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.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The thought I thought I'd never think

I'm talking about death. Its that one taboo thought you never want to touch; the mental preparation for someone's death. It truly is the one thing you hope you never have to think about.

But I've been there. I've envisioned being at my sister's funeral, crumpled in a ball of unconsolable tears. Her "good" friends around, wondering how this happened, how it ended this way. My parents in that gut-wrenching grief I saw on Jeremy's friend's face when he lost his little girl. Its anguish of the purest, most painful form. Your kids are forever your kids, and you as the parent are supposed to go first. Its the natural order. And what about my kids? How would I tell them that their auntie, whom they love so much, and is so incredibly fun, is no longer going to be a part of their lives? Especially when I wouldn't even be able to explain it to myself. And where would she die? Would she be alone? Would she be hurt? Would she be in pain? Would she be scared? How could I stop it? What could I say or do to rescue her from the fate of the hand she dealt herself? ....And on and on my mind would race, sometimes for hours. I would envision, and cry, and hurt.

I think part of the problem is that I have this "thing" about death to begin with. I have always been afraid of death. Not the actual passing over, but of what's left; cemeteries, headstones, caskets, funerals, sad people, the mourning, the loss, the emptiness. Its just cold and creepy and I hate it. It makes my skin crawl almost as bad as snakes do.

But as I hate to think about death, I had to. I had to think the thoughts I thought I would never have to think. I had to mentally deal with my own demons (so to speak); those things like caskets, corpses, and funerals, that sincerely terrify me. I had to push past the fear and actually construct a game plan for dealing with my sister's death, because at times it seemed inevitable.

Its a horrible, humbling, sickening reality when you get to the point you have to think about these things; when you know you have to hope for the best, but be truly prepared for the worst. To have to strengthen your inner self to try and accept what you feel is the "end of the line" for someone you love more than anything in this world....frankly, its awful.

I hate it when people can't accept that addiction is a disease and not a choice. Yes, choices started the ball rolling in that hellish direction, but addiction is like cancer. It gets in there, it eats the addict and everyone around them like a hard-to-cure, "crapshoot"-type disease. It makes you do something I have coined "pre-grieving."

When my grandfather had his heart attack in '94 and landed in the LDS hospital in Salt Lake City, we were told he had a 2% chance of living to get out of the hospital. We pre-grieved. He wasn't dead yet, but 2%? Come on. Who were we to think he would beat a 2% odd? So we huddled together and cried and cried. We said our goodbyes, then flew home to await the inevitable news. But amazingly, he beat those odds and did come home. But it was a rocky road for the next 7 years. We pre-grieved over and over again. When the call came that he had finally passed on, I didn't shed a tear. (And I am a crier! Anyone who knows me even a little bit can attest to that.) I had grieved all my grief before he passed. I was prepared, and I had no grieving left to do, as odd as that may sound. In fact, I didn't cry until 2 months later at his funeral, when his box of ashes were being lowered into the ground next to my Nana's headstone. And they were mostly happy tears because he was finally with Nana again, and I knew how happy that would make him. I miss my Gramps all the time, but I rarely cry over his death. I left nothing unsaid or undone with him, and I did all my grieving years ago. I was prepared.

My point is, I think its perfectly normal and natural, when faced with the reality of death, to prepare and pre-grieve, to try and lessen the pain when the inevitable happens. And while my sister is now clean and sober, I will forever have my "grief plan" in the back of my mind, "just in case."

I hate that I have had to think these unthinkable thoughts, and my heart aches for anyone else ever put in thise position. Its horrible. Its painful. And the mere fact I have already grieved the loss of my sister, while she is still alive, is sobering and somewhat tragic. Hopefully the thoughts will lessen and fade as I begin to trust in her life again. That is my sincere hope and prayer, because if I can't let go of the grief and rejoice in her life, then she's already gone. And I can't let that happen.