Has anyone else loved someone who is struggling with addiction? I have. Love isn’t easy sometimes and there isn’t an instruction manual. Emotions can be difficult to process, especially when we are holding conflicting ones in the same space. Below, I share a piece of my greatest heartache and most difficult struggle.
Today, my post is originating from a deep longing to connect to the ones I love. This year I realized through a process of painful discovery that I had to let go of my sister and her adult children. My sister has battled with addiction throughout her adult life and as a result her kids were swept up in the culture and lifestyle surrounding addiction, and have not reached their potential. Two of her children have been in jail, one struggles with a psychiatric illness that began after Meth use, and none of them walked across the stage to graduate high school. Of her five adult children, only one of them is currently working. I’m not only grieving the loss of opportunities for each one of them, but also the connection I longed to create with them and the memories we would have made in time.
This issue has caused me more frustration, pain, and grief than any other in my life. My nuclear family is small consisting of just my sister, mom, step-father, and me. Because of my mental illness, Bipolar I, I never conceived children. I was always a little skeptical of quitting my medication in order to focus on a pregnancy and decided it may be for the best to not have any children. I still grieve over the loss of not being a Mom and have invested more instead in my sister’s family. She has five children. I realize that this is one reason the addiction in her family is particularly painful and distressing for me. I felt that as her kids matured and began having children of their own, that I could be involved in the lives of my loved ones. I could take my great nieces and nephews camping, ice skating, and to ball games. I was hopeful I could babysit, perhaps help with homework, and even take them on trips. That I would be a permanent fixture in their lives and part of the family. The only niece I have that has a child is currently living at home with her Mom and other siblings and is estranged because of the issue of addiction. All relationships are distant or nearly nonexistent as my continued confrontation regarding addiction in my family has only served to further fracture bonds and alienate me from my family. My Mother continues to enable and often will deny the extent of the damage caused relating to the substance abuse. I have raged and also have not been always productive in the way I dealt with this illness in my family.
In the end, because there has been little hope for reconciliation, I came to the conclusion to let go. It is a process that will take time. I still hang on and discuss my concerns with my mother, but in time, even these conversations will have an expiration date. Some things cannot be completely repaired, especially when accountability and effort are not part of the equation. I remain distant, with the door still ajar. I still miss my sister and her children, but I also know that until things are more stable it is best for me to disengage as the stress has caused me to relapse in my illness several times, becoming extremely depressed.
It’s hard. All the messages, texts, conversations over the phone, were my desperate attempts to connect to my family. Often, I raged, screaming loudly into the storm, shouting in panic and desperation to please get help. I was screaming so loudly because I knew they were in danger. I was screaming so loudly because I knew I was losing them. I tried everything to get their attention and I stood alone refusing to accept that they were simply not there, even though they were standing right in front of me. Years past and I still fought for them. In every single way, I fought. Sometimes it was sending a nice package of goodies, or bringing over tons of clothes from my closet that I no longer needed, or it was long messages of hope, encouragement, and ideas to help them. Other times, it was confronting the drug use, insisting they get a job, and telling them they could do better. I sent resources and websites to provide them with access to programs where they lived. These were my attempts to help them, but also to connect to them.
And, at the end of this journey, I was left completely and utterly alone with my Mom still enabling: buying my sister a new manufactured home, getting her a used car, paying for my niece’s lawyer to defend five charges that she incurred this year relating to her addiction. The cycle continues.
This long fight is almost over. My sister and her kids never call, never write, and are not involved in my life. What I desired, does not exist. My dream of watching my great niece and nephews has a high likelihood of never coming to fruition. My sister and I may never be able to repair things or trust one another. We are too different and live very different lifestyles.
Looking back, I was longing to connect. I wanted to share the holidays, vacations, and memories with my family. I wanted them to be healthy enough to fully participate, not just with me, but in their own lives. I wanted them to finish school and work so that they had more power and opportunities in their lives. I now am stepping down, disengaging. I am weary from nearly 2 decades of fighting.
I will hold on to the memories I have with my family. I will continue to love from afar and wish for the best. And I will show up in my life, fully present and focused, ready to take my life to a place of real healing and forgiveness.
The greatest lesson I have learned relating to this struggle is that during conflict, we are seeking connection. Sometimes, we have to clear a pathway in order to reach the place where we can connect. And ultimately, if people are unwilling or unable to connect, it is wise to honor yourself and do what is needed to continue on the path towards healing.
Today, I am connecting with myself. I am here. And I will do what I can to move forward, rebuild, and grow. Another seed planted in my garden.