International overdose awareness day. A date that previously had no real significance in my life. I wish I could say the same today.
It’s hard to describe what it feels like to lose somebody close to you, especially to something that feels as preventable as a drug overdose. On June 13th of this year, I learned that my sister had passed away from a fentanyl overdose. We didn’t even know she was using fentanyl. And honestly, I will never understand why she would gamble on her life like that, knowing all too well what could be the outcome.
It breaks my heart that I can’t call my sister anymore. It breaks my heart that she’s no longer with us. I wish losing someone was as easy as seeing a ghost appear in a movie with the ability to have a conversation with them on demand, but it isn’t that simple and never will be.
My sister and I weren’t all that close, but we were family. It was just me and her- no other siblings. Growing up, we had on and off periods of being close, but it was tough being 5 years apart. Over the last several years, we formed a closer relationship as I continuously tried to help her in her struggle with addiction. She spent the last few years in and out of recovery houses and had many ups and downs. But overall, while we knew it wouldn’t be easy, we thought she was going to make it. She had worked very hard to get back partial custody of her son, and just had her first overnight visitation in May. She loved her son more than anything in the world, and she told me that almost every time we talked.
Narcan Saves Lives
The hold that drugs can have over people actually blows my mind. What is it that causes them to choose drugs over their son, their family, or anything else they love or care about? I know that if Amanda had her wishes, she would have beaten her addiction over five years ago when I helped get her into her first rehab. I recently read a letter that she wrote me from that time and it broke my heart to see how determined she was back then, only to come home from rehab and relapse just a few days later.
Addiction messes with free will, and despite knowing how much they don’t want to use, it can be very hard to fight those urges when the set in. I know for awhile, drugs were all my sister knew and were her main coping mechanism. She literally had no coping skills and despite years of therapy, her brain was not wired to handle stress and anxiety in healthier ways. The moment she would lose a job, have a set back in recovery, or feel overwhelmed with insecurity, her brain would take her right back to that place where all she wanted to feel was numb. And from what I understand, those feelings are really tough to fight.
People are ignorant when they say drug addiction is a choice. I can confidently say, that if it were up to my sister, she would’ve beaten her addiction a long time ago. I kept my silence for a long time when I saw social media posts expressing their disgust with addicts overdosing or clinics giving away free Narcan. But I refuse to do this anymore, because NARCAN SAVES LIVES. And if someone were with my sister during her overdose and could have administered Narcan, she might still be here with us today.
A Choice or a Disease?
At first, initial drug use may be a choice, but depending on how you’re wired, neuro pathways can quickly change and lead to substance abuse. Certain drugs like opiates affect the brain tremendously and studies are being done all over the world to clearly identify how these changes can lead to addiction. Further, it is thought that over half of the risk of developing a substance abuse disorder is genetic. Studies are now identifying specific genes with the long term goal of establishing prescription pain management with risk for addiction in mind.
I will always wonder what was the difference between me and my sister. We were raised in the same household and given the same opportunities from childhood to adulthood. But for some reason, she ended up with an uncontrollable addiction and I didn’t. We had similar friend groups in high school and I did my fair share of partying, but I never felt compelled to push the limits the way my sister did. I guess I’ll never know why.
We are all here on this earth to learn many lessons- some of us can make it to the other side of those lessons and some of us can’t. I’d like to think of Amanda’s life as a lesson. And while she didn’t overcome that lesson, we can still learn from it. Amanda didn’t have the resources, and my family didn’t have the money to pay for a top-notch rehab in a private facility. Her recovery was spent in mostly state-funded facilities that cut inpatient stays off at around 28 days. And while I’m not extending the blame to these programs because we certainly need any help we can get, it breaks my heart that a lot of addicts lose their lives to something that is treatable because they cannot afford the type of treatment necessary to really re-wire those damaged neuro pathways and subconscious beliefs that predispose them to addiction in the first place.
No More Stigma. No More Shame.
Looking back on her 35 years here, my sister’s life was many things- messy, complicated, passionate, and even quite dramatic at times. But despite what addiction often makes us forget, she was a good person with a kind heart. She wanted the best for everyone in her life. I know she was proud of me, and she told me that often. And I know she loved and cared for her son more than anything else on this planet, including herself. But she had wounds, and although she loved and cared for many, she forgot to love herself.
If somebody you love has an addiction, I ask you to please never stop loving them. Don’t ever stop believing in them or being there when they reach out for help. I know it can be hard, and there is a fine line between helping and enabling, but there are resources out there to help you distinguish between the two. Nar Anon has and continues to help me cope with my feelings toward my sister’s addiction. Loving an addict, doesn’t mean you have to enable them. You can love them from a distance. But if they reach their hand out, and they’re trying to get help and get better, please don’t turn them away. You never know when could be the last time you’ll have that opportunity.
Today is international overdose awareness day. Today, I want to raise awareness. I want people to know that just because somebody dies of an overdose, it does not mean they wanted to die. They had a disease and sometimes that disease wins. I find strength in knowing her soul is at peace and no longer suffering. And I can sleep at night knowing that I never pushed my sister’s hand away and never would. On this day, I will always remember her, what she meant to me, and what her life can mean for others.
In Loving Memory
Amanda Lynn Davis
For more information, visit https://www.overdoseday.com