Thursday, June 4, 2009

Just a visit...

My sister is coming to town today to visit my mother and I. The fact that she and her husband would leave their comfortable lives in the Midwest to visit is a miracle at a number of levels but, for me, it's an example of the power of the program of AA.

I was about 9 years sober (~16 years ago) when my sister finally was "up" on my 8th step list. It had become my habit for all amends to write out a letter in advance of scheduling and making amends to be clear as to my part and what I was doing in this amends. Most of the time, the letter was set aside and direct amends - face to face - were made.

As that letter was slowly written (actually, it took about 3 months of avoidance and 4 hours of writing), the clear nature of my perpetration to my sister became painfully clear. My selfishness had made our relationship a joke. I would show up and show off with grand gestures of family (take our whole family to her place for a visit - buy everyone dinners - talk big - then leave) and then, literally, have NO contact whatsoever for years at a time. I think the longest time we didn't communicate was nearly 10 years!!! No phone calls. No Christmas cards. No birthday cards. Nothing!!!

Her son was killed in a motorcycle accident and I swooped in, took charge of her life, made major decisions for her and her husband, acted like I was really "being there" for them and then, after a call or 2 when I got home, disappeared again out of her life completely for several years. Even when I was in the same city or nearby on travel, I wouldn't make the time to visit or talk to her - I was just completely and totally selfish and self-absorbed.

As I wrote out this long letter (I remember about 6-8 pages - could have been longer) talking about specifically what I'd done our whole lives and how that had brought harm to her and her family, I remember feeling pretty shabby (I still do, remembering it now). I discussed it with my sponsor and read it to him. I was sort of surprised when he agreed with me that the right way to handle this one was to just put the letter in the mail - one more "grand gesture" of a visit was not at all what would be appropriate for this relationship.

I can remember putting the letter in the mail and feeling a new sense of freedom and release. Some of what I'd been most ashamed of and felt regretful about in my past had been brought to light. The truth had, in fact, set me free. I was prepared for any sort of reaction from my sister: She could agree with me and express her anger at my betrayals. She could forgive me and we could move on. She could not respond and ignore it. I was prepared for anything.

...except, what happened...

About 3 weeks after I sent her letter, I got a letter from her. Nothing, in all of my arrogant selfishness prepared me for what she said in that letter. She thanked me greatly for my letter and then went on to describe a little about what her life for the past 40 years had been like.

You know, it had never, ever, EVER occurred to me - had never even been a blip on the horizon - had never even entered the nether ranges of my consciousness - that my sister and I had been raised in the same family. Huh.

That some of the stuff that went on with (or didn't go on with) my mother and my father might have affected her had never been a consideration to me - at all!!!

Whereas, for me, this childhood became fodder for my budding alcoholism and reinforcement for the spiritual malady and peculiar mental twists, for my sister, her childhood in that family was the basis for a deep, dark depression that influenced her life and her choices. I was dumbfounded - profoundly dumbfounded. My sister's way of describing some of what happened in our childhood family is that my parents raised 2 only children together.

At the end of her letter, she thanked me again but allowed that she'd been down the committed friendship many times and, while she was open to the possibility of a friendship with me, she was more willing to "wait and see" how things developed.

Shortly after this exchange, both her and I changed jobs so that we both set most of every day in front of computers and had access to email (16 years ago that was much less common than now). I would not be exaggerating a bit to say that we emailed each other a least 3 times a day and sometimes emails 10-12 times a day were common. It seemed like we were in constant communication.

We visited her, they visited us. We took vacations together. She and I have taken 5-6 trips together. I've told her my story a few times. She's told me her story (e.g. sitting on the foot of the bed with her husband's gun, willing herself to have the strength...) a few times. I think I probably know my sister more intimately than anyone else in her life. I can't think I have ANY secrets from her.

Over the past few years, our lives have changed - generally not much to our liking or in accordance with our plans. But, we're each on our journey and it's been amazing to share this with her.

All as a result of a 9th step amends...

Amazing.

6 comments:

wolfie185 said...

Thanks for sharing, that was amazing. You really showed why the 9th step is so important, it really isn't about me.

Syd said...

Awesome post. Opening up and communicating can work wonders. The amends process is so important.

Steve E. said...

I also know something about this. In fact, everyone who has seriously worked the steps has been there...

Of course, making amends, rather than "I'm sorry." is action, it is showing others (all) that I am changing, that I have changed. That is the miracle of this step...it is so much more than it seems.

Mary Christine said...

It's incredible, isn't it?

Scott W said...

Totally beautiful!

Carol said...

What an amazing story, thank you for sharing it.