I got a voice mail from my sister, who I haven’t written about before now on this blog.
Due to coming from an alcoholic family with two alcoholic parents, we’ve been a teensy bit alienated.
I dread her calls, the emotional wake that pulls me under itself after I hang up from one of them.
The feeling of wanting so much more from her than what little we have.
She is the inverse of me: blonde, arctic blue eyes, pale skin, preppie-looking, beautiful. An intelligent artist. Prodigiously talented – I spent my childhood coveting the talent she was gifted with at birth, working to copy her dancing Snoopies, trying to draw and paint like she could but coming up not even half as good. A psychic once told her that in a past life she was Leonardo da Vinci – and we all believed him because she knew how to do mirror writing with both hands at the same time, like he could, and she could draw like da Vinci. She was that talented.
I don’t know why I’m writing about her in the past tense.
We’ve been alienated probably since the day I was born (I’m the younger one, the interloper). When I was in third grade and she was in fifth, I asked if she wanted to eat lunch with me at school and she told me to go away. She was offended that I wanted to be near her, that I asked her to eat lunch with me in front of her friends. The thing is – what I couldn’t put into words as I walked back to my classroom holding my lunchbox that day, or throughout our childhood – is that my big sister was my world. I looked up to her. I loved her. For a long time, I admired her.
When I was fifteen she caught me red-handed in the school hallway wearing a sweater of hers that I had “borrowed.” She said nothing at school – just gave me the stink eye so I knew something bad was going to happen at some point in the near future. When I got home that night she had upended my dresser, pulled the clothes from my drawers, over-turned my mattress, torn my Peter Frampton poster off the wall, broken my mirror and the glass nic nacs I had collected over the years. I went into her bedroom and dragged her out of bed in her pale pink PJs and tried my best to beat the shit out of her. I had never hit anyone in my life, before that night. Or since. But that night, I hit her and hit her. I tried my best to beat her up.
You would think that my parents would have done something – admonished her for vandalizing my room, maybe, or told me to stop borrowing her clothes, or tried to stop me from kicking her kneecaps with my bare feet (I broke my toes that night) – but they did nothing. This is what it’s like growing up in an alcoholic home: when you need them, they look the other way or they’re not around. When you don’t need them – when you want them to go away – they’re right up in your face, embarrassing you, saying something unhelpful or just plain awful.
When you’re an alcoholic, you rob yourself of all spirituality. The bottle replaces whatever God you may have believed in and that bottle becomes your altar. Whether or not you can admit it, alcohol is what you worship. So over time, every single thing you love gets sacrificed at that altar: your reputation, your mind, your job, your money, your driver’s license, your dignity, your health, your potential, your ability to reason, your sanity, your relationship, your children – it all gets sacrificed on the altar at the foot of that bottle. My relationship with my sister is one of the costs of my parents’ alcoholism, one of the things they sacrificed. I have accepted it and for about eight years, when I had closed the door and bolted it shut, when we couldn’t even bring ourselves to speak to each other, I was relieved.
But then I opened the door a crack – because a person should have a relationship with their sister, right? My kids should have a relationship with her three boys, their cousins, right? Family should all be together, sometimes, right? Should-should-should.
Well, here is what I think: Shoulds are shit.
That is my mantra. I heard it in an Alanon meeting. Shoulds are shit.
The door is open a crack and I’m not sure I will ever be able to close it again because she’s my sister and I’m so very worried about her now.
When we were growing up my parents didn’t nurture any kind of friendship or kindness between us – in fact, they did just the opposite. They inadvertently fueled our enmity. Unintentionally, they honed and perfected the animosity between us. And then they poured gasoline on it and lit matches and the whole thing exploded into something we could never return from. When she got married she asked me to be her maid of honor. The night before the wedding, at the rehearsal dinner with her six bridesmaids, her groom, all the groomsmen, the priest, the musicians, our parents, the groom’s parents, and me – when the priest asked the maid of honor to please step forward and I stepped forward, feeling so proud, and her BFF stepped forward too, all she did was look at me all annoyed, as if I had done something wrong. I stepped back, shocked and humiliated. There was no explanation. That was – well, in my book – it was an extremely crappy thing to do. If you don’t want someone to be your maid of honor, fine – just let them know before they make a complete ass of themselves at the rehearsal dinner.
She and her new husband, a physician, bought my parents’ home, the house I grew up in. They also borrowed $140,000 from my parents, which my mother complained to me about over the years, and which I could give a fig about.
One day my parents wrote their will and gave a copy to me in person, but left a copy for my sister to find. The will said, “In the event of our death, your sister D. owes you the $140,000 she owed to us.” As soon as I saw it, I recognized what it was – total bullshit – and tore it up. My sister called and yelled at me, even though I told her I had torn it up. I tried to explain to her that there were people in the world who might not have torn it up, but she didn’t listen. She was furious that our parents had indebted her to me, and instead of directing her fury at them – she directed it at me, the interloper.
That’s how our relationship always was: unbalanced and brutal, with me doing things for her that I thought would make up for our parents’ alcoholism and somehow appease her immense anger at me. When our mother died, the crematorium called my sister to tell her that they had performed the cremation at seven o’clock instead of at five, as they had planned, she called me up and screamed – as if it was my fault. I had nothing to do with it, of course, but with us everything became my fault. Even a delayed cremation. I began to understand that something was permanently unfixable between us – it wasn’t just a temporary phase, or sibling rivalry, or hatred. It wasn’t mere dislike – it was something more, something I couldn’t put my finger on but that had been there my whole life, and I couldn’t deal with it anymore. So for eight years we didn’t talk.
And I was so relieved.
Fast-forward a million years into the future, to now: our alcoholic parents are gone, we are both mothers, living on opposite coasts, she is mercilessly tormented by her sociopathic ex-husband, and all we have left of our family of origin is each other. The door is open a crack – but having the door bolted shut is a lot easier than keeping it open a crack. The black and white clarity of a closed door is simple – you can grieve it, you can get over it. The cracked-open door with all its shades of gray and the intoxicating hopefulness it contains is painful and uncertain. It makes me sick to my stomach when I open in it. I know that we are alienated, and I have accepted this as one of the sad tolls of growing up in an alcoholic family, but somehow that doesn’t make it any less painful. I long for a sister. I miss mine, I love her, and most of all: I worry for her.
So she called me. It took me 24 hours to call her back because I know that whenever she calls, it is bad news that I can’t do anything about, bad news that snaps me out of the sane, normal family life I’ve worked so hard to have, smacks me upside the head, and reminds me where I’m from: that alcoholism in a family blood line never dies. Our parents may be dead and I may have had a long respite from all the crap around dealing with other people’s alcoholism but it’s ba-aaa-aack! During the years between my parents’ deaths and now, as it turns out, it wasn’t really gone, it was just out in my front yard doing pushups, jeering at me. Waiting. The family disease has got a sequel. A new and improved, far more scary sequel.
Two years ago it was my 18-year-old nephew, her oldest. He had come into an inheritance of about $100,000 (each of her children will inherit this amount on their 18th birthday – she tried to get the courts to delay it until they were older but without her ex-husband’s consent, they inherit when they turn 18). He spent some of it on a Ducati motorcycle, some of it on an apartment/drug den and the rest on the hangers-on and drug dealers who took advantage of him. It was beyond terrifying. My blonde sister, the preppie, had to go in – alone – and rescue her sweet boy from a crack house. First she had to find him, which was no small task, then she had to get him out of a drug-den and away from the seriously scary crack dealers that were there all around him.
Mothers are the bravest people on Earth, and she is one of them.
She has confronted my biggest fear – seeing alcoholism rear its ugly head again in my children – and it has her by the throat right now. And when I think of all she’s going through, including an ex-husband who is giving them money to buy alcohol, who is thumbing his nose at her attempts to get them into alcohol rehab, who intentionally misses psychiatric appointments she sets up for them, I go blind with maternal panic.
We got him into rehab, then into a sober living house, he got some medication, but that didn’t negate the fact that his father is a sociopathic alcoholic who is attempting to alienate his three sons from my sister with a systematic process sociopaths use, called parental alienation syndrome (PAS), which is kind of like Stockholm Syndrome, in which the kidnappee falls in love with their captor – only in this case, it’s the child being brainwashed to hate the alienated parent. This is happening to two of my nephews at the moment, and to my sister, and every time she calls me – her strong but vulnerable voice on the other end of the phone – it feels familiar, like someone is yanking my guts out through my throat.
It’s how I felt watching my parents drink themselves to death.
I am once again helpless, walking through life appearing normal, but I am enraged.
My sister already went through this. She already watched her parents die of alcoholism. Don’t you think that’s enough of a burden in one lifetime for one person to bear? Why pile on more?
(Pssst: God, I’m talking to you and I’m pissed.)
She called to tell me that one of her sons is in the ER.
He had called his older brother for help. He was drunk, was passing out in the local park, and he knew he was in trouble. My sister rushed to the park to get him and saw her ex-husband, did I tell you that he is a physician? – driving out of the playground. So she pulled in front of his car and asked him if he had her son. He shrugged and said, He ran off. Can’t find him. Then do you know what he did? He drove out of the park. He didn’t stop to help her find their son who had called for help and was in serious trouble. He drove off into the sunset, to watch the six-o’clock news and have a beer or something.
My sister ran around the park frantically with her older son to look for him. She finally found him lying shirtless in the brush, unconscious.
They called 911 and EMTs came and took him by ambulance to the hospital.
I am so sick of EMTs taking family members of mine by ambulance to the hospital because of alcoholism. I need it to stop. I want to get off of this frightening merry-go-round, okay?
The ER doctor told her that her son’s blood alcohol level was 0.40 (just so you know, 0.50 = death).
He said if she hadn’t found him when she did he probably would have died.
He told her that he had never in his professional experience seen such a young person with such advanced signs of alcoholism.
He said when he came out of the ER he would be put into psychiatric lock-down, but he didn’t know how long he could keep him there without her assholic ex-husband’s permission.
My nephew is 14 years old.
That’s right: he’s 14.
I can’t write any more about this right now because it just makes me want to get into the shower, close the door, sit down on the tiles, and sob. I’ll write more later. Please say a prayer for my nephew, and one for my sister. And please, if you are an alcoholic – especially an alcoholic parent: get help. It is possible to stop.
This post was featured on Shmutzie.
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