My brother sent me a second letter recently. I’d not written him back after the first one, in part because I didn’t want to ruin his Christmas. I didn’t write back immediately because I wanted to make sure I said things correctly. It is best not to respond to someone when you are angry.
I’d composed a letter, but I’d not sent it. I had put in reminders of all the things he’s accused me of, insane accusations. I’d put in reminders about all the ways he has hurt me over the years, that he has not acknowledged or apologized for. I’d pointed out that there is no relationship of any account.
We aren’t friends. I don’t like him as a human being. I don’t trust him. I certainly don’t want anything to do with him. If he was anybody other than my brother I would have stopped talking to him decades ago. Come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t have talked to him at all. He is very selfish.
He has harmed me in many ways, and has never shown any sign of awareness of the damage he has done to me. It isn’t just me he abuses. This is just who he is. Then he blames the other person for his own problems. He even said that the reason he was a quarter of a million dollars in debt is because I’d “prayed for his downfall.” That is just crazy. He needs professional help. This is part of the reason he’s been divorced four times. I really wonder if his fifth wife knows his backstory. My suggestion that he get therapy and they both get counseling before they got married is what precipitated the last time we quit talking with each other.
So I thought that to be kind, I’d wait until after Christmas to reply. Getting a letter from your sister saying that she’s not your sister in any real way isn’t that great right then. Christmas is hard enough without something like that. I thought I’d be kind by waiting. At least one of us should be, right?
So then there was another letter before I could send it. He didn’t wait for my reply. I’m learning that I shouldn’t open these letters. I gave it to my husband to read it first. It was kind of like giving a bomb to a professional. He read it and it was innocent enough, but clueless, and still unrepentant. There was something about some writer his pastor had mentioned and here’s a blog address for me to read. My guard went up – once again he’s telling me what to do, rather than acknowledging his role or admitting his errors. The last thing he’d said to me before I stopped talking to him a couple of years ago was to tell me to read “How to Make Friends and Influence People”. He said that I should read that and then talk to him again. It was an ultimatum.
I decided that was the last time he was going to tell me what to do. I decided that was the last time I was going to be bossed around by him, or anybody. I decided that he’d made my task easier. If I don’t read that book then I don’t have to talk to him again.
Scott went on with the letter and came across something that sent up a flag. He started reading out loud these words – “The next time you decide to cut someone out of your life…” and I put up my hand and said “Stop!” Done. Right there.
I’m glad that I didn’t fall into that trap. In years past I would have heard those words and gotten stuck there, like a deer in the headlights, waiting to be run over. It is why the phrase “trigger warning” is so useful. It lets you know that something that might trigger a bad response is coming. This is helpful if you’ve been abused in the past. But life doesn’t have any trigger warnings. Sometimes you just have to toughen yourself up to be able to handle them from wherever they come. Sometimes it is like martial arts, but with words. When a person swings a fist at you, you know to duck or to divert their energy by grabbing their wrist. When a person swings a verbal attack at you, it is sometimes harder to see it, and you get flattened.
I’ve met people who are walking trigger warnings. They are so broken that all they can talk about is their brokenness. Being around them is like getting punched in the stomach repeatedly, and with no warning.
This time I stopped it. I didn’t “decide to cut someone out of my life,” I decided to get away from being his punching bag. I decided to stop being abused. I decided to take my life back.
He chose to harm me, again and again. When I told him how I felt from how he treated me he continued acting the same way. It was his choice to act in that manner, both before and after I told him he was harming me. Then, to stay would have been my choice. It would have been me saying that being abused by him was OK.
He chose to abuse me. He chose to not get therapy. He chose to not acknowledge the damage he has done. He has never apologized. He has never made restitution.
I didn’t make an arbitrary decision. I chose to live in a sane way, in a healthy way, by establishing boundaries. He chose to ignore them.
So now I’m really glad I didn’t reply to the first letter. To reply, even in the negative, is still to reply. It is still to further a relationship. Even if it is a bad relationship, it is still a relationship if two people are communicating. It gives it energy.
It is just like a child who constantly misbehaves. If they act in a good way, they get ignored. Their parents take them for granted. But if they misbehave, they get attention – even though it is negative. Negative attention is better than no attention.
A negative relationship is better than no relationship, if you are an unhealthy person.
I choose to only give energy to the good.
Sure, I’m giving energy to it right now. I’m doing this in part to exorcise him out of my psyche. I’m doing it in part to let others know they aren’t alone. I’m doing it in part to show that if someone is harming you, no matter who they are or whatever social obligations are put on that relationship, that it is healthy to walk away to save yourself.
I’m also doing for total disclosure. I’m no saint. I’m not a guru or a counselor. My advice on how to live life is hard-earned. I’d love to foster peace in this world, but I can’t even get along with my brother.
But I’d rather have no relationship than one where I’m being harmed.
After I wrote another piece about my brother recently – after the first letter he recently wrote, members of my family got involved. A cousin wrote another cousin and there was something of a request for me to make peace.
I’m not the one who is to blame. I’m the victim. To insist that I make peace with him is insane, and revictimises me. It says that the fault for the broken relationship lies with me.
A minister told a story once that I identify with. He grew up in Louisiana. When he was a child many years ago, it was common to keep alligators as pets. He had a small one, and he gave it shade and nice food and a place to play. He took good care of it. Then one day, it bit him.
It bit him, not because of how well he’d treated it, but because it is an alligator. That is its nature.
My brother is an alligator. This is just how he is. I’ve done nothing to provoke him. I’ve done nothing to deserve his abuse. I’ve done nothing to deserve him stealing from me, lying to me, harassing me, and falsely accusing me.
I accept that this is the way he is. I wish it wasn’t so, but wishing won’t change things. He has to want to change. He has to understand that he can’t treat people the way he has all of his life. The longer people keep letting him steamroll over them, the longer he’s going to keep doing it.
I, for one, am done. Perhaps this will help him. Perhaps this will be something that makes him see that he cannot abuse people and expect them to take it. I want him to be well, but I can’t do that. All I can do is stop allowing him to harm me. All I can do is stop putting my hand near him enough for him to bite it off.
Even if he changes, even if he turns around and gets it, I cannot trust him. He’s harmed me often enough and deeply enough that I cannot ever allow him into my life again.
I’d rather write only about positive things. The more energy I give to negative things, the more I give them strength. Sometimes I may need to write about Ian, because he has provided such an amazing example of what NOT to do, and how NOT to be a good human being. I really wrestle with this. I don’t want to dwell in the past. But I also sometimes may need to refer to it to illustrate a point.
The answer, to everything? Pray. Give thanks in all situations, and in all times. Balance. Acceptance. And trust that God is working through all of this.