My sister is a recovering heroin addict. I can’t fix her — but she also can’t fix herself.


Elizabeth Kadetsky in Vox:

The fact of Jill's addiction came into focus for me when I was in my late 20s and she was about 30. It was the early ‘90s; the echo of Kurt Cobain's guitar had migrated to New York City, and heroin was de rigueur at the Lower East Side clubs. A talented guitarist and singer, Jill haunted that scene. I enjoyed going out with her and even tried heroin once — though in my case I threw up, fell asleep for 24 hours, and missed work for a week.

After that, I limited myself to observation. There was a dealer in the basement of a bodega on East 12th Street, Jill told me; you went underground through a tunnel and entered a bathroom, where you knocked on a medicine cabinet; the mirror swung open and a hand emerged offering a baggie of dope. At the El Sombrero Mexican restaurant on Ludlow Street — “the Hat” — you could smoke H in the bathroom and sit forever at a table where you'd see other acquaintances also nodding and never ordering food.

Some people exist breezily in such a world without ever succumbing to the temptation for everlasting euphoria or escape — me, for instance. But for Jill, drugs perhaps salved some wound. At a Thanksgiving during that era, Jill went seemingly blank for an extended moment, her eyes shut, the contents of her plate spilling to the floor. Soon after that, we visited our father and his second family up in Boston, and Jill went out and returned with two six-packs and slurred speech. I knew what other family members seemed to be denying or ignoring or, in the case of our mother, blatantly rejecting. When, one time, I tried to talk to my mother about it, she accused me, “Why are you so hard on Jill?”

Like little sisters everywhere, I'd admired my older sister and emulated her. Perhaps this was why I took her fall so hard, why I felt abandoned. Like our mother, Jill was exotic — ballsy and gorgeous. I'd adopted not only her quirks and mannerisms but her worldview. I copied her emotional fragility — the meltdowns, the weeks of consuming sadness. Like Jill, I harbored anger and resentment. Our father was often the target, for favoring his children by his second wife, for making us feel shame for our second-class position in our family. I borrowed Jill's general aura of detached, sometimes humorous fatalism.

But then one day, Jill vented on the telephone to me about our father. It occurred to me that if it wouldn't kill Jill, bearing her disposition would certainly kill me. I needed to stop thinking about what was wrong in my life and focus on the positive. I wanted to stop brooding. I wanted to heal.

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