Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Brother's Keeper

Oof, annoying personal post. What can I say, sometimes you need to vent at the internet because it's a big void full of people doing the same thing.

For as long as I can remember I've had to manage my brother's temper, abusive tendencies, and tantrums. Some of my earliest memories are of being subjected to violent outbursts that I would have to calm, or endure. It's not that my parents didn't care, but they didn't really know what to do and at a certain point I think they just relied on me to "fix" whatever it was because I was, and continue to be, the reasonable one. The fact that I'm still being asked to do that in our 30's, from more than 3 thousand miles away, has finally worn thin.

My brother is an alcoholic. If he wasn't an alcoholic he'd be abusing some other substance, being one of the few people I know to have had a destructively addictive relationship with pot. The fact that that stuff didn't really mellow him out any should tell you just how angry he is as a person, and how little control he feels compelled to have over it.

I don't write about my brother or my family very much because I care about their feelings and I know they can easily find and read this blog. Contrary to what some members of my family think, I have a heart, and I don't like to hurt people. But I've reached critical mass on what I can put up with and I'm tired of sacrificing my own feelings for theirs, when they demonstrably could not possibly care less about how their actions effect others.

So, some context:

Over the past 4 years my family has been slowly disintegrating. It began a long time before that, but the loss of an inheritance started an absolute avalanche of disasters. The house my parents live in is in a very expensive county in NY. It is also mortgaged by quite a lot. For whatever reason, the mortgage was not taken care of when the inheritance was still intact, so when it was lost, it became a huge financial problem. Neither of my parents were working full time, nor did they choose to retire from former full time work, so the taxes + mortgage became a crisis. And it has been for at least 3 or so years now. My brother, who has been living with my parents rent free since he was 16 and dropped out of high school, stepped in by offering what he could. Money. He makes a good living as a garbage man and, since he's had very few costs, could help. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough and there's been a constant struggle to barely make ends meet, with the bank breathing down their necks and constantly threatening foreclosure.

Now, I live across the country. I also work and so does my husband. We've been supporting ourselves since college and, though we work hard and do fine for ourselves, we are not able to offer extra assistance because we just don't have it. In lieu of that, a few years ago I told my mother to get the silverware my grandmother left me (the only thing I have of hers) appraised and sell it. It was worth over 10 grand years ago, I would hope it's worth more now. I don't know if they did anything with it, but I did that because they needed it. I also bought my mom a cell phone so she wouldn't be without and have done what I could when I can. Of course, I feel guilty I can't do more. But you can't give what you don't have, and Chris and I have to support ourselves first. That's just how it is.

I respect and appreciate everything my brother has done and I think he's been a wonderful son. I've never said otherwise. This is important because every time my brother gets drunk he dregs up weird, random, and usually made up "issues" from the past. He can hold on to a grudge like no one else, and, should you not say something exactly the way he wants it to be said, will hold it against you for as long as he can. He does this by basically talking about the same things over and over, so he can construct ammunition for an inevitable meltdown. I have, on occasion, gotten pretty tired of having the same phone conversation with him for the past 4 years, which tends to be a variation on 4 subjects, usually in a passive-aggressive tone.

They are:

1. He has sacrificed everything for my parents and is therefore a better son than I am a daughter. I must always confirm and reiterate this. Which is fine, I don't disagree, exactly. I just don't think I should be blamed for establishing my own life and goals and pursuing them. They are all adults and I can't solve every problem they have just because they want me to. Also, and not to be a huge jerk, but...he lived rent/food/utility free for over 10 years. I have not been doing that. He has the extra income because, quite frankly, he hasn't been supporting himself. I have supported a two person household on my own income alone, without healthcare. I've earned what I have just as much as he has.

2. Even though he made a series of shitty decisions (dropping out of HS, getting arrested, restraining order, drinking/drugs etc)...ultimately it's my fault he feels badly about himself because he's a garbage man and I'm not. My answer to this has always been: your job is actually useful on a daily, functional level. While I love what I do, I'm not delusional. His job makes it so we aren't all swimming in disease and filth, which is pretty damn important. I help people tell stories or tell stories of my own. While I'm not denigrating that, a healthy sense of perspective is important. However, I've been saying this for as long as he's been doing this for a living. I am not responsible for the choices that led him there, and if he's genuinely unhappy, there are other things he could pursue. He is not without means or ability. So this has gotten really fucking old at this point.

3. Because I cannot support my parents financially, nor will I subject myself to constant emotional drama...I don't care about family the same way he does. I am therefore cold and unfeeling, and again, a bad daughter/sister. I don't show the proper amount of gratitude for whatever it is he thinks I should be grateful for, blah blah, family. To be frank, I'm not really big on family right now, considering caring about "family" apparently means being abusive and shitty the second someone doesn't do what you want them to the instant you want them to do it. I am allowed to avoid drunk texts that are not going anywhere good. I care a lot about my family, but they are emotionally predatory. Unless I want to end up deeply resenting all of them and actually not being able to care anymore, I choose not to engage with certain kinds of b.s., such as drunk texts/phone calls.

4. Nothing is ever my brother's fault, really, it's all someone else, probably me, and it's my job to make him feel better and "talk him down" when he's upset about something. Also, women are crazy bitch/whore/cunts because his dating life is always insane because A. he is unstable B. he pursues unstable women C. he cheats a LOT.

This all leads, usually, to discussing the fact that sometimes I got angry at him when we were kids after he would HIT ME, so I was kind of a shitty sister who now owes him...something. Everything. Depends on how much he's had to drink and how maudlin it's gotten. It should also be noted that I am often requested to call and talk to him while he's having a meltdown with someone else, or to call and "make your brother feel better" about something. Which makes me responsible for his emotional well-being, which is not really fair. After awhile I don't really want to talk to him about much of anything because I know exactly how it's all going to go. Which is badly.

The above is all followed up eventually by declarations of how much he loves me and is proud of me, by the way. You know, the same sort of thing an abuser does when they tear you down and then bring you flowers to say how sorry they are, but you kind of brought it on yourself. I can't imagine why I suddenly wouldn't want to hear that for the upteenth time.

Which brings us to last night. It started with a series of messaged to my husband on X-Box. This tends to only happen on the weekends after my brother has been drinking. Maybe he wasn't last night, but that's pretty unlikely. Because my husband didn't respond to him right away, and then couldn't chat, we got a bunch of "you suck, we're family, I deserve a response" messages that were, frankly, weird.

Then I got a text message that said more or less the same thing. By that point I was really annoyed because he was channeling every other alcoholic in our family and being a complete ass. It's embarrassing, and although my husband is used to it and gracious about it, my brother was acting like he'd done something wrong. So I sent him a text, and it wasn't particularly nice. It said, rather succinctly, please sober up and then maybe we can chat.

Well, I definitely hit the hornets nest on that one. I got one unpleasant text right after sending it, and then about an hour or so later got a bombardment of texts that ended with "you arrogant selfish bitch, you are dead to me". Because that's not overly dramatic at all. The rest of the texts contained various gems about how he works harder than anyone, especially us, I don't act like a sister and never respond to his calls (gee, I wonder why), and a few other things that didn't make much sense and just confirmed the fact that he'd been drinking. I'm pretty sure the "works harder" thing was part rationalization that, if he works hard, he is allowed to drink and be abusive. It's important to note that I made absolutely no comment on his work at all, but he immediately jumped to me somehow criticizing his job or thinking I work harder than he does. Hence the "arrogant selfish bitch" part. Obviously it doesn't matter what I've said for the last 10 years or so, what he hears is whatever he wants. And he can't feel important or good about himself unless he's putting other people down. Okee dokee.

It's been quite a few years since this kind of nutty meltdown was directed at me, but I'm not surprised. Whenever I stop just putting up with things I generally get this kind of backlash. The only thing I'm surprised about is that he didn't also call me a fat cunt. But at least he can't throw things or hit me, I'm too far away.

The thing about all of this is that it's really sad. It's sad that my family is so damaged. It's sad that some of them need to lash out and be awful just to feel more in control. It's sad that alcoholism can twist and distort things inside people so much that they can't see what they're doing to themselves or others. It's sad that self-medicating is so destructive.

However, as sad I think it is, and as much as I care...I just can't do this with them anymore. I can't be this person they latch on to and use for whatever emotional need they have...to be constantly dragged into whatever drama they're currently reveling a bit too much in. It's not healthy for anyone, and in that sense I am absolutely going to be selfish.

Of course, I can't help but find the humor in all of this. The level of irony involved makes it impossible not to. And there's always something darkly humorous in any family nightmare...especially when it involved adult equivalents of childish temper tantrums. I mean, there's something hilarious about an alcoholic yelling at you, via barely coherent texts, about how "pathetic" you are and how you're "afraid of life" because you've actually gotten help for your depression. Not to mention moved three thousand miles away while they still live with their parents for no good reason. Clearly I am the one with a problem.

The fact that this all started on X-Bof is just the absolute perfect icing on this shitty cake. My brother may be 31, but the inverse would be more accurate in terms of maturity. Hopefully he can scream this crap at fellow Gears of War players and rest easy in the knowledge that at least he's not a racist, homophobic, antisemitic, sexist, 12 year old. Everyone has to feel superior to someone, I guess. *

*My husband is an avid gamer and game designer. I'm just denigrating the jackasses who say that stuff, not gamers in general.

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