and uneven temperament made us suspicious and sure enough, she admitted to using again. This time alcohol came into play and we were finding empty bottles scattered about or filled with water. Michelle went to Rochester this time for a longer in-patient program. After the program, she stayed in Rochester at a halfway house. Her personality was back. She was bubbly and social. During that time, she also split from her husband and my parents took care of her two children. She moved in with our parents and eventually got her own apartment with her kids. She had kicked it for good this time. . .
Enter April 23, 2013.
The day we found Mike. I’m going to share Michelle’s words about this day. I have shared plenty of my own and it really speaks to how much pain she felt.
“Then one night my life was shattered and torn apart. I still remember ever detail to this day. My sister had called me and told me my brother was gone and I remember telling her what you mean he’s gone…she said he hung himself. I said this is not true and she said yes it is. I immediately started bawling. Writing this now I am bawling remembering everything so vividly…she said she was on her way to pick me up…I remember hanging up the phone with her and I started screaming and bawling. The neighbors came and watched my kids for me until their dad could get them. I remember falling on my apartment floor and the neighbor helping me up. I remember while my sister was driving to meet the cops, friends and family at my brothers I was making calls to family members to let them know what had happened..to shorten this a bit to make it even harder was when the autopsy results came back and he had meth in his system this devastated my family and me more…everyone knew I was an addict but my brother, that was a bit of a shock..It was hard for me to handle as I didn’t have really anyone to go home and talk to about this I felt…my parents had each other, my sister was married at the time. I had a hard time dealing with this and thinking I couldn’t talk to my parents about this as I didn’t want them to hurt more than they were and I didn’t want to bother my sister as she had enough on her plate and two kids to raise. I felt so alone, so very alone… I remember after the wake we went up to the bar my brother had worked at and many people didn’t know I was his sister and that devastated me more.They knew he had my sister but not me.”
“I ended up relapsing big time about a year and a half to two years after my brother passed. I went back to pain pills, if I couldn’t get them from my doctor I would buy them off the street. I found this the only way to numb my pain..I would also take my sons adhd meds…ritalin and concerta. I took my sons meds to give me energy to get through the day working and what I thought was being a mom and the pain pills I took non-stop to dull my hurt…I was in a deep depression trying to hide all my emotions from everybody or I thought I was.” It hurts to find out how alone Michelle felt. How isolated she felt. We hired a professional Interventionist this time. I was so mad. Beyond mad. I felt betrayed in a way I still can’t explain without a bunch of swear words. I remember visiting her on family night and screaming at her. I am still learning that this is a disease. We can’t throw a bunch of money at it to make it go away. Michelle must make her sobriety a priority everyday and she must fight it. I can’t control it or fix it. I can support Michelle by being there for her, but this is her battle to fight.
I think as people that are not in recovery, we often think thoughts like “just don’t take the drugs or the drink” or “suck it up and fix it” and it just doesn’t work that way.
We must not let our judgments cloud our ability to help others.
I started grad school just a few weeks ago and I think this will be one of the biggest hurdles for me to overcome. It is so easy to pass judgment. I am hoping that you listened to your thoughts while reading her story and truly empathized with her pain and the addiction that chose her. Michelle also wrote “To the non-addicts out there, just know that I never wanted to be an addict when I grew up. Addiction chose me. . . I would never wish this on anyone.” Michelle is coming up on 18 months of sobriety. I wish I could put into words how extremely proud of her I am, but there are no words. Even as I type this, my eyes are clouded with tears of absolute joy for her.
“Everyone is constrained by past circumstances, but no one is confined by them.” – K.S. Berger