‘I really messed up Will. I’ll call you soon.’ Nothing prepares you for this. I look back at conversations I had with my sister and tears run down my cheek.’: Brother recalls sister’s battle with addiction

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“Emily was such a gifted kid. She could play any instrument. She was artistic and had a smile that would light up a room. I miss her so much, or at least I miss her former self. I was the jealous older brother who struggled with school and learning, while my sister would get straight A’s without even studying. I always thought she would be going places. Little did I know that the places she would go ultimately ended her life.

In middle school, she was very impressionable. I truly believe her downfall all started with getting caught up with the wrong group of friends. In high school, she experimented with alcohol and drugs. Trying to impress others, just like any other kid her age would. This soon escalated when she met her fiancé. With him, she acquired a taste for pills. He seemed like a nice guy at the time, but he also had the money and drugs to help facilitate my sisters’ demise.

In 2005, during my senior year of college at Stockton University, our family got the devastating news that my 16-year-old brother was diagnosed with Leukemia. I had trouble dealing with this and found myself on a path of addiction just like my sister. I used cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol to cope and help numb the pain. My sister was already abusing all the above in addition to her escalating pill problem. It broke my heart to watch my brother go through this. I wondered how my sister could continue to cause problems for our family while we were going through such difficult time. I was so angry about this and said to my sister, ‘I never want to see or speak to you again.’ This is about the time I realized my beautiful little sister was on her way to a full-blown opioid addiction.

I was fortunate that I was able to control my addictions and graduated college later that year. I took a dream job working for Anheuser-Busch fresh out of college. I moved to California to pursue my career and in doing so I was able to quit smoking cigarettes and doing drugs. As time went on, I understood how involved my sister was with her drug habit. We started talking again and I could relate with her because of my own struggle with addiction. I would always try to help her with an open ear and positive advice.

Along with the drug habit came the lying and stealing. As you probably know or have heard, an opioid addict will take from anyone. They don’t care about who it hurts or whose lives are destroyed, as long as they get their fix. She burnt bridges with most of her family and friends while also having multiple run-ins with the law. My relationship with my sister became difficult since I was living on the other side of the country. I didn’t get to see what was happening first hand with my family, and to be honest I tried to ignore the facts.

While my little brother was in remission with his battle, Emily was losing her war. The next few years were a very troubling time for our family. My sister attempted to take her life, and we won’t get into details other than she tried to slit her wrists and throat in a neighbor’s house. Thankfully, she was unsuccessful this time. Just to hear that my little sister Emily did not want to be alive, crushed me. I was still in California wishing I could help while also trying to ignore and deny what had happened. Shortly after, my mom was diagnosed with cancer.

I took a position back on the East Coast which enabled me to spend time with my mom as she battled cancer. My sister and her fiancé were on and off with their opioid addictions – at least that is what they told people. Obviously, their actions sent another message. Addicts are very creative. They are good at telling you what you want to hear. The lying and stealing continued. As my family was trying to support my mother, my sister was only worried about herself. Once again, I hated my sister. At the time, I just wanted her to go away.

In September 2009, my mother lost her battle with cancer. This was a challenging time for all of us. I know how hard it was for me, so I can only imagine how my sister was feeling. My mother, my inspiration, the most selfless person I knew, was gone. Emily’s addiction only got worse.

The next month my sister’s fiancé passed away. Great, just what Emily needed. This was very difficult because they were together for quite some time. Once again, she leaned on her addiction to get through the times. I decided it was time for me to try to help Emily again as an ear and to offer some positive motivation.

A few months pass and you know that saying ‘when it rains it pours?’ Well yeah, our grandmother passed away. My sister was very close to her, so this didn’t help the situation. By now, my relationship was mended with my sister and I was there to help.

Not sure how it happened, whether it was from being in jail or for health reasons, but Emily had finally attempted to be clean. I truly believed she beat her addiction which was unlike all the times in the past. She was different: she was kind and cared about others, not just herself. I was so proud of her and would do whatever I could to keep her clean.

Emily thought the best way to continue her newfound clean lifestyle was to remove herself from what she knew and get out of the Baltimore area. She took a chance and moved to Ocean City, New Jersey, for the summer. She surrounded herself with family and friends who would support her and help her get over her demons. Things were going great for awhile and I was happy to have my sister back.

My sister was working at a restaurant and spending her free time at the beach. Life was good for Emily, until things changed again. That summer, my sister, brother, and I all received a large inheritance from our grandmother’s passing. It was probably not the best thing for a recovering addict.

It was like a switch. I could tell immediately the day my sister started using again. I know it is very common for an opioid addict to relapse and I wished it wasn’t true. I was devastated and disappointed once again. What I have learned in life is you can’t run from your problems. This holds true in Emily’s case and it’s unfortunate that addicts can find what they are looking for, no matter where they live. By the end of the summer my sister had blown through her inheritance and was struggling with her addiction once again.

I was still there for her, helping her out with groceries, clothes, and I even took in her cats. I would not give her money as I felt I was enabling her to continue her habit. She was distant and would only come around when she needed something.

I was having my own struggles trying to keep a job and finally found work. I took all my negative energy and anger from my sisters’ situation and chose to cope in a different way. In 2012, I started my first business, Ocean City NJ Surf School. This was great for me because most of my time was focused on my job, my business, and not Emily’s problems.

Emily became even more distant. There were long periods of time where our family would not hear from her. It took a toll on me and I can only imagine what my father was going through. He was the rock of our family. I have no idea how my Dad handled our family’s struggles without losing his cool. He always remained positive and was there to give me advice.

My sister and I would talk periodically over the next few years. It was always the same outcome, she would tell me what I wanted to hear. Every time I would see her it made me so upset. To see my little sister this way was heartbreaking. For family, I think the hardest thing is that you get your hopes up, only to be disappointed when they let you down time and time again. The frustration, the anger, all you want to do is help, but until the addict wants to change, you are helpless. That helpless feeling never goes away. Still to this day I wish I could have done something different, something to inspire, something that could have gotten her to change her ways.

Emily was always on my mind, whether I liked it or not. I chose to immerse myself in my future. In 2015, I acquired Elation Surf Camps and then in 2016, I purchased Ocean City Paddle Company. This was my way of coping. I was not going to let my sister bring me down. I felt that if I just worked all the time then I would not have to worry about my sister’s problems.

I was fortunate I got to see my sister a few times in 2017, but not as many as I would have liked. I remember Emily stopping by my business in the summer. I remember telling her, ‘Once you get your life back together, you can always come work for me.’ That dream would never become a reality.

In addition to her struggle with drugs she was now facing an uphill battle with her health. Emily had a list of issues which included emphysema, hepatitis, and a brain aneurism. This was caused by her years of smoking and drug abuse. Our family still stood by her side and were willing to do anything to help her.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was a month into a new job with the US Postal Service. It was late morning on Tuesday, January 2nd when I got the call from my dad. ‘Your sister took her life this morning.’ I said, ‘No. You are kidding right?’ I didn’t want to believe it. He told me he found Emily dead in her childhood bedroom from a suicide. I expected this call for years and thought I could handle it. There is nothing you can do to prepare yourself for something like this. I pulled over and lost it. I was devastated and confused at the same time. I always expected that an overdose would have ended Emily’s life. I think that committing suicide was her way of not letting a drug, which controlled her life, win.

As I sit here and write this, the timeline and chain of events over the last 10 years are a blur. There were many attempts to help Emily. Methadone programs, in-patient treatment, out-patient treatment, to name a few. My family tried everything with no success. I would always say you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves.

I look back at the conversations I had with my sister via text and a tear runs down my cheek.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Me: ‘Em, it’s Willie. I know you are going through a tough time. You can always call me.’

Emily: ‘Thank you! I really f**ked up Will. I’m trying to find an inpatient rehab to go into asap. Will call you soon.’

Me: ‘Everyone messes up it’s part of life. Everyone is worried about you and thinking about you. Do what you gotta do and get some help Em. You’re way better than that life, seriously!!’

Emily: ‘Thanks, Will! I’m def better than this. I know! I’m trying to find a place to go asap. Tell everyone I love them and I’m sorry! I’m really not too bad into it right now and I’m going to make sure I don’t get worse. I tell you Will I make really poor decisions when I’m in a cloudy drug mindset. I regret it every time but thanks for hitting me up.’

Me: ‘Ok don’t hesitate to call.’

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Me: ‘Keep your head up Em!! I assure you your life will get better but you gotta stay away from the drugs.’

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Me: ‘Em it was awesome seeing you. 2017 is your year!’

Emily: ‘I know! You too Will. I’m looking forward to 2017.’

Emily: ‘Happy New Year!’

Me: ‘Seriously Em you’re better than this!!! Get clean and you can work for me this summer!!!’

Me: ‘Happy New Year!’

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Me: ‘Em just take the leap and get help. I know you can do it.’

Emily: ‘I don’t wanna do it anymore and to be honest I don’t see any point. Unfortunately, Will I’m stuck. I’m no longer shooting or strung out. I still get high lightly and although everyone thinks that’s a bad idea it’s how I tap into my art and it’s the only thing that keeps me from wanting to kill myself and/or having to defend myself against abuse. I no longer lie or steal so I guess that is progress. Sad but true. Story of my life.’

Me: ‘Come on Em. You’re better than that. I know you can get your S**t together.’

Monday, October 23, 2017

Me: ‘Thinking of you. Hope all is well.’

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Me: ‘Hope all is well Em.’

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Me: ‘Hope all Is well. Thinking of you.’

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Emily: ‘Hey Willie! Great to hear from u. I’m hanging in…trying to find my way.’

Me: ‘You know the way and the path. You just have to take it. I believe in you!!!!’

Emily: ‘Thanks, Will! I’m looking for an impatient place.’

Me: ‘I support that and think it’s the way to go. I’m rooting for you and know you can do it. Good luck!’

The emotional roller coaster that goes along with having a sibling who is an addict is over. My heart is broken, and I constantly go back and think of what I could have done differently. The opioid epidemic is real, and in the end it’s the loved ones who get hurt the most.

I wish I had all the answers to spare other families from having to go through this but unfortunately, I don’t. I watched my sister ruin her life from the sideline, helpless. I tried to help her and failed.

In writing this, I realized I never mourned my sister’s passing. I lost my little sister Emily to addiction and I believe she is finally at peace. Sharing this with you has helped bring me peace. I hope that my story can instill peace for others who are going through what I did. My intentions are that you take something positive from my experience. I want to create awareness with my story in the hopes that others don’t make the same mistakes my sister made.”

[If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help is out there. You are not alone.]

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Willie Fannon of Ocean City, New Jersey. You can follow his journey on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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