Glass of wine in front while woman behind reaches for it

“My Big Sister”

A winning essay from our Brighter Future Scholarship contest

I thought this essay would be easy to write. I was very wrong. I have put off writing because I didn’t want to dive into the topic. I don’t know if it’s fear, embarrassment, or if it’s too hard for me to understand my feelings. 

I am the youngest child in my family. At the age of 3, I had a simple surgery, but acquired a MRSA infection. It went systemic, causing sepsis. I spent months in the hospital and have never known life without pain. I had 14 surgeries in 18 years, some of them so significant that they haven’t been done on anyone else ever. I’ve been the subject of medical studies and published papers. This pain came with significant drug use. I was prescribed narcotics on and off for years. My parents stressed about whether it would set me up for addiction and tried to figure out whether addiction would be the result of my need for pain relief throughout childhood.  

There were times they refused to give me medicine hoping I would “tough it out.” You probably think my essay is about my personal use of pain medication and how it has affected my understanding of addiction. It isn’t. My parents worried about ME being the child with the potential to fall victim to addiction, but it is my sister that is an alcoholic and has abused drugs. 

My sister is the oldest sibling and the one with the best grades, most athletic success, and the one we all said is the most likely to succeed. She graduated top in her high school class and went to a large prestigious college. She always struggled with anxiety and the fear of not being perfect, but when things were hard at college during the pandemic, she found that daily alcohol and drug use numbed her pain and anxiety.  

Her addiction affected me in many negative ways. I had feelings of anger when I thought about her potential and how I wish I had the options she had. I had feelings of embarrassment when she would post things on social media when drunk or high. Mostly, I was and still am sad. I miss having a big sister. I am not supposed to be the strong one that gives out advice and support. 

My sister attempted suicide last year. She was hospitalized and spent a few months after that trying to decide whether to attempt again or to give herself a second chance. She continued drinking and getting high. She said it was only possible to harm herself by having confidence while she wasn’t sober. An emergency room nurse told her that her bloodwork showed she had done damage to her liver at the age of 22. I didn’t realize that kind of damage can happen so young. I always pictured alcoholics as older people. The nurse told her that the liver can heal. 

Knowing that she was able to make changes and could turn things around hit her that day. She is sober now and there are times that I see the sister I used to have. She will graduate from college next month. I will start college this fall. I have another sister that is halfway through college as well. 

These experiences with addiction have obviously affected me in deep ways. I always assumed alcoholics and drug addicts have choices. While that is partially true, I watched my sister harm herself in ways that can never be considered a choice. Whether the underlying cause of addiction may be mental and emotional trauma, or personality make up, or environmental, it contributes to a disease that must be managed with intervention and support.  

Offering the tools to support someone struggling with addiction should be normalized. My sister should not be afraid to describe what she has gone through, or worse, unable to find help. I committed to attending university to study Psychology to work in the field of social work or crisis counseling. My goal is to help others who are faced with hardship and don’t realize that they are strong enough or supported enough to survive. This may or may not include addiction.  

My school references for college applications centered around my strong abilities to be empathetic. It is how everyone describes me. I think this scholarship will help me continue learning and help me go to college to be trained for a career in a field within Psychology. I worry about my parents continuing to do everything to support us and our education. I would use this scholarship to purchase a laptop for school. I know I will need one in college. Currently, I use a high school issued Chromebook. I appreciate your consideration of my request for a scholarship. 

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