True Story: My Sister Is An Addict

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of ‘Caroline’, her sister, and her sister’s addiction.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a university student from Sydney, Australia. I work part time as a LGBTIQ youth support worker, and for fun I like to read and ride my bike.

When you were kids, what was your sister like? 
My older sister, Clare, is six years older than me, whereas there is only two years between myself and my younger sister, Molly, so Molly and I were always the closest. I actually don’t have many memories of Clare when we were kids, but from what I do remember, she was always quite aggressive and strong-willed. She never did anything she didn’t want to do, and often butted heads with my parents because of that.
When did she first start to struggle?
Her issues actually started around food, when she developed an eating disorder at age 14 (I was 8). For most of her teen years, she was in and out of treatment with anorexia, bulimia and depression. At that point, she was also drinking quite heavily.
The whole way through this, my parents have been amazingly supportive. As my mother works in mental health, she had a whole host of resources and knowledge to help manage. They supported her by finding (and funding) therapists, nutritionists, doctors, psychiatrists and in-patient treatment programs.
As Molly and I were both quite young when Clare’s issues started, my parents tried to shield us from it to some extent, but they weren’t always successful. As anyone with a troubled sibling can attest to, it changes the family dynamic irreversibly.
What are the different things that your sister has been addicted to? 
In terms of substances, she was addicted to alcohol and cocaine all throughout her twenties. As far as I know, she started using coke when she was working at nightclubs, and started dating a man who was a serious addict. In the last few years, she became addicted to ice (crystal meth), when she was no longer able to afford cocaine. I would also classify some her food and exercise issues as ‘addictions’, in the sense that she had no control over her compulsions to exercise and calorie restrict.
Clare has never really tried to treat her addictions by going into a long-term program and addressing the mental health problems which I think are the root cause of her substance abuse. As a result, she has been unable to hold down a job for very long, so my parents supported her financially. However when they found out she was using their money to buy drugs, they cut that off.
My parents have tried very hard to help her beat her addictions and get well. Sometimes I wonder whether they have been too giving. Recently, she got fired from a casual job because she was stealing money. Her boss rang my dad and wanted to avoid getting the police involved. My dad paid the money back, so she wouldn’t have a criminal record. I understand why he did that, but I also wonder whether she needs ‘tough love’ to face the consequences of her actions.
How do you feel about your sister and her addictions? How do you navigate your relationship with her?
I have a very difficult relationship with my sister. For a long time, she blamed me for her struggles, because she was only child until I was born. I think she was always really angry with me and she definitely took that out on me growing up.
As an adult, I keep a very strict distance. I know that sounds very harsh, but like most addicts, Clare is impossible to trust. She lies constantly. I can’t fathom having a relationship with her at the moment, because I barely know who she is anymore. That makes me quite sad, because I never really got to experience having an older sister. Maybe in the future things will change, but when someone is in the throws of addiction, you’re not actually dealing with them as a person. You’re dealing with the addiction, and you simply can’t change them until they’re ready.Thanks so much for sharing your story, Caroline. Do any of you have challenging siblings? How do you deal with them? 

P.S. Potentially helpful: What to do when people disappoint you (or act like a-holes or dillwads)

photo by nathan jongewaard // cc

2 Comments

The Rachael Way

I'm so glad to see this issue is being addressed by a well written blog post. I, too, have a sibling who is an addict and it has changed me and my family in immeasurable ways. I never see literature about what it is like to live with an addict and how to deal. Thanks for sharing <3

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