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I recently had the pleasure of co-hosting my third Twitter chat with the Coalition against Drug Abuse (#CADAChat) and the topic that I came up with was how relationships change after recovery. I chose this topic because I’ve been struggling with the still-strained relationship I have with my sister and I know this is something that many families struggle with after recovery as well. It was a great discussion and I got a lot of insight.

Let me give you a little back story to add some context: my sister is a former crack addict who now has 10 years of sobriety and my family is extremely proud of her. My sister is the baby of the family and a very social person; everyone who meets my sister likes her right away because she has such a great personality and a big heart. My sister and I are 15 months apart in age and as the youngest of five children, we were very close until she started using drugs…

My sister started with marijuana and progressed very rapidly to crack cocaine. When she started using crack, she turned into someone we didn’t recognize: the funny, sweet, big hearted person we knew turned into a manipulative, lying, stealing, evil monster that only cared about getting her next high. She had been in and out of jail, rehab and various treatment programs and it had gotten so bad that as a family the thought of recovery never entered our minds; we thought for sure she would die. So when she finally achieved recovery after YEARS of drug abuse, we were all so very happy, grateful and proud!

I also think there was a sense that now that my sister achieved recovery, everything would go back to how it was and for most of my family that is exactly what happened. My parents, who watched their youngest child struggle for her life battling her addition and doing everything they could to help her, were so happy that she was alive and starting to do well that all was forgiven with them immediately. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my parents are amazing and I think all parents of addicted children who support their child through recovery are the strongest people on earth! My brother, who was battling his own addiction to alcohol, and my older sisters, were a little slower to forgive my sister, but all was well with them fairly quickly. Me; well that’s a whole different story and 10 years later I’m still struggling with our relationship.

Our relationship is better now because we actually talk (for years we didn’t), but worse because it will never be as close as it once was. I think it’s a lot harder for siblings to move on than parents, at least in my case it is; I forgave a lot with my sister but some of it, I swear I just can’t let go and I’ve tried. I think the reason our relationship can never fully be repaired is because the damage done was so great; I could forgive but I can’t forget…it’s just too hard. I struggle with this because I feel guilty that I still feel this way after all this time; we were so close and it hurts to know we will never be that way again. I’m happy for her and proud of her, so I feel bad that I can’t completely let go of the anger and hurt.

I will say that while there is still some lingering resentment on my part, my sister is setting an example for me by not having any at all. She knows the damage she did to our relationship by her actions when she was in active addiction and she does her best to live in the moment and focus on where we are now, not how we used to be. There is something to be said for that, and as I’ve written about before, I am working on being more mindful and I can look to her to show me the way.

Regardless of whether or not our relationship ever goes back to what it once was I celebrate the fact that my sister achieved long-term recovery because in all honesty, she shouldn’t even be here; she truly has nine lives. I know how much she’s gone through to get to and stay in recovery; it’s not easy! I’ve told my sister that I love her, I’m proud of her and she knows that no matter what I will always be here for her and that is the best I can do.

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

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