“Is this Martha Ann?”
“Oh good. You’re hard to reach!”
“Yeah, I’m teaching all the time.”
“I’m Donna Rausch. I’m the social worker up here at St. V’s Hospital in Billings.”
“Hi.” My god, what had happened to my brother?
“I want to talk to you about your brother, William.”
Oh no, another person blaming me for neglecting him up there in Montana. I’ve already tried over and over to let him live with me until he got on his feet. It never worked. It… I think of him throwing lighter fluid on the walls of my apartment and then tossing lit matches at it. I think of many other things.
“OK. Uh, we call him Kirk.”
“OK. We’ll do that. I’m making a note. Martha Ann, you know your brother is an alcoholic, right?”
“Many family members of alcoholics don’t know. They just won’t see it. For YEARS they just don’t look at it straight on. Half my battle is getting the family to see it for what it is. I’m glad you already know about your brother and I don’t have to give you the news.”
I could imagine the rage this woman must have had to deal with trying to persuade families in denial that their loved one was a drunk. This woman had courage.
“The main reason I’m calling is to tell you NOT to come up here. Don’t come up here and get him. I know you want to. I know you want to take him down there to San Diego and help him, am I right?”
“Honestly, I have mixed feelings about that. I’ve done that before. More than once. I feel like I should come and get him, but I don’t want to.”
“So you know how well it works?”
I could swear she was chuckling ruefully on the other end. If she WERE, well, she wasn’t going to blame me. “It doesn’t work.” I was about to cry.
“No. Here’s what we’re doing. We’re keeping him here in the hospital until we’re able to collect from the state for his care. That will be about a month.”
I wondered what I would have to pay for this. I didn’t ask, but I wondered. I was sure that I would find that out. In the end, it was nothing, that time. “He’ll check himself out,” I said.
“He can’t. We’ve taken his clothes. Unless he wants to walk around Billings with his bare bottom, he’ll stay.”
“His friends will bring him clothes.”
“No visitors. We allowed him visitors at first, but two very seedy Indians came by. Later they came back and sneaked him a bottle of vodka. No visitors. Does he have any money?”
“He should, but I don’t know. Our mom died in March, and we got our inheritance last month. Last I heard he took his out of the bank and put it under his mattress.”
“Well, that’ll be gone. I have a hunch your brother sent them to his place to get money for booze.”
“He would do that.”
“That’s water under the bridge. If they took it, they took it. Do you have any family up here?”
“You might tell them about the money. They could go have a look. It would help us out a bit if he could pay for part of his care. I don’t expect that, though.”
I did not know if I wanted to do that — but I did. They offered to go to his place and look and I told them to go ahead if they thought it was a good idea. I was so beaten, I thought $20k was irrelevant. They must have thought I was nuts or careless. Or both, actually. In fact, I thought the last thing my brother should ever have was money. The second thing he should never have was a car. My mom had left him both.
“We have to get him sober and healthy and then we’ll see. It’s likely we’ll be sending him up to Havre to a good rehab facility.”
“HAVRE??? In December?”
“Yeah. Your brother’s timing wasn’t the best.” She WAS chuckling. “I’m going to call you every day until this is over to make sure you’re all right and that you don’t come up, OK?”
“I won’t come up.” I did not yet know the pressure I would get from family to do just that. When I told them about the social worker at the hospital and her calls, they thought I was lying. I was in for a couple of hard months and painful phone calls. My brother’s “situation” would divide the family.
“Your family is going to make it hard for you to stay there,” she said. “You have to stand your ground. You cannot help your brother. You have not succeeded in the past and you will not succeed now if you come up here. If you really want to help him, you’ll leave him where he is. We’ll do our best. I’ll call you tomorrow — is this a good time to reach you?” (This was in the 90s, before I had a cell phone, thank god. I only had to worry about this when I was in my actual house. I could not be molested by my brother’s stuff if I was not home.)
“Yes. I’m usually home until 10 am your time and now, except on Wednesdays. I have a night class.”
“OK, I’ll call you tomorrow around 5 your time. I’m here from noon till eight, so if later is better. You can call me back, too, if you’re not home. I just want to be sure I speak with you every day. You need an ally right now and that’s what I’m here for.”
By then, I was crying. “OK,” I said.
“It’s going to be OK, honey. But remember. This is not your fault. It is not your responsibility. Live your life and I’ll stay in touch with you until your brother is on his way to Havre, OK?” I nodded, a pretty useless response in a phone conversation, but I think she heard me. “Take care of yourself, Martha Ann. And remember; don’t come up here. You’re important, too. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
11 thoughts on “Advice — If You Need It, Take It…I Hope You Don’t. St. V’s Calls Me Daily to Tell Me about Kirk and to Tell Me Not to Come To Billings”
I take heart in the knowledge that MOST of these stories have a happy ending.
I’m a therapist. Your social worker was right. The part of your family that disagreed? They’re the codependent enablers. Good job, excellent description of what alcoholism does to families.
Blessings on you! Helping people through this is a hard and noble job.
I saw a therapist over this a few years later when my brother fell into the pit of hell again. She said, “You do have an identity OTHER than your brother’s keeper, Martha.” I didn’t understand “co-dependence.” I thought it was a stupid word and stupid idea. Once I understood that a sizable part of my personality was defined by helping (enabling) con-artist addicts, I got the message. Scary. Who else was I?
My poor aunts. They were thinking of their sister (also an alcoholic). I am sure on some level they felt they’d “failed” my mom and hoped to redeem themselves with my brother. One aunt and uncle were going to pick him up at the hospital and take him to Havre. I said, “Don’t do it. He’ll hurt you.” I really meant he would HURT them physically. Still, they picked him up at the hospital and took him to the bus for Havre. I was glad they did because they saw what I MEANT. He was — to them, finally — scary. He went to Havre on the bus wearing scrubs from the hospital, slippers and my uncle’s sweater.
I never understood the true meaning of codependency until I was studying for my master’s to do counseling. It’s actually a term that came out of AA. Imagine a triangle with the alcoholic at one point. His dependency is alcohol, at a second point. The third point is the wife/family of the alcoholic. They know how to relate to the alcoholic only through his alcohol, which makes them also dependent on alcohol; i.e., co-dependent with him on alcohol. And the codependents are often the enablers, because they don’t know what to do with the alcoholic when he becomes sober.
I’m sorry you and your family have had to deal with this. Your therapist is right–your brother’s choices do not define you unless you allow him to draw you into his dependency.
Until I was awakened to my role in the drama, I was defined by my brother’s choices (and my mom’s). It was my job to be on top of reality (except the reality of them) so they could be drunk with fewer consequences (enabler from birth!). In 2004 I told my brother, “Call me when you’re sober.” He never called me again. He died in 2010 and I did not know until 5 months afterward. BUT, as a friend of my Aunt’s used to say, “That’s all blood under the bridge. Are you going to have the steak and lobster, or just the steak?”
And, other than my brother dying, the story did not end badly. The resolution was a combination of sorrow and joy and quite beautiful. Here’s the story.
Thanks for the link. I will read it, I promise you. I’ve enjoyed reading your daily prompt posts. Nice to get to chat with you 🙂
I’ve enjoyed it also!
Finding ‘me’ again after my husband’s death was… Like looking for a grain of sand in a barrel of scalpels? I’m glad you listened.
Perfect analogy (though very, very sad). I felt guilty for being someone else. That was the biggest challenge I faced, a deep sense that I had no right to be. I’m glad you looked in that barrel. Some people do not have the courage.
Yes, the guilt is huge. And I’m not sure I chose to look. I had to get my act together to help my kids deal with the same thing.
Again — my mom did not think she had to get her act together when my dad died (he was 45) for the sake of her kids. Her take was “Well, sure he was your father, but he was MY husband.” He left her set for life so she never had to work and we were grown up, mostly (18 and 20). A couple good real estate deals after he died, and she was set to live in self-indulgent, angry and envious misery for the rest of her life. A model to me, though, of what I did not want to be when I grew up. Oh those negative examples! 🙂
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