When someone you love is self-destructing, a natural instinct may be to jump into rescue mode. Ever since our mom committed suicide in December of 1999, I had played the role of rescuer to my younger siblings. Whatever the circumstance, I would dive in and pull them out. It became a cycle that I only recently came to understand as the Karpman Drama Triangle.
About four years ago, I discovered my brother is an alcoholic. I was on a work trip to NY and had to take him to the ER because he wouldn’t stop coughing up blood. It was there that I learned he was subsisting on a diet of vodka…about 4 liters a day. It was burning holes in his intestines and stomach. The doctor told us if he had any more alcohol, it would kill him. That didn’t stop him. A week later he was admitted again.
Although I returned home to California, I was not able to sleep as my mind created horrible future scenarios of his demise and my regret for not doing more. He was so far away in NY and I was powerless to help monitor him and take care of him. I felt a level of responsibility, and I questioned all my previous actions and decisions. What if I had quit school after mom died and moved home? Then I could have taken care of him better and he wouldn’t be in this spot. What if I had moved them up to the Bay to live with me so I could have provided a better life for them? I should have called more…I should have visited more …and on and on. All instances of “should have done this” or “I could have done that” and reality wouldn’t be reality. Each thought keeping me separate from myself and all causing suffering.
In late 2015, I finally convinced him to move back to California where we (his family) could all monitor him. He was one of the biggest reasons why Jeff and I moved out of the Bay and back to Orange County, although I have kept that information private until now.
I tried to get him a job thinking that maybe he just needed something to do and to feel valued. I offered to get him an apartment so he didn’t have the stress of finances. I called everyone I knew who had connections to rehab centers and offered to pay for his rehab. I would have turned the world upside down if I knew it could help him.
He rejected all of it. He wanted to do it on his own, his way.
Fast forward to family dinners where he pounded vodka when he went out to his car because he “forgot his hat or sunglasses” or whatever. Christmas 2016 when he punched a hole through a door because he was irrationally angry. Our sister’s wedding weekend where he almost didn’t make it on the plane to Washington because he was too belligerent to walk…and a day later when he went to hang balloons on directional event signs, and instead went to the liquor store and poured vodka into giant water bottles. Then pounded three of them in the parking lot twenty minutes before she was to walk down the aisle.
Since then, we’ve had three more visits to the E.R. because he was going from blackout drunk to blackout drunk for more than a week straight. I’m the person that people call to know the right thing to do. I would don the Rescuer hat, again, drop everything and go.
New Year’s Day (2017), after eight hours in the hospital hooked up to IVs, he was finally coming to and could coherently look at us and answer the doctor’s questions. The doctor asked him if he wanted to be admitted to their detox center. He said, “No.”
They couldn’t hold him against his will, so they let him go and he was back the following night…same scenario…Over and over this cycle continued.
I tried buying him books (which he didn’t read), offered to attend AA meetings with him, sent him articles…everything I could think of to break through the cycle and knock this addiction out of him. His response to all help offered has been that he needs to figure it out on his own and there’s nothing anyone else can do or say that can make him stop drinking. He is the only one that can fight this fight. He has to find the answers within him.
So believe me when I say that I empathize COMPLETELY with the worry, stress and how the mind projects a movie of the past and creates various non-existent futures about the people we love most. And holding the belief that if I didn’t worry and stress, then it meant that somehow I didn’t love him enough. (We call this a “personal religion” in coaching.)
Throughout my coaching journey, I’ve been reading all the books and participating in all the classes that are telling me the same things my brother is – that the only person who can fix this is him. That I’m in his business. I can’t make someone else do or act a certain way because I simply want them to. I heard it, but I didn’t necessarily comprehend it fully until about four months ago.
As a coach, I set a timer 3 times a day to climb into my body.* When that timer goes off, I catch my mind in the act. I notice what my thoughts are and what my mind is doing. Then I recognize and name any emotions that are a result of those thoughts. Last, I climb into my body and scan from the toes all the way up to my head and feel and observe all the physical sensations.
If I notice something that feels out of the ordinary or truly painful, I do the following:
1) Describe it with three adjectives.
2) Name the sensation.
3) Become the sensation (shift awareness into it)
4) Ask three questions:
– What is your purpose?
– How are you here to help?
– What is the wisdom you want Jennifer to hear?
My Climb-Into-Body timer happened to go off when I had just finished reading a chapter in Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star that was based on people’s ‘cover emotions.’ My insight from reading the chapter were that my brother’s anger is a cover emotion for his sadness over losing our mom to suicide. My thoughts were that I should share this chapter with my brother.
Once again, I was trying to ‘help’ my brother by giving him another article on what I felt he was going through. (ie: In his business.) My emotions were sadness, frustration and worry. Then I climbed into my body and as I did a scan, I noticed that my whole left leg felt this icy flowing sensation like it was cooling from the inside out. And my left foot felt like it was on fire…there was so much heat. My three adjectives were: Flowing, Icy, Fiery
I named it Fire & Ice and became the Fire & Ice feeling.
What is my purpose? To sooth, to heal.
How am I here to help? To sooth Jenn and to heal her angst, sadness and worry.
What is your wisdom for Jennifer? You are on your own path. Your brother is on his own path. You can only heal YOU. Focus on your own healing and your own path. That is all you can control. Everyone has their own journey. The best thing you can do for your brother is to heal yourself and live by example.
It was in that moment that I finally GOT IT. In my deepest core, I understood. That wisdom was so lovingly beautiful.
I have literally dissolved much of my stress and worry over his health and his future. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love him. I still call him regularly, and invite him over for dinner. When we interact, it’s loving and peaceful without attachment to fixing him. I see him as on his own journey, fighting his own inner demons. Whatever happens is not for me to judge or spin in my mind about. He’ll either beat it, or he won’t. Nothing I can say or do will have any affect on that.
With this inner knowledge that surfaced, I try to make the most out of the times that we are together. And when we’re not together, I don’t worry about what he’s doing at that moment. Sure, I still get the phone calls that he’s on a bender.
In those instances, I now wear the hat of a Coach with him: “What are you going to do about it and how do you want me to help support you in that?”
Lately, his response has been, “I want you to hold me accountable and I want you to check in on my regularly.”
“Ok, I will do that.”
We haven’t forced him into rehab because he has to want to go if it’s going to work. When he’s ready, we’ll encourage him. Until then, I just love him.
It’s liberating to play coach instead of rescuer. (See David Emerald’s The Empowerment Dynamic.)
If you’re ready to discover your own inner wisdom, let’s talk about it over a coaching session.
*The above Climb-Into-Body process was developed by the Martha Beck Institute. Reprinted with permission from Martha Beck, Inc. Copyright, Martha Beck, www.marthabeck.com