Dear Dr. Archer,
My sister has been a gambler for 10 years. She has done terrible things, including stealing, lying, cheating, trying to cause a divorce in my family, losing her job, losing her house, and losing her husband and custody of her children.
Her 14 year old daughter has suffered physical and emotional abuse by her mother and cuts herself and is also bulimic. My sister knew all of this and did not do anything about it.
My father finally gave my sister an ultimatum – go to rehab or lose his support. It’s been nearly a month since she entered rehab and from what I hear, there has been little progress. She is still in denial.
Her therapist asked me to write a letter explaining all the bad things my sister has done to me. I asked if the letter was directed to him or my sister and he said it was for him. I wrote a terrible letter filled with anger. It contained details on everything I know including confidences from my sister.
I didn’t know the therapist was going to read the letter to her. Had I written the letter for her I would have used a softer tone. I betrayed my sister and I hurt her. I fear the letter may have caused more harm than good.
Should I write a letter of apology? I realize I can’t ask for forgiveness for having such a low opinion of her. I think I have been a hypocrite by not facing her with this anger I bottled up for so long.
It is common for family members to experience hurt or pain as the result of a loved one’s addiction. You and your family are no exception. Your sister’s choice to gamble led to physical and mental abuse for everyone impacted over 10 long years.
Though it was painful for your sister to hear what it was like for all of you during this time, she absolutely needed to hear it. Many recovery programs recommend "making amends” to those who were hurt. This cannot happen if we are not honest with the addict, painful and scary as that might be.
Your sister took advantage of you, lied to you, manipulated you, used you to keep secrets, and ignored your attempts to help her. She will naturally be defensive and make excuses and blame others for her choices.
Denial is strong at first and your sister has 10 years to process. She needs to hear from those who love her and from those whom she victimized. She cannot come to terms with her addiction and move forward without this.
Elena, you did the right thing by facing your thoughts and feelings directly and sharing them with your sister whom you dearly love. I agree that the therapist misrepresented his reasons for wanting the letter and how he chose to use it. Talk with the therapist about this. He took advantage of you and this needs to be addressed.
Then refocus and begin to nurture your relationship with your sister and the rest of your family (and no you don’t need to apologize, you were honest). All of you have an important journey in this healing process. It will be day-to-day as the trust and respect grows.
Compassion and understanding are powerful bonds which create the strength you need. Attend Al-Anon meetings (this is for the family of any type of addict, not just alcoholics) in your community to share your story. You are not alone. Best of luck to you and your sister.