today’s topic in al-anon was feeling a sense of over-responsibility for others. at first, i was not interested in the topic because of the direction the speaker took it. but as i thought about it more and more, i fell into a deep musing about my relationship with that concept.
one of the most difficult things for me to understand is a line in the serenity prayer we say at the end of meetings. it goes like this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
I don’t have a firm grasp on the difference. when action on my part is warranted. how to distinguish between the times for acceptance and the times for action.
i thought of my family, and fell in to a deep state of contemplation. i heard some of the things others were saying, but i fell farther and farther way, processing my thoughts and feelings.
it wasn’t hard to find something to think about. hell, it was just the holidays, and i saw my family in full form.
i have not been home in a year, because i was in the middle of a bone-crushing depression. they didn’t visit me during this time; it’s just as well. i wouldn’t have wanted to see them anyway. i barely told them what was going on, and when i did, it wasn’t taken seriously.
so when i arrived for a 6-day visit, i was looking forward to some quality time. i shouldn’t have had this expectation. both my mother and sister were either completely shit-faced or hung over any time that i saw them. my mother reserved all of one day to see me. starting at 4pm in the afternoon, by the way, before she left to head back home with her boyfriend. look, i already know that i will always take a back seat to a man when it comes to my mother. that’s just how she is. i’m just glad she finally picked one that was worth knowing. i like him a lot. he’s completely enamored with her and expresses how amazed he is by her all the time. i try to be as polite as possible. it’s great practice for my poker face.
the first thing my aunt said to me when she saw me was, “are you pregnant?” and as much as i hate to say it, it completely threw me for a loop. i know i’ve gained enough weight for it to be noticeable, but i don’t think i look pregnant for god’s sake.
the first thing my grandmother said was, “if you think i’m happy to see you, think again”. she was in a bad mood as a result of other family members’ behavior, and we were able to resolve it quite quickly. it’s always that way with her, but it doesn’t mean that what she said didn’t hurt.
everyone was caught up in their own shit. my sister, too. when she met up with my mom, her boyfriend, and me for dinner, she pulled me away to tell me how she’d taken acid at 1am that morning. over the course of the few times i hung out with her, i learned that she is dating a coke dealer. she has no job and doesn’t want to talk about school. i honestly don’t even think she has the intention of getting a job any time soon. we met at a bar, of course, and she lost her purse because she left it at a table. it had her phone, wallet, keys, gift card from my mom, etc. of course, this was horrible for her, but my aunt took care of helping her to fix the situation. only to go out with her again, and to see her leaving her purse around, where ever. when i mentioned it, she didn’t even seem to care.
my sister lives with my grandma right now. i blogged about this sometime in the summer because i had plans to move in with my grandma before my sister swooped in and took the room. now, the whole family was trying to be supportive at that time because she was recently hospitalized for a suicide attempt or threat or whatever. mind you, i completely lost my mind when this happened. i had a complete melt down. so, it wasn’t especially pleasing when she told me that she had been doing cocaine every day for three weeks, right before the hospitalization. when i heard that, i felt so many emotions. anger. resentment. sadness. it was as if she did not know, nor care to know, how her actions affected others.
as i said, she’s living with my grandma. but she’s out every night. getting high or drinking or whatever. she is not available to help my grandma most of the time, and my grandma doesn’t understand my sister’s behavior, or why she’s not looking for a job or going to school. i try to be compassionate, because i know that this the first time in her life that no one is telling her what to do or who to be, and that she was in physically and emotionally abusive relationships for 10 years. i can’t imagine what that is like.
a couple days after i left, my grandma got sick. the members of my family all have complex relationships with food. my sister, for instance, admitted that she had been bulimic for years. she might still be, but she is too gone right now to address it. my aunt is extremely obese. my mother is extremely skinny and compulsively exercises and doesn’t eat much. my grandmother’s poison is laxatives. she takes them every single day.
as it turns out, the day everyone left, she took 7 different laxatives. over the next two days, she was very sick. no one was around though, because my sister “had plans”. my aunt had to fly back down earlier than planned to take care of her. just a couple of days ago, my grandmother was admitted to the hospital. again, my sister was mostly unavailable, not to feed or walk the dog or to sit with my grandma in the hospital.
it was after her hospitalization and my complete breakdown that i learned i could not take responsibility for her. i had done so, up that point. overly so. i thought, if i had been a better sister, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten, or stayed, in a relationship with someone who beat her up. who, by the way, she is now talking to again. when she was hospitalized, i believed i wasn’t there enough, that i had failed her. because i completely broke down, and because i got a stern talking to by my aunt, i had to face the fact that i needed to take care of myself, rather than take care of her. i’ve been processing the letting-go ever since.
i haven’t let go entirely though. when my aunt and my grandmother are angry or confused or frustrated with her living there with no goals or action, i remind them that this is the first time she’s ever had to decide something for herself and that it’s probably scary. that she thinks that she has to come up with the ultimate answer for what to do, rather than taking small steps toward progress. i do this because my family, when scorned, goes about things completely the wrong way. take, for example, my aunt, who confronted my sister about this and got so caught up in her anger toward *my mother* (and taking it out on my sister) that she said horrific things and even threw a glass of water on her.
so i’ve told them to give her the space to sort it out, and i’ve told them to set boundaries and expectations that work for them so it doesn’t end up blowing up in anyone’s face. i’ve thought that i was mostly staying out of it but encouraging my family to be better at being a family. but now i’ve seen my sister and i’ve seen what she’s doing. and i don’t anticipate it stopping any time soon, especially since my grandma gave us a good amount of money for christmas. so i watch this unfold, and sometimes i wait for the phone call that she’s pregnant or was in a car accident or some other horrible thing. and there’s not a goddamn thing i can do about it.
some have told me to be the “model” for her, to show that i am happy and healthy and that she can succeed. what i learned on my trip is that she feels horrible about my success because it highlights her failure. she did not like it when her male friends talked to me. she was put off when school was mentioned. she sounded disappointed when she told a friend i was getting my phd. so now i’m in a position where i’m doing well with my life, and it only reminds her of her failures, feeding into her already negative self image, fueling her inability to act because she is so afraid that doing anything will be the wrong decision.
my family is made of entropy. that’s what’s been done my entire life. in observing it again, i was constantly reminded of one of the bill of rights we discuss in al anon… i don’t have it exactly, but it is something like “i have the right not to participate in the crazymaking of my family”… i heard it echoing again and again as i watched and mourned the self-destruction that consumes my family, and sometimes, of me.
it’s painfully difficult to realize and to accept that all of that hurt and pain they experience is one of the things i cannot change. that i only can change myself, and that they call that “courage” instead of “abandoning my family”. that “wisdom” means separating myself instead of getting down in the ditch and trying to help them out.
some people say we’re all so connected to one another, but when i process these feelings and experiences, it just leaves me feeling so alone. because my experience is all about my own experience, not what others are doing. that “helping” sometimes means leaving, or distancing, or “focusing on myself”. and then i just feel stupid because i don’t understand what connection looks like or how to do it “the right way”. i try, and keep getting brought back to myself and what i’m doing and how i’m interpreting something.
that’s all i’ve got for now.