Skip to content

The camels back is broke

June 17, 2011

Its been a funny old day. When you are related to a heroin addict, you are used to having some very diverse peaks and troughs. And when I say peaks and troughs I don’t mean – happy or sad – I mean normality dotted by moments of hysteria. Yesterday, my levels of anguish were nearing the high end of the scale. Worry for Hannah, sadness for my parents, uncertainty for the future – none of it is pleasant. I spoke to my husband, I empathised with my sister, I distracted myself with a trashy movie, I wrote and still I had a night filled with terror and X-rated movie images of my sister.

Today I got on with life. I went to work, I looked after my kids and then I decided to ring my parents to see how they were doing. My sister Serena had spoken to my father earlier in the day and he recounted, calmy and strongly that my mother had spoken to Hannah the night before and by all accounts and purposes, she was doing okay and set on going to rehab after her court hearing next week.  I wanted to call my mother to get a more emotional account of the events because she was the one, after all, who had spoken to her. I dialled their number and my father picked up the phone.

He sounded as if he was in a good mood and I immediately empathised  with the week he must have had. I had thought alot about what he must have felt,  having seen his daughter behind the courtroom’s glass partition, looking gaunt and sick. And with that, the flood gates opened. His voice rose and his fury knew no bounds.

He screamed down the phone that they had just heard, from Hannah, that she had gone back to her  flat –  the very one which was condemned by the police . She had unscrewed the barricade and settled back in there with Ryan – the boyfriend she was supposed to stay away from. No sooner had she got in that the police arrived and tried to arrest her for burglary. She told my mother that her postman was there when they arrived and the letters in his hand could prove that she was in fact the home owner so the police  left without charging her. Are you confused? I am and I have barely started.

My father continued by villifying the building attendant who he described as a ‘Nark’ – a police informant. He was so angry with him for calling the police and I tried to make him understand that he had a duty of responsibility to his other residents. His tirade continued, this time his anger directed towards Hannah. How could she have gone back to that flat when she promised and agreed to the opportunities presented to her yeserday? He begged me to tell him what he should do. He told me he had looked like a fool in court yesterday, offering to pay for Hannah’s rehab. I tried to reassure him but his anger continued to rise culminating in a tirade of abuse aimed at my mother. He blamed her for everything. He said whenever she spoke to Hannah she messed everything up. She said they ‘chit-chatted’ for hours both yesterday and today and to what avail? She had only made matters worse. Why couldn’t she detach? He answered his own question by stating that they would never survive Hannah’s death if they hadn’t done everything they could to help her. I could decipher, in his voice fear , shame, despair – it was all in there. But now my own anger was rising. I was begging him to not attack my mother who I knew was only trying to keep some form of contact with Hannah alive. He heard me but it wasn’t going in.  He threatened to leave. To ‘end it’. I told him I would speak to my mother for him but when he handed her the phone, she refused to speak to me.

With that, the conversation ended abruptly. My heart ached and I sobbed. I hadn’t done that for a while. What a mess. I wanted to call my sister Serena but she had a friend visiting and I didn’t want to ruin her evening. I tried to calm down but my hands shook uncontrollably. I rung my mother.

Surprisingly, she sounded strong. I think when my father goes into meltdown, she somehow finds inner strength and calmness. She has no choice. I asked her what she was doing with regard to Hannah and she told me her version of the story. She had spoken to her for 20mns last night when she got out of the remand centre. She added that Hannah’s life was so limited that if she didn’t have her own mother to speak to she would have no one. I asked how Hannah was and she said she sounded ‘elated’. Not quite the description of someone who was supposed to be at rock bottom. She was apparently over the moon to be out of the remand centre and had described it as ‘not too bad’ as she’d had her own room and even a plasma TV. My mother tried to explain that prison wasn’t the same thing but well, I guess it fell on deaf ears.

I asked my mother why, when she heard Hannah was okay and out of the remand centre she didn’t just cut the conversation short. She said that she hoped, by letting Hannah talk that she would find something out. I reminded her that Hannah’s disease is one based on lies. I recounted her a few of the beautifully crafted stories Hannah had told her over the last few years and she answered me with silence. She later said, that she realised Hannah’s recent account of detoxing in Wales was utter fabrication. There is no vindication in having detected these lies in the first moment they were uttered. I can tell you.

So back to the story from my mother’s perspective. Hannah rung today to tell her she was back in the flat and the troubles she had with the police. She told my mother that the building attendant let  Ryan borrow a screwdriver to get back in it. My head feels like its going to explode just trying to work out why she would say this. Why would he do that and then call the police? There is huge confusion over the story of her flat. Who boarded it up? Why is it boarded up? What is actually going on in there? Earlier today it was because it was so full of used needles it was a public health hazard and now it is because the door didn’t close anymore it had to be shut. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter I suppose.

I asked my mother if Hannah was begging for salvation, desperate for help to get clean. She said that she had asked my mother whether her offer of sending her to rehab still stood. Was that enough? I said it wasn’t. Somewhere Hannah wants my mother to have hope and thats why she goes to such lengths to tell her what she wants to hear.

My mother faced hell on every side tonight – a husband who blamed her for everything, a daughter who is literally killing herself and another daughter who is begging her to do the impossible and detach. She told me her life was horrific. She needs an operation and is now going to put it on hold because she can’t deal with having to organise it. Hannah’s effect on the family is, as I said last night, not just emotional any more. I pleaded with her to end the conversations with Hannah and keep to succinct text messaging if she just wanted to find out if she was alive. What a horrible thing for me to do, but what a horrible thing to have to hear a parent, in his late 70’s threaten to walk out and die and another tell you each day is a nightmare.

After I hung up with my mother, I tried to call Hannah. God only knows what I was going to say to her. She didn’t pick up. I guess that was for the best. I called my other sisters and shared this evening’s pain with them. We rationalised and worked out why my parents were doing what they were doing – it boiled down to love and fear. I felt calmer. Sadder but calmer. We left each other pledging to support my parents, and to encourage them to not feel blame and to accept the feeling of powerlessness that comes with having a sister for a heroin addict.

Thats all I can do.

Another Junction. Another Crossroad.

June 16, 2011

A month has gone by and with it, the usual highs and lows that are intrinsically linked to my love for my sister Hannah. She missed a court appearance, a warrant was issued for her arrest, she ran away, the police were looking for her, there was sadness, hysteria, anguish followed by convoluted stories and confusion  – I will spare you the details . Weeks passed with little news, my  parent’s depression deepened and I tried harder than ever to keep it all into perspective. Its been hard because even though nothing was happening per se, something felt a whole lot worse than before.

About a week ago, Hannah resurfaced and spoke to my mother. She said she had been in Wales detoxing at Ryan’s father’s house. The details of her whereabouts, the characters she depicted and the passion with which she told her story gave my mother a second’s hope but as I am now veteran in these kinds of tales, I only felt a deeper sense of despair with regard to her situation.

When digesting the information I heard second hand, I was at first incensed because I couldn’t bear the recounting of more lies and then I felt angry with myself for not even having a glimmer of hope for her situation. But how could I,  just over four years to the day, since I  found out my sister was a heroin addict.

Today the story evolved some more. Hannah has been arrested in London and by chance, my parents were in town and managed to make it to court, in time to see her be sent down. Over the course of the last year, my mother has been sitting alone in these courtrooms waiting for her daughter to appear but today, she was there with my father – now almost 80 years old. In what must be a dreadful situation for any parent, I took comfort in the fact that they went through it together. They watched her come in and were both shocked by her deterioration. It had only been a few weeks since my mother had last seen her but today she was looking terrible – thin, sick and dirty. She was sent to a remand centre and was due to be released this evening. She is to appear in court next week and if she doesn’t turn up, then a custodial sentence is a certainty.

Its a strange feeling watching this all unravel from a far. Only a couple of nights ago I was talking to my best friend about whether there may be a different approach to how to handle Hannah. She asked me if any of us had actually ever told her what she was doing to us. I replied that we hadn’t – too scared that we would push her over the edge. She replied wisely by say that Hannah is surrounded by precipices on three of her four corners. Anything could kill her – overdose, suicide, murder, illness, neglect. If we try another tactic and she slips and falls into the abyss then we have to know that we acted out of love the whole way through this train wreck of a journey . On reflection, I realised that I had had conversations with Hannah in the past where I tried to explain what was going on from our perspective and she angrily said that our reactions to her addiction were our problems. I understood what she was saying but things have changed since then. Her disease is our disease and its making us all sick. Is there really nothing we can do?

When she last spoke to my mother she said that she wanted to go to one of the first rehabs she had been to – and subsequently run away from – a few years ago. I thought she was saying it because she wanted to make my mother feel better. Nothing she was doing was showing that she actually wanted to be sober. My parents said they would help her get there. Today they found out that if she has a place set up at the rehab then she may escape a custodial sentence. If Hannah goes into treatment to get out of prison will that be enough incentive for her to give it a real shot? My sister Serena rang the rehab and they are ready for her, if she wants it.

So this evening I am sitting here with a stiffening neck and a slightly sick feeling in the pit of my stomach wondering where Hannah will end up tonight. Her flat has been boarded up and apparently the coucil may reposess it as it is endangering her fellow residents. The flat my father bought her to keep her safe has been condemned. She is homeless. By now, she will have been released from remand and I am trying to picture where she is. Has she gone to a crisis centre, a hostel, a hospital or has she gone to see ‘a friend’ for relief from the torment she must be going through?

She is at yet another crossroads and only she knows which fork is beckoning.

Can art mean life?

May 10, 2011

My grandmother passed away early last month and after a few days deliberating whether Hannah or would come or not it was clear she was never going to make it. Without her there, the highs and lows of her presence at this emotive family gathering were put to the side to celebrate a life and support my family.

I hadn’t felt comfortable with the possibility of Hannah coming to the funeral. In fact I couldn’t think of anything worse and hoped the idea was a fantasy that would never morph into reality. When my sister Serena and I met up with my mother, we asked after Hannah and she answered with a shrug of the shoulders. My mother still wasn’t sure what was going on but worried as she recounted that she had received a text message from Hannah stating that her boyfriend Ryan had been arrested. Hannah claimed he had a 99% chance of receiving a custodial sentence and that she was ‘really stressed out’. That was the limit of the information that was available. Thankfully we didn’t dwell on it too much, Hannah’s addiction didn’t overshadow the primary reason we were by my mothers side.

In the front seat of the car on our way to my Grandmothers house, I had my mothers mobile phone in my hands and I snuck a look at her text messages. I suppose, having found out recently that my parents have kept some information relating to Hannah from us, I wanted to find out my own truths. I read the one about Ryan and then I had a quick scroll catching a few words here and there from a selection of different numbers my mother had stored in her phone under Hannah’s name. I subtely threw the phone backwards to Serena and she read them on our behalf. There was alot of talk about money and not much else that gave us any indication of Hannah’s current state of mind. That wasn’t a surprise but you never know, right?

The funeral was wonderful – a true celebration of our family – the legacy my Grandmother had left behind. It was a rare opportunity for her six children and my cousins to be together and there was a lot of joy in this shared presence. Serena and I took the opportunity to talk about Hannah to our family. We found alot of surprise in their reactions as somehow the true extend of her addiction hadn’t quite trickled down. I felt in recounting our horror story we were opening the door for my mother to receive support from her siblings. She has played the role of the strong big sister for long enough.

After the burial we all went and had lunch together and as the universe would have it I ended up sitting next to my uncle’s best friend who I’d never met before. It turned out that he was the youngest of three brothers and both of his siblings were heroin addicts too. What are the odds of that happening?!  We spoke at length about the similarities of our situations and he said that despite drugs having ravaged his brothers bodies they had managed to get clean later in life. When I asked what happened he said that one of his brothers had turned his addiction towards antiques and was more obsessed about his business than he was about heroin. I’m not sure about the other. He encouraged me to find a way to get Hannah to throw herself into her passion, I quietly wished it could be that simple.

Once home, Hannah confirmed to my mother that Ryan had indeed gone to prison and that she was in bad shape. Hannah was scared of being alone, vulnerable at the hands of visiting drug dealers. My parents worried and reached out to Serena and I wondering whether coming out to Switzerland for treatment could be a possibility. It is then that you know how strong blood bonds are. Despite having used in our homes, despite having torn our family apart and  despite having broken our hearts, it didn’t take a split second for me to think the idea was a good one.

Serena and I discussed it and agreed that the want to get clean had to come from Hannah. If she was ready then we were too. We sourced a reputed clinic not far from where I live. Its credentials looked exceptional given it was run my psychiatric doctors. Hannah’s mental health has always been a huge concern of ours and the thought of this aspect as well as her drug dependance being treated felt reassuring. Before delving into researching this possibility any further, I tried to call Hannah. I had texted her a couple of times in the days that led up to the call but she hadn’t answered. As I sat outside on the edge of the lawn outside our flat, I felt a familiar sense of nervousness as her number dialled. To my surprise, someone answered. A man. I asked if I could speak to Hannah and he said ‘she was on the other phone’. I asked for the number and he gave it to me. I wondered who this man was given Ryan was in jail, it sounded to me like they were counterparts in something given she was on the ‘other’ phone – the other half of his.

I rang Hannah’s number and the line was dead. I rang again thinking I might have jotted down the number incorrectly and I fell upon a voicemail. After a few failed attempts I rung the rehab facility and told the receptionist about our situation. Her comments were empathetic but she stressed upon the fact that if Hannah didn’t want to go then we may as well burn our notes as it would never work. She told me about high profile cases that had been successful and others that had failed half way through. I joked and asked whether they could ‘keep her there’ against her will (my imagination of men in white coats taking me more to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest than the reality of what they  offer), of course, she answered that they couldn’t. So back to square one. Back to where we have been a million times. At least we know there is somewhere she can go if she wants to.

While all of this was brewing, my mother hadn’t heard a word from Hannah. She started to worry when she hit the two week mark and called her duty solicitor who also happens to be Ryan’s to ask him whether he had seen Hannah at Ryan’s hearings. The answer astounded us all. Ryan wasn’t in prison. He never had been. Now we know that addicts are liars but usually they lie for a reason. Despite wracking my brains I can’t see why Hannah would have led us down this route. Was it the simplest reason she could find to get out of coming to the funeral?

My mother was able to see Hannah last week moments after threatening to walk into a police station and report her missing. She asked Hannah what had happened and she said that Ryan had infact been in a police cell and not in prison. I can’t even bare to recount the details so tenuous they sound. She said Hannah seemed well – that in itself quite troubling knowing the extend of her state of mind. She ate a sandwich next to her on a park bench and was grateful for the contact.

This week my mother saw Hannah at an art gallery. She said they didn’t really talk and that Hannah looked thin but they met and thats what is important. It seems strange to imagine a street junky appreciating a fine art exhibition with her mother but to me it shows Hannah, once passionate about art, is still in there somewhere. And while the days roll into weeks that roll into months that roll into years of active addiction, I can only hope that little sign means something a whole lot bigger.


April 4, 2011

Despite the last few weeks being really quiet, I have still managed to feel a combination of hope, detachment, resentment, disbelief, shame,  anger, fear, sadness, worry, annoyance – all in relation to Hannah.  Having a heroin addict for a sister sends you up, down and spinning sideways which means much of my time is spent trying to keep myself grounded.

A couple of months ago, Hannah had been arrested and charged with theft and possession of illegal substances.  One of the few flip sides of this experience was that she had to go for enforced drug testing and should these come up positive for cocaine or heroin then she was in breach of her parole and would be taken in by the police.  If this meant that she was in an enforced harm-reduction programme then I was happy.  In the run up to her court hearing she was seemingly clean but she failed to turn up, citing too much Valium and an inability to get out of bed as the reason she missed this key date.

Despite  not making her court appearance, Hannah was lucky enough to have her sentencing deferred until May.  This ‘good news’ made me nervous –  too much time and too little direction isn’t good for the addict.  Would she be able to stay clean while she waited, would she stay out of trouble and would her boyfriend lead her astray? These questions were impossible to answer. My hope fading fast after I found out the routine drug testing had also stopped.

I have not had any personal contact with Hannah for a while now but I still need to hear about how she is and what she doing. My mother continues to see her and tells me, when I ask, how she is doing.  There hasn’t been much news save for a crazy tale of a predatory neighbour bashing down Hannah’s door while she was watching TV (I was more suprised that she was sitting around doing something normal like watching television than by her door being kicked in) . The story sounded completely fabricated and I felt irritated by it. My mother reiterated that she was just ‘reporting what she was told’.  As ever, the ground around Hannah was shaky.

On Friday last week my Grandmother passed away. She hadn’t been well for a while and my mother and her siblings spent the best part of the last two weeks by her bedside. I asked after Hannah during this time and my mother  told me she was on the ‘back burner’ for now. I was so glad to she had put herself first while she was going through such a difficult time. Hannah had rung and gone off on a tangent about her boyfriend and my mother simply said ‘ I can’t deal with this right now’.  Previously, any contact with Hannah would have been better than no contact.  I have never heard her do anything like that and it felt like a huge step in the right direction.

Within 24 hours of returning  from visiting my Grandmother in France, my mother was back in London meeting up with Hannah – maybe the detachment wasn’t working out so well after all. In my opinion, what my mother needed after lots of travelling and emotional family time was rest but what she opted for was another trip to London and a meet up with her daughter. Somewhere I can understand. And somewhere it upsets me. My already drained mother gave what little she must have had left to Hannah.

Today I found out that my mother and my uncles want Hannah to be at the funeral. All of the grandchildren will be there and they want her to be part of the event. I was surprised and uncomfortable with the idea of her coming.  My uncles might not understand what it means to be an addict but my mother does. Does being united in grief overide the gritty reality of having her amongst us? Instead of focusing on my grandmother’s funeral and being gentle with herself, my mother is now trying to figure out how to get Hannah on a plane out to France  and encouraging Hannah to find out whether she will be dispensed enough methadone to last her three days and if so how she would be allowed to travel with it. Visions of waiting for her to turn up at airports, paranoias of her stealing from my family and attention distracted from my mother make me feel nauseous. Its not that I don’t want to see her or that I don’t think she has as much right as us to be there but its the enormity of what it means to have someone so unwell and irrational around such raw energy that makes me catch my breath.

The more I sit with this, the more impossible I think it is that she will make it. To be allowed to leave the country, to have enough methadone, to travel with her medication let alone getting to the airport and making it on time are huge hurdles and ones I don’t think she has the ability to get over. If somehow she does – then I have my own set of jumps I’m going to need a massive run-up to clear.

In The Dock – Part 1

March 9, 2011

Having a heroin addict for a sister sometimes feels like I am living in a parallel universe. As I sat in my office car park the other day talking to my mother about Hannah’s appearance in court  I could have been a central cast-member in a Danny Boyle movie or a character from Mum, Can You Lend Me Twenty Quid, one of the many books on addiction I’ve devoured over the course of the last four years. My colleagues would never have suspected as they bussled their way past me on their lunch break that I was hearing about the kindness of the parole officers and the benefits of routine testing while eating my sandwich. Such is the life of a heroin addict’s sister. Such is my life.

Over the course of the last few months, Hannah’s drug use has led her into the next unavoidable chapter of the story – criminal activity. The first we’d heard about it was in November when Hannah got in touch with us to tell us she had dumped a stash of drugs whilst on the run from the police and that she was subsequently being hunted down by dealers. She had been arrested and then released, the details were sketchy. A few weeks later, after turning up late to meet my mother, she told her she had just been released from spending the night at  her local police station,after having been caught shoplifting. She added being in the cell hadn’t been a bad experience  – she was safe, warm and on methadone.

In the run up to her sentence, the whole family hoped Hannah wouldn’t do anything to damage herself or her chances of escaping a custodial sentence. Could this have been a gift? A way to force her into sobriety? I had my doubts. Miracles are just that. In the second week of January, her hearing was scheduled with an infamously tough magistrate. My mother sat in the courtroom waiting to watch her daughter take the stand. She said it felt similar to sitting around in A&E waiting for test results. She watched on as Hannah stood petrified. I was quietly relieved because it would have been more worrying to hear Hannah had turned up and taken it all in her stride. She pleaded guilty to her charges and my mother listened attentively to exactly what had happened during both of her arrests. It couldn’t have been easy to hear the recounting of your daughters handcuffing and the subsequent raid of her flat but my mother was glad for the facts. The magistrate ended up praising Hannah for the effect she was having on her boyfriend Ryan, who had been in less trouble since they started going out.  She said she wasn’t ready to sentence Hannah as her drug history didn’t tally with her criminal history. Hannah has always said she has been a heavy drug user since her teenage years but heroin addiction quickly leads you into the criminal underworld and somehow, Hannah has managed to keep clear of it until now. The magistrate wanted to dig a little deeper and with that, the uncertainty of what lay ahead remained.

As my mother recounted the events of the day she was full of praise for the drug workers, the probation officers and the solicitor looking after Hannah. She said that she felt they had a true calling and genuinely cared for her and the future they were striving to help her secure. She worried about the state of funding in Hannah’s London borough and how this might affect her chances of recovery but somehow the system, one which she was just beginning to discover, gave her hope.

We got on with our lives as normally as possible over the following weeks. Mostly I felt fine and sometimes the fear and grief would creep up on me out of nowhere and I would silently cry my way into work. Two weeks ago, just a few days after Hannah’s 29th birthday, my mother headed back into London for her sentencing. As before, she sat and waited in court, only this time, her daughter didn’t show up.

A short text message to my mother was all the news there was on that day. She had overslept. And then more silence until a few days later when Hannah called in and told my mother why she hadn’t turned up. Apparently, the police had broken down her door while on a search warrant the week before. After that, the  front door didn’t close properly and Hannah became frightened of people turning up asking for drugs, looking for a dealer or with more threatening motives – details of which I am not privy to. She ended up leaving the flat to stay with her ex-boyfriend Dave, took valium and spent two days out of it. She eventually made her way to court 24 hours late by which time a warrant for her arrest had been issued. As she headed out to make her way there a passing police patrol recognised her and picked her up. Its hard to describe how it feels to know  my sister is a familiar face to the local law enforcement officers.  Another night in a cell and some worrying news about both her mental and physical state followed. She was on 30 minute suicide watch and the police were very close to taking her to hospital. I wonder why they didn’t. The details are all third hand at least.

In the morning, her solicitor fought her corner and managed to deferr her sentencing for three months – arguing that  both sending her to prison for a first time offence or keeping her in her local area for an 18 month drug rehabilitation programme could only be detrimental. I breathed again as yet another chance was given to my sister.  But the relief was momentary as Hannah has stepped into a darker and more dangerous place than ever before. Reports of the company she keeps and the danger she fears, accounts of her physical deterioration and her continuing drug abuse make me apprehensive of the phone ringing or the emails pinging in my inbox.



Holidaying with Heroin

January 17, 2011

Painted by Hannah

The Christmas holidays seem a while ago now but this festive period will forever be etched in my mind. It was to be our third with an uninvited guest. A dangerous and attention seeking one at that. Yup, you’ve guessed it – heroin. Having an opiate addict in the family means that there is always an extra member invited to family events. Heroin is much like its friend the Grim Reaper, a dark presence seemingly waiting to drop its scythe. Amidst our joy and happiness, Hannah’s addiction loomed…

Just before the holidays, I had spoken to a real life success story – a heroin addict in her 13th year of sobriety. She had helped me understand what it was like from Hannah’s perspective and instead of drawing on my empathy she implored my family’s detachment stating it was the only possible course of action at this stage. I processed the call for a few days before ringing my parents. It was a tough conversation. Which mother wants to hear that kind of thing? I had thought at first of editing the harder-to-swallow details to the bare essentials but in the end, I told it like I’d heard it . One of the hardest things to transmit was Jo’s message about Christmas day itself. My parents had invited Hannah to Christmas lunch at my 99 year old Grandmothers house. Jo said it was a bad idea and instead an opportunity to deliver a firm message of detachment.

My mother is a devout Catholic and the 25th December is, of course,  an incredibly special day centering around love, family and forgiveness. Her head told her one thing, her heart ached in the other direction. Five minutes later, I had the same conversation with my father. His pain and fear echoed down the line but his practical mind took on the message more easily. I hung up, leaving them to translate the messages I had delivered into something which worked for them. I felt awful. Is this what they call tough love?!

My parents disinvited Hannah from Christmas day lunch under the pretext of my Grandmother not being well enough to receive them all. This was already a huge step for them and my mother spent most of the day in tears. They stopped by her flat to deliver a Christmas gift. Hannah kept them waiting a while but eventually made it downstairs looking thin and feeling unwell. She brought with her a painting she wanted my parents to deliver to Amanda – she was her Secret Santa. None of us had thought she would remember the family gifting tradition, let alone who she had drawn.

A few days later, my parents arrived in Switzerland. I was so glad to see them and just wanted to offer them some respite from all of the strain they had endured in recent times. My mother looked exhausted and my father was jittery. A few days in and the mountain air didn’t seem to be working its magic. Giggling children, bright sunshine, gregarious meals together and still my mother was feeling low and my father on edge. Early into their stay, I heard that Hannah had rung asking for money. Later, on New Year’s Eve, just as we were toasting the end of the year my mother’s mobile phone rang. ‘Its Hannah!’ She lunged towards her phone but just missed the call. She rang back but Hannah didn’t pick up. The mood in the room changed – my parents eyes darted backwards and forwards to the phone, willing it to sound again. Just as we sat down for supper it did. My mother, head of the table and hostess for the evening got up and answered the call in the kitchen. She was gone a while so my sister Serena went to investigate. It was incredibly hard for us all to not just sit in deafening silence for my mother to return but each and everyone of us was quietly determined to not let Heroin crash the party.

When Serena walked back into the room , my sister Sarah said ‘thats nice that she called’ at which point Serena said ‘no its not actually’ (both the comment and its retort have to be my favourite quotes of all time – it was just so funny amidst all the angst that Sarah would say something so seemingly innocent!). ‘There is a drama, Hannah wants money’. Serena managed to convey the message to me without anyone else hearing. ‘Tell Mum to get off the phone!’ I retorted furiously. After some negotiating my mother hung up. She was visibly shaken. Apparently Hannah’s key had  broken in the lock of her front door  and she needed money for a lockstmith. My mother had said she couldn’t help – it was a national holiday which helped her stave off my sister’s demands.

A couple of minutes later, the phone rang again. This time Serena answered it. She told her our mother wasn’t available and hung up. It was an incredibly brave act on her part. In the three and a half years we have known about Hannah’s addiction, she has led all communication. On New Years Eve 2010,  my sister Serena set a boundary.

Despite the fact that my mother knew Hannah was lying about her lock being broken (she had called from inside her flat and never took my parents up on their offer of a locksmith) she couldn’t help but wonder what was really going on and the anxiety ate away at them. A few days into the New Year and Hannah was due at her local police station to be charged for a recent arrest. It was her boyfriend Ryan that called on her behalf to say that she had ‘only’ been booked with posession. It later turned out Hannah had been in a cell for 24 hours after being caught shoplifting. Something she told my mother she had to do to pay for the broken lock.

It all got too much for my parents and they decided to cut their holiday with us and their grandkids short. They needed to be at home. They needed to be closer. And with that they started 2011 with heroin hopping into the backseat of their car for the long drive home. This unwanted guest doesn’t seem to be getting the message.

From The Horses Mouth

December 23, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, plunged into desperation after hearing that Hannah was not only using heroin again but fearing for her life, I wrote to a very dear friend of mine. We have shared a lot of heartache in the past and and most recently and poignantly having an addict for a sibling. Upon hearing the latest developments, she suggested putting me in touch with a friend of hers who was a heroin addict with 12 sober years under her belt. I gladly jotted down her number and waited for the right moment to call.

Last night – a while after the drama had subsided, I dialed Alex’s number. I felt nervous, it took me by surprise.  She was expecting my call and I felt like I knew more or less , what I wanted to ask her. But I had butterflies in my stomach, frightened of  what her answers may be.

Alex is a success story. A miracle really.  She started using drugs when she was 14. First pot, then hallucinogenics and only a few years later intravenous heroin. By the time she was 28 she had been in and out of rehab 10 times, she had OD’d, flatlined, been deported for drug smuggling, knew about guns, prostitution,gangsters, murders and everything else that springs to mind when you think of your ‘typical’ heroin addict. Until one day, whilst rocking backwards and forwards in a tiny dark bedsit in London after shooting up, she reached a turning point. It was to be her last hit.

Alex couldn’t attribute this shift in her to anything specific. She said something in her clicked. For years she had wanted to get sober. She had screamed on her knees for salvation and sobriety but had never made it. Her father had recently told her that she was no longer welcome at home. Her best friend had said he wanted nothing to do with her until she showed she really wanted to recover. She was at the raw end of detachment and for her, at that time, it worked. She hastened to add that it could have easily have kept her out there.

I filled her in on Hannah’s situation and she explained that the lifestyle creeps up on you.  Living in a crack house, having a relationship with a dealer, witnessing violence and depravity – it happens over a long time and becomes normal. I spoke about Hannah’s proximity to danger and Alex said ‘on heroin, the whole world could blow up around you and it doesnt matter to you’ she said. ‘It doesn’t mean that you don’t realise its happening. Or that you don’t care. It means that it doesn’t matter’. We spoke about the resilience of the addict and I told her that Hannah had said many times that if she was going to die she would be dead already. I could almost feel Alex shaking her head from the end of the phoneline ‘ its ridiculous naivity. You know, the fearlessness and arrogance you have when you are a teenager?  She is not necessarily going to be okay. Many people I knew didnt make it. I was one of the few that did’. ‘Why do you think you did and they didnt’? ‘It just wasnt my time. And most of the people that didnt make it were the ones without any means’.

I recounted my visit to London in August and the conversations I had with Hannah that led me to believe she was still using.’It sounds to me like she is trying to shock you’. She had done just that with talk of finding a line in her neck, being strangled by a stalker, with stories of a friend of hers shooting air into his veins, dealing with abscesses in her groin,  – the list is endless. I had sat in front over her, trying not to let the sickness I felt in the pit of my stomach show on my face. Alex went on to say Hannah was trying to see me react , to get my admiration ‘You want to see fucked up? Well here you go’ she said.  She asked why Hannah had chosen me to recount the gory details to. What was my relationship with Hannah like ? She said that subliminally Hannah probably felt envy and hatred for me. My mother had always said the fact that Serena and I were happily married with children was hard for Hannah to bear but I had never believed her. Now I wasn’t so sure.

Alex asked me if Hannah wanted to get clean. I said that she hadn’t mentioned getting clean in a while. In the past she had voiced wanting a sober life but had never begged for one. ‘Well she hasn’t got a hope in hell then’ was her reply. ‘Only 2% of addicts in recovery get clean, you have to really really want it.’ I knew she was right. ‘You are making it too easy for her. She needs you to help her make the small turn that will take her down the path of recovery’. ‘But how do we do that?’ I asked. Alex went on to say that my family and I were enabling Hannah and that thanks to us, she was too comfortable to face up to her life. My parents pay her household bills and provide her with a tiny income each week to keep her fed and watered. ‘Financially supporting an addict is not a positive. Hannah is not having to look at anything. Without the financial support, using becomes a big deal’. I took a deep intake of breath. How was I going to relay this to my parents who felt they were doing the minimum to keep her alive?

Alex used some really powerful analogies to help me understand what it was like to be using heroin. ‘Heroin numbs everything. Life is a cloudy haze in which nothing is heard. When you speak to her you need to imagine that she is listening to you from under water. Keep your sentences short and to the point. Speak to her with raw emotion,that is all she will understand. After all, that is how she speaks to you’. She went on to explain that each time an addict leaves rehab and relapses it escalates their using. The first time they use it is for pure pleasure, once they have tasted recovery it is to numb out the pain. Using becomes more intense and life much darker. The addict becomes more manipulative, using the programme to their advantage. I was shocked by how little empathy she had for the addict given her own history. I had been expecting her to tell me how hard it was for my sister and that I needed patience and love to help her through this. Although she was referring to her own experience, so close was it to our story, she may have well known my sister inside out.

Alex said that we were ‘dancing to Hannah’s tune’ and that it was time for her to take responsibility. I was shocked my these words because over the last three and a half years I have worked had to accept that Hannah has a disease which negates this almost entirely. This was a view I hadn’t come across. ‘You need to tell her that she needs to start respecting herself and until then the door is closed’. Silence. She went on to say that by being honest and more detached from Hannah it could impact her recovery. It could be the very thing that makes her think about her life and how she is affecting others.

I mentioned to Alex my parents plans to invite Hannah to celebrate Christmas with my grandmother. She suggested my they disinvite her but take the opportunity to ask Hannah to meet them somewhere neutral whereby they deliver a poignant message along the lines of ‘we love you but we can’t watch you destroy yourself’, or ‘when you are ready to clean up we will be here but until then we can’t see you’. She reiterated that there should be no long dialogues but short and straight to the point communication. My heart ached for my parents. Could they manage this kind of detachment from their youngest daughter?

‘The flame of Hannah’s spirit is still burning’ she said. ‘and rebuilding yourself mentally, physically and emotionally happens quicker than you think. I never think about drink or drugs anymore. I can remember what it feels like but it is no longer part of my life. Hannah needs to feel that bolt strike her and  you can to help her with that’.

And with that, I hung up, wondering what the hell I was going to do with everything I’d been told.

My Secret Santa

December 16, 2010

With the holiday season around the corner I am starting to get really excited about Christmas. I’ve always loved it. Growing up it was always as much about family as it was about the festivities. With five sisters scattered across the globe it was the one time of year we would all meet up and be together.

Over time we developed the most wonderful rituals and in adulthood I loved the lazy breakfasts around the kitchen table, the long walks across the hills and the slow gift giving around the Christmas tree on the big day itself.

When my sisters and I started to have children, we reassessed and decided to only give presents to the children save for a special present to one designated family member who’s name was pulled out of a hat. We became Secret Santas.

Over the course of the last few years our Christmas routine has evolved but this new form of gift giving has been fun and more importantly has forced us all to really think about what to buy. With only one present on the list, you want to get it right!

This year – I drew my sister Hannah.

What do you give a heroin addict for Christmas? I feel bad thinking of Hannah in those terms but that is how she is defining herself at the moment and it is taking precedent over everything else. I have always preached knowing that she is still ‘in there’ but right now while she is using, living with a notorious addict, on police bail and barely eating it is hard to think beyond her immediate survival. I really wanted to get her something that would make a difference to her – something she would use, something that could help and something that would show how much I cared.

I also wanted my gift to show that I wasnt trying to brush over her situation. And, importantly to me, I wanted to get her something that she wouldnt sell. I racked my brains: Some clothes to keep her warm? She needs to eat. How about a hamper of food? Is she keeping herself clean? What about some shampoo or clean underwear?

My mother who is regularly in touch with Hannah, saw her last week. By prior arrangement they met outside the front door of her flat. I was upset when I heard she had gone there. It had only been ten days earlier that we had heard that dealers were lying in wait for Hannah to make her pay for ripping them off. That, added to the reputation of the building itself and what I know has gone on in Hannah’s flat over the last few years made me angry my mother had put herself in a vulnerable position.

My mother said that she had wanted to see with her own eyes whether as Hannah had said, her door had been bashed down during a police raid. There were signs of a forced entry and new locks on the door. I can only imagine that seeing this damage helped my mother process Hannah’s story a little .

When my mother arrived, Hannah stood in the doorway and didnt invite her in. Thank goodness for small mercies. My mother says she wouldnt have gone in – Ryan, the ‘street junkie’ was there too. She put some credit on Hannah’s gas meter – with the big freeze hitting the UK being without heating and hot water is yet another element adding to Hannah’s vulnerability. After that, she took her out to lunch. It can’t have been easy. Although Hannah is not showing any signs of wanting to be clean she is apparently much less paranoid and fidgety than she was before. My gut tells me it was because she has just taken her fix. A bit of dutch courage to meet up with my mother.

They spoke about Christmas and my mother asked her what her wishes were. It felt to me, from the end of the phoneline , an absurd conversation to have. Will Hannah know whether its Christmas or New Year? Will she care? Perhaps if I had been sat in front of Hannah I would have asked the same thing.

Hannah’s answer to my mother was that she would love some art supplies – sculpting clay, oil pastels, etc . She has always been creative and my mother, who’s father was a painter, has always encouraged that side of her. My immediate reaction was one of frustration:

“Surely she needs a warm jumper or something? I said

“She has so many clothes Nora” “Well what about beauty or hygene products”. I countered.

Silence. We both knew she stole these.

After giving it all a lot of thought I eventually opted for a set of oil pastels and some blocks of paper. I hope my gift will give her pleasure. Maybe it can also show her  that I still believe the Hannah from before is still there. If none of that happens, I will have done something for my mother who I know is suffering beyond belief. I am sure she sometimes feels as if she is the only one with any faith in Hannah.

Christmas this year will be celebrated with my 99 year old Grandmother and both she an my mother are desperate for Hannah to join them. My father, by his own admission, can’t do it. I think he is scared of being faced with Hannah – the pain she is in and the pain she evokes in all of us.

A few years ago, my Grandmother, was in hospital over this very period. Out of the blue, Hannah begun to visit her. I remember being suspicious. In the middle of her stay, my Grandmother realised her debit card was missing. She suspected the hospital staff. I suspected my sister.

Two years on, Christmas for Hannah is looking bleak. Active addiction, a court date looming, the coldest winter for months and I can bet, no turkey for lunch. Its important to remember, sometimes hard through my own anger and sadness, that heroin addiction is worse for the addict than for anyone else.

But A Molecule’s Difference

December 13, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I read a post entitled Waiting for Bill written by one of my favourite bloggers, Peggy . I found her blog, Helplessly Hoping in January this year when I hunted online while looking for help. Hannah had relapsed on heroin after a pre-rehab psychiatric assessment had left her reeling. She was under my roof and she was using. She was meant to be getting better and she wasn’t. She was at the end of the road and I was scared.

Although I had known my sister was an addict for over two years, I had prayed that the recovery she insisted she was in, was for keeps.  I felt guilty for never really believing it but hope battled on despite doubt putting up a valiant fight. This relapse hit me square  on the nose. It turned out she had been lying for well over a year – looking at us in the eyes and talking the talk but behind the scenes she was spiralling out of control. After conducting an intervention, my sister Serena took her to rehab and together we hoped (again) that this time would be it.

I had just moved to a foreign country, I was starting a new job, I had two young children and I needed support. I was looking for someone to share this experience with – could anyone outside my family circle ever really understand?  By the greatest of luck I found Peggy’s blog and from that day onwards she became more important to me than she could ever imagine. I devoured her posts relating to her own daughters fight against addiction and I took in her wise advice when she commented on my pages. She introduced me to Dawn, Bob and Guinevere all bloggers who have now become an intrinsic part of my own recovery from the devastation of Hannah’s addiction.

A couple of weeks ago, as I read Peggy’s latest post, still raw from the shock of finding out my sister was on the run from dealers she had supposedly ripped off , I reached out for help. Her post had struck a huge chord  and I needed her advice. Despite knowing the theory , I was in an all too familiar place again. Helplessly lost with regards to what to do next.

Here is Peggy’s answer to me – But a Molecule’s Difference.

Her  response is more than I could ever have dreamed of. Thank you for your wise insight, thank you for imparting your story, thank you for sharing other people’s experiences to help me with mine. Your experience with Hayley keeps us all going. If she can do it – maybe Hannah can too.

And in the mean time, I am going to share this link with my mother who I know will take great comfort from reading that there is, after all, still a bit you can do. Thank you Peggy for putting the hope back into the helpless.

Nora x


Back To Normal

November 27, 2010

I’ve never forgotten Baz Luhrmann saying ‘The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.‘ in his song, Sunscreen. It sums up what happened to me on a Saturday in June 2007 when I found out my sister Hannah was a heroin addict. Three years later, I remind myself on idle Tuesdays, that just about anything can happen. When your sister is mainlining drugs – anything becomes everything.

I fell to the depths of despair last week when my family and I had news of Hannah’s relapse. It wasn’t just that she was using again, it was that she had taken it to another level. We’ve all seen the films and ingested the stereotypes – heroin addicts lie, steal, live precariously, winding up in prison or six feet under. Well Hannah lied and stole but until recently  we’d never known for sure how much danger she was in. She has alluded to violence before but last week she was fearing for her life, on the run from dealers who she’d ripped off. Her ex-boyfriend Dave had contacted us to let us know he was scared something ‘bad or worse’ would happen. The alarm bells were sounding.

News continued to trickle in. Hannah was in regular touch with my parents. Her story like scenes from The Wire. She was on the run from dealers, she had dumped drugs when chased by the police, her flat had been raided, she said everyone was out to get her. We didn’t know whether we were coming or going but we were glad of two things – she was alive and she was in touch. The family communicated fast and furiously – emails flying around between parents, siblings and uncles. We all tried to suggest things that would help and the more we did the more desperate and febrile the whole thing became. We were powerless. It was so obvious but I needed reminding. I knew deep down I couldn’t change Hannah’s situation but I had to be sure. The hell subsided after 48 hours. That sick feeling, the tears, the desperation – it all got better. The sadness and the uncertainty over what else I could be doing remains.

A few days ago my mother saw Hannah. I knew from my father that the meeting had been incredibly difficult. I tried to call her but she didn’t answer. I tried to text her but she didn’t reply. I knew the factual outcome of their meeting but I wanted my mother to tell me how she felt when she sat opposite Hannah knowing what she does today about her daughter. I wanted the emotional account. After I had seen Hannah in August, my heart ached for days. Sitting opposite someone you love who is destroying herself in front of you is indescribable. It harpoons your heart and shuts down your lungs.  I can imagine my mother’s suffering. And I wish that there too, I could do something to help.

As the days pass, my normality returns. I continue to smile, I continue to celebrate what I have . I do. But I also sadden fleetingly during the day when I think of Hannah. Sometimes I picture her in her flat – wondering what state she and her boyfriend are in, sometimes I picture her death and sometimes I picture her rebirth. I get caught out by a song , or something my children do and my eyes fill with tears. I let them brim over. I love Hannah and I am in  pain over her situation. As someone wise once said to me ‘suffering, like joy is part of life‘.

As the uncertainty continues, I am more determined than ever, to do something. I am powerless in her life but I am going to try and find a way to make this experience benefit others. I am plotting my crusade because I’ll be dammed if  heroin addiction ever becomes normal to me.