Running in memory of my sister, who is finally at peace

My sister Amy Neuhoff, shortly before she died at the age of 40.
My sister Amy Neuhoff, shortly before she died at the age of 40.

 

Why do you run?

I asked myself this question several times while I was running my first 10-mile race on a brisk, spring day along the shores of Lake Erie.

When I looked around at the hundreds of people around me, I also wondered what their reasons for running were. If I would have had a pen and pad of paper with me, I would have been writing all of my reasons down.

Instead, I was trying to memorize them.

The following are a few of the reasons I came up with.

I run to fight being in my 40’s. I run to prove to myself that I can do it. I run because I made a promise to two girlfriends, who also ran with me, that I would complete the race. I run because it keeps me on track and helps me lead a healthy lifestyle.

But overall, the main reason I run, is in memory of my younger sister Amy, who died at age 40.

She died of an accidental prescription drug overdose. For the majority of her adult life, she was addicted to drugs and alcohol. She cheated death at least five times (that I know of). Once, she overdosed and ended up on a ventilator. We didn’t think she would make it, but somehow she survived.

She left the hospital and vowed to change her life. She promised us she would stay sober.

She wanted sobriety so badly, but was only able to maintain it for short periods of time. When she was sober, she was a dynamo. She had the personality of five people put together and enough love in her heart for an entire group of people. Anyone who was lucky enough to know her, knew she would make them laugh. She always did.

But in the back of my mind, I knew we would have to bury her some day in the near future. I just didn’t know how hard it would be, how long the sadness would last and how it would have a devastating domino effect on my entire family.

When I worked at the newspaper, I thought of Amy every time I heard a dispatcher describe a drug overdose on the police scanner that was always on full blast in the middle of the newsroom. When the call hit me hard enough, I would immediately get tears in my eyes and sneak off to the bathroom. I kept thinking how I knew someone had just overdosed and may be dead even before their own family knew.

Most recently, I think of her whenever a city holds a forum on drugs and alcohol. I would like to attend one of those forums and explain to anyone there who is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol that they are tearing up every member of their family. I would like to share the story of what it was like to look through my best dresses to find one to bury my sister in. I want to explain to them what it was like to painstakingly write a eulogy.

I would like to look them in the eyes and ask them to stop being so selfish. I would like to challenge them to take control of their lives, not just for themselves, but for everyone around them who desperately loves them and wants to see them succeed.

This is what I want, but in reality, addiction to drugs and/or alcohol is a disease that is more complex than I can handle.

According to www.drugabuse.gov, drug addiction is “a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will.” Drugs change the brain in ways that “foster compulsive drug abuse,” making quitting difficult, even for those who are ready to do so.

On the Alcoholics Anonymous website, www.aa.org, it states that alcoholism is “a disease that is no respecter of age, sex, creed, race, wealth, occupation or education. It strikes at random.” It goes on to state that anyone can become an alcoholic. Because of this, AA invites anyone who wants to stop drinking to join their organization.

While I’ve never attended a drug forum for fear of breaking down, I did attend a few AA meetings with my sister to support her. The meetings were intense and difficult to sit through. But I could tell the meetings were lifesaving for the people there.

I may be addicted to running, but I thank God I am not addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The combination of the two led to the death of one of my four siblings.

That’s why I run, so I can move past the pain and push toward the future. I run because it fills me with feel-good endorphins and makes me realize I can accomplish anything in any area of my life.

I know the pain will always be there, but I won’t let it run me.

With every mile, I plan to outrun it.

***

To find a local Alcoholic Anonymous meeting and for more information, go to http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/index.

To find a local Narcotics Anonymous meeting and for more information, go to www.na.org

 


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