I am going to start with a little bit of a background here with my sister.

Her drug of choice was heroin and meth. She really used drugs to cope with our childhood and the chaotic household we grew up in due to untreated mental illness in our mom and addiction in our dad. The combination of both made for a wild childhood. I held a lot of guilt and still do honestly about her drug use because I left home as soon as I was able to, and I left her there.

My sister got pregnant at 15 years old and at the time it was too much for me to process honestly. I left her with our mom who at this time had an active addition herself to pain medication. This is where my sister’s addiction really took hold because my mom supplied her with pain medication. I knew what was going on, but like I said I was only 19 at this time and I could not process it nor did I know how to help at the time. I held so much guilt and anger at myself and I kept thinking If I was only a better sister, if I was only stronger then maybe I could have prevented what was to come, and what was to come was horrific. The years went by, and my sister stayed in the household with our mom raising her son, my sister had two more children and ended up in several abusive relationships, got married, and got divorced. The addiction to pills slowly progressed to alcohol, then it progressed to meth, and then meth to heroin.

My sister gave up her children at one point, I later did end up taking all 3 kids and helped raise them for a couple of years until she reaches sobriety. So, in this, there were a lot of emotions on my side, fear, anger, resentment, shame, guilt, but also there was compassion and love. At the height of her addiction, we did almost lose her and there were times I did not know where she was at, she would disappear for weeks on end with no communication. I had so much fear when she disappeared. There was the chaos that was associated with her addiction when she was around, so I did have to put in a lot of boundaries, she took my car and wrecked it twice, she called me one time because she was scared, and her drug dealer would not leave the house until she paid the money, she owed him.

It was stressful, but in that, I had started learning about harm reduction. I had at this point graduated college and had my degree in behavioral health science and psychology and was working with those who had substance use disorder. I started applying my skills and knowledge to help her get into recovery. This process was not easy but continued with love support and compassion and I did my best to not shame or guilt her in any way. I started going to her every time she would call me because, at this point, she was homeless, and I did not know where I would find her next. I have found her in old run-down abandoned buildings or houses passed with needle marks. When I found her that way, I first would call for help and support, but I would just set beside her and tell her that I love her.

I was really going for the harm reduction model here at this point because I knew she was not ready for recovery yet. There were times I would meet up with her and give her food and I would also give her recovery resources. I provide all the resources we had in our town for support groups and recovery facilities. I let her know each time I love her and when she is ready recovery is possible. I planted as many seeds as I could, but she had that shame and that guilt that perpetuates addiction. I started going to Celebrate Recovery for myself and my own recovery process for those who have been affected by a loved one’s addiction.

I went for about a year by myself and with the kids and every time I saw my sister, I gave her an open invitation to come. She eventually started going and I then felt comfortable enough that she was in a place I could invite her to live with me and the kids. She had not stopped alcohol, but she had stopped heroin and meth at this point, the harm reduction model there, not expecting her to stop all substances at once. She got sober about a year later and she got to take her kids back and got her own life back on track. She has been meth-free and heroin-free ever since. She did have a lapse in alcohol last week, but we lost our grandma who was our rock in childhood. She was able to message me to say she was struggling, and I was able to be supportive, she then later came to me and stated, I was offered Meth and I said no. I was so proud of her because she could have easily fallen back into it. She said she was able to say no because of the support of her family.

Planting those seeds is hard, compassion and love are hard especially when there is so much anger and guilt inside of us. I could have easily let my emotions take over and I have before I really have, but I reach out for support and do my SMART recovery meetings. CRAFT works, Harm reduction work just takes time. That time is hard and there is pain and that is where we need to take care of ourselves and support ourselves. I have also followed this model with my spouse as well and he is currently in a rehab facility. With my spouse my anger showed more honestly, but when I changed my behaviors and applied the principles of CRAFT and harm reduction, and was able to find recovery on my own.

Written by Brittany Jackson