Help me help my sister
December 8, 2005 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Beside myself filter: My 22 year old sister is close to hitting rock bottom, and she is heading there fast.

Friday night she overdosed on the classic cocaine-alcohol mix, which landed her in a psych ward after she left the hospital. She got out yesterday, and immediately fell back in with her "wrong crowd". As far as I can tell, she has left her apartment and is staying at (no kidding) a crack den. I live far enough away that jumping in a car or hopping on a plane to rescue her are not an option. What I would like to know is if anyone has had a similar experience, and perhaps if I have some legal recourse to get her into a treatment facility again. My parents are absolutely useless, so we can forget about their involvement. Help me figure out what to do to help my little sister.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total)
Half of my old friends from high school are in various stages of the exact same thing. It sounds trite, but the only person who can really help her is herself.

Tell her you're concerned, tell her you will help her in any way you can. Let her come live with you, or help her start over away from the "wrong crowd." Be the one to help her pick up the pieces. And if she can't--or won't--love her despite that.

There are plenty of resources out there for friends and family members of people with substance abuse problems. If she might hurt herself or others, look into whether your state has a law like Florida's Baker Act.

Don't send her money, or let her sign your name to any type of loan, credit line, etc. Monetary help should be conditional on her getting her life back in order. I've seen firsthand how lending someone with a drug problem can ruin your life.
posted by SassHat at 10:32 PM on December 8, 2005

My heart goes out to you; it's so hard to watch someone doing this to herself. I'll leave the legal issues to someone else, but the one thing I can offer from personal experience is that you - gulp - just have to let the person hit rock bottom, while letting them know you love them and want to help them get better. Anything you try to do before they're ready to stop is probably going to be wasted effort. Beware of offering a place to stay unless a) you can be there at all times or b) you don't mind losing some of your expensive things. And yeah, don't give them money, which is nothing but pure enabling temporary joy for an addict.
posted by mediareport at 10:45 PM on December 8, 2005

Yes, rock bottom works. Jail, followed by parole, was the only thing that helped my family member in a similar situation. Being robbed of his freedom finally convinced him he had previously been squandering it.

But rock bottom can also be permanent.

The only advice I can give you is that, if she responds and wants to help herself, you make her goal known, in a positive way, to everyone that cares for her; make a point of telling her about each person you've told; connect her back to everyone she has disconnected from. Observe recovery milestones--one day, one week, &c--religiously. No sympathy. No guilt. Just love and endless, endless reserves of positivity, faith (in her), and patience.

Best of luck.
posted by deadfather at 11:00 PM on December 8, 2005

(Some will probably disagree, but I think that if you know where this crack den is--and you have no one whom you trust enough, and whom she trusts enough, that can go get her and take her to a treatment facility--then call the cops.)
posted by deadfather at 11:10 PM on December 8, 2005

Actually I might suggest recruiting the help of any friends nearby who might be willing to assist. If there is a safe crash pad anywhere in the vicinity which you can offer her, it's got to be better than where she's spending her time now.

It's tough to handle if you're that far away (moon?). You might not even have all the facts. Anything you can do to recruit local help would be a step up.
posted by scarabic at 11:14 PM on December 8, 2005

I think you may just have to let her hit rock bottom. It's clear that she refuses treatment, and that she either doesn't know the gravity of her condition or doesn't care. Either way, you're not going to get her to voluntarily stop, and forcing her into something will probably just cause her to return to her old ways as soon as possible -- just as she did after returning from the psych ward. She will have to come to realize on her own that she needs to stop. It sounds harsh but it's how these things work. You just need to be there to support her when she's ready.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:44 PM on December 8, 2005

Yes, rock bottom may be the only way she'll learn, but as deadfather pointed out "Rock bottom can also be permanent."

Be prepared to understand and live with the possibility that she may not survive the next OD. And learn to forgive yourself if it should happen. It's not easy.
posted by platinum at 12:00 AM on December 9, 2005

Yeah, what platinum said. You cannot change unless you want yourself and hitting rock bottom (as personally defined) is the only real way usually. Don't be too hard on yourself. You can't change things, only she can herself. My heart is with you mate.
posted by keijo at 12:15 AM on December 9, 2005

You know, it makes me wonder if that might not be an enlightening discussion to have with her.

Ask her whether she prefers burial or cremation. Ask her what kind of funeral arrangements she wants. Ask her if she has a will. Tell her that you are planning for the inevitable outcome of her actions and want to make sure you do it the way she wants. And ask her to forgive you for not being able to save her. Because that's the choice she is making.

I know it sounds terrible, but it might just get her thinking about where the road she's traveling ends up.
posted by platinum at 12:18 AM on December 9, 2005

I'm going to be quick to my point. It's 50/50 as to whether your sister gets through this or not.

The way I see it is that she needs to hit bottom before she can be helped. This is because at this stage she will be too physically and mentally weak to make decisions for herself. Of course this is where it gets difficult though because like pointed out above rock bottom can sometimes be permanent or devastating in other ways.

So, how to at least do something to help? You mentioned travel is out of the question. Well, how much do you really want to help her? I detect some amount of frustration on your behalf towards her current situation and thus nobody would blame you for being angry. But family is family. I'm assuming that you can't trust anyone else with this sort of thing. Or can you?

Anyway, do what you need to do. Do what your heart tells you to do. I know that I'd do anything to save a member of my family. Yes, they've already done the same for me.

Anon, I would really like to help you through this as much as I can, so feel free to email me for a more personal reflection on how you might help your sister. Yes, drugs can be devastating on the user and their family, but it can get better.

Remember that the situation is nearing a pivotal stage where there's a chance to get your sister back. Please know that you can still help her.
posted by sjvilla79 at 12:56 AM on December 9, 2005

If you do have the conversation that platium suggests you ought to think about it carefully and be sure not to give the impression that you've totally given up. I can almost imagine that it would set the person over the edge if she thought that her family really was at the stage of planning for her death. I mean you want to get her thinking about consequences of her actions but at the same time she needs to know that it's not too late and that you will help her if she asks for it.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:48 AM on December 9, 2005

This reminds me so much of "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey. Staggeringly good real-life story of a guy going through rehab after reaching pretty much the same point as your sister.
posted by antifuse at 2:24 AM on December 9, 2005

Ask her whether she prefers burial or cremation.

Don't do this over the phone. Please.
posted by grouse at 2:38 AM on December 9, 2005

Travel to her isn't an option - but how about her travelling to you? Offer to pay for her plane ticket. If she's close by, she'll be away from her usual contacts and sources, and you'll have far more options in terms of talking to her and getting her help.
posted by talitha_kumi at 3:09 AM on December 9, 2005

posted by grouse at 3:52 AM on December 9, 2005

A close family member of mine went through similar issues - and it really is true that they have to decide when thwy're finished doing crack/coke/whatever. My guess is that your sister won't be in ank kind of shape to listen to you now, and wouldn't leave willingly (and anyway, if you somehow managed to get her out, would go back to the same things anyway). Let her know how much you care about her, and be ready to do whatever you can to help her as soon as she makes that decision. No judgements, no guilting - just be there for her as soon as she is ready to need you.
posted by sluggo at 4:28 AM on December 9, 2005

She has pretty much hit the bottom already. Loving and understanding is all well and good, but doesn't actually give her any concrete help. Passive-aggressive hints about impending death or trying to guilt her somehow will do even less. The only way to really help her would be to stage a major intervention of some kind and even that is probably not going to work. You would essentially have to make her realize what other people are saying she should realize. For deadfather's family member it was jail, for my sister it was also criminal proceedings. If you think you could make her realize the error of her ways, this is what you should do. Even if it doesn't work if you don't botch it completely it will not make her less likely to seek help from you or anyone. I think deadfather's answer has been the best so far.
posted by fred_ashmore at 6:07 AM on December 9, 2005

I had a family member go through a similar thing and the only thing that helped was rock-bottom. Your sister will only change when she is ready to change.
posted by unixrat at 6:31 AM on December 9, 2005

What everyone else said about hitting rock bottom. But "bottom" is different for everyone. I know people who were able to stop because of impending job or spouse loss, and other people who killed someone while driving drunk before they got serious about quitting. I have to echo what mediareport and other said about money, any money given to a cocaine addict in the throes of their addiction would be better spent by flushing it down the toilet.

There are a lot of people in Al-Anon and Nar-Anon who have been through, and are going through, the exact same thing you are. Even if you can't save your sister, they could help you save yourself from going any more insane.

My heart truly goes out to you. I think watching a loved one in alcoholism or drug addiction is one of the hardest things a human can face.
posted by marxchivist at 6:37 AM on December 9, 2005

In your position, my #1 priority would be to get her out of the country. You may have to take drastic measures (read: kidnapping), but you do what you have to do when a family member's life is at stake. This is not unheard of, by the way, I've seen similar situations where a family moved a woman and her children against her will in order to save their lives. Again, you do what you have to do.

Another option that works is to put her in jail. Call the police and accuse her of any crime you can think of--and name her friends, acquaintances, etc. You may even have to falsely accuse her of some crimes. Anything you can do to get her locked up, do it. Everyday she's behind bars, that's another day she lives. Yes, it's possible to get drugs in jail but it's a great deal harder. Yes, jail is a very dangerous place but it's still a lot safer than where she is now. She may hate you for the rest of her life, but at least she'll be alive.
posted by nixerman at 6:42 AM on December 9, 2005

posted on behalf of another AskMe user. Anyone else who would like to comment without using your mefi username, drop me an email.

"Please don't follow Platinum's advice. Ten years ago, I was in the same place your sister is. If my family had come to me talking about funerals and my impending doom, I would have reacted really badly. I knew about my impending doom, because I saw it all around me, in most every aspect of my life.

If my family confronted me that way, I would've been ashamed and angry, and I would've shown it by telling them to fuck off, and then getting extremely fucked up.

I got out of it without hitting rock bottom. At some point I thought about all the grand plans I'd had for the years after college, and realized that I was wasting my life, and that I didn't even like the drugs anymore. I was the first of my "bad" friends to move to a different city, away from the temptation, and several of my friends followed suit, moving to cities where they had something resembling a support system.

Please, make sure your sister knows that you love her. Make sure she knows that if she comes to you, that you aren't going to condemn her."
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 AM on December 9, 2005

This may be naive and overly hopeful, but I would like to share one anecdote. A good friend was in a very similar situation at about age 20. Her parents got her out of the country and sent her on a sort of exchange program in an under developed country. 5 years later she hasn't done any drugs since. She thinks it worked mostly because it took her far away from the 'wrong crowd' she was hanging out with. Also, she was in a place where drugs were harder to come by than at home living with her drug dealer boyfriend. Is it possible to take her out of her situation, so the constant temptation is removed?
posted by Amizu at 7:32 AM on December 9, 2005

You may even have to falsely accuse her of some crimes.

I would stop well short of this. If it is cocaine that is screwing her life up, then it is cocaine that should send her to jail. If she goes to jail because you falsely accused her of something, she will resent her jailtime, she will resent you, but she will not resent coke.
posted by deadfather at 7:41 AM on December 9, 2005

Another vote for the terribleness (sorry) of platinum's suggestion. You're not dealing with a rational person.

Is there anyone (childhood friend, former boyfriend, ANYONE) who can help you with this? I had some friends who really fucked themselves up on drugs, and it took a group intervention to pull them out. Contact a rehab facility near where she is. They should be able to advise you.

I also wonder about your parents. Why do you say they are "useless"? Do they not understand the gravity of the situation, or have they just "given up" on her? When the shit hits the fan, the parental instinct can be stronger than you think.

One last thing- please consider Al-Anon. However this turns out, you're going to have some serious shit to contend with. Be prepared for a lot of anger and resentment toward your parents for not doing more. You're going to need a serious support network.

Good luck.
posted by mkultra at 7:51 AM on December 9, 2005

You say that you can't hop on a plane because it's too far? That would have to be pretty far; are you saying you could make a 6 hour flight but not a 12 hour flight? That you couldn't take an extra day off work? Pay $400 for a ticket but not $800?

I worry that you might regret not doing anything in person because it was (in hindsight) slightly too inconvenient. Actually regret isn't quite the trap; it's that you'll be torn apart the whole time knowing you want to care but feeling constrained by your policy of how far you will/won't go to help. Most people don't want to feel fake, but don't know how to be real, either, so they maintain a holding pattern.

Step in and be real. It sounds like you have to get her out of that city where she's living. Go personally, nevermind the distance. Bring her back if you can. You can figure out the rest from there; you don't need to make some big plan to save her right now.
posted by fleacircus at 7:51 AM on December 9, 2005

Seconding everyone else who says Get Her Out of There. Will your parents step up to the plate enough to buy her a plane ticket to you, or at least get her to the airport? A mutual friend, a cousin - anyone you can think of, but get her out of her environment. Tell her anything to get her out of there, bribe her, whatever - when she gets to you and detoxes for a few days (unpack with her, search her stuff and don't let her leave your house) you'll be able to sit down and really talk. She may be desperate and ready to change, she may be so out of it she no longer knows how she feels; you won't know until you see her in person, and that should happen out of her familiar turf, or she'll just flee any emotional discomfort right back to her friends with the drugs.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:08 AM on December 9, 2005

The problem is the drug of choice here.

It needs to be taken out of the picture for a chance to start. Hopefully, she has not whored herself out to the drug since it is not free and her use has increased for her to reach a high. When you stop using a drug and go back to it, more is needed to become high which will be the case since her OD. She has reached rock bottom. fyi - Living at a rock house is rock bottom when it comes to living. Because you are not alone when using your precious and will have to share it or endure people bugging the shit out of you for it.

She needs to be locked up in a facility with her having no control to her daily routines while there. She has lost the ability to properly take care of herself. So being re-trained is the only course for par, saving her life.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:33 AM on December 9, 2005

Also, trust is better gained in person than talking by phone...something a family member never did on my end. I know it to be the biggest difference for one to start caring about themselves since it's the closest thing to the drug user's self.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:39 AM on December 9, 2005

Another option that works is to put her in jail. Call the police and accuse her of any crime you can think of--and name her friends, acquaintances, etc. You may even have to falsely accuse her of some crimes. Anything you can do to get her locked up, do it.
Um, what cop would listen to such hear say?
Though, if she was to bring drugs in your home, that is a clear reason to call the cops. Otherwise you would be an enabler here.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:50 AM on December 9, 2005

pray. really.
posted by quonsar at 10:43 AM on December 9, 2005

Go to Al-anon. Right now - really! Find a group and go. I'm serious! Go today! Better still, GO NOW!

You and your sister need help, and Al-anon is all about helping family members of someone who has an addiction.

When you go, listen closely to everyone who talks. Talk if you feel the inclination, but really listen. Feel free to disregard advice that doesn't sound right for you, just as you would do in this thread. But if there's anyone at the group who you feel sympathetic to, approach them after the meeting, and tell your story. See what they suggest. Even if you can't follow the advice, you'll get some hints about getting started on this really long hard road.

As far as legally mandating treatment - for better or worse, that's not much of an option these days. Please accept my wishes and hopes for a good outcome, and feel free to email me if you like.
posted by jasper411 at 10:53 AM on December 9, 2005

I will only speak in braod generalities here. I am well qualified to speak on this subject since I was in the addictions field for many years and have performed many interventions.

In most states, if a person makes suicidal and/or homicidal statements, you can have them held for 72 hours. It may be the time needed for the person to clear their head.

The issue of "hitting bottom" is moot. One person's bottom is another person's long weekend (or week, or month, or year) of binging. Do not try an determine where someones bottom is because you do not know. From your description, I'd say she is suffering well enough and help is needed. You job is to raise her bottom.

Call a local treatment center and find out what you'd need to do to force the issue with your sister. They will be more than happy to tell you. Do whatever you can to get her into treatment. Love her enough to allow her to hate you for awhile (trite, I know but it's true). Do not lend her money or allow her to stay at your house. Enabling her will only prolong the suffering for the both of you. You will cry a lot (if you haven't already) and wonder if you did the right thing. Believe me: you are doing the right thing. Once you can get her through the door and detoxified, stay involved for her and stay involved for yourself (Al-Anon). The most important thing right now though, is getting her somewhere where she can get help. The saying goes "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink; so lets try to make him thirsty." She may find what she needs but has to be there to find out.

If you have specific questions, please use my email in my profile. I'd be more than happy to help and answer any questions..
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:29 AM on December 9, 2005

The others are right - go to her, get her out of there and get yourself to al-anon.

My apologies for my second post. In the clear light of day, it's a much worse suggestion than it sounded when I wrote it last night. As I was thinking about your situation I was feeling sad and bitter about my little brother, who died from an OD at 22, and some of the things I wish I could have said or done to make him realize where he was headed. But as others have pointed out, it probably wouldn't have done any good anyway, especially since he wasn't close to what most would describe as "hitting rock bottom" and neither he nor we had any idea how dangerous his recreational habits would be.

I guess the good news for you (if you could stretch the definition of good that far) is that you see the danger signs and realize the seriousness of the situation. You have the opportunity to take action. Whether she chooses to benefit from those actions is up to her, but you can at least know you did everything you could for her.
posted by platinum at 12:12 PM on December 9, 2005

I've worked with crack addicts who have their children taken away. Some get their act together and become exemplary people and parents. Others do not, ever, and destroy the lives of everyone around them and themselves.

Take care of yourself and seek whatever support you need to get through this. You can only offer as much help to your sister as you are able to handle. Do not feel guilty or responsible if you are not able to "save" her. This is not a situation that anyone can control, maybe not even her.
posted by Marnie at 1:21 PM on December 9, 2005

For my brother, "rock bottom" meant suicide. I now regret not doing more. Thing is, I couldn't recognize "rock bottom." He seemed so much better.
BUT, when he was getting clean, all the things that had driven him to addiction were still there, still haunting him, but he couldn't "medicate" them away anymore. The meth was a crutch, but at least it held him up for 20 years. Now he's gone and I can only think I never did enough. I also know I probably couldn't have prevented his suicide, but...
Beware of letting your sister sink, but be even more careful to support her as she recovers. Come to think of it, another friend did the same thing. Once she was clean she killed herself. Don't let go once she's clean.
posted by johngumbo at 2:01 PM on December 9, 2005

Once she was clean she killed herself.
The scariest part about becoming clean is - weather or not you will find your true self again. Because lives as you know it is way different than the norm.

I feel the loneliest time for a drug user is the time between their last use and until trust is restored to them again while clean. Remember when reaching rock bottom a drug user has lost all trust in their society. So it can take a long time for the ex-drug user to prove their worth and gaining that trust back which took a life time.

Also this may make for a clean life much harder to live because of no trust. FYI, When your body is still experiencing the affects from the drugs, these affects may give the appearance one is still using. Thus never gaining the trust they need to find themselves again to live a clean lifeā€¦
posted by thomcatspike at 2:54 PM on December 9, 2005

Because life as you know it is way different than the norm.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:49 PM on December 9, 2005

ack...Remember when reaching rock bottom a drug user has lost all trust in from their society peers.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:33 PM on December 9, 2005

Though, if she was to bring drugs in your home, that is a clear reason to call the cops.

And have them seize your house? I sure as hell wouldn't do that.

I don't know what to say here except get her out of the city and away from the people she's with by whatever means possible. And not for a long weekend- permanently if possible.
posted by fshgrl at 11:22 PM on December 9, 2005

Intervention is sometimes a critical component for recovery, so it needs to be considered. If it is truly impossible for you to go to where your sister is, consider if you can enlist sympathetic friends/family where she is. If they could get her somewhere for an intervention you could be present by telephone, not ideal, but the more direct your participation the more impact it will have. It's not clear why you have discounted your parents so thoroughly, but consider if they could offer any help - i.e., would they give money to assist you in making an intervention, or for her treatment?

It is absolutely true that nobody can help an individual who is not ready to address an addiction. The only thing you can do is to make it clear, in whatever way you can, that you care about them, that you know how they are living is ruining their lives and potentially deadly, and that you will help them get out of it if they will let you. The problem with advising you to let them hit rock bottom is that, particularly in a case like this of serious alcohol and cocaine abuse, is that rock bottom could mean dead. Direct and personal intervention is, in my opinion, the only real thing you can do (or facilitate) that has any chance of doing any good. I'd reiterate don't give her any money, period. Even if you help her with treatment, or travel, or anything, make sure you pay it directly. Any straight cash you give her will go directly to her addictions.
posted by nanojath at 11:02 PM on December 10, 2005

Unforunately, one thing you will see soon is that your hands are tied because she is of legal age. You will not be allowed to have input about her treatment (unless she gives permission) and most facilities will not keep her against her wishes.

I speak with a small amount of knowledge because soon after my step daughter turned 18 her "real" father committed suicide and started a downward trend for her. Since she was an adult we couldn't force her to go to school, go to treatment or rehab and with her aging out of my insurance we couldn't afford to pay for the rehab anyway. Now we haven't seen her for over two weeks and are going through the missing persons routine with the police.

I do wish you all the best for your sister and hope you will take the advice that many have given to get help for yourself as well.
posted by mickbw at 11:17 AM on December 11, 2005

mickbw...good luck to you as well...
posted by Todd Lokken at 9:57 AM on December 13, 2005

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