“It was a busy day for me working in the ER. I had 5 very sick patients I was taking care of. When I got 2 seconds to check my phone, I noticed I had 10 missed calls. Which was never good. I called my dad back and he told me to sit down. My heart instantly sank. He told me that my mother had died. On Christmas morning. That was 3 years ago.
18 months later I received another phone call that would again forever change my life. Minutes later I was sitting next to my little sister in the ICU, holding her hand as I gave them permission to withdraw her from life support. I never let go until she took her last breath.
We grew up a typical suburban family who went to church and never locked our doors. My mother was a nurse and my father an engineer. They both worked, and we had the luxuries of living in a small town with great neighbors. When my mother sustained a back injury when I was a child, that’s when it all started. I never thought it was problem at first. I actually had no idea. She is what we would call a high functioning addict. She could work, raise a family, be a wife, and still show up to church on Sundays. But then I started to notice things. She would act different. She would slur her words and even sometimes stumble over herself. Looking back, I also then realized I went to the doctor a lot. I had surgeries, procedures, and even had braces on my teeth for over 4 years!
It all came crashing down on a trip one summer to California. One morning, my mother took me to Mexico with her and down into a basement with some strange men. They packaged up large bottles of what I was told were antibiotics. I was only 12 at the time. I put them in my backpack and we walked back across the border. This was before passports were required. The rest of the trip my mother was incoherent. She couldn’t even keep her head up. At Sea World we had to push her around in a wheelchair because she couldn’t walk. That was the last straw for my dad. Later I found out that she had me carry over 1800 pills of narcotics and muscle relaxers that she planned to use all for herself. My mother was an addict.
For years she struggled. She lost her medical license. Her marriage failed. And she simply lost control. When discussing custody of where us children would go, the judge let us decide because we were of age. We all stayed with my mom because it was the home we grew up in. Over the years, there countless times she would overdose, attempt suicide, and then have intermittent periods of getting clean. Many tears were shed as I pleaded with her to get clean. I couldn’t handle calling the paramedics one more time after finding her not breathing and unresponsive. Then she kicked me out. It was October 11, 2001, and I was 17 years old.
She was getting out of rehab for an accidental overdose and her boyfriend at the time who lived with us, was also getting out the same day for meth addiction. My dad came down and helped me pack my things. Over the next two months I finished packets to graduate high school early and applied for college which I started that January to get my nursing degree. I have been on my own ever since. Our relationship struggled and we did not get along for many years. I couldn’t handle the lies and didn’t want to enable her lifestyle. Unfortunately, there is no book on how to still love someone and be there for them without enabling them. My youngest sister moved in with my dad, but my sister Ashlyn wanted to be there to protect my mom. I honestly couldn’t blame her. Ashlyn tried heroin for the first time when she was 13 years old. They both battled addiction and had periods of sobriety and then would ultimately relapse and start the cycle over again.
I thought after my mother had died, that my little sister would realize the path she was heading down. My sister developed heart failure from IV drug use and it only got worse from there. She couldn’t handle losing my mom and hadn’t learned how to cope in a healthy way. Weeks prior to that second phone call, I had introduced Ashlyn to my now husband Jason. She said she wanted to be at our wedding and was going to stay clean. June 28th, 2016, I was called to come quickly because my little sister was septic in the ICU. As I walked in, I scanned the monitors and medications as any good nurse would do. I then saw my sister. And I knew. I knew she wasn’t going to make it. She had told me when we met weeks before that if anything happened, to not let her live on life support or in a state where she couldn’t take care of herself. I held her hand and pleaded to not let this be happening.
Doctors who I currently worked with at the hospital were taking care of her at the time and they simply hugged me and said they were sorry. I then whispered in her ear and told her I loved her. I swear I could feel a faint squeeze of her hand as I did. I then gave them permission to remove her from life support and to keep her comfortable. I never let her go of her hand. I watched slowly as her vital signs dropped and she took her last breath. I always questioned if I did the right thing in that exact moment. But, I knew that she would never have recovered. And that this is what she wanted.
I sank to the floor and sobbed as I walked out of her room knowing I would never be able to hug her again. She was only 26 years old. I can honestly say that was the worst day of my life. Less than 48 hours after her death, I sat in a quiet room and sobbed as I took my final boards exam to become a Nurse Practitioner. I didn’t have time to cancel them at that point. I don’t even remember what was on the test. I submitted my answers and walked out of the room. The receptionist asked why I was crying. I told her about my sister and she stood there shocked. She then handed me a piece of paper and said ‘Congratulations! You PASSED!’ and I really began to sob. Tears of joy. I know my little sister was with me there that day.
Since her death my dad has officially adopted her 7-year-old daughter and she is doing remarkable. My mother and my little sister never wanted to be addicts. No one does. But unfortunately, they never learned to cope without it. It changed who they were. It changed the person that we know and loved and shared so many memories with. They would have given anything to get clean and never have to worry about the demons that plagued their every waking moment.
The next time you see or come across a ‘drug addict,’ remember that that is someone’s loved one. It’s someone’s child. Spouse. Mother. Father. Or even their neighbor next door. Addiction does not discriminate. It affects the young and the old and the suburban mom at church. It does not help to hide it. It only does worse to enable it. And all we can do is offer love to someone who is in it. I hope that no one will ever have to receive that dreaded phone call that I have now listened to twice. Please get help. Please reach out. And please remember that is possible to get clean. It won’t be easy. But, there are people out there who love you more than a drug ever will.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heather Crockett Oram of Utah. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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