There are many lessons that come up regularly as I continue to heal.
Though one of the main ones and one I want to share with you is;
You can’t save anyone.
This past week, an old and tired situation with a family member of mine showed up for me and while there were moments that I could have gone back into muscle memory, entertained the distraction and ignored my intuition – this time, I decided to chose differently.
Please let me explain.
On my mom’s side, I have a brother and a sister.
My twin sister and an older brother who is four years older than me.
Growing up, he was very problematic.
Always getting in trouble, always being yelled at and consistently being labeled as ‘having adhd’ or just ‘being a fuck up.’
Not including, he has been in and out of prison since I was in elementary school. (on and off for 20 years.)
Because of that, he was never home for a long period of time and even if he was, he was usually out anyways.
He also ended up getting involved with drugs, alcohol and other illegal activities at a very young age, too.
As a teenager, I envied him.
My dad came back into my life around 11 and was insanely strict and often wouldn’t allow my sister and I to leave the house.
I mention this because … from my young perspective, it seemed like my brother had it all.
He was able to leave and come home late. Often with no consequences.
Which when you are a pre-teen/teenager, that type of freedom you would do anything for.
Though, as I got a little older, and the reality of his mental illness started becoming more apparent, …
I then, started to have sympathy for him.
I felt bad for him.
I knew that we were dealt the same hands but with him it was (or so I wanted to believe) a little different.
He seemed way more ignored.
He seemed to have a learning issue.
And without a solid father figure and a mother who was completely emotionally incapable – he searched for belonging else where.
He searched for a home.
A place where he felt wanted.
Talking about things that made him feel powerful.
Which to him ended up being .. a life of addiction.
It was unfortunate.
My mother was an alcoholic.
My father was an alcoholic/drug addict.
My brother was a drug addict.
SIDE NOTE: Have you lived with an addict?
You never come first.
You are lied to, manipulated often and stressed the fuck out — most of the time.
It was a life I knew and kept secret.
A life that was brutal … lonely and stole my entire adolescent and young adult life.
Drugs I didn’t do.
Alcohol I didn’t drink.
Though, consequences I felt.
A handful of years and 2,000 miles later …
I learned about narcissism.
I was trying my hardest to understand what happened in my life and where I could take responsibility and move forward.
My ambition was healthy.
My intentions were pure.
But my brother and my mother were both still living with me and there’s only so much you can do to mentally exit a toxic situation, if you choose to remain in it.
My brother was trying for the fourth time in 10 years .. to make things ‘right,’ in California.
Apparently, he had just gotten out of prison (again) and needed ‘support.’
This after 3 previous other live in attempts that resulted in walking in on an overdose, thousands of dollars being stolen from me and expensive clothes of mine, being sold.
This after realizing he wasn’t the only problem.
This after realizing both of my parents are highly narcissistic and abusive.
None of this was normal.
None of what we were experiencing was normal.
We normalized it because that’s what we were used to.
So, we continued to go on like this.
I remember when he showed up at my door this last time (the 4th attempt) without me knowing he was coming.
I still had the anger, rage and sadness for all the other times he tried to stay with us and sabotaged it.
I still had anger for all of the years he left my sister and I alone, battling alcoholism and violence by ourselves.
But as I mentioned, I starting learning about narcissism and all of it’s components.
I learned about gas-lighting.
I learned about codependency and tolerance.
I learned about how much I was mothering a child that wasn’t mine.
It was calm at first. (It’s always calm in the beginning after someone gets out of prison.)
The inner child in me was comforted.
I knew there was a lot of work to do. A lot of words to be spoken.
And this was where I normally thrived.
The old parts of me were instantly alerted and up and running;
Learning lessons for others
Giving, giving, giving with any mutual benefit,
Feeling guilty for my intelligence and success,
Enabling behaviors because I fucking felt bad.
But that last time was different.
I started really noticing the similarities between him and my mom.
It was devastating to me.
For so long, … I thought that he was like my sister and I.
He just needed a chance.
Someone to believe in him.
A year without criticism.
The things that my sister and I were also craving.
I thought I could offer that.
I thought I had all of this new knowledge and if I just shared it with him, …
I could show him the way!
Then more behaviors started showing up, …
The lying about little shit.
The gas-lighting me,
The talking shit when I wasn’t around only to deny it when I brought it up again, …
Being called crazy and over dramatic ..
Coin change (yes, coin change) being stolen …
The insane selfishness.
Everything I’d already been shown multiple times before.
Then shit hit the fan … (as it always did with him) and he got locked up again.
Sent back home.
And it’s been two years.
A lot has happened since then.
A lot of truths have come to life.
A lot of decisions have been made.
Most importantly, the clarity I have around the boundaries that I have set up.
The boundaries that are no longer a new subject to just bring up in conversation in hopes to educate someone else.
The boundaries that are no longer a weapon I threaten with, if I don’t get what I want.
The boundaries that are now firmly and calmly .. non-negotiable.
I spent the last two years completely draining that type of toxicity from my system.
And I didn’t skip a day of feeling that.
Not including, I spent the last 8 months of it, completely separating from our own mother.
A mother who lied for him. Covered for him. Enabled him and kept him dependent.
A mother who took advantage of my strength, abused my compassion and stole every opportunity I had to build a relationship with a sibling that I’ve barely ever known.
So, .. it’s been two years.
Two years of peace and silence and 1 letter from prison that might as well be saved on their desktop for how many times I’ve read the same sentences.
The ‘im sorry’s ..’
The ‘I need my family ..’
The ‘I know I messed up …I cant do this without you guys, I’ll be better this time. ‘
Except this last letter was begging and pleading with my sister and I to go ‘easy’ on our mother.
To not be ‘so mean,’ and not to ‘kick her out.’
A mother that all three of us had previously agreed was too toxic to be around.
A mother he was now defending.
I wasn’t offended.
I expected it.
After witnessing the similar behaviors, after understanding how dependent my mother had conditioned all of us to be just for her to feel needed, …
I honestly had a little bit of compassion.
And just ripped up the letter.
Time had passed and I didn’t know when exactly he was getting out of prison but my grandma mentioned a time frame before she died .. so I have to admit, I wasn’t completely blind sided when we heard from him.
It was a text message.
He expressed sadness.
The.. I’m sorry.
The ..I need my family.
The .. I know I messed up and can’t do it without you.
I was irritated at first.
I was in the middle of writing an email and the imessage on my computer popped up.
I genuinely thought, Oh god.
I thought about not responding but decided that a quick a ‘this isn’t an option. Try going a whole year being sober and not hurting anyone and then maybe we’ll have a conversation,’ message would do the trick.
But of course, ..
I first see the ‘I understand,’ (part of me un-trusting, part of me hopeful for his potential new ‘maturity)
Then … minutes later he followed up, ..
But this … and that …
Going into how depressed he is.
And how because I have my sister, it’s been way easier for me …
And how he doesn’t know how he can go on much longer.
Shit I’ve heard before.
Threats to get attention.
The acting out he did as a child just for someone to notice him.
Most importantly, and this is what I want to share – he didn’t respect my boundary.
For someone who has behaved like he has and betrayed like he has, the fact that I even responded was a huge gift.
I somehow chose compassion.
But EVEN THEN – it was not enough.
I felt myself getting triggered in the moment.
Remembering when engaging with my mother, .. how my words were never enough.
I always had to get violent or threaten to do something, just to get her to take me seriously.
Because it was always about what she was going through and what she needed at the time.
Now fast forward, … dealing with a sibling of mine who ended up picking up all of her nasty traits.
The biggest one being; a lack of self- responsibility.
Old me would have brought out the fucking intellect train.
Fact after fact … information after information … — just hoping that I could finally get to him.
Finally prove MY POINT!
Old me would have been triggered by the small minded belief that my life was ever easy for me.
I could have yelled, screamed and shook him through the phone.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME???
He continued to type and plead …
Getting angry ..
Saying that I’ll never understand.
I finally said – ‘even if you got what you wanted, it will never be enough.’
He threatened suicide.
I picked up the phone to shut the situation down and to no one’s surprise .. he didn’t pick up.
I called again and again.
This time, starting to worry ..
My resentment was building but the human in me was genuinely worrying.
Flashing back to years prior …
Situation after situation …
Being up late at night searching jail databases, …
Calling hospitals to see if his body had shown up …
Driving around town …
All while my mother chose to stay home and sleep.
Flashing back to all the responsibility I took for everyone else’s well-being.
Flashing back to feeling that if something bad were to happen, then it was my fault.
I didn’t do enough.
I didn’t say enough.
I am not enough.
I watched myself experience this, …
I witnessed my body getting stressed out and my heart start to close …
I started feeling emotionally removed and distant, …
Instantly exhausted and angry …
I finally looked to my sister and I said enough.
We know better now.
We can’t save him.
We can’t save her.
We can’t save anyone.
Compassion is not the same as tolerance.
Being abused is not an excuse to then abuse other people.
We are not responsible for him.
We are not in charge of his health.
We are not in control of what he choses to do or not do.
We know better to stay in our lane now.
He will either figure it out or he won’t.
We were both feeling drained.
Though, relieved at our clarity and gentle with our humanity.
We never wanted him to fail.
We spent years trying to get him on the right side of all of this.
And we still want that – for him to succeed.
This time, just not with us.
It doesn’t make us bad people.
It doesn’t make us selfish.
It doesn’t make us anything other than proud of all the work we’ve done behind the scenes to navigate these situations a little better.
Proud that we were able to witness the old story playing out and return to what we know to be true.
It was a lesson we’ve learned before, and a lesson we learned again.
You can’t save anyone.
It doesn’t matter what you say, do, compromise or accept – people will be who they want to be.
They will see what they want to see and feel what they want to feel.
We are only in control of us.
And us, … is where we’ve learned to love to be.