DEAR KELLY: My dad married a lady named Joanie a few years ago, and I like her. We don’t have any problems and she’s been a good stepmom.
The problem is Joanie has a daughter who is a complete train wreck. She is 23 years old and a major drug addict. Joanie has kicked her out of our house so many times I can’t count, but lets her back in when she swears and promises she will be better and not use anymore. Then she comes back. Joanie cleans up her room and gets everything nice for her. When she comes home, it’s only a matter of days before they start fighting, my stepsister starts using and everything in our house blows up again.
My dad has tried to be a dad to my stepsister because her dad died when she was 9, but she’s such a jerk to him. It’s hard to watch. The last time my stepsister was allowed to come home she stole from all of us, including my little sisters’ allowance. Joanie said sorry about what happened, but that was it. I feel like my dad and Joanie spend all their time focused on my stepsister and her problems. I think they forget they have other kids who need things, too, and it’s not just about her all the time.
I talked to my dad about it and he just said that Joanie needs his support and I need to be patient. How patient does he want me to be? She’s basically demanded all their time for the last two years. I’m in high school and I think my dad has forgotten that I don’t have long before I move out or away, and it could be too late to spend any time together if all he does is try to help Joanie and my stepsister. I’m so confused and starting to get really angry, not only at my stepsister but also at my dad and Joanie. Any advice for me?
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Forgotten and Tired of Being Patient
DEAR FORGOTTEN: Being in a family where someone is an addict presents so many painful challenges. The addict, in a self-serving mindset, has no idea that they wreak havoc on their families and those they love. If one family member is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the whole family suffers. Addiction is a family disease.
Your anger at your stepsister is valid. Not only has she stolen money from you, but she is stealing time away from your dad. She is taking your family on a wild roller coaster ride and you can’t get off. Her ups and downs become the family’s ups and downs, and it feels like it will never end. I’m sure Joanie and your dad feel the same anger at your stepsister, but right now they are trying to help her and can’t separate all their feelings. You and your siblings have been patient and should be praised for all you have been through the past two years.
Your dad is trying to support his wife but forgetting that his children need the same support. He loves Joanie and wants to help her but can’t see that you need him as well. One of the things addiction can do is destroy family communication. Your family needs help so everyone can express how they are feeling, how this has affected them and how to recover as a family unit.
Ask to talk with Joanie and your dad alone. Tell them that your stepsister’s disease is negatively affecting everyone and your family needs help. Show compassion for all they have been through but also be firm that as a family you can’t do this on your own.
Ask your parents to find a family counselor or one who specializes in addiction. If they say no or hesitate, then ask for your own counselor. If they continue to say no, go talk with your school counselor or youth pastor and have them talk with your parents about how important this is. Do not try and navigate this by yourself. You need support and a safe place to talk about your feelings so you don’t hold them in and become depressed or act out in an unsafe way. A great website for them to check out is recoveryhappens.com. It is geared toward addiction and offers parent and family support as well as book resources and support group information.
Another great family resource is Nar-Anon. This is a family support group for friends and family who have a loved one who is drug addict. You can find a list of local support groups online and find one that is close to you. Finally, ask your parents if they can commit to some positive family time that does not revolve around your stepsister and her issues.
Your family has a long road ahead and hopefully recovery is part of that journey. Part of the difficulty in dealing with a family member who is an addict is that we can’t help them until they are ready to start taking care of themselves.
But you can take care of yourself and heal as a person as well as a family. This starts by reaching out and getting help from professionals as well as others who understand your circumstances. Learning to understand your stepsister’s disease as well as learn healthy boundaries for yourself and your family can make this journey more manageable and help you become emotionally healthy and able to handle whatever comes your way. Just as your stepsister needs healing, so does your family.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email krichardson@ sacbee.com.