Blogging and Disloyalty

Sometimes I feel disloyal blogging about all the problems I have with my family’s various infirmities, whether physical or mental, as if I am betraying them, my father and brother especially. And yet, these problems are the same ones other people are struggling with — aged parents and dysfunctional siblings or offspring. It’s in talking of these matters that we discover how un-unusual the problems are — we all have seem to have the care of someone thrust on us, disrupting our lives.

Some people have to deal with various other problems, of course, such as caring for a spouse’s infirmities, but I don’t have much to say about such matters since my coupled days are behind me.

While my life mate/soul mate was dying, I seldom talked privately and never publicly about his decline or the problems it caused me — that truly would have felt like a betrayal, as if I were exposing him or as if I were talking about matters that did not belong to me. To cope, I simply drew within and continued to live as best as I could. His death catapulted me out of that state, enatugofwarbling me to launch my angst-ridden cry into cyberspace. I’m not sure he would have approved of my being so open about my feelings, but by then, he no longer had a say in my life. Besides, my grief belonged to me alone.

I doubt I will ever feel that intense loyalty again, which is good. I no longer want or am able to live in the empty spaces in my soul.

Last night I blogged out my frustration with my father’s panic attack and the mindlessly mean way he acted. It enabled me to sleep peacefully (well, sort of) last night and wake up encouraged enough to go on.

The time is coming, perhaps soon, when my father can no longer be allowed to have his way about staying alone when I am out of the house, but despite the minor emergency last night, I’m inclined to let things remain as they are awhile longer. He is terrified of losing control, and he is someone who has always had to have steely control — of himself, his family, his surroundings. (You’d think I’d take delight in this gradual erosion of his control, considering how domineering he was in my youth, but I find no joy in watching his decline.)

Still, disloyal or not, I will need to continue blogging about my problems as life and death persist with their game of tug of war. It’s a matter of my survival.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Living Inside a Disordered Mind

People keep asking me why I have anything to do with my verbally abusive, demanding, and dysfunctional brother. To be honest, I don’t know what else to do. I realize he is not my responsibility, but neither is he the responsibility of the state, the penal system or whatever social services might be available. (He does have a court date coming up for being intoxicated in public, so it might be taken out of my hands, but even if he shows up, which I doubt, I don’t think he’ll get a severe sentence.)

Partly, I put up with his abuse because I feel sorry for him. He seems to have gotten himself in way over his head, augmenting poor genes and a hard childhood with bad decisions, bad luck, and self-medication for emotional disorders. Partly I put up with him because I sense that inside of a tornado of unfocused energy that manifests itself as rage, the real person is scurrying around, looking for a way out. And partly I put up with him because . . . well, contrary to what he believes, I am a kind and compassionate person.

Yes, I know I have to take care of myself first, and I do. In fact, I’m going on a hike tomorrow, will be gone for most of the day, but that only gives me a respite. When I return, it will be to his demands, his anger, his hatred. Though he exhausts me, I can only believe he exhausts himself even more. Because of his various disorders, he seems to project himself onto me, and if it is true that what he says to me, he is really saying to himself, he hates himself beyond belief. To be honest, I don’t much like him, either, and would just as soon not have to deal with him at all.

Still, he is so broken, not just physically, with many badly healed bones and various painful maladies, not just emotionally, but also mentally. It must be hard living inside a mind that harbors, protects, and polishes to a high sheen every hurt no matter how great and every slight no matter how small with equal fervor. It must be hard not to be able to differentiate between important thoughts and trivial thoughts since all thoughts are given equal weight and voice. It must be hard to be so needy, and yet be unable to meet those needs or to ask for help. It must be hard to be closed off to anything good, to be so caught up in one’s misery, hatred, and fury, that nothing can breach the walls.

I guess in the end I put up with him because I am so very glad I am not him, and I feel a bit guilty about that.

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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.

Enabling or Decency and Caring?

Kaypacha Pele says that this week’s mantra is:

“I feel that Life is upping the stakes,
Just to see what it will take,
To get me to stand up tall and straight.”

Oh, so very true! I’m in a difficult situation, one in which there is no real solution, no right way of dealing with problem, no wrong way. And the situation keeps escalating beyond anything I’ve ever had to deal with before. (I was going to say escalating beyond my power to deal with it, but that isn’t correct. I am dealing with it. Just don’t know what the right way is, or if there is a right way.)

In Applying the Lessons of Grief, I wrote about a homeless sibling who is depressed, possibly bi-polar, probably an alcoholic, verbally abusive, furious, 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.) He has been living here for several months, and therein lies the problem since his anger now seems to be focused on me. (He thinks I have it easy 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.

Although my father would like to invite him to live here, it’s not possible. My brother is restless, doesn’t sleep, is unable to stay still. He’d wander away in the middle of the night, leaving the front door wide open. He is a pack rat, surrounding himself with piles and piles and piles of trash, never shuts up, drinks constantly, all of which made my 97-year-old father a nervous wreck. And me, too, actually. When my brother stayed in the house, he used to come into my room every night and scream invectives at me (“porky pig” and “whore” are about the two nicest things he has ever said), because he thought I was working against him in his efforts to reconcile with our father.

For the last few months, he’s been camping out in the garage, which has seemed to be the best solution all around. My father could relax and go about his business of growing ever older and at the same time could be assured my brother was taken care of. Of course, that care fell on me. I’d make sure he had food, clean clothes, access to a shower, arranged for dental care and even made sure he kept the appointments. A couple of times when he was too crippled with sciatica to make his daily trek to the liquor store, I made the trip for him. (I can hear you screaming “enabler!” But it is not my place to decide when he is going to stop drinking.)

When he gets wound up in his whirlwind of unfocused energy, he becomes relentless in his need to be heard. He often knocks on my window at night, wanting to talk, and I used to answer the knock because . . . well, isn’t that something we all want? To be heard? Unfortunately, what he usually wanted to tell me is how fat, lazy, stupid and useless I am, living in a cocoon of ease that I don’t deserve. When I refuse to answer his knock, he bangs on the window every few minutes for hours. I’ve gotten used to it, and ignore it, though a couple of times the neighbors called the police. (I asked the police what they could do — they said they could arrest him. “Then what?” I asked. They said, “We let him go. If he comes back, we can arrest him again.” I asked, “Then what?” “We can arrest him again.” I said, “Then what?” “Arrest him.” Oh, yeah, like I want to spend the rest of my life caught in the hamster wheel of the justice system.)

It all came to a head yesterday. After a sleepless night due to his shenanigans, I went out to tell him I’d be gone most of the day (to keep him from disturbing my father with his endless pounding on my windows for attention) and found my car covered with invectives written in black marker. Some of the markings came clean with toothpaste (makes me wonder what it’s doing to our teeth if it’s such an all-purpose cleaner) but other markings didn’t come clean at all, not with Windex, Magic Eraser, isopropyl alcohol or any of the other possible solutions I found on the internet, so I painted over the words with acrylic paint. He was lying in his sleeping bag, laughing drunkenly at me while I was cleaning my car. I was so angry, I kicked him and kicked him again. (Not something I am proud of. I also almost strangled him once and slapped him another time. Never in my entire adult life have I lifted a hand to another human being, not even in self-defense, and yet somehow, he raises true homicidal tendencies in me.)

I cleaned my car, went to an exercise class, and at lunch afterward (well, we had to replace all those burnt calories, didn’t we?) I mentioned my problem. Later, I got a call from one of the women, a retired psychiatric nurse. She was kind, but pointed out that I was enabling him. That I had to call the police, get him out of here. At the very least, she told me I needed to start keeping a journal of his abuse. (I started last night.) She also suggested my leaving for a while or spending entire days or weekends away so that my father wouldn’t take me so much for granted. (He can still mostly take care of himself, so it’s not a problem if I leave.) Told me that I’m being torn between two puppet masters.

Oddly, hers wasn’t the only unsolicited advice I got yesterday.

A friend who is a holistic therapist with Buddhist leanings told me that there was no right or wrong. That if I kept helping my brother as a fellow human being, that was okay, just not to take his karma on myself.

An astrologer told me that according to my horoscope, I need to let go of being attached to a past dysfunctional emotional pattern or pain that began in childhood. (Oh, so true! One reason I am sympathetic to my brother is that I remember the bewildered boy and angry teen trying to deal with a my-way-or-the-highway father.)

A writer friend told me to keep a journal of what my brother does, and to write a book about it someday.

This is all so complicated. I do understand about enabling and tough love and all the rest of it, but where does one draw the line? It’s important to me to be decent and caring. It’s also important to me not to end up in prison for manslaughter. (How fitting that word is! The “mans laughter” was the final straw.)

I considered leaving and letting the two men fend for or fend off each other, but I am making friends here, have made various plans for the next couple of months, and am not yet ready to be homeless myself.

In the end, it was my own response to my brother’s abuse that turned something off inside of me. I can see that as a fellow human being, he deserves certain basics, such as cleanliness, so I told my father that from now on, if my brother wanted to take a shower, he was to come to the front door and ask. If he wanted food, he was to come to the front door and ask. Since this is my father’s house, it is up to him to allow my brother access or not. I don’t want to have anything to do with my brother any more. While I might be sympathetic to his plight, he made choices that I never did. (We both knew from a young age that we inherited a tendency toward alcoholism and substance dependency. I stayed away from both; he ran toward them with open arms.)

Life. Such a strange thing it is. I hope I am standing up tall and straight.

***

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.

Are You Your Brother’s Keeper?

I went to lunch with a few friends today. One is dealing with an aged mother who seems to either be bipolar or downright evil, jealous of her own daughter and unable to say a single nice thing to her. Another woman had such a mother, and the mother’s death set her free.

desert knollsWhen it comes to a parent, I can see that perhaps you have no choice but to deal with her (or him) as best as you can, but how much responsibility does one grown sibling have for another? If the sibling has some sort of mood disorder (undiagnosed and untreated), are you obligated to put up with their invectives and haranguing? And if so, how do you deal with it without being destroyed in the process?

If the mood-disordered sibling is also homeless, are you obligated to give that sibling a home? If you’re not in a position to give the sibling a home, what then are you supposed to do? Is it ever okay to walk away and leave the sibling to deal with life as best as possible on the streets? What if the sibling is suffering  with once broken bones that were never set and other painful issues because of a lack of insurance? And what if the sibling is also an alcoholic? How much responsibility do you have then, especially if the sibling doesn’t want to hear anything you have to say and misinterprets even the smallest gesture of kindness, such as the offer of a bit of food?

Is one ever free from the situation? If you walk away, how do you keep your heart from breaking? If you stay in contact, being subjected to so much anger and hatred, how do you keep your spirit from breaking?

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.