Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Sheep Who Painted Herself Black

My sister has put herself in a unique position as a result of all this. I realized that she has become the black sheep of the family, and it is her own doing.

My sister is going to be visiting to see my daughter's dance performance in 2 weeks. My brother, thinking she would inevitably flake, had planned to come up and support his neice. Well, my sister is most likely coming, so my brother has backed out. He doesn't want to be here with her. And sadly, I can't say I blame him.

I have been fortunate enough that, even at her worst, my sister has always had a level of respect for me that she has never had the guts to defy. I am the only person in our family she has never stolen property from. (Although she admitted to me a few months ago that at one time she was planning to, but couldn't find a pawn shop within 60 miles of us.) Make no mistake, she has burned me plenty in other ways, but she has not broken my trust or frustrated me nearly as much as she has our brother.

So I understand why he is unwilling to be around her. He loves her, but he doesn't like her. He doesn't like who she is anymore, even now that she is clean. And that is sad, but again, to me, its understandable. He has been too hurt and spent too much unreciprocated effort on her.

I have to admit though, I am quite relieved they won't both be here at the same time. There is a tension you can feel hanging in the air when they're together. Like a volcano, you know the tempers and drama are building under the surface, and eventually its going to erupt. And it usually does. And it doesn't take much to make him angry or her defensive, so it never takes that long. Sometimes it reminds me of the scene in Shrek 2 when Fiona's father and Shrek are arguing over the dinner table, ripping food apart and throwing food and silverware everywhere, and amidst all of it, the Queen quitely and sarcastically says, "Its so nice to have the family together for dinner."

I feel like the Queen. I love them both equally and I want there to be peace between them - and I try hard to be the unbiased mediator - but I easily tire of that job. I just want a "quiet family dinner," but instead end up with my food and silverware flying through the air, so to speak. I live a very quiet, low-drama life, so its like shock waves when they are in my environment (or any environment, for that matter) fighting like cats and dogs.

A few years ago, I felt like the odd man out. I was 400 miles away with my own family and my own life. When I came "home" to my parents' house to visit, I felt like the outsider. Both still living at home and sharing some of the same friends, I felt the slight twinges of jealousy over their relationship. They understood what was going on in eachother's lives.

But now my sister is the odd man out, the black sheep, the catalyst to all the family drama. Its sad to say, but she is the one that is the hardest to be around, the one we feel we cannot always relate to, and certainly can't control. We are always waiting for the drama to start when she's around. Now that she's clean, it doesn't always, but it often does. I find it so incredibly sad that she did this to herself, that she has made her own family question whether they want her around. She was once a white sheep, one who blended and fit in with all of us. But being the curious little sheep she is, she got into the black paint (the drugs) and is now the black sheep. We didn't remove her, she separated herself. She brought this upon herself with her drugs, her choices, and her drama.

I can't wait for the day when we can all have family visits that are harmonious. I am not sure that will ever happen, but I have to hold out hope that some day it will. I am sick and tired of being the peacekeeper, being the mediator, trying to remain loving and neutral and see both sides without judging or taking a side. I am tired for my brother, feeling like he cannot trust her and can't even like her. I am tired for my parents, seeing their children unable to get along and unwilling to try and enjoy eachother's company, even through eachother's flaws. Hopefully someone will come and wash the little sheep off, and soon things will be back to normal again. But with an addict, normal is all relative anyway.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Buying A Birthday Card

My sister's birthday is on Sunday. Yesterday I was at the grocery store and saw birthday cards, and remembered that I needed to pick one and get it off in the mail. But I had a strange, and somewhat disheartening, realization as I was picking out cards.

I always have a hard time picking out cards for people to begin with. I am always hunting for that "perfect" card, the one that represents the relationship I have with that person. For my husband, its funny and sarcastic. For my brother its quirky. For my aunt its over-the-top sappy. But for my sister, its always a hard call. Last year I found one that compared flat-screen TV's to flat chests - that was my pick, since there is a running joke about my sister's flat chest between us. However I did feel it was a little shallow.

But there is always an issue with buying a "sister to sister" birthday card. Most of the cards talk about being inseparable, having a one-of-a-kind bond, always being there for eachother... It makes me sad to read through those cards because I don't have that relationship with her. Don't get me wrong, she is my go-to person for certain things, but overall we just don't have that type of relationship. We were close when we were little, but were never "best friends" the way a lot of sisters are. Being 4 years older, when I hit junior high and high school, though still living under the same roof, I was into my own thing and I saw her as a nuisance, so we just did our own things and didn't pay much attention to eachother. At the point I finally decided I wanted a real relationship with my sister, she was into her own thing, and was beginning to enter the partying scene. I even opted to appoint my best friend as my maid of honor over my sister, because she was so uninvested in me that she actually wanted to skip out on my wedding altogether to go to the river with her friends. It makes me sad that I felt I had a closer relationship with my best friend than my sister, but it was what it was.

So there was no possible way I could pick a card that talked about all the good times and how close we were/are. We have had our moments of closeness, but on a whole, I feel like her addiction only widened an already existing gap between the two of us. In fact, I even feel like my husband has a closer relationship with his sister - and he's a man. That sister-to-sister bond just isn't that strong between us. And when I think about all the moments she missed, all the hurt her addiction did to our relationship, it makes me sad, and it makes card shopping rather tough. I am not going to pick a card that is a lie. I am not going to try and play up what our relationship "is" based on what it "should be."

I wonder often what things would be like if she hadn't chosen the life she chose and wasted so many years being so wrapped up in her own life, drugs, and subsequent problems. Would we be closer? Would we have those Hallmark-worthy memories? Would we have that closeness people expect sisters to have? Would we talk on a more regular basis? I don't know, but somehow I do think things would be a little better. But I guess I can't dwell on the unknowns.

Our relationship is improving slowly. Sure, she doesn't return my phone calls, and can be a total mess, but so can I. We aren't the type that talk everyday - or even every 2 weeks - but we know that if the other needs us, they are there in their own way. There is a relationship, its just not all that close or all that conventional. But its us, and I will take what I can get...even if its not what a Hallmark card says it should be.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Emotional Exhaustion

If there is one thing dealing with an addict is, its emotionally exhausting. There are the ups, the downs, the drama, the chaos, the worry, the fear, the tears, the small triumphs, the loss of trust, the slow regaining of trust, the re-loss of trust, the broken relationships, the personal hurts, the guilt, the shame, the embarrassment, the denial, the acceptance, the anger, the pity... I could go on and on, but you get the point.

So the reason its been hard for me to sit and write about this lately isn't because there is any lack of things to say, its because I was too emotionally taxed to sit down and do it. I will set the record straight and say that there hasn't been any major crisis, but there have been enough bumps in the road to keep me otherwise emotionally occupied.

Early this year, she suffered a pretty major heartbreak, and in a pretty cruel way. (Out of respect for her and others involved, I won't elaborate on that.) This threw her into a tailspin and it lead to poor, impulsive choices that ended up costing her some pretty serious consequences. Thankfully, miraculously, she is safe and sound, but it was harrowing for her, and thusly for us too. While there was a lot of fear I felt, there was also a lot of anger.

The whole incident really began when she was here visiting for Christmas. To drown out the hurt, frustration, and anxiety, she took too much of a bad medication (that was prescribed by a doctor who had no idea she had been on it before with the same negative effects on her mental clarity), and it muddled up her thinking. It went from the sedative back to a brief relapse on the heroin.

When I found out, like most of the time when I find out she has relapsed, I was angry and felt violated. I didn't know the whole timeline at first, and thought she had used heroin while she was in my house. After she had lived here twice before and was around my kids while she was high and/or drunk, I made it very clear that she would not be allowed around my kids again if she used around them. I felt like she had broken the one and only "make it or break it" ground rule, and I was so angry I could barely stand it. Once I learned more facts, it lessened a bit, but I was still angry and embarrassed that themeds made her a zombie wierdo on Christmas, in front of all sorts of relatives, and in my home around my kids. She should have known not to take them - she, and all the rest of us, know they make her certifiably insane - but she chose to anyway. I know that desperate people do desperate things, but she KNEW they would do that. She knew.

When we visited her in February, I was still very angry. I knew all the facts by then, but I still felt like my boundaries had been violated. I was ready to lay down the ultimatum; no more contact with my children until she got her act together. Left with no other leverage, I was prepared to do what I had to do. As much as I knew it would break her heart to be cut off from her neices and nephew, I was at the point I knew no other way to communicate how serious I was that my boundaries weren't to be violated, and I was not going to allow a user around my kids, even if it was their own auntie, my own sister.

When all was said and done, I didn't go through with laying down the ultimatum. While still upset about the Christmas spectacle and aftermath, I couldn't argue with the fact that she did what she had to do, got herself clean again, and was getting her life back in order (somewhat).

But, just when that issue was being put to bed, there was some drama that went down with her roommates while we were in southern California. Before we went down there, I told my parents I didn't want the trip to be focused on my sister the entire time. Of course, most of it was. Why would I expect anything different? The straw that broke the camel's back for me though was that my parents and sister were almost 2 hours late for dinner as a result. Which wouldn't have bothered me, except they kept calling saying, "We'll be there in 20 minutes." 45 minutes would go by. "We'll be there in 15 minutes." Another 35 would go by. By the time they finally showed up, Jeremy and I had decided to go ahead and eat and feed the kids, and it was way past the kids' bedtime, but they were still up. I sat in the corner scowling as my parents and sister ate dinner at 9:15PM, listening to them continue to talk about the roommate issue. Sometimes, I just need everyone to give it a rest! I was angry that, much to my frustration, though not to my surprise, the vacation was, yes, turning out to be all about her; in action and in word. And it wasn't supposed to be. It was supposed to be about my kids and the magic of their first trip to Disneyland. But once again, the focus got turned to her, and we got put on the back burner.

I will touch on this more in another entry, but one thing I consistently have a hard time with is feeling like my brother and I get the short end of the parental attention stick. I am married with 3 kids and a life of my own, I don't require much from them anymore, but let's face it, when you want some attention from your parents, you expect to get it, no matter how old you are. To feel like I have to compete for my parent's attention, and wind up feeling like I get their "leftovers," if you understand what I mean, well, it just gets under my skin and becomes quite tiresome.

So all these incidents and emotions have been circling around and around, and it has exhausted me. Its not that I'm not used to it all by now - I most definitely am - but I guess I just expect that I will finally get some relief from all this one day. But that day has yet to come.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Unreciprocated Efforts

One of the most bothersome aspects of dealing with an addict/recovering addict, is the lack of reciprocated efforts. To start, I guess I am one of those people who is very giving to begin with. (Or at least I like to think I am.) Giving of my time, my resources, and certainly my support. So nothing chaps me more than when someone isn't willing to reciprocate my efforts. Its not that I expect a lot in return, just let me know you care as much about me as I do about you. Pretty simple. Really, I am pretty easy to please.

But on the flip side, I am no doormat either. I was at one time, but if there is one positive thing I have gained from my sister's addiction, it is how and when to put my foot down and not be used or manipulated. It has changed my character some, I admit, and some people like the change and some don't. But therein lies the problem. Now that I know how I should be treated, it bothers me to no end when I don't get the respect and kindness I shell out, and feel I, in turn, deserve.

My sister is terrible at returning phone calls! Which is a gross understatement. This is a major peeve of mine. And that is an understatement too. I have cried over it, been worried sick over it, been angry over it....you name it. See, when my sister is using, she disappears. She doesn't answer her phone or check her messages, she ignores texts, and then she only resurfaces when she needs something. Its crappy, plain and simple. And like I said, it makes me sad, angry, and worried. It makes me nuts.

But the problem extends even to when she is sober. I was talking to a friend today, and explained to her that for every 10 phone calls I put in to my sister, I get one back. And that one is usually about a 3 minute conversation. Or one-sided with me driving it, since getting her to talk is usually like pulling teeth. Its not easily done.

Plain and simple, addicts are selfish. Addiction is a selfish disease. In the throws of trying to get their next fix, addicts will do anything - and I mean anything - to get their next fix. They will literally beg, borrow, steal, cheat, manipulate, guilt, lie, to obtain what they want to get what they need. And unfortunately, that self-centeredness doesn't completely disappear overnight when the addict gets clean. As humans, we all have the "me, me, me" complex to begin with, but addicts have it to the extreme.

And while I understand this is the way she is, it doesn't change the fact that it bothers me. It will always bother me. A call deserves a call back. An effort deserves an effort in return. A relationship needs to be 50-50. Of course, with my sister, I would settle for 80-20. But I feel like its 95-5, and sometimes it leaves me wondering, why in the world do I try so hard? If she were anyone else, would I put up with this? Nope. But she's my sister, she's different, and as much as I hate her lack of reciprocity, I love her with all my heart, so I let it slide and silently deal with it. Time and time again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Old habits die hard

So yesterday afternoon, my brother called to inform us that my sister had missed her flight to Sacramento, where he was to pick her up and then drive up here for Christmas. My brother, understandably, was pretty angry. The rest of us were thinking, "Here we go AGAIN!"

My sister has a track record for missing flights. In fact, this is the second or third one she has missed this year alone. She has a long track record of irresponsible or flaky things she has done.

Since my sister started drinking at age 15, she never really learned to be in charge of herself, or to fix her own mistakes. Drinking and drugs halt a person's growth to maturity. Until a year ago, at age 23, she was stuck in the mind of a 15 year old. So she is now somewhere in the range of 16 or 17. Most teens aren't entirely capable of thinking everything through. But that's no secret, is it?

The reason my sister missed her flight is because she didn't take into account that she had to be at the airport 3 hours early, as opposed to 1 and a half hours early, because of the extra volume of people flying during the holidays. In a way, I guess its an honest mistake, but most 24 year olds would be able to think that far ahead. I am in no way making excuses for her missing the plane, nor am I trying to cast her into a bad light or embarrass her. I am simply trying to make a point (which is now seeming to be two-fold).

Not only is my sister locked into the mind of a 16 year old, but she is also locked into behavior patterns that 8 years of drug and alcohol abuse created. Anyone who is close to a user knows that they do wierd, irresponsible, flighty things constantly. They thrive on drama, and don't like taking responsibility for their own actions. Everything is out of their control (or so they think) and things just "keep happening" to them "at random." They live from crisis to crisis, and drama to drama. Their life becomes full of it, and it is what they live on and live for. And sometimes, I think they create it just to feel "normal." (I am using these parenthesized words quite loosely.)

At the height of her using, my family had a little saying; "The only thing you can count on, is that you can't count on her." It was 100% true, too. She would skip out on her jobs, important dates, doctor appointments... Sometimes I think she just didn't want to go, other times I think she just plum flaked. But it became a pattern, and like all patterns, it became more and more ingrained with every new day.

So now you see where I'm going with this. While she is now clean and for the most part pretty responsible now, there are still patterns that are so deeply rooted, that she still has these pretty flaky, flighty tendencies. And for us, its still pretty darn frustrating.

In her defense though, she did own up to her problem and came up with the best solution she could. She booked another flight, and paid (monetarily for the flight, and situationally with my brother's anger) for her mistake. So at least its a step in the right direction. I'm proud of her for that.

So habits can be broken, it just takes time and continual work. And that gives me hope and inspiration to work on my own bad habits. (Uh oh. Conviction.) Because if she can put her bad habits to rest, so can I.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

I was thinking today about a part of this journey I don't really care to think much about because, well, it somewhat embarrasses me. Not that it necessarily should, but it does. Which might make me a snob, but whatever. Anyway, I guess I will dive into the background, since this won't make any sense any other way. There is so much more to the story, and in time, I am sure most, if not all of, it will be revealed, but for now, you get what you get.

In July '07, my sister came up here on a visit with my parents. She was going through withdrawls and was very unpleasant (to say the least). Some events ensued, and she ended up stealing my aunt's camera to trade for drugs. I got angry at her - very angry. I yelled at her, shamed her, and told her exactly how pathetic I thought she was. (I don't regret doing so, though I do regret the presentation.)

My mom and I left her in the car while we went into a restaurant for a Miss Oregon after-party, and when we came back, she was gone. She had left on foot, and my town is small, but nevertheless, my mom and I drove around in circles for about an hour scouring the town looking for her. Around midnight, she called me to say she was safe. She said nothing else. For 2 days, we had no idea where she was. When she finally resurfaced, we found out she had been holed up at some guy's house; she said she knew him from her brief living period here before, but we later learned that was a lie.

She then began dating the guy, and decided she wanted to try and live here again and get a fresh start. (Heroin is hard to come by around here; we're a meth area.) Or so she said. I think she just didn't want to be alone and liked the attention. But who knows, and its not important anyway. Against my better judgement, I agreed to let her live with us again temporarily. Her boyfriend, overall, seemed to be a nice guy, even though they had a very drama-fueled relationship. So I ended up befriending him, since he was always around, and I wanted to try and be supportive of my sister, even if I didn't agree with most of the choices she was making, and she was walking all over me like a doormat.

2 weeks later, they were at the beach and a fist fight broke out, and her boyfriend got a free ride to jail. My sister cracked. No longer able to be with her boyfriend, no money to her name, no access to heroin, and with only 1, very physically abusive female friend (she beat her to the point of a concussion twice), she unravelled quickly. 3 weeks, and many other strange events later, she was back in rehab.

Again, against my better judgement, I decided to be middle man and stick up for the guy. Yeah, you can probably tell where this is going. It backfired big time! I spent countless hours trying to keep the guy from going completely nuts inside his jail cell. I allowed him to call me collect, to relay messages to and from my sister, and racked up phone bills like you wouldn't believe. I would defend him to friends and family, sometimes to the point of tears, when they would tell me what a lost cause he was. Even after my sister broke up with and severed ties with him, I tried to remain his friend and lifeline.

Call me an idealist, but I believe everyone has a chance to be a better person. And my goal with this guy was to try and pull the better person out of him. I encouraged and ministered to him as best I could. Some days he would seem like he was starting to get it. Other days it was like talking to a wall.

There were 2 conversations in particular though that still play over and over in my mind continuously. One makes me feel like an idiot, the other still stirs up old anger. Both involved him calling my sister every name in the book, telling me what a loser, low-life, cheating you-know-what he thought she was. The first time I calmly tried to convince him he was wrong, and to let her mistakes go. The second time, I yelled at him. Loudly. Then I hung up on him. He tried calling me back multiple times that night, then almost daily for the next month. But I had nothing left in me.

I realized at that moment, I was giving respect that I wasn't getting in return. I was offering unreciprocated friendship, and every word I was speaking was falling on deaf ears. Jeremy encouraged me many times to pick up the phone, but I just didn't know what I could say that I hadn't already said, or how I could put up with any more of his half-hearted apologies, excuses, and BS. I drafted letter after letter to him in my head, but never put any of it to paper. I could waste the mental time, but not the physical time. I still think about this man often, because I tried everything in my power to help him. But like the saying goes, you can't help those who are unwilling to help themselves.

I have learned a lot from that experience though. While I will never give up faith that there is hope for anyone and everyone out there, I have learned there is a point when you just have to let go. Some people just can't be helped because they are too busy basking in their own pride, misery, and anger. If someone isn't ready to change themself, there is absolutely nothing you can do or say to get through to them. At a certain point, you have to know when to fold, because trying to hold a drowning person's head above water gets pretty darn exhausting, and it doesn't take long before you start to go under too. I hate giving up on people, but at a certain point, the only constructive thing I could do was shut up, get out of the situation for my own sake, and continue to pray for him.

I am thankful I finally cut ties. Do I like the manner in which I did it? Not really, but it had to be done. It was sapping too much of my energy and turning me into a person I didn't like.

....But that's another story entirely.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It will always follow

I talked to my sister briefly on the phone last night. After I hung up, I realized that probably 2/3rds of our 10 minute conversation had to do with her past as a user, her addiction, and her recovery. It made me wonder if that bothered her, because it seems like our conversations go in that direction a lot. Its not that I think I should try and skirt the issue, but does she really want it to come up in just about every 5 minute conversation? Probably not.

But then I had the realization that, even if we do try and skirt the issue, its still going to be there. For the rest of her life, she will be a recovering addict. It doesn't define her, not by any means, because she is so much more, but it will always be a defining factor. Her past will never go away - the choices she made, the hurts she caused, the people she associated with - will always be there. And while I think that realization still bothers her, I think she is beginning to accept it. And acceptance is key.

When I first found out she had the addiction and was going into rehab for the first time, I was ashamed. I felt like if people in my life knew, their view of me would change, that they would think I was a low-life because my sister was an addict. So I hid it. I didn't tell many of my closest friends, I was terrified (and that's putting it very mildly) of the possibility of Jeremy's family finding out, and I sure as heck didn't want people at our church finding out! I felt like this was my private battle to fight, and I didn't need the stigmas on top of the crisis. I wanted to have people to talk to about it, but I was too afraid. It was my "dirty little secret."

The same thing happened a year later when I suffered my breakdown. I was trying and trying to hold everything together, but I wasn't. So I did what most depressed people do and I withdrew. I didn't want my kids' friends' parents or schools to find out I was depressed because I was afraid of how they would view me as a mother, or that they would treat my children differently. I didn't want pity. And again, I didn't want my friends or in-laws to know, so I did my best (very feeble) attempt not to show that anything was wrong. It was just one more major "dirty little secret."

But the problem with secrets is, they follow you anywhere, and they make you paranoid. It took me close to a year after diagnosis to let my mother-in-law know that I was on medication and had been diagnosed with Bipolar II, a more serious form of chronic depression. We get along well, and I know now that she wouldn't have viewed me any differently, but I was too afraid that she would judge who I am as a wife to her son and mother to her grandkids, which was a consequence I couldn't live with. My in-laws still don't know the extent of my sister's addiction, but its only because its never come up, and I don't really feel they need to know anyway. What do the nitty-gritty details add to their lives anyway, you know? But if asked, I would be 100% open and honest.

Today, both these issues, my Bipolar and my proximity to my sister's addiction, are things I am okay talking about. They are big parts of me, but they don't define me, nor dictate who I am and the values I have. It doesn't change the fact I am a good wife and mother, or a Christian, or a productive member of society. It makes me drastically different from 90% of people out there, sure, but its the hand I've been dealt, so its something I have learned to be okay with. If people can't look past the stigmas that follow me, then that is their crying shame, not mine. I can't live my life as one big "dirty little secret." If people know these things about me, then fine. I'm no longer out to hide them. In fact, I use my experiences as examples to say, "Hey! No, I don't fit the "mold" of what these things say I should be, so let me educate you and show you that a label doesn't define nor limit you." If people want to think I am trashy because my sister is an addict, fine. In my heart, I know I'm not, and neither is she. If people want to think I am an unstable, unfit mother because I have Bipolar, then whatever. They don't have all the facts; I am on medication, and so long as I don't go off them, I am a really good parent. If people can't see past my stigmas and accept me for me, then they are the uneducated, closed-minded ones, not me.

The "dirty little secrets" will always follow. You can't change the hand you're dealt, and you have to lay in the bed you made. But you can control your attitude about it, and eventually you have to accept it and move on with life, because the secrets never go away. Its what you make of them that makes all the difference.