Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a very dysfunctional sister. She is mentally ill though she has
never been officially diagnosed as such. She is a persistent abuser of
prescription drugs, which she manages to steal from work and/or
extract from doctors for various ailments. She’s a nurse, if you can
believe it, though is now working in a limited caregiver capacity in a
group home. Her life has been a declining series of tragedies
culminating in her losing her house. I went up to help her clean it and
move into a one-room rental in a friend’s home. When I saw her for
three days, I witnesed the level of her collapse firsthand. She slept in
till noon while I did all the practical things I could: dealing with movers
and a storage unit. I tried to explain to her how to post her valuables
on Craigslist, and gently alerted her future roommate that “she stays
up late ‘celebrating’”, without saying she is a pill-popping moocher. I
had filmed her with my iphone, high as a kite and dancing like a
madwoman in the middle of the night. I suspect it’s a drug interaction
from her random consumption of pills. She could die or have a seizure,
or she could end up a bag lady living on the street after she loses her
job because she treats the meds cabinet at work like a candy shop.
Also she is a shopaholic. I’ve lived a frugal life and always been a
responsible citizen. I know that some day I will get “The Call.” What
can I do between now and then? I do NOT want to take her in!!!


Dear Sis:

You are not going to be able to stop this train wreck. Your sister is
bound to be caught stealing meds, especially if she has an accident at
work. Just having her working in a group home could endanger the
health and sobriety of residents. One also has to wonder about the
level of supervision of both meds and employees, though turning her
in to her bosses exacerbates and hastens her and your inevitable
problems, rather than solving them.

You need a “come to Moses” meeting with her. You should tell her
everything you have observed, your fears, and, as hard as it may be
to do, your boundaries. I wouldn’t say you had filmed her, in part
because it will make her more cautious around you. But save the file
somewhere, in case you ever need to show a doctor or intervening
authority. You could threaten to tell her supervisor about her drug
habit if she will not voluntarily enter a program like Narcotics
Anonymous, go to regular meetings, and provide some kind of proof of
attendance. You should also insist that she meet with a financial
advisor, the type that helps people downsize debts, and put some kind
of long-term plan into action, including cutting off her credit spending.
Lastly, as hard as this may be to say, you need to tell her you are not
her final or financial safety net. Say that if there were an emergency
you would find her a group home but that you and your family cannot
do more. Suggest that she make plans with other family members who
may be more flexible or wealthier. Though she is unlikely to heed
much of this advice, you will have entered a new phase of relating,
and have had a conversation that you can reference as needed. But
ultimately, she will come to your door.