Yesterday I talked about disconnecting yourself from a defunct relationship, one where there is no hope of ever reconciling and yet you still feel a sense of connection to your loved one. I said:
To a certain extent, time disconnects us from our past relationships — the longer we are separated, unless we cling hold on to the past, the weaker the connection. Simply living helps us disconnect — the more we live, the more new, unshared memories we make, the more the connection recedes. Going back to where we were before we made the original connection also helps.
This was good advice as far as it goes. My situation was the opposite. After the death of my life mate/soul mate, I couldn’t feel any sort of connection, just a vast emptiness where he used to be, a terrible goneness. Time didn’t make any difference, at least not by itself. The truth is, if we don’t do what we can to heal those wounds ourselves, time doesn’t do much of anything except perhaps offer a different perspective. As Rose Kennedy wrote, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
In my case, the person I needed to disconnect from was . . . me. The coupled me. My shared life was defunct, so I did what I could to develop memories of my new life alone. Since I can’t physically go back to where I was, I’ve tried to go there mentally. Remembering who I was before him has helped tremendously in moving past him. I had a life before our shared life, and I have one afterward — it’s just a matter of connecting those two lives with the best of both. and to pick up the pieces of me when I was alone.
My problem now is that I need to disconnect from another person, one with whom I have an ongoing relationship, and I don’t know how to do it, don’t know if it’s possible or even if it’s even a charitable thing to do.
A have a problematic sibling who is depressed, possibly bi-polar, probably an alcoholic, verbally abusive, full of fury, manipulative, desperately needy, and relentless in pursuit those needs. (He’s also brilliant and exceedingly creative, and spent most of his life composing music and writing songs that have never been sung.) He has been nearby for several months, and therein lies the problem since his anger now seems to be focused on me. (He thinks I have it easy being here looking after my father, and doesn’t see how stressful it is being torn between the two of them, as I have been my whole life.) If I could find out what he wanted, perhaps I could help, but he is cagy (paranoid is more like it) and talks around his needs. (He hates being a charity case, hates when people do things for him, and hates even more when people don’t.) He won’t go for treatment, blames everyone else for his problems, and doesn’t know how to take care of himself. Mostly, it seems as if he is lost inside a whirlwind of unfocused energy.
I’m trying to disconnect mentally from him so that his words don’t wound. I’m trying to disconnect emotionally from his problems, because I can’t see the situation clearly if I am bleeding for him. I’m trying to disconnect from his anger, because if I don’t, I absorb that anger and . . . well, let’s just say I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison for manslaughter.
I do okay most of the time, juggling his needs and my father’s. Physical activity and outings with friends help dissipate my stress, and if those don’t work, short bursts of tears do. I can’t go back to where I was before he came into my life, because he has always been there. I used to think I’d never be free until he was dead, and maybe that’s true, but it’s not how I want to live my life — wishing someone were dead so I could live free. What I really wish, though, is that he were strong, healthy, happy, and somewhere else.
I am taking the lessons I learned from grief and applying them to this situation as well as I can. Despite our shared genetics, I tell myself he is a separate person with his own journey. (I wrote “his own demons” but replaced it with “journey” since I know nothing about demons, not even the euphemistic kind.) He is not me. His anger is not mine. Just because he says something, his words don’t make it so. His problems are not of my making, even though he likes to tell me they are. My solutions are not necessarily his solutions.
Although I’ve talked around this situation before, alluding to a family problem with roots going back to childhood, I haven’t talked specifically about it out of loyalty to him. But blogging is the best way I have of putting things into perspective, and my writing about this situation now is a way of distancing myself from him even further, since I know how irate he would be to have me mentioning him. But as Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.