“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” ~ Michael Corleone, resident grouch
Despite my general disregard for The Godfather movies (I know, I’m a heathen), that line seems entirely appropriate to start things off. That, and my other way of starting off would have involved deeply philosophical questions like “are we all just figments of the imagination of a writer working at a computer?” Which I’ve worked in anyway.
I can relate to Michael in one way. Aside from that whole making a living preying off the weaknesses of weak people thing, thinking himself above the law, believing that everyone should either fear him or respect him... I could go on, but this is not a diatribe about why I don’t like gangster films.
It’s that feeling of getting pulled back in.
I live with depression.
It’s something that I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. As mental illnesses go, if you have to have one, this you can live with. I can’t imagine what schizophrenia would be like to have to experience personally.
It goes back years... it lingered beneath the surface for years on end. And some years ago it all came crashing down on me, thanks to what we’ll refer to as a trigger event.
I grew up the second youngest of seven siblings in what was a good home, for the most part. Except for two members of the family. My two sisters, both of whom were elder siblings.
It’s only been in retrospect that I’ve been able to understand things about what was going on. Not only the sort of issues that were fueling their personalities, but also mistakes that I was making at the time, and the impact that their words were having on me.
Through therapy, I’ve come to understand a lot. Their behaviour towards me constituted emotional abuse. And my response to it was to internalize everything, to keep things to myself. Ultimately the wrong course of action.
Even before I understood the word itself as a child, I understood how it felt: contempt. My therapist asked once, “did you ever feel loved, valued, by them?” And the answer was no. I never once felt that they loved me, or that I was valued, or that they ever had any interest in my life. Instead, contempt was the feeling I always got from both of them where I was concerned. That happened in different ways, just as their words were different. I expressed this by describing in a visual way what their words were like. The elder sister’s words were like a dagger, stabbing deep- and she could be very two faced in doing that. The second sister’s words, by contrast, were a sledgehammer, smashing hard.
They made some really lousy decisions over the years. A lot of that started from their own beneath the surface issues (oddly, through therapy, it’s possible I understand them better than they understand themselves). For the elder sister, it started with marrying young, to a guy from a troubled family of drunks. That husband was physically abusive. When she finally broke away from that- instead of getting the therapy she would have greatly benefitted from- she started a seemingly endless pattern of bad relationships. Drunks, degenerates, drug users, just plain jerks. They were all variations on the same theme: losers and creeps. That finally ended when her second husband entered the picture. To his credit, he’s always struck me as a stand up kind of guy.
The younger sister met and got involved with another take on entirely the wrong guy. You’ve probably heard me mention the idiot ex-brother-in-law from time to time here or there. Well, this is the guy. His name is Mike. Cro-Magnon Mike, as I’d prefer to think of him. A drunkard, a racist bigot, a jerk, and the sort of guy who’s not that bright. Unfortunately he goes through life thinking he’s smart and that he’s right about everything. He gets into arguments with pretty much everyone, won’t let go of an issue, and gets fired routinely from jobs because he starts arguments. And it’s always someone else’s fault in his mind. Never his own.
Mike and I didn’t get along, let’s just say- in fact, the last time I ever saw him was after my sister had separated from him. He’d come up with her and their son to see my parents when I was visiting too. The three or four days was an ordeal of putting up with this blowhard bigot going on and on about whatever he thought he was right about, driving up the tension in the house. The morning they left, he took me aside, started off by saying, “Now I don’t mean to degrade you...” and then went into a long life lessons diatribe with the subtext “I still think you’re a spoiled brat.” I, meanwhile, was picturing in my mind throwing him head first off the balcony just so he could break his bloody neck, while also mentally restraining myself from doing just that with the reminder: the bastard isn’t worth the jail time.
So there I was, for years on end, being civil and playing nice with a string of guys who, let’s face it, were complete assholes. And why? Because those two sisters would hold grudges forever (and in fact do), and upsetting them was not, according to my line of thought, an option. Because I’d foolishly convinced myself that keeping peace in the family meant not saying what I was thinking. So instead of telling off a drunk or a bigot, I kept all of that negative stuff to myself. And what did that do? It festered inside, bottled up, and just ate away at me.
I blame myself for that. Telling myself that keeping the peace in the family was more important than my own well being cost me. I knew I was hurting, I knew that it was just getting worse, but I kept it to myself. My parents didn’t know I was hurting- I’d become that good at keeping my feelings to myself. It’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life. Because doing that did me nothing but harm. I wish I could go back in time, talk to my thirteen year old self, and tell myself where that path led. But I can’t.
And in the end, that was all for nothing. Those sisters did something horrible- they treated my parents abominably, took over their final move to a retirement home, and yelled and screamed at them. Just made them both feel awful. And they never apologized for it. My mother went to her grave with this schism between her children.
That was the breaking point for me. Everything I’d kept to myself came apart. It was like an avalanche, all smothering and absolute. I was left at the lowest point in my life, broken into pieces, and deep into depression.
I’d come completely apart, felt weak and shredded... I’d sacrificed my emotional health and mental well being for two people who threw it all in my face.
I needed help. I got that through therapy. At first sessions were more frequent, and I still attend them, just not as much as in the beginning. Counselling helped me identify root causes, not just for myself, but them. It’s helped me to pull myself out of that very dark place I was in- and if I have any one thing that frightens me, it’s the idea of ever going back to that low point in my life. I’ve learned a lot through the process. I’ve learned how to push back against depression, techniques and ideas to get through bad days. I’ve talked a lot, and come to decisions and resolutions.
You don’t have to put up with toxic people in your life- especially when they bring you nothing but hurt and never change. That’s the case with them. They’ve caused nothing but pain, and they will never, ever change. I decided that my emotional health had to come first. I decided that I was done with them, that they are, ultimately, no longer my family.
I was doing fine for awhile. I had my rough days, but I could recognize them for what they were, push back against that proverbial black wall, and lift myself out of it. I thought I was getting beyond it all. And then it came back and slammed into me recently, in the form of a dream.
Some elements of it stand out vividly to me. I was out in nature, gazing out at a mountain, feeling entirely at peace... and then it all came to a crashing halt, hearing the younger sister’s voice behind me. I strongly remember the sensation of rolling my eyes and turning around to see her. After that, she did most of the talking, and the other vivid part of the dream that stands out is how it ended. I was breaking down, begging her in a quiet, strained voice to leave me alone.
I woke up feeling like I’d been hit hard. I felt weak, broken inside again, and as if I’d been dragged back into the worst of it. And that feeling stayed with me and persisted. It was pulling me down into the darkness. I felt adrift and helpless, yanked into the depression. It’s a hard thing to put on a smile with people while inside, you’re screaming, it feels like the darkness is collapsing in on you, and all you want to do is go curl up beneath the covers and shut the world out. That's how it felt for me during that rough spell.
When the depression has been bad and I’ve thought of them, some of the things that have gone through my mind have been quite bleak. I’ve felt like they ruined my life, that they destroyed my capacity for life. Well, I had a hand in that too, because like I said, I knew I was hurting, I could have stopped myself and just said, “no more, I can’t do this anymore.” Instead I foolishly blundered on and let that accumulated negativity just keep building and building inside. But they were the ones with the words like knives and sledgehammers, stabbing and slamming into me. They were the ones whose behaviour was unacceptable. And they’re the ones who will never change.
So there I was, feeling like all the progress I’d made in therapy had been for naught. If I could get thrown for this and have this kind of reaction to a dream, what would it mean if I faced either of them in person?
It helped to at least say that I was having a rough spell, and to see the reactions to it. It also helped that as busy as work was keeping me... that I came to a realization that while working, my mind wasn’t at all occupied by the depression. I could set it aside and just push forward. As discouraged as the depression was making me feel, that realization was encouraging, and probably marked the point when things started to lift.
I had a session as well. A lot of what I’ve said above I said in the session, which felt cathartic. I spoke of all of that, and more. I mentioned a trait I’ve seen in myself since all of this began, and it’s not something I’m proud of, it’s just... there. It’s a bit of a mean streak. It rears itself up when socially speaking it doesn’t matter what I say- like on Facebook if I get snarky or downright nasty with a troll. I think that comes from having to bite my tongue for so many years with so many assholes. I don’t see the point to being polite or civil to an asshole or an idiot anymore, so I’m not. I wasted too many years doing precisely that, and so that shows itself in my responses. Besides, the guys (and for the most part, it’s always guys, our half of the species is far too often appalling) deserve the scorn they get, not just from me, but anyone else calling them out.
As for that dream? The therapist ventured an interesting point of view. What would I do if I could rewrite that dream. The answer was simple: just walk away from her. Not bother to engage, listen, or put up with her. I’d made the decision a long while back to cut them out of my life, to protect myself first and foremost. Anything else gives them control. It gives them power.
I came out of the session feeling considerably better. Writing this makes me feel better. I’ve also been making use of some of those techniques in recent days. Music is a good method to fight back against depression- I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music, and it does have a way of lifting the spirits.
I suppose it’s possible that either of them might read this at some point. In which case, figuratively speaking, they’d be having a nuclear meltdown as they read this.
I don’t care.
I’ve made my choice.
They are not my sisters anymore.
They are not family.
They are just strangers.
I want nothing to do with them.
I choose to be free of their poison.
They will never change. They’re not capable of change.
Trusting them or believing one word they say will end only in hurt. And I’ve been hurt far too much already. I’m done with both of them. I want them to leave me alone. You can only hurt someone so many times before they’ve said enough, never again. And there also comes a point when an apology, even if you mean it, will no longer be accepted.
I choose to protect myself. I choose my own mental health. I choose my emotional well being.
There are consequences to actions, and this is yours: I am no longer your brother.
Your lives are your own. Just stay the hell out of mine.