I once heard someone say that the emotional growth of a substance abuser is halted at the age she starts using. Okay, it was a character on Boston Legal who I heard say that, but still—I think there’s some truth there. Because it finally explains why I have an older sister who is about13.
My sister has always had this child-like self-centeredness. I remember being ten and hearing her call across the house for me; I tracked my way to her screams only to find her laying on the couch, demanding I take her shoes off for her. The world around her was there to serve her; she couldn’t fathom that there could be any purposes other than her own in the universe.
My junior-high nights were spent in the car with my mom, driving around town in search of my sister. Was she passed out in the desert after drinking too much at a party? Was she trading her body for cocaine yet again? It was anyone’s guess.
Her irresponsibility made me who I am in many ways. Because she was chaos, I had to be calm. Because she was foolish, I had to be wise. I think we both had our dysfunction—she was irresponsible to an unhealthy degree, and I was responsible to an unhealthy degree.
As we grew up, I became more responsible and she became more irresponsible. She neglected her kids; I called CPS (she eventually lost her kids, but it had to do with me—the police made the choice). But when I had my children, who have special needs, my responsibility index was maxed . . . and I could no longer stand my sister’s bullshit.
The sister who always stayed cool, always held the family together and fixed her sister’s screw ups, blew her top. My sister decided to hit me with one of her middle-of-the-night drunken “everyone in the world hates me” phone calls . . . and I just went off. I screamed at her for two hours, I think. I was completely fed-up with the thirteen-year-old, and I let her know it. I admit, it was NOT pretty.
She and I have been distant since then . . . not that we were ever really close. Last fall she sent me a series of text messages, and I texted back cordial replies: “I wish you only the best in your recovery.”
“No you don’t. I don’t have a sister.”
Oh, okay. I don’t really need your kind of sisterhood, so that suits me fine.
Then a strange thing happened. I’d still hear the stories from my family about my sister’s trips in and out of rehab, in and out of the ER, in and out of court. And it didn’t upset me the way it used to. I simply didn’t care anymore. I’d detached, let go.
She’d shaped who I was since my childhood, but she wasn’t shaping me anymore.
That personal revolution is well and good when the other person is hundreds of miles away, but what about when you’re face to face? I’d planned a vacation to see the fam and I was nervous about sister drama. Because being around my sister is like being around a melodramatic pubescent girl (who also drinks gallons of vodka a day). I quietly dreaded the sister drama.
But day one, no sister. Day two, no sister. Day three, no sister.
Then, the morning of day four, I was sleeping when I heard my phone. When I rolled over to grab it, I didn’t recognize the number (I’d never added her as a contact in my new phone), but I knew that it was her texting me. She said something about how she hadn’t been by to see me because she’d been sick (sick = drinking) but that she’d come to see me today.
It was 6:19 AM. Which meant two things: 1) she’d been up drinking all night and had yet to fall asleep, and 2) she was still that adolescent girl who thought the universe spun around her, someone who could not fathom that others might be sleeping during the early dawn hours and that it was rude to text them.
I could have gotten upset about those things, but I didn’t. Instead I texted her back three hours later. A very cordial, distant text. I told her that I was sorry that she wasn’t feeling well and that I hoped she would feel better soon. The sort of thing you would say to an acquaintance.
I never saw her, probably because she finally passed out from the alcohol. But I simply didn’t care. I’d detached, let go.