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Thursday, April 12, 2007

What's Bothering Me

I've tried to hide it, cover it up, pretend it's not there, make it less important than it is. I've tried to hide my angst by blogging about a visit to the wet market, flavours of my childhood, my evening with a family I adore.

But nothing is working. The thing is this. My sister is in meltdown again. And I'm at the point where I'm not sure how to help. But more than that, I'm not sure I want to help. I'm tired, so tired of it all. I'm tired of being her surrogate parent. I'm tired of shoring up her frailties. I'm tired of taking care of her, in truth.

She lives in Tenerife, Canary Islands. She has done for the past seven years, when she came over at the time I was returning to Hong Kong. She happily took on the running of my business, ultimately almost destroyed it, thankfully managed to sell it. She has had my apartment there rent-free in exchange for taking care of my dog and two cats, whom I had to leave there when I returned to Hong Kong. Now, she wants to leave but she doesn't know where she wants to go. Doesn't know how she'll survive when she gets there. One thing is for certain, wherever it is she ends up, it won't include the use of a free apartment and it's time I stopped supplementing her finances as she's unable to earn enough to live on, even without having to pay rent. In fact the only thing she does know is that she wants to dump all the animals onto me now. After telling me two years ago I couldn't have my dog back because he was more hers, than mine. And accused me of having trapped her with them, including her own dog. I couldn't see the logic in that little detail I'm afraid.

She wants to go into rehab. A private facility, maybe back in the UK. No, she doesn't know how she can pay for it. But she did at one stage say to me: "Once mum is gone I can use the money I get, for it." She's counting the days to our mother's death, to go into rehab?! I can't tell you how sick I felt when I heard that. A few years ago, because my father was strong enough to say 'no' to her, I paid for her to fly back and forth to the UK for therapy and treatment. It cost me a small fortune and she decided she didn't like where it was going because she was told no drinking with the drugs she was prescribed. For a while she took both. And even OD'd on valium and whatever anti-depressant she was on, one night in a drunken depression. Great - talk about stupidity, take drugs to lift the depression then drink to bring it back, all in one go.
Her most recent boyfriend has just left her. But to be honest I'm not sad about it. They are both alcohol-dependent, in different ways. She drinks a lot every day, he drinks every other day to the point of being virtually catatonic. Then the next day he'll have nothing. When he's not drinking, he still encourages her to drink. When he's drinking, she encourages him by being there when he needs to be taken home. I tried to explain co-dependency to her while I was there, when I witnessed this for the first time. I tried to explain enabling destructive behaviour in each other. She just got drunk, and angry at me.

So now she wants rehab for her alcoholism. Oh, sorry, no, she's not an alcoholic, she says. Because she only drinks in the evening. Drinks until the house is dry then goes down the road to the nearest bar and drinks any money she has away (yes, I realise I'm enabling her to do that). Drinks to the point that in the early hours of one morning, recently, a stranger found her on the pavement near home, unable to get back to the apartment. He picked her up and got her home. I still don't think she realises how lucky she was, that it was that particular stranger who found her. But no, she's not an alcoholic because she 'controls' her drinking she tells me. I breathed deeply, counted to ten and then proceeded to tell her that she is totally out of control and all she has is some structure to her alcohol-dependency, but absolutely no control over it whatsoever.

The arrows of accusation were fired out at me. You can never understand, you have never had a problem with alcohol. Well, actually, I understand better than she thinks, because she's talking to someone who, 10 years ago, used to have a bottle of vodka in her desk at work. She then said, I never saw you drink, as though only those you see drinking, have a drinking problem. I told her, not everyone makes a show of their weaknesses. Another arrow, well then when did you give it up? When I saw what it was doing to someone I cared about. Someone I wanted to help more than I wanted to help myself by leaving. I actually didn't touch a drop for over five years. And only recently have I taken to having a social drink once in a blue moon, and only with one person.

So, she believes she'll walk into a rehab clinic and they will 'cure' her. Like flipping a switch. I tried to explain that any switch has to be flipped by her own desire to stop this self-destruction. To first of all take ownership of it and deal with it. No one can do it for her. My sister can find responsibility in everything and everyone else, for her failures, for her drinking, for what she doesn't have. Her ex-boyfriend got married recently and they are expecting their first baby. She tells me that should have been her. I said, it's not you Rhona because he didn't want to spend his life with the likes of you, not the way you are at the moment. So it's because of x, y and z that she drinks, all external factors. Truth is, even when in the happiest periods of her life, she has reached for the bottle.

Alcoholism. As I've said, I've dealt with it before. I've been pulled down in its clutches because I cared. I've been almost destroyed financially and emotionally, because I cared. I cared enough to put time and resources into getting that person the help he needed. And which he ultimately threw back in my face, every single time. I cared enough to believe I could make enough of a difference to his life to make him want to change. I was wrong. I just can't do that again. Maybe I'm failing her. Maybe this IS the time she'll make it happen. Maybe I'm stealing her future from her by not just paying for her rehab, paying for somewhere to stay, paying for a new start for her, taking all her responsibilities away.

But I want to have my own life now. I want to make my own plans, and they don't include looking after her. For the past seven years they have, directly. And for many years before that, she had an impact on my savings. I will have to make some decisions about my animals (though I refuse to take her dog), some of which will break my heart. But I know what I have to do for my beloved Lupo, for him to have a life of quality, and sadly that means not being with me. One of the cats couldn't make the trip back here, he's getting on and is a little frail and the journey from Hong Kong all those years ago nearly did him in then. But I know I can make whatever decisions I have to.

Am I being heartless? Should I be looking after her, and out for her, like I have been doing? Is it fair to turn my back now? Am I going to end up one more reason she will use, to excuse her own self-destructive nature?


The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things.
Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

Update 16 April - she listened !!! (back with the co-dependent alcoholic though) :

hiya fion...............All is ok here at the moment, went sailing yesterday and had to do a capsize!! All good fun though and better than spending the day in the friggin pub!! Me n kirk are on day 4 of no drinking!!!! Well the odd beer but literally the odd one so no drunkeness and what a difference it feels. Soooooooooooo much better and I so prefer it this way!!!!! Mind is sharper, not so tired and much more fun being sober!!!!


kimba said...

Hey Fiona.. I have no idea what to say. But I am hearing you.

Always good to return to AA Milne for support as well.. Always..
My FAVOURITE story is the one whwere we find that Tiggers don't climb trees..

Sorry I hear your angst. Family is so hard. OUr emotional response tied up with them is soooo hard to make sense of..

Good luck with the other comments.. I hope they speak more sense.. Hearing you though.. and loving you from afar.

Jac said...

Wow. Your newly expressed frustration and angstis life's way of showing you that you are learning and making progress! Your own impatience shows your inner wisdom. You know what you need to do even though it is OH SO DIFFICULT! See how much progress you are making? I bet 2 years ago, you ran to the rescue and were glad to do it.

When you DO help her, you reinforce her avoidance. When you don't, you hold up a mirror to her pain and she tries to shatter it and you with her arrows.

I guess you have to sit with your pain and guilt and not flail around so that they don't rip you to shreds. Sister hasn't yet learned to manage the "blades of pain" at all. But YOU, will eventually find wholeness! Plus, you have a huge team sitting here on the bench with you and rooting you on!

sophie n said...


trueself said...

Although your story is somewhat different it reminded me of the story my mom shared with me once she thought me old enough to hear it. My grandfather was an alcoholic. More than once my mom bailed him out of jail. More than once she gave her younger brother to buy necessities that their father couldn't afford after spending on booze. Over and over she helped as best she could until finally she decided she wasn't really helping the situation in the long term by making these monetary donations and donations of time and effort. So she quit. Her dad called from jail, arrested again for drunk and disorderly. Either pay the fine or sit in jail for 30 days. This time she did things differently. She didn't pay the fine for him. She let him sit in jail. It wasn't easy for her. She took a lot of heat for it. However, that 30 days in jail dried him out (the hard way I'm sure). As far as we know he never took another drink, or if he did, he had it far more under control than before.

Sorry for rambling away in your comments here. Didn't mean to take up so much space here, but maybe you can find something in the above story that helps you.

LePhare said...

I think your sister has a lot further to go before she can make the change, and it's only her that can do it. Some never do. 'No' can be the cruelest and the kindest word at times like this.

Hard and difficult times ahead Fi. Big hug from Ian.

Anonymous said...

You are not responsible for your sister or her drinking. You aren't. She has to live her own life, travel her own path. It would be nice if she did get herself some help but it doesn't sound like she's ready to yet and until she is, rehab's not going to do much good.

When my son was 17 we kicked him out of the house for drug use. He ended up in jail, more than once and the last time he ended up in federal prison for six months. He's not on parole for a year and a half.

I love my son with all my heart but he had to be the one to decide to turn his life around. And he has, or so he says. I'll need a few years of good living before I can completely trust him again but he's better.

It's hard to watch people you love and care about, fall but you can't make another person do anything.

I'm sorry life sucks right now. It could be worse, she could be twins.

Sorry, always have to make a joke.

Take care of yourself and do what you need to do for yourself. You are not your sister's keeper.

Anonymous said...

Now on parole, I meant to write. I really should check things before I press publish.

Princess of the Universe said...

I'm sure that it's much harder for her to put all her pain and blaming onto you than to actually point it at herself. She probably doesn't even think well enough of herself to realize how much her behaviour affects you.

It's so hard to take away the love and support that you feel that you owe your family, but in the long run it might be the best thing for them. It forces them to stand up on their own.

Good luck!

Fiona said...

Thank you everyone. What may not be clear is that I love my sister. I care for her. I want her to be happy. But that I know all I can do is the first two.

Kimba - AA Milne does make so much sense of the world through the most simple of tales. Thank you. Yes, family is very hard. So much went wrong in mine. Loving you back :)

Jac - I feel like I'm learning and you're spot on about my responses two years ago...I remember right off the cuff two 'flights of mercy' she was that close to the end. And when I got there she was already better! This time, I haven't been in touch for a week. She will use the 'you're cold like mum' arrow soon, I know. I feel more whole now, than I have my entire life. Thank you for your words here and in our emails. Hugs.

Sophie - hugs right back atcha kiddo :)))

TS - thank you for sharing that. I believe experiences, no matter mine or others', help open windows and doors in my mind and heart. To know I haven't battled alone, or been the only one to have lived and survived through something, does help. Please come and ramble anytime, your words are appreciated :)

Ian - you're right and maybe what is hardest for her is my change in approach. I can't do it for her and I've tried to explain that. She needs to dig deep and find herself, accept her reality, go from there. Big hug back for you.

Deb - I laughed hard at the twins thing and how right you are...egads, the mere thought of it!!! How incredibly hard that must have been for you to do with your son. But necessary, as is my course with her now. She may never thank me for it but at least she may start the first part of a necessary journey to wholeness for herself. Thank you Deb. :)

Princess - I believe she does realise. There's usually an apology, as I got a couple of days ago. But there's never any change in the behaviour the next time. She resents my 'success', my ability to move past my pains while she is stuck in hers. Nobody rescued me from mine, I knuckled down and worked hard to climb out of my own hellholes. Trouble is I can't yet tell her of the deepest. Maybe the day I do that will help her to see more clearly that it can be done. Thank you for dropping by :)

Fusion said...

Hi Fiona,
A little late but I wanted to tell you what my grief counseler told me recently.

My sister has been addicted to prescription drugs for years, and has always been bailed out financially by my parents. Now that my dad has died and she is estranged from my mom, she is trying to move up where I live, and I know she is hoping for the help from me that she used to get from our parents. I had to gently tell her what I would and wouldn't do for her while I was on vacation two weeks ago. It was hard, but she now knows.

My grief conselor told me I need to be selfish these days, because it's time to get my life in order, and I can't be doing for anyone else that I don't want to. It doesn't make me a bad person that I won't bail her (or my daughter for that matter) out now. I've done that for her, many times over, but no more. It's hard to do, but she has to stand on her own now.

Hopefully your sister can too.

anna said...

Oh Fiona, I'm so sorry you're being dragged into this again. I think it's time she stands on her own two feet. I don't mean to sound heartless, but I don't see why you should have to pay the price (repeatedly) for her poor choices. You deserve to be happy and to live your life the way you want to live it. I think the only support you should give her is whatever emotional support you can muster.

Great big hugs being sent your way.

Matt Kohai said...

Fi, she's never going to truly change unless she wants to, unless she really does what's required inside. She doesn't sound anywhere near ready for that. You're actually doing her a favor if you take that wonderful security blanket you've been providing her away. You're a crutch she's grown too dependent on, and will never learn to stand on her own as long as she can lean on that crutch.

It's terribly hard. It's going to hurt. But I think deep down, you realize it's right. Perhaps, at some point down the road, she may reach a point of desperation where rehab will actually do her some good - but it doesn't appear that now is that time. (Though you'd know that better than anyone on this blog, I suspect.)

Good luck. If you ever need someone to fling words at about what's going on, feel free, you know how to reach me.

Sunny Delight said...

You had the bravery to finally voice your angst here. Perhaps, you needed to "hear" from others, what you have been telling yourself over and over again.

Tough love, in the end that is usually what it is called.

Your love for your sister shines through in this post, more so than if you were extolling her virtues.

No one can tell us when enough is enough, you will find that day, when the time is right for you.

By the way, I've got room for another dog, so do our hearts, as for the cat, remember we have his twin already.

Big, big, tight hugs sent your way.

chele said...

Tuff love is never easy and you know this all to well. There is a time when you have to step back and let them fall. Been there..

Fiona, You know if there was a way your da loo is welcome to become my new room mate. With my old man being sick and all..I may be in a dire need at some point you realize...He is loved from afar and you know that.

I love you my friend..after reading this I feel bad for dumping my troubles on you this week and you never let on things were wrong on your end..you got to stop that!

Fiona said...

Fusion - never too late :) I need to be selfish now too, I'm realising that. I want to live my own life, make my own plans. And I don't even want to tell her what they are because she'll start to see her own life as an extension of my plans....and I want them to be just mine.

Thanks Anna - sadly her emotional needs are so huge that it's almost impossible to offer up just that. Everything is associated with 'not having' enough. I'm just tired of being the only one I guess.

Matt - I have been telling her and I have been doing my best to show her. It remains to be seen if I can turn my back when she finds herself destitute again, it's hard to have when she has nothing at all. Thank you :)

Sunny - I do love her. Probably I'm the only one who does. Which makes it harder in a way. At some level she understands I need to pull out and have my own life. At another, she's scared to death of losing her only 'free meal'. And than you for the offers, it means so much to me.

Chele - It has really just been more of the same for me. Your beloved Tango hasn't been well, that definitely very rightly took precendence. And I'm so very glad to hear he's on the mend. Hugs


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