Life on Life’s Terms in Addiction Recovery
My sister straightens her hair. It’s her little secret. Obviously, miles better than my former secret of using drugs and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Her natural hair is like a thorn bush. She also has a couple of wigs, that look just like her natural hair, amber brown, which she wears over her head for religious reasons.
It’s a good thing she has this wig collection, because she’ll be needing it soon.
I vaguely remember a time when she wasn’t around. I have a very distinct memory of looking up at a mobile, my mom thinks I was 18 months old at the time. It was at our old house, before my parents moved us to Glenmore, a green suburb in Durban. But that’s about it.
My next memory far back as I can remember was of my mother at the hospital. I was about two and a half. No memory of her being pregnant, but definitely her at the hospital. While my mom was there, my father took me to our cousins’ home, an old Victorian style inn, to visit one Sunday afternoon.
I was playing with the switch to a plug-in point, switching it up and down, while my aunt and uncle showed my dad some new improvements to the house.
The memory exploded. Somehow, the next thing I remember was my hands, black with soot, being washed by my dad. The plug-point was not earthed, and I had been electrocuted. I was lucky, it could have been worse.
Later, my mom, lying in a hospital bed cradling an infant, berated my father for nearly losing her son to an electrifying moment. That little bundle was to be very important in my life. I just instinctively knew it.
Next memory I had of her, was her one-year birthday. Sitting in a baby car-chair, miserable with chicken pox, her lip pouting, her short amber hair all curly, her blue eyes defiant and wilful. When my sister is not impressed, she will let you know about it, and hell, will you get it.
My sister, even though younger than I, has looked out for me my entire life. For instance, once when she was three, she walked into my mom’s room eating a slice of bread. “Sweetie! Who helped you to that?” my mom asked, astonished.
“Me,” my sister replied. “I got for JD toooo.”
As we went through our childhood, we used to play all sorts of fun games – mostly what we made up, like The Gun Game. This one we played with our cousins, four brothers. We would all pick toy guns and go off in different directions and hide somewhere until a minute passed. You take out a competitor by aiming your toy gun and yelling, “bang!” before they did. Or you could hide your gun, which meant if someone got the drop on you, they couldn’t just shoot you. They took you hostage, and only when they located all the guns could they win the game – by executing the hostages (surprisingly, we were still quite innocent to the ways of the world). All the while you had opportunities to turn the tables and shoot them! Grim game, huh! My sister sucked at it, and never won. Except one time. She got the drop on two of us. They didn’t have their guns with them at the time. So she took them hostage. Took me out, bang bang, I fell to the floor, no more.
Then she got one of my other cousins as hostage. And her hostages, suddenly encouraging her, helping her locate my final cousin. She got him too. Bang bang. Then the little thing with curly amber hair executed her hostages. Sweet thing! Little eight year-old with freckles on her cheeks turned mass kin slayer. Ha ha. Children.
She won! She finally won the Gun Game!
Many years later, when she was in grade 11, I found an essay she had done for her English class, about a pivotal experience in her childhood. She described that day. I thought it was the funniest thing. Ever. “Shame,” I said to her. “Of all the pivotal moments you could choose from!”
But it meant so much to her. A time she was triumphant over all the bigger, older boys. She vanquished them all. She stood over the bodies of giants.
That was some battle.
Today she has an even bigger one.
I found out on Saturday that my beloved sister has a malignant growth on her pancreas. There are also a few spots, indicated by the medical procedure she underwent. They are signs that this tumour is very aggressive.
There are treatment options. Chemo is one, and once they’ve done a biopsy on the tumour and they know more, treatment will be discussed.
It just feels so unfair.
I can’t get over it. I recently had my bloods checked. A biopsy. All normal. 100%.
I’ve spent 19 years doing drugs, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, with some of the worst eating habits you can imagine – virtually no vegetables. Tons of sugar. Crisps, junk food, fast food, deep fried food. Smoking a box a day close to 20 years now.
I’m an oncologist’s worst nightmare.
I should be the one with the malignant tumour.
She’s the epitome of clean living. She does exercise, eats responsibly, went through only a short stage of binge drinking – like many early twenty-somethings – before giving it all up. Doesn’t smoke. Never used drugs.
It’s not fair.
She has four children, all under the age of five.
I’m reminded of a line said by Hawkeye in the movie Last of the Mohicans:
Me for her! Me for her!
That’s not how Death works. There’s no exchange. Nothing but incredulity.
A Higher Power?
It’s so weird. She is a good, God-fearing woman.
Meanwhile, I’m a primary candidate for a visit from the Spanish Inquisition.
So why her, and not me?
Me for her!
Me for her!
Life, to me, is random. It’s the roll of the dice. My only possible moves on the board game of life are limited to what gets rolled. Just like backgammon. But the numbers came up double ones this time.
So I have two possible moves.
To pick up drugs and alcohol and begin this whole sordid mess anew.
Or to keep myself clean – because once I pick up, all options are closed to me. Instead, now, I can try and be strong for my folks, strong for my sister, strong for her children and for her husband.
If I falter now, it will be the most selfish act imaginable, especially when others need me the most.
Houghton House has taught me how to be more caring and giving, and how to turn my back on the bad, selfish behaviours of active drug addiction.
It’s called Doing The Next Right Thing. In this case, it’s writing my step work, it’s speaking to my sponsor, it’s going to 12-Step Fellowship meetings, it’s speaking to other addicts and alcoholics, it’s reaching out to friends and family, it’s about not picking up drugs or alcohol no matter what.
Houghton House and its team of councillors gave me the coping skills to deal with anything in life. No matter how dark things get, they only get darker – so much darker – if I use drugs and alcohol again. I’m not going back into active addiction.
Because, like that time she helped her older brother to breakfast, my sister has looked out for me my entire life.
Now it’s my turn to look out for her.