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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Time changes us...

My older brother, Richard, and I always tolerated each other. Being the first child born to the youngest in my father’s family and the oldest in my mother’s family, he was… well… a little bit spoiled as an infant. He was the golden-haired grandchild. Until he was almost three years old, he ruled the house.

I, on the other hand, was second in the chain and by the time I arrived, my parents were far more seasoned at keeping me from being spoiled rotten. I was a delicate, tiny little girl and my father was a giant of a man and could fit me in his palm. Richard saw my arrival as a threat to his kingdom and, although he was protective of me, he was a bit stand-offish. Like – oh yeah – it’s a lttle girl – can I go outside now?

As we grew older we knew that we loved each other, but there was always a bit of distance between us. When we became young adults and he married my best friend, Carrot, we had directly opposing points of view on almost everything. After our younger brother and mother died, Richard and I made a switch in our relationship – we became extremely close. When he had leukemia, I moved into his house to help take care of him. It was no surprise to me that we discovered I was his bone marrow match. He didn’t live that long to get the transplant.

I was talking to a high school friend yesterday. He was in Richard’s graduating class and I knew they knew each other and were friendly, but I didn’t know that they were very good friends. They were both bench warmers on the football team and spent a lot of time talking while the rest of the team the kicked ass of our opponents.

What I didn’t realize was that back in high school Richard and this friend had been bullied. When I first heard of the friend being bullied I was surprised because I never really thought there was much bullying in my school. Maybe we called it something different back then, I don’t know. But, I was really shocked to find out that Richard had been bullied. In the mind of a teenage girl, I saw Richard as big and strong and taking no grief from anyone. How could I have been so wrong?

I came from a long line of teasers on my father’s side. Teasing was a way of life in our house. Kids were expected to toughen up, tease back or spend a lot of time in tears. Richard was a pro at it. But, maybe, he wasn’t teasing – maybe he was bullying me because he was bullied at school. Maybe he had no power at school – could not fight back without repercussions – so he took it out on me. That made sense to me.

The friend told me of a conversation where Richard expressed that if anyone ever hurt me, he would “go after” the person. He left the friend with the knowledge that Richard loved me very much and although we didn’t communicate very well – he would always be there for me.

After our talk, I saw Richard from a different point of view. He was a bit vulnerable and while he was protecting me, who was protecting him? It seems that as hard as high school was for me – it must have been ten times harder for him. My image of him is a little softer now.

I wonder what it was like to be Riley when he was a high schooler? I know he was very smart, but what was his social life like? Did he have a lot of friends or did he just have his brother who is only ten months younger? Did he go to parties? Was he a “square” or a popular guy? Was he bullied or teased or was he the one doing that? I’ll probably never get the answers, but it would be interesting to know.

If I had those answers, I might see Riley in a whole new light. I might understand why he dropped out of college and joined the Navy. He says it’s because the Army recruiter was at lunch and the Navy’s door was open. But that doesn’t tell me why. What caused him to go to the recruiter’s at all?

I do know that when Riley entered college, he started drinking. I also know he had a girl friend that dumped him during his first college year. I know facts related by him to me. But, I don’t know why. It seems it must have been a pivotal year in his life and I wish I knew more about it.

Riley thinks he knows everything about my childhood and high school years. It’s no wonder that he thinks that. I am, after all, mostly an open book. I freely tell people about some of my most embarrassing moments. Most of my school friends describe me as “sweet, nice, friendly”, but would they still think that if they opened my closet and some of my teenage skeletons fell out? In a way, being sweet and nice and friendly is one of the reasons there’s even a need for a closet. To rebel against the sweetness, I found things to do that weren’t so sweet – at least in my mind.

I’ve never been to a high school reunion so I haven’t had the luxury of seeing how people change after graduation. I have no before and after images. The way a person was in high school, in my mind, is what I would expect them to be now 40+ years later. A lot can happen in 40 years.

Riley’s class is planning some kind of get together to celebrate 55 years since graduation. He likes going to these reunions and I wish he could go to this one. I wish I could go with him to this one. I might learn something about who Riley was during that time.

The reality is that to take Riley to the reunion would be impossible. He could never handle the eighteen hour drive in his present condition. And since he doesn’t shower, his classmates would surely be offended by his odor. A social event such as this, I’m sad to say, is just not something he can do.

Knowledge is the key to survival. If I knew more about Riley before he was an alcoholic, maybe I would have treated him differently before he became end-stage and then never reach this point. I know the person I see today is not the one I married. It’s hard to keep my groom in my vision when he is so mean and hateful now. If I knew more about his teen years, maybe I would see a progression from a sweet boy to an angry asshole.

I don’t see how it would make any difference now. Riley is beyond the point of being able to articulate feelings from his childhood or adolescence. It is too late for him. But, still… it would be interesting to know.


Syd said...

I suspect that life happened to him, except he had something that made him not fit in. I have been to lots of open AA meetings and I hear the same thing-- each person felt a big hole inside and like they didn't fit in. Like you wrote, the "whys" aren't important, because it's the now that really matters. I wish Riley could get some outings that he would enjoy. Another blogger wrote about a friend who is at the end with alcoholism. The AA's come over to help out and give her a break. It helps them to see where they would end up if they began drinking again.

jo said...

funny, i do this with mine. im always amazed at what you write cause its so familiar.

i dug and dug into mines childhood and still ask his sister about things. the person they know and describe is so not my husband. very strange.

but it did add a few pieces to the puzzle as i continue to try to make sense of mine. it doesnt change anything but it gave me a bit more understanding.

i think its more of my need to have control by always trying to understand his actions. unfortunately, even tho i can understand some of them now,,i still strive to understand in a way that makes sense to me. aint happening.

Colleen said...

3 C's
you didn't cause it
you cannot control it
you cannot cure it
much love

Anonymous said...

Hi Linda, just wanted to let you know how much your writtings have helpped me in my own struggles with alcoholism. Your insights into the way Riley behaves, acts and treats others' and how that has made you feel and shaped your life today has really helpped me in overcoming my addiction to alcohol. I was an active alcoholic for 6 years and have now been sober a little over two years. I have done alot of thinking about the hurt and pain Riley has caused you and your children and I never, ever wanted to treat the one's I loved like that. To see myself somewhat like Riley was a real eye-opener. Thank you so much for writting this blog and please keep on writting. If anything, you have helpped one person and that is me. Much appreciation send your way!!!