Think back. Is there a time, that you can remember, when you truly felt happy?
“No. I don’t know why, I just, I don’t know.”
Well then, can you tell me about a time when you knew why you weren’t happy?
Well, when my sister and I were working together, we would always drive in together. Most days, she was getting ready before I was, other days, she wasn’t home and I knew that meant she wouldn’t be working that night.
She was elusive; often out with no explanation. She didn’t need one, she was an adult. I didn’t even need explanations and I was only 18. She was up to something, though. It was obvious to everyone, but my parents chose to ignore it. I was forced to face the facts before the rest of my family.
One afternoon when we were supposed to be getting ready for work, I realized I hadn’t seen her leave the house since I last saw her come in. It was unusual for her to be home and not working on a night that I was working. I got ready as usual, not thinking too much of it, but I finally got impatient and started knocking on her door.
She didn’t answer. I went to turn the knob, but it was locked from the inside. I can’t say exactly why, but panic shot down my spine. I knew exactly how to unlock these doors (I’m the youngest of four, guys, I’m a master picklock.) so I grabbed a pen, unscrewed the back, extracted the ink tube from inside and stuck it in the tiny hole on my side of the knob. I pushed it in and turned the knob until I heard a pop. I flung the door open to an average sight: my sister sleeping in her bed.
I walked over to her, relieved, and shook her shoulder to wake her. She rolled over to face me and I realized that her bloodshot eyes were rolling into the back of her head. I was startled, so I shook her again. She came to and sat up, instantly.
“What’s up?” She asked, groggily.
“Are you coming to work today?” I asked; nonchalant.
“Yeah, just give me a minute.” She walked to the bathroom. She was in there for a few minutes. When she returned, she informed me that she was, in fact, not going to work.
I shrugged, irritated, and left the house. I didn’t tell anyone about the strange encounter because I didn’t fully understand what had happened. My sister looked like she was done for. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong with her.
The following weeks were filled with conflict. My sister often needed something from me. I was pretty oblivious to what her true motivation was, so I gave in to her requests more than I should have. This opened the door for her to walk all over me. She stole over $300 from my sock drawer after I graduated high school. I told my mother, because she obviously denied it when I asked her about it; and when my mother confronted her, my sister obliged to repay the cash she had taken.
She apologetically handed me $60. Three twenty dollar bills: a fifth of what she took. This was the last time I would be susceptible to her thievery. I never left anything valuable behind when I wasn’t home. This, unfortunately, did not keep me safe while I was in the shower.
One evening, I was preparing to shower in anticipation of the school day to follow. I plugged my iPod in to my PC to charge and update while I was in the shower. I was walking from my bedroom to the bathroom when I saw my sister’s friend sitting on the front stairs, waiting for her. This wasn’t really unusual, but he was holding my iPod, USB cord still plugged in.
“Hey, is that my iPod?” I asked, not wanting to sound accusatory.
“Oh, is it? Hah, I guess so, yeah,” he said, handing it back to me.
“Yeah, I just needed it to charge… So if you could leave it there. That’d be great. Thanks.” I said, clearly annoyed, but not fully sure he was ever going to steal it in the first place.
I moved along and proceeded with my shower. When I emerged from the steamy vapor-filled room, I found that my iPod had, once again, been removed from its proper charging location. I had no doubt in my mind about who had taken it and I was furious. I went on a rampage through my house.
“I should be able to feel safe in my own home!” I shouted, outraged.
“I should NOT have to worry that my shit is going to be stolen every time I turn my back! Or any time I turn my back!” I continued.
My family ignored me, this was usual behavior for me, I guess. When something upsets me, I can’t simply ignore it. Something must be done. I can’t go on living in a place where my things are constantly at risk of being stolen. If that were the case, I’d have to find somewhere new to live.
I rationalized the issue with my parents, who wanted to remain blind to the situation at hand. They deterred my sister from having guests over, on the grounds that they could not be trusted. My sister felt like her personal rights were being violated. She was not the most rational person at this period of time in her life, guys. She was actually completely absent from her body, if I recall correctly.
The sister I once knew and loved was no longer present. I was living with a monster, controlled by the dark, tarry substance she so carefully injected into the veins on the back of her left hand.
She believed, in the fantasy world that she lived in, that none of the signs were showing. She was convinced by her own charade, thinking no one would see through her. I had known about the pills, but the needles were new. The needles were harder to hide.
I’m not sure exactly when the rest of my family finally started to accept the fact that one of our beloved sisters and daughters was, in fact, a drug addict. Whenever it was, it was too late.
She had been entirely consumed by the seductive intoxication of one of our most evil monsters, here on earth. The monster took her away and made her feel invincible. When she was feeling good on the inside, she thought it made her look just as good on the outside. She became so cocky when her pupils were dilated.
Most things she said left an unsavory taste in my mouth. Now that my family was involved, I decided I could step away without feeling responsible for her inevitable death.
Yes, indeed, it got to a point where I had to accept that my sister would die during my lifetime. I had to swallow the heavy truth that it would likely happen sometime in the next few years.
On December 27, 2011, I received several missed phone calls from my sister, Michelle. She was calling to tell me something my mother didn’t want to have to say out loud. I didn’t answer because I was at my friend’s birthday party. I didn’t notice the calls over the buzz of chatting over music.
When I finally checked my phone, I had 7 missed calls. I deduced that it was urgent, so I stepped into the hallway of the apartment building. I called my sister back, she answered right away.
“Hello?” I asked, hesitantly.
“Hey, mom wants to talk to you,” my sister said, hurriedly.
“Hello?” I heard my mother ask, absently.
“Mom?” I responded, affirming her identity, though I could tell by her voice.
She cut right to the chase, “Jacky’s in the hospital. She overdosed tonight. You should come right away.”
“But, I don’t have my car. I don’t have a ride.” I was dumbfounded.
“Call Danny. He already knows.” She informed me, much to my surprise.
Danny was my boyfriend at the time. I haven’t spoken much of him because there’s not a whole lot to tell. We were really close for a long time. He spent time with my family on his own. He was there when my parents found my sister face down on the floor of her bedroom.
He was returning something that he had borrowed. I forget what it was, it’s not important. He was leaving my room when he saw my mom, pounding on my sister’s door. She was almost frantic, trying to get the girl’s attention, probably to ask if she wanted to come down for dinner.
Danny was worried, but didn’t want to interfere where he wasn’t welcome. He innocently asked my mom if everything was alright.
“I can’t get in, she won’t answer me,” my mother said, not sure how much information to divulge to this boy who was more familiar with our family than she knew.
“Did Jill ever show you how to unlock the door?” he asked her.
A spark light in my mother’s eye as she remembered the time I showed her my trick to sneak into my sister’s rooms when they so sneakily try to keep me out.
She grabbed a comb from the bathroom that had a long metal tooth at the end, used for parting hair easily.
She stuck the end of the comb into the back of the doorknob and, much as she had suspected, my sister was slumped over the side of her bed, kneeling on the ground, unconscious.
My mother rushed to her side, rolled her over to see her face. She called for my father; Danny backed away. He wasn’t sure if he should leave, or stay to make sure she was okay. He decided the latter was more appropriate, he would just stay out of the way.
From the background he observed as my father performed CPR on his second oldest daughter. My father is an emergency responder by trade (firefighter). Keeping his cool, he acted as if this were any other call. His daughter’s breathing had continued and just in time for the paramedics to arrive.
Danny watched, and later reported to me, that they carried her away on a stretcher; pumping air into her lungs. She stayed at the hospital a day or two, but this encounter with death was not enough to convince her. She would go back and forth between getting clean and relapsing for at least a year before she finally made a decision to change her life.
I couldn’t be around her. I couldn’t look at her. It hurt me to think about how she made me feel. I was terrified. I loved her, but I hated her. She was stealing from me, always borrowing my car without asking, always asking for something. She never said thank you, either. She wasn’t even grateful for all I had done to help her out. I guess, I was really helping her kill herself, but I didn’t know that at the time. It took a while for me to figure out where she was going and what she was doing there.
She was taking my car to the projects, where she would buy drugs from some guy who lived inside. Of course, she didn’t use this story. She was always running to the store or dropping something off for a friend. I was usually happy to help her out with an errand or two, but she would rather just take my car. I got suspicious that she was doing something she didn’t want me to see.
My suspicions were confirmed when a friend of mine informed me that my sister had been at a party with her one night. They got to chatting and my sister confided in her that she was popping pills; suboxone and O. C.’s. She was dabbling in the gateway drugs to heroine.
I didn’t understand the implications at hand, so when I found out she had graduated to the queen monster, itself, I was somewhat shocked. My other sister, Catherine, and I had become close, since experiencing this tragedy together. We watched as our older sister destroyed herself in a way that we could never imagine doing to ourselves. We shared thoughts about what it was like living with this monster.
Few other people on the planet know the struggle of watching someone you care about fall to pieces. They don’t know the frustrations of wanting to help, but being completely useless to the ones you love. You try, relentlessly, to get through to these people who are living inside of a padded cage of delusion, to no avail.
You start to lose hope, after a while, that the one you knew before will ever come back. You eventually start to accept that your beautiful sister is being controlled by something dark and manipulative. You become numb to the fear and pain of slowly watching her decay from the inside out.
I tuned myself out, after far too long. I was just exhausted. I was hurting on a constant basis. I was worrying about my sister and if I would see her breathing again, or if I would have to face her, like I faced Jamie.
With Jamie it was different. We all saw it coming, but there was nothing that could be done to stop it. Cancer is a monster of a different sort; you don’t have to invite it in. Heroine, on the other hand, is a vampire of a monster. You can keep it from entering your life by simply refusing its entry. Cancer prefers to be more sneaky when it comes to visit.
I prepared myself for the inevitable: I started distancing myself as much as possible from my barely human sister. She didn’t even look like my sister anymore. I was convinced she wouldn’t live to see the new year.
As life should go, she would see the year to follow, and even the one after that. She would, eventually, release the grips of the monster that grasped so tightly to her left hand. She was marked in a way that she really couldn’t hide. Long sleeve t-shirts can only do so much, you can only keep your hands hidden for so long before it all comes to the surface.
I remember when I finally decided to call her out. She was in the bathroom, washing her hands apparently, when I really had to pee. I mean, really had to pee. The door was already cracked, so I figured it wouldn’t be the biggest deal if I pushed it open a little more to reiterate the urgency of my situation.
Her reaction was extreme for my original action. She turned without hesitation to face me, screaming, enraged, “How DARE you barge into the bathroom while I’m in here?! Isn’t there such thing as privacy in this house?! Doesn’t ANYONE here have any common DECENCY?!”
She went on, ranting and raving, about her privacy violation.
I informed her that, “normal people don’t need privacy when they wash their hands.”
“That’s NOT the point!” she rebuked.
My father, overhearing this argument, came to my sister’s aide.
“Can’t you give her some privacy?” he asked me, trying to mediate the situation.
“Can I please pee? In a toilet?” I asked, reiterating the urgency.
“Yes. You may.” He said, motioning to my sister, to hurry it up.
When I was finished with my business, I exited the bathroom, expecting the situation to be over.
My father pulled me into his office and began scolding me on the sensitivity of my sister’s current state. I was supposed to be supportive and understanding, so she wouldn’t feel like we were attacking her or accusing her of anything.
I was disgusted by my father’s lack of compassion for my situation. Of course my sister was suffering, she was dealing with some real life problems that no one knows how to handle. But what about what I was dealing with? Was there ever going to be any recognition of the fact that for years prior, I was the only one who took the situation seriously. I was held responsible for her actions and her failure to show up at work. I was expected to keep track of her and essentially, keep her alive.
I had enough of the disappointment and fear. I wanted to move on with my life, I wanted to stop worrying constantly. I was ready to step away from the situation, once and for all.
I got in my car that day and I drove to my friends house. I had stayed there before, and this time they were more welcoming than ever. Her mother set aside a room with a bed just for me. She knew I really needed to get out of my house. She was ready to add me to her leasing agreement. This was going to be a permanent solution.
It wasn’t actually feasible for me to live with my friend’s family. I would eventually have to start paying rent and I had no income. I was going to have to go back home after a few weeks. I reluctantly packed my things back into my car and headed home. On the way there, my car broke down twice. Both times, I was able to start it up again, but it died for good once I pulled up to my house.
My father told me the head gasket was blown. There was no saving the car. I was stuck. I felt trapped. I was doomed to be ever-present in my sisters on-going battle with recovery. I could not escape.
Luckily for me, that coming new year I would move on campus at my university. I would finally find a home away from home. It was like finally being rescued from a desert island after 3 years of surviving off the land. I had no semblance of what it meant to me until it happened. I never thought I would find an escape so perfectly convenient.
It took at least another year for my sister to finally commit to recovery. She began counselling and had a daily routine to obtain a controlled dose of Methadone at a clinic downtown. She would do this for a year and a half until she was finally able to lower the dosage to none. She has recovered from her addiction to Heroine, but she has certainly not overcome the perils of addiction.
She continues to have dreams, tempting her with the nostalgic feelings of a lifestyle she can no longer afford. Her life has become too valuable to dangle off the cliff anymore. She now clings to it in a way most of us cling to life. She has developed, once again, hopes and dreams for the future.
My sister returned to me, but not before completely destroying any hope I had of ever seeing her again. The girl I have loved so fondly all my life is back. She is alive and well and forging onward with her life and making the most of what she has.
Pride doesn’t begin to describe what I feel about her success. To say, “I am proud of my sister for overcoming her heroine addiction,” is perhaps the understatement of the millennium.
I feel elated to know that my sister may someday get married, maybe even have a child. She will, at the very least, be given the opportunity to do so if she wishes. She will live to see another sunset at the beach, to hold another infant in her arms. She will be there to see me renamed “Dr. Jillian MacDougall.”
She was there to see me graduate college, contrary to my former beliefs. She was there for the birth of our nephew. She will be there for any marriage ceremony for me, and the birth of any of my children. She has changed the outcome of her life by changing her actions.
She has done the impossible. She has defeated the darkest monster known to man. My sister, ladies and gentlemen, is the greatest hero of our time. She may not have saved hundreds or thousands from some great tragedy, but she showed us just how possible it really is to prove the whole world wrong.
She escaped her fate. She changed her life. She survived.