You Might Be An Enabler? Broken Families, Addiction, Mental Illness And Stepping Back…

As a child, I had hoped to never again deal with a drug addicted relative but, as an adult the reality of my nieces addiction and constant interruptions to our otherwise “normal” family would effectively “drag my sister and I” back into Stephaney’s World of drama and chaos. 

My Dream of white picket fences and happy family get togethers has NEVER panned out. Why? Stephaney. Nearly every family event  ended with dusasterous results because my niece was either high or off her Bipolar One medication again. Nothing can make you feel as isolated as hiding the secret that your niece is either self medicating again or off her meds. 

Trying to look normal in our abnormal world while raising Stephaney’s twin daughters since birth has taken a serious toll on our family. Stephaney was a highly intelligent and attractive young lady. 

Pregnant with twins at fifteen years old, my twin sister took on the responsibility of raising the twins at forty years old and gained custody. Saving the twins became far more important than Saving Stephaney.For three years my niece was sober. She was finally working at a stable job and re establishing a relationship with the twins. How did we manage to pull that off? We didn’t. Stephaney was sober because she was on probation. 

The minute the mandatory drug tests were removed, Stephaney was back on meth again. Our entire family mourned losing my niece to drugs.

It’s not well known that our mother was a heroin addict. Her addiction destroyed and separated all four of her children. Like Stephaney, my mom was far more interested in getting high than being a mother. I’ve hated drugs my entire life because drugs destroy families.

This poem perfectly describes the past seventeen years of dealing with my niece. For my dedicated readers dealing with similar issues, you’re not alone. We cry with you. Our hearts break with yours and like you, we are helpless to fix Stephaney.

“You act like I know nothing about it, but I know enough. I know what it has done to you, I know what it’s done to us. You’re no longer a real person, more like a puppet on a string. Every single move you make is controlled by methamphetamine.”

The number of times that we have tried to “Save Stephaney” are likely in the hundreds. We don’t give up easily on our family or friends and felt that at some point Stephaney would “Step Up And Save Herself.”

Last night, as I watched my niece handcuffed and hauled away to the Psych Ward for the fourth time in six months, my broken heart was lost as to how we could change my niece while my sister advised me that perhaps it’s time for us both to stop trying.

I was on the phone with my sister while all of this was going on. My husband watched silently as the usual “Merry Go Round” of Stephaney being committed to the Psych Ward began again for the fifth time in seven months.

Soon, the phone calls to my sister and I will start. “I need you to bring me clothes, shampoo, a toothbrush, etc.” This drop everything and address Stephaney’s needs shit is getting old. Yes, I said shit. 

Cindy and I have decided this time to do nothing. We’ve had to. Our focus is to provide stability to the twins and our husbands. For Stephaney’s three years of sobriety, we finally had a taste of normality. 

No crazy phone calls about a drug dealer stealing her car or the FBI following her or her needing us to drop everything and go save her again. 

I can’t describe what a relief it was to not be afraid to answer my phone during that three year window. My niece is beautiful and broken. Her choices in the wrong men have destroyed her self esteem. The photo below was taken in 2016 when she was clean and sober. 

She hated being overweight and although she wasn’t grossly obese, her desire to be thin was a motivating factor in why she chose meth. 

A Psychiatrist treating my niece once told me that many people choose this drug to lose weight. I was horrified and shocked that anyone would do drugs to lose weight. Below (center) is Stephaney with her sister Leigh Ann (left) and my daughter in law, Stephanie (right). 

Happy photos like this are actually few and far between because for seventeen years, Stephaney was never around for family events and off at crack houses or with her “friends.” 

My niece missed almost every family get together and vacation because getting high was more important to her than anything else in her life. Many of our friends on FB have suggested “moving Stephaney home to save her.” This suggestion is stupid. Should we subject Maryssa and Makenna to Stephaney’s unpredictable behavior and sacrifice the peace of a normal household to “Save Stephaney” just because people who don’t understand it and/or haven’t lived it think it’s a good idea? No. 

Stephaney is thirty one years old. She isn’t a child. She’s an adult. She’s now jobless and broke and also, homeless. We cannot change this only she can and if she doesn’t, we will be burying her one day and mourning her memory. There are very few happy memories the past seventeen years however.

To update my nearly 5k friends on FB who continue to ask “where’s Stephaney?” I posted this update. 

” When you have tried and tried to help a loved one who struggles with Mental Illness or Addiction and Homelessness, at some point you must accept that you aren’t in control. This isn’t an “easy” thing to accept. Be prepared for guilt and/or remorse that no matter what you’ve tried to do- only the addict can change the direction of their life. Mental illness, addiction and homelessness by some estimates, are between one fourth and one third of all homeless persons who suffer from drug or alcohol problems or mental illness. 

Drugs may be the cause of or the result of homelessness, but the connection between homelessness and substance abuse is beyond question. If someone close to you has suffered from drug addiction and has taken to the streets, that person’s long-term prognosis will not be good, but you will have options to help that person and to recover him from a life of harm and decay. Your initial reaction when you discover that someone you love has become homeless will likely be akin to panicking. 
You will feel a need to head out into whatever streets have claimed your loved one to bring him or her back to your abode. 

Panic reactions are normal, but they may not be the best option. Your ability to help a person that you care about will be enhanced if you first calm yourself down and force yourself to move deliberately and with proper planning and strategy. Rescuing your loved one with no consideration of how to address his or her addiction problems is, at best, a temporary solution. Before long, if untreated, your loved one’s addictions will push him or her back to the street. When you have calmed yourself and recouped your perspective, do some research into homeless shelters and addiction recovery programs that are designed to help homeless persons. A day or two of research will show you the available options, and you can choose the best option for the person you are trying to help. If you then re-connect with that person, you can take him or her directly to the shelter or center, where treatment for both the homeless problem and the drug addiction can begin. Many addicts who have lapsed into homelessness will sense that they have hit “rock bottom”, and that sensation may lead to a feeling of desperation that can drive a homeless person to do whatever is necessary to survive. Because of this, a homeless person might need to address legal problems in addition to his or her drug addiction. 
Even under the best circumstances, recovering from drug addiction can be a years-long process that requires commitment from both the addict and from his support community. When an addict has fallen into homelessness, the challenges will inevitably be greater. A homeless addict will need to restart his finances, find a place to live after he is out of any rehab facilities, and start a program of counseling to address his addiction and any psychological issues that can threaten his stability.  You will best be able to help him by supporting and encouraging him in these endeavors and by making sure that he is adhering to whatever plans or structures you helped him to put in place. Ultimately, the homeless drug addict will need to resolve to help himself.” 

Watching someone you love slowly kill themselves and destroy their lives is awful. You are helpless but, you aren’t alone. 

Cindy and I have decided to get therapy for the twins and try to move beyond the things we cannot change and instead focus on the things we can…