FCYU104 cover image See all stories from issue #104, Spring 2011

A Drug Took My Sister
My sister and I were close until she started smoking weed
Joy Hollins

Names have been changed.

My sister Candice and I used to be the closest. She is four and a half years older than me, but we did everything together as kids. She taught me how to Double Dutch and how to do a cartwheel. She’d take me to the movies with her friends. We could talk about anything, especially our boyfriends and boys in general. My sister was always there for me and I trusted her. Even better, my mom would let me stay outside with my sister late because my sister was older and was somewhat responsible.

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But when I was 8, ACS found out that my mother left me and my brother Robert, who was 10 years old, in the house alone. (Candice was at her after-school program.) My mother had to go to court, and the judge said that the three of us had to go into foster care. My grandmother took us into her home, where three of our half-brothers and our half-sister were living already. Candice and I never talked about this move; she was spending most of her time with her friends back in my mom’s neighborhood.

Soon after we moved in with my grandmother, my uncle died. The whole family was upset, but my sister cried a lot, as much as my grandmother. She was especially close with that uncle and missed him.

Not Herself

Right after my uncle died, Candice started acting different: careless, mean, loud, and obnoxious. She also started acting like she was the boss of me. She would come in the house when I was watching television and change the channel. If I changed it back, she would threaten to tell on me about anything bad I’d done, like that I cursed or touched things that I wasn’t supposed to touch. It made me mad because that’s not how my sister usually acted. She was way cooler before.

One day Candice came home from hanging out with her friends and my other sister, and I asked Robert why Candice was acting so weird. She was loud and silly and kept laughing even though nothing was funny. Robert told me that she was high from smoking weed and that I couldn’t tell Mommy. (Even after we stopped living with my mother, we saw her every day and called her whenever we wanted.)

Candice stopped letting me hang around her unless it was in the house. If I asked her where she was going, she’d say, “to see someone” or “just to chill and smoke.” I’d ask if I could come, and she’d yell at me, “No!” I felt sad and angry because I wanted to hang out with my sister so badly. When she said “chill and smoke,” I knew what she meant. She put weed before our relationship as sisters.

Into Care

I knew that a good sister would keep her mouth shut and not say anything at all to our mom or our grandmother. She wouldn’t get her brothers and sisters in trouble. But I also felt scared because Candice was acting different. I knew from school that weed was an illegal drug. I didn’t want her to get hurt. A part of me did want to tell an adult just so I knew my sister was OK.

Two years after we moved in with her, my grandmother grew older and weaker. She said that Robert, Candice, and I had been stressing her out. The things that Candice did were hardest on my grandmother, I think. Candice stopped coming home on time and misbehaved in school. Her attitude completely changed. So my grandmother placed us in foster care.

Candice was most of the reason we had to leave our grandmother’s house. If she hadn’t smoked weed we wouldn’t have gone into care. I was angry because she chose a drug over her sister and because she got me put into foster care. I kept getting moved from home to home because I had trouble following the rules of the different houses.

image by Anika Edrei

I never said anything to her about it, but I wish Candice had asked for therapy or something else instead of smoking weed. I learned in school and on television and on the Internet about how dangerous it is. Some studies say it can give you lung cancer and gum cancer! It rots your teeth, and it’s just unhealthy.

I saw bad changes in her, too: She was becoming more and more impatient and irritable, which made her get in more fights. She ended up dropping out of school at age 15.

What’s So Great About This?

Even though I hardly ever saw her, I knew my sister was still smoking weed. She had to be over the fact that my uncle died, so I figured she was smoking just for fun. I wondered if she smoked because her friends did or if it was because the feeling of getting high was so amazing.

So when I was 14 I decided to find out for myself. I was visiting my grandmother’s house, and Candice was there with her friends George and Walter. She said they would be right back; I said, “Can I come?” She said yeah, so we went to the lobby of George’s building.

Candice asked me if I wanted to smoke a blunt with them, and I knew she was really high. She still felt protective of me because I’d been in so many foster homes that she knew I was struggling. She’d say to me, “Joy, don’t do what I did and drop out of school, because now I regret it.” She knew that as I grew up I would be introduced to drugs and peer pressure, and she looked out for me as a big sister…when she wasn’t high.

I put the blunt in my mouth and breathed in. It tasted dry and nasty. I coughed really hard and choked on the smoke. I didn’t feel any different.

“Ayo, pass dat sh-t,” said George in a deep voice.

“OK,” I responded and passed the blunt. I felt normal—the weed didn’t change me at all. I thought maybe I was smoking it wrong because I’d never smoked a cigarette before and didn’t know how to smoke.

I thought smoking with Candice could make us bond more but it didn’t. Since I didn’t feel anything, I couldn’t understand why Candice liked it so much. I thought George and Walter were stupid for joining in with my sister and encouraging her to smoke weed.

I felt a little guilty when I took the puff. Smoking with my sister was encouraging her to smoke more, not to stop. After that I didn’t think about smoking another blunt. The fact that I felt nothing and my sister gets high so quickly makes me thinks she’s really addicted to weed.

Scared to Talk to Her

image by Anika Edrei

I was placed in a foster home with Candice for eight months last year, but even then we didn’t hang out. Her excuse was that she was always working or that she was busy. And on the weekends she would go to parties and smoke with her friends instead of hanging out with me.

I was mad that the way she acted after she started smoking weed got us all kicked out of our grandmother’s and put into foster care. But somehow I forgave her. Candice has helped me and been there for me in some ways. If I need anything she has, she will give it to me—like if I need a few dollars to go to the store. Knowing I can rely on her for little things like that makes me feel worse sometimes, because I wish I had my old sister back. She was so sweet and nice.

I’d like to tell my sister that I worry about her getting lung cancer, gum cancer, and all the other health issues from smoking. I’d like to tell her everything I liked about her, and how I miss chillin’ with our friends and going to the movies. I’d like us to go to Six Flags or go skating and have fun like regular sisters.

I’m scared to tell my sister how I feel about her smoking weed. I’m afraid she won’t listen because she’s addicted and that she doesn’t want to or can’t change her ways.

Drug and Alcohol Treatment

When an addict is ready to get help, there are three basic options.

Self-help groups

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) don’t have professionals in charge. It’s addicts getting together to help each other stop using. You have a sponsor, like a special buddy who’s been sober longer than you, who can help you stay strong when you feel like using.

Outpatient treatment

This is when you live at home and go to a treatment center for anywhere from a few hours to 30 hours a week. Usually there is group and individual counseling, and there might also be help with job skills, housing, and employment. A person could do NA or AA at the same time as outpatient treatment.

Residential, or inpatient, treatment

This is when you’re living in a treatment environment 24/7. There’s a lot of structure and a lot of help. Usually the people who need that are those whose addictions have affected so many areas of their life that they need to be away from their normal environment. They live at the treatment facility, usually (but not always) without their children, for anywhere from 4 months to 2 years, depending on how much help they need preparing to lead a drug-free life with things like legitimate employment, stable housing, and improved parenting skills.

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