A little empathy goes a long way

7 Feb

10:53 pm

The other day, someone reached out to me with a simple apology, and, in a split second, I “forgave” him. I put it in quotes because while I was sitting here thinking that I did all the wrong, he was sitting there thinking that he did. We had some fucked up drinking times, and we both said and did erratic, hostile things. All that being said, it took ONE second, and I zipped up all the jagged pieces, threaded the necklace together, and tied it whole. ONE SECOND.

We’ve been friends for years, so it makes sense. I mean, how could you throw away years of friendship over a bruised ego? Can’t you see through the armor to the person you know? I’ve often thought about this when it comes to other friends, some lifelong, who have since “written me off” because my drinking became offensive enough to hurt them, but not inconvenient enough for them to help me, tell me to get help, or tell me to fuck off and then, get help. I’ve often wondered why hardly anyone in my life–colleagues, close friends and family, I mean–told me to get help when I so obviously needed it! No one ever mentioned my drinking to blackout in front of them at family gatherings, for instance, the one sure sign that I was drinking too much. They talked behind my back, sure. But, why didn’t anyone ever say anything to me? It was too easy for them to write me off, to fire me, to “un-family member” me. Wasn’t I worth at least a shred of concern?

I’m glad this person reminded me that not everyone is like that. There are friends who have empathy, who show concern, who trade in their ego for the bigger picture.

I have self-awareness. I have empathy. It’s probably because I know what childhood trauma, depression, and addiction can do–and how you are NOT defined by these life obstacles. You grow, you change, you heal. In the process, you do and say some fucked up shit. It’s OK, we all do. It’s called life, and life is a process.

Also, this guy is what I would call “normal,” in terms of the way I operate, and how I normalize things. You know, one email suffices to say, we’re both sorry, can we move on? That is normal to me. Constantly playing games with people, dodging them in anger, resentment, and bitterness–this is ill. This is, in fact, how my brother’s girlfriend, and by default, my brother, operates. This is her normal.

Sigh. When it comes to amends and people like her, I have written off most of them to be honest. I mean, if you’ve been a friend for over a decade, if I’ve helped you every step of the way through your own debilitating depression, if I’ve gone to your father’s funeral–and you choose to never speak to me again because…I’m guessing my drinking was a problem, but you never told me exactly why, or what I did that was apparently the last straw for you? OK. I can let you go. It takes two people to be in a relationship, and to reconcile, and to choose–together–to move forward.

BUT, if you’re pulling that same nonsense AND you’re my brother’s girlfriend? Ugh. I kind of can’t write you off. In fact, I’ll be seeing this woman at my other brother’s wedding in May, which is why I finally broke down and made the phone call apology. No heroine here, just desperate to make amends so that the level of awkward won’t be debilitating when we finally do meet face-to-face! Now, I had already engaged her via a letter and numerous calls and emails to my brother, but that’s beside the point, according to them.

Why do I have to keep revisiting this? It’s like, there are a handful of things that still linger, mistakes made while drunk that continue to haunt me. Things that I just have to get through sober so that I won’t drink before I do. Fears and resentments to conquer before I can FINALLY…rest easy into my “new life.”

One of them is working a full-time job again. And, I made a huge step in that direction this week by starting a part-time one! Lo and behold, I can talk to people and socialize and pretend to be happy at work. LOL. Anyway: check.

Another is working AND continuing to maintain my freelance writing business. While the end result remains to be seen, I got a good feeling for it this week. While I’ll probably have to use my time a little bit differently, this week was a good test run to prove to myself that all will not be lost–I can keep up the mindset of pitching science stories AND work for someone else. (It also goes a long way toward providing some relief; I mean, while I’m subsisting, financially, it really is touch-and-go. Every month, I have NO IDEA if I’m going to earn my keep, and where that money is going to come from. Having a job will, um, ease that mental stress a lot.)

And, I’d say, the biggest thing that “makes me want to drink again” is having my brother’s girlfriend still hating on me, and lying in wait. I mean, I literally have no idea how they took the voicemail message I left on Sunday night. (I wonder if they’re listening to the message over and over again, making fun of it; or maybe, she deleted it and my brother never found out I left it? I should call him this weekend to make sure–I wouldn’t put it past her, I really wouldn’t. This is someone who lives on grudges and feeds off hate and anger and resentment. I hate having her in my life, in my head, but for now, it’s like, I have no choice.) Did it make things better or worse? And, even though it made me feel a bit relieved–I said some nasty-ass shit when I was blacked out, but this is going on TWO-PLUS YEARS ago now–it also made me feel angry again. Why do I have to keep apologizing? The thing is, I know she’s messing around, and I’m not. Her ego’s been bruised, but her “normal” is anything but. Anyone with even an ounce of empathy would have shown it by now; she has none.

All that being said, I still have to play this out, and wait until the wedding in May to see how she chooses to act toward me. She could do a number of things, none of which would surprise me: she could “play nice;” she could ignore me; she could mumble mean things under her breath the whole time (my guess this is what she’ll do); she could get shitfaced herself at the ceremony dinner and verbally and/or physically assault me. I honestly have no idea. And, the fact that my voicemail was not acknowledged doesn’t offend me, it simply leaves me hanging. Again. I have felt left hanging, worrying about this for over TWO freaking years. I just can’t wait for it to be over.

So, anger and resentment. I’m not sure why, exactly, I fear I won’t be safe from drinking again until these matters are finally dealt with, but I do. But, it sure does make me appreciate the people who have come back, arms open, hearts already having forgotten the mistakes–the bad–in favor of the aces–the good. Life is too short to remember the bad, and I’m too imperfect to hold grudges.

Yet…once this wedding arrives and I finally do see my brother and his girlfriend again, I honestly think my choice will be one of total separation. How a family member could play such games, for so long, in the face of honest attempts at reconciliation? I just don’t see how that person would or could be a welcome, healthy part of my life now.

Oh, and btw, fuck you, Wolfie! (I’m about 5.5 weeks away from a whole year sober!)

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5 Responses to “A little empathy goes a long way”

  1. bizi February 7, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

    YOu are doing awesome!!!!!
    I think I would try to get together with them before the wedding.so as to not put negative emotions at this festive event…not trouble the bride.
    just my little opinion.
    bizi

  2. furtheron February 8, 2014 at 5:01 am #

    Great post. When I talked with my brother the resentments went in a moment and we moved on. Another one a guy who said he’d help me still won’t speak to me as I couldn’t do it his way. Upsets me but takes two and I just avoid him now.

  3. carrieonsober February 8, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    I think you have come such a long way and grown so much, you can be super proud of yourself. It is their loss not to have such a fantastic, insightful, self aware, humble, interesting women in their lives and they should be ashamed that they can’t even recognise the effort you are putting in to reconcile. At this moment in time, I would agree it would hinder you to have them around. Like everything in sobriety, I have found that when all else fails, time is the only thing that can help. YOu have done all you can. Walk with your head held high for once, girl! You are the bigger person now and don’t let anyone repeatedly take you back to that place you have worked so hard to get away from.
    Proud of you. Just a few weeks here too. Woo hoo!!!!!!!!!
    x

  4. Carrie Kaffer February 8, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    Such people are so troubling. As you say, ignorable when they are not necessarily in your social orbit- but a family member with such an attitude can feel like a great big thorn grinding and grinding into tender parts.

    Keeping in mind that we each control our own actions and reactions, but can’t necessarily influence others’ actions, here’s a way I’d think about handling the wedding: Put an imaginary force field around myself that lets in positive things, beautiful things, delightful things. And nothing negative. Imagine her confusion when she, say, turns her face away to ostentatiously ignore you, and your face lights up, you have a big smile on your face, and say effusively: “Susie, How fabulous to see you! You look particularly lovely today!” (as you are turning away and walking to chat with someone you know will be happy to see you!)

  5. Eric February 8, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    There’s a reality that can be difficult to get past.

    If I attempt to focus on my own culpability, and to acknowledge when I am wrong, and to be fair and honest in my communications, then I am “playing by the rules.” On some level, every human being has an obligation* to at least attempt objectivity, compromise, fairness, etc.

    Living sober, for me and many others, means not drinking AND playing by the above “rules.” So dealing with others who don’t play by those rules is difficult, especially when the other is a loved one with whom their is long history. For example, my wife and I are sniping a bit about some meaningless thing, and I pause, and attempt to de-escalate, saying:

    “Let me just focus here on what I did wrong, since that’s all I can control anyway. I shouldn’t have said X, Y, Z, and I’m sorry.”

    And she responds: “Yes, you should focus on what you are doing wrong, and you can add Q, R, S, and T to that list too!”

    That’s a challenge, right? The double standard is appalling, yes? Well, no. It’s human sickness. Everyone has some measure of sickness, tied closely to his or her suffering. And when we act out, we express that sickness in a way that impacts others, and that encourages others to act out their own sickness.

    I can only resist the bait sometimes, but I’m getting a lot better, now, and in the now sane environment of my family, so is my wife.

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