My sister Sabrina and I were 5 years apart. She was an only child until I came along but she quickly became my best friend. She gave me all of her attention. Sabrina always let me be part of the dance videos she was making (usually to the music of Shrek) and she never got frustrated with me. She made me feel included. But I couldn’t match her dance moves so I didn’t mind taking a step back during her solos. Haha. I still love to watch those old videos.
Sabrina and I grew closer and closer as we got older but the older we got, the more that changed in our lives. At 12 years old I was oblivious to the signs of drug use, addiction, or withdrawal. I mostly think this is because of how uneducated I was. This was not something we talked about much in school. At least not how it was happening in my life. I didn’t understand why she had tin foil and straws in her car or later, that the scabs on her feet weren’t actually mosquito bites.
In 2015, we got on the road to North Carolina for a family beach vacation on the Outer Banks. I remember being so excited that I got to drive with her. Well, my excitement was cut short when she began getting sick on our way there. Once we arrived, she went through days of not being able to get out of bed and puking. I was convinced she had the flu. We were all fooled. Maybe everyone in the family felt something was not quite right, but we were too close to it. It just couldn’t be, we would know, it’s just a flu, it’s crazy to think anything else. Little did I know that in the coming months her addiction would spin out of control so bad that she would have to move 2,500 miles away from our family.
I remember visiting her in the hospital. She had told us that she had an infection in her arm but we quickly learned the truth. Sabrina was hooked on heroin. She refused to get help. Sabrina was acting like a different person. This was not my sister. I will never forget my mom saying, “If you don’t go get help, you’ll never see or speak to your siblings ever again.” She knew this wasn’t Sabrina.
But this family was the most important thing in Sabrina’s life. This was our best chance to get her to go and she did agreed to go. So days before my 14th birthday and transition into high school, I said good-bye to my sister, Sabrina. Most girls first separation from there big sister is when they leave for college. Mine was her being sent to Palm Desert, CA for treatment for drug addiction.
Those 30 days not speaking to her while she was in detox and rehab were so painful. I spent almost every single day around her and now I couldn’t talk or see her at all. I knew it would be worth it in the end because she would be “better” and she was. The next few years were filled with long facetime calls and occasional visits for a few days. This sober Sabrina was a completely different person, she seemed happy, she gained weight, she looked healthy. She made a complete 180 in her life. She got her GED, graduated esthetician school and even had her own salon where she did what she loved most, lashes. I was so proud of who my sister had become.
In 2018 she had decided it was time to come home to MA. She had some personal setbacks and wanted to be home. My mom was not on board with the idea and I couldn’t understand why. Sabrina pushed and pushed until Mom agreed. Most of us thought it was a good idea for her to come back. I didn’t even realize the risks that were going to come with it, I was just happy to have her back. I thought “she has a few years sober, she’s cured, she’s fine now.” But that’s not how it works. I didn’t realize that she had lost her program. That she had strayed away from her sober community. Within months of her return, she fell right back into the dark place she was in when she left. She returned to the environment of her sickness and without surrounding herself with sober friends or attending meetings.
Like most sisters, we borrowed each other’s stuff, usually without asking. Sabrina used the mirror in my room for her makeup and would always make a mess and it would piss me off. We were very different this way. I liked to keep my stuff neat and she was messy. So, when I came home from work to find eyeshadows and powder dumped all over the floor and trash, I stormed up to her room ready to rip into her. I screamed her name to wake her up, but she wouldn’t respond. I shook her and she groaned. I dumped water on her, she groaned again. I called my brother Jimmy upstairs for help. It took a second to realize she was using again. It was almost like I didn’t want to believe it. We got Mom and she called 911.
Sabrina had overdosed and we didn’t know how or what she took. The paramedics gave her two shots of Narcan to bring her around. I took her shaking hand to get her thumb to unlock her phone for the police. Then watched her be taken away on a stretcher hardly conscious but breathing. I slept with my door open that night and got up to check and make sure she was okay throughout the night. I can still see this whole entire day replay in my head and I thank god Jimmy and I were home to buy another year and a half with her.
The next few months were craziness. Sabrina’s memory was spotty. She was forgetful and lacked emotion, like she just woke up and was trying to get her bearings. She went back to California and ran away from treatment almost immediately. She found her way back to MA and after a period of time with nowhere to go, Sabrina agreed to enter rehab here in MA. She attempted to start her life over again, if only halfheartedly. After seeing her overdose, I felt anxious and worried all the time.
I obsessed over her recovery and making sure she was doing the right thing. I tracked her location, checked to see what she was doing, I even found myself contemplating showing up at her house with a drug test. The fear of losing her again was something on my mind constantly. On multiple occasions I would cry and beg her to never fall back into her addiction again.
We began getting into arguments because I’d always been on her to make sure she wasn’t up to anything and even when she promised me she wasn’t using I still didn’t believe her, she lied to me so many times before. I felt like I had become the big sister. I was struggling to keep my own life in order because I was focused on hers. It took a long time to gain the understanding that no matter what lengths I went to, the only person who could make her better was herself. I could’ve based my whole life around protecting her, but if she didn’t want recovery then she wouldn’t have it.
By winter of 2019, over a year since the overdose, I began worrying about her again. She was telling stories of not feeling good, what seemed like every time I spoke to her. It was familiar to last time, but she knew exactly how to convince me she wasn’t. We finally got to spend Christmas together again after spending Christmas of 2018 apart, while she was refusing treatment. I was so excited, she slept over and we all got up to open presents together.
It was at this time I became aware she was smoking weed again. I was furious but relieved she wasn’t using anything hard, at least that is what I thought. I thought to myself “If she was using hard drugs again she wouldn’t have let me go through her purse or she would’ve been sick since she hasn’t been out of our sight, she must be okay.” But addicts are some of the smartest people when it comes to hiding. Once the holidays ended, she returned back to working at a salon and I went back to school. We continued doing our usual facetimes and texting. I didn’t know the last time we would speak would be February 11th.
On February 13th I got up at 6 am to head to my internship. Something felt off all day. I kept saying to my friends “something just feels weird about today.” I tried to just brush it off and look forward to a night out with my friends. My mom called and said she was coming up. That was weird; she never just comes up for no reason.
At 6:30PM I received the news that my sister had passed away early that morning. “No. That didn’t happen. She’s not dead. No.” came out of my mouth over and over again in my dorm room as my mom and aunt comforted me. Her exact words about 1 month before were “I promise I’ll never put you through what I did that day I overdosed.” I felt heartbroken and angry. Why? Why would she do this again? I was so angry.
I understand now, it was because addiction is that strong. She didn’t want to hurt us again, she didn’t want to die but she wasn’t taking part in recovery, going to meetings or staying on her medications. After battling this horrible disease for almost 8 years it had won. It took my big sister and best friend from me.
Being the sibling of an addict can be lonely, frustrating and especially emotionally draining. The most important thing to take away from my story is that you can’t save them, love can’t save them, not even money can save them. Only they can. So let them know that you love them but you will not enable them. Give them the emotional support they need, do not give them money. Hold on to hope and pray they find the will to seek treatment.