Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Getting Dragged Right Back In

“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.


  1. I am so proud of you for going public with this. It's not an easy thing to do, making yourself so vulnerable after years of keeping everything inside. But it was time, for your own sake, to dump the garbage, so to speak. I have my own theories about why they treated you so badly, but the only thing that really matters is that you be free of the past. We can't go back; we can only move forward--and this is a big step for you.

  2. Like myself, you have the option of surrounding yourself with friends who care. You can choose them unlike family. I had paranoid schizophrenic parents with PTSD.(Survived European Holocaust) You can imagine my family was bizarre. Though I resembled them, we had little in common and I had few places to go for relief. Writing is the best. My short novella about The Fifth Commandment reflects some of my dreams and inner turmoil. Even worst though is my need to push and get away has filled me with immense guilt because now they are gone. Even my younger brother who was always torn between worrying about his sisters or taking care of parents, or getting a job. The pressure was too great for his heart. Now I'm sick too but they are giving me strong medications that pull me from writing but will hopefully prolong my life filled with more carefully selected friends and writing. You are a valuable person and this post touched my heart. Keep the faith!

  3. I'm so sorry you had to go through this, but I'm glad to see you are putting your needs first. You need to. People like this aren't worth your time or emotions.

  4. What an ordeal to go through. I know how hard it is when you have emotionally abusive family members. I don't know how you ever kept your mouth shut when that idiot basically called you a spoiled brat ("I don't mean to degrade you" my ass). I hope things get better for you. Depression is a nasty beast to have to deal with.

  5. Wow! Who needs enemies when you've got special family members. Glad you go to therapy. My mom is my problem and my sister's and my brother's. From birth, we've been dealing with her pathological lies, bi-polar, and narcissistic behaviors. Never in all my life did I think she could and would continue to abuse us into and throughout our adulthood. and even though we don't speak to her and there are three states between her and us, she still gets away with abuse. One day several novels will reflect those scenarios. The Lie is one of them. Mine and my childrens' lives were crushed by what she did. All my daughters have terrible
    memories. Two of them are addicts and can't shake that part of the destruction in their lives. Sir Wills, I suffer from PSTD. It can be debilitating and misunderstood at times. I abhore injustice of any kind.

  6. Willian, your are very strong to have written this and so much more healthy.
    Just change your sisters for my x. I know this story. The only problem is I chose him and the children and I payed and are still paying the price of his destructive actions towards us. They never speak to him and have cut off all contact. my guilt is huge.
    I think you are on the right path, depression is a huge rock to have strapped to your back.
    Besides your mind the depression affects your health. After the divorce I felt free and had about 3 happy years but the strain of all the years has wrecked my health pretty much house bound but I am so happy every morning I wake up without him in my life.

    You take care of yourself.

  7. @Norma: thank you. I am best off as far from them as possible.

    @Eve: one can choose their friends, fortunately.

    @Kelly: thank you.

    @JE: I wanted so much to hit him, and worse. He'd literally worn down my last nerve. Even my mother, who was described as a saint by a friend before her funeral, said it took days to recover from all the tension of him being around the house. Another thing that I thought about when he was saying all that- I'm supposed to take advice from someone who screwed up his life as bad as him?

    @Shelly: family can sometimes do more damage to you than someone you're not related to.

    @Parsnip: I know there have been times it's worn me down physically as well.

  8. Poor William. I feel so bad for you.

    But it seems to me that therapy has already helped you a lot. You can't change people; you can only change the way you react to them. And if it means avoiding them or cutting them out of your life forever... Whatever it takes, do it. Because that's the only way to survive. I'm glad you've figured it out.

  9. The one thing that has been said over and over is the truth. You are the only one that you can change. I have no idea why you remained in contact with either after the mistreated your parents. You are strong enough to continue the healing. Oh, and telling idiots that they are idiots can be done in a nice way. Sometimes they are even intelligent enough to recognize themselves. The good part about that is that they never speak to you again. Hugs, my friend.

  10. Thank you for sharing this.

    I'm betting you've made somebody out there feel just a little less alone in their struggle tonight.

  11. You just told the story of my earlier life, except for me it was toxic step-parents, and my depression always worsened in winter. I'd give you a big manly hug, if you lived somewhere south so I could visit.

  12. William, look at all the support here, and all the people who've experienced something similar to what you've gone through. Then add me to the list of supporters, as well as sufferers.

    I certainly agree about toxic people. I've had to distance myself from toxic family members and a couple of toxic "friends." I understand why they are the way they are, but I don't have to suffer their sicknesses. I can forgive, but I don't have to forget, or to keep their toxic emotional disease in my life.

    I disagree with you on only one thing: I don't think you'll always have to deal with depression. Yes, it will return. But each time you fight that dragon it will take less out of you to conquer it. And each time it returns it will be diminished.

    You are the winner, William.

  13. Well done William! I think putting it all down in writing is a form of therapy also. If positive vibes from around the world help, you have them in abundance xx

  14. Very powerful, William! I've not personally suffered from the kind of depression you have but both my parents did and I remember how terrible it was. My mother got hit when I was about 12-13. She cried for months. Couldn't get out of bed. I'd come home from school and say, "Hi Mom," and she'd start weeping. My dad came later and I think he thought that I had chosen the wrong path in life or not the one he wanted me to choose. Shock treatments helped him but it took a long time.

    At any rate, I think you've come through many battles with courage and pluck and have discovered important things about yourself. I know the challenge never goes away entirely but it's good to know there are people who do care and can help.

    Thanks for sharing your story. It may be that will be helpful to others, also.

    I've come to appreciate your writing and your take on things and wish you the very best. You've got a friend in Florida!

  15. I am sorry to hear that you have had to live with mental health problems most of your life. It hits you like a ton of bricks and leaves you with very little hope. You seem to have had some therapy that helps and gives you some times that you have some rsepite from the dark times. I hope that you recover quickly and remain healthy.

  16. @Cheryl: thank you.

    @Mari: well, generally I haven't been in contact. Haven't spoken directly to either of them since my mother's funeral, and the odd email that's come my way has gone unanswered.

    @Gord: thank you.

    @Mark: and here I remain in the realm of -40 winters and ice giants.

    @Petrea: I'll never let it drag me down to that worst spot I was in again. This spell though was a rough one.

    @Grace: writing it down or saying it in therapy is like ridding myself of the poison. It feels better with every word.

    @Lowell: I know that feeling well- just feeling like you can't face the day.

    @Red: therapy has helped a lot. My last session was much needed.

  17. There are so many excellent points in this and I am very happy to see that you're back and feeling better. I really like the idea of re-writing the dream. I will have to use that one myself. Cutting people out of your life is always difficult (well, the guilt is), but I completely understand why it's necessary. I had to do that with my ex and my dad--both are still painful, but both were needed.

  18. William, I admire you for speaking about this in such detail. It takes a lot of courage to talk about pain.

    I can relate to the holding it in stuff. Eventually, it bursts out. And like a dam breaking, there's damage to repair.

    It is said you can't choose your family. True, but you sure can choose to separate from them when they are nothing but bad for you. Well done, William.

  19. I have had toxic people in my life, where I have had to divorce myself from them to stop the feelings of 'what did I do to make them say such awful, horrible things?" The truth is they probably have such low self esteem that they have to try and make others feel worse than they do, whether they know it or not. When a person leaves your presence and you breathe a sigh of relief and feel lighter in spirit, then you know it's time to say goodbye to them and have as little contact as possible. Life is far too short to deal with them. I am so sorry you have had to deal with this for many years but I can see your strength. You are doing all the right things and I hope you can pat yourself on the back every now and again and say I'm a good person. We all need to do that. You are a good person William, always remember that.

  20. So sorry you've been through this, but you've articulated an understanding of it very well. My issue wasn't quite the same, but I've certainly seen it in other families we're close to. Mine was a fear of going blind as a teenager when I had an eye disease. But what I learned about depression at the time has strengthened me ever since. Take care, and think of yourself first. Having met you, I'll be able to picture you when I think of you. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Oh, depression! We go w-a-a-y back. Sounds like you're taking the steps you need to deal with the external reasons. I also recommend walking, lots of walking - preferably out in nature. It's harder to stay sunk when you're surrounded by beauty. Hang in there, William. It CAN get better. Much better.

  22. This is an articulate post. I've been through depression, as well. I didn't know it. It began with a boss who loathed me! Co-workers were angry with me, many didn't understand. The trick is in knowing how to manage it, which, I think, both of us know how to do. Well done.

  23. @Meradeth: the guilt is a tricky one.

    @Lynn: and this was a big dam burst.

    @Denise: in both cases, I believe low self esteem is at the heart of their issues.

    @FG: I can see that possible prognosis having that kind of effect. You're welcome.

    @Kay: nature is a very good cure.

    @Jennifer: thank you.

  24. You made a wise choice, William--in all of this. Toxic people are all around us. You work with them, you may even have relatives, as you do.
    I've had to deal with siblings, older than me, whom I could not stand to live with, but had to. I don't think I went through half of what you did.
    Getting them out of your life is the best and bravest thing you could do.
    And lastly, yes. Classical music is soothing. If only more people would realize this. My husband was going through depression years back, and discovered the music (which I always listened to) soothed him. He remembers the one song that lifted him. It was called "Lark Ascending". It's beautiful, and I knew why it helped him get back some of his being.
    Take care, William. And good for you!

  25. Thanks for sharing. That was a powerful piece. I'm so sorry you have to deal with all of that. Toxic people don't even know they're toxic. They act like they're helping you which played a mess with my mind. I thought there was something wrong with me for not agreeing with, going along with, them. I felt so much better when those people were no longer in my life.

    1. I feel uplifted to know they're not in my life. I can go for months on end now not even thinking of them.


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