I come from a very close knit family. A family of just 2 kids. My sister and I are 6 years apart. She can sometimes act like mum, but she is super cool. We grew up together and I always looked up to her. In high school she was in a day school, so we still hung out often. Our rivalry was not bad, of course in all relationships there are arguments. My sister and I resolved our issues fast. Often, our parents never even noticed we had disagreed. I was 15 when my sister moved out of home. She went to live in a hostel. She said the convenience to her uni classes was welcome and she could also work late into the night knowing she was safe, since ‘home’ was just walking distance away from the labs. I was low for a few days but soon enough with the hormones and stuff, I found myself mesmerised by boys!!
My sister would visit every weekend for the first few months. Then she started making excuses as of why she could not come. Some of these excuses she gave was studying for exams, group work, projects, assignments and other times just fatigue. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. After about 6 months of not seeing her, I could see even my parents had now become very anxious. Her calls were less frequent and the one time she did call me was to ask me to send her some cash cause she did not have food. I suggested she come home, cause we have plenty, and there is no way our parents can deny her food. She hung up on me furious. I wasn’t happy, but the following day after school I sent her my weekly pocket money via M-pesa.
Towards the end of the academic year, lectures were calling my dad to ask what happened to my sister as she was not reporting to class and such, yet she shows as being registered and fees fully paid. It is cause as they were preparing the grade reports, hers were always missing. It was then that the 3 of us went to look for her. I was torn to discover that my sister is an alcoholic and a drug addict. She had passed out on the floor in skimpy clothes and still had the needle sticking out of her hand. Her neighbour explained that she’s been drinking and her drug use and other destructive behaviours had really taken off over the past few months.
My parents and I had an intervention with her after a few days recovering at home. She seemed to be willing to change without having to go to rehab; the next couple of moths went smoothly without any incident. She re-applied for her courses and also got a part-time job in town. She asked to move out again. Fearing the worst, my mother and I utterly refused. She got angry yelled and said she is an adult and can take care of herself. She does not even need to ask for permission to leave. The following day she was all packed up and got a friend of hers to pick her from home.
Needless to say she relapsed. This time is was so bad, she overdosed on heroin. Her friend is the one that called us to tell us. After that she agreed to go to a residential program at a psychiatric hospital that does dual diagnosis. Three days before she was to be released and transition to their outpatient program, she abused prescription drugs while in the hospital. She got kicked out of residential but can still go to the day program. She is extremely high risk and needs 24 hour monitoring. I talked to her last month and she is in complete denial that she has an addiction problem. My parents went to see her soon after to try to force her to come home (for 24 hour surveillance) but she refused and was very nasty with them.
My sister, the one I used to know, is gone. It is extremely painful to sit here and watch her destroy her life. I know our love won’t save her. I know that she has to decide herself to recover and that anything I do won’t change her behaviour. But I still try to go out there and save her from herself.
Note however, that the first step in learning how to help your addicted relative is making sure that they are ready to accept your help. Otherwise most of these won’t work. Here are some things that are helping me help my sister;
1. Family Support Groups: Alcoholism and drug addiction are known as family diseases. This means that they affect every single member of an addict’s family. If you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may wonder if your efforts are helping or hurting the person. In the book Addict in the Family, Dr. Andrew Byrne lists several things family members should avoid when trying to help someone with an addiction.
• Giving cash to the addicted person
• Making moral judgments
• Setting unrealistic goals for recovery
• Pitying the addicted person
• Cutting off communication
• Influencing addiction treatment
Group members do not give each other advice; instead, they share stories and personal experiences.
2. Help financially: Most drug addicts will have nothing left, having sold all their possessions for drug money. If you want to help with living expenses, make payments directly to landlords instead of giving them cash.
3. Get professional advice: Since addiction is a disease, do not try to help your sister without seeking expert advice. A physician or addiction counsellor can give you the information needed to help your sister make good decisions. There are several rehab centres all over Kenya. You can also call NACADA
4. Get them an eating schedule: Nutrition and weight are also important considerations for people addicted to drugs and alcohol. Some drugs interfere with normal appetite, so your relative may not be getting the nutrients they need. A nutritionist or dietitian can help you develop a healthy eating plan to meet your sister’s specific nutritional needs.
5. Do not forget the other people in your life: If you have children or a significant other, you also have to think about how helping your relative will affect them. As much as you want to help them with their addiction, it may not be a good idea to offer them a place to live if you also have children living in your home. Dealing with a drug addict may also affect the relationship you have with your boyfriend/girlfriend, or spouse or live-in boyfriend/girlfriend.
By Rhoda Sarah