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.