My relationship with my brother is increasingly untenable
December 5, 2015 6:11 AM   Subscribe

My brother is an alcoholic/rageaholic and I'm working on cutting him out of my life - this is wreaking havoc on all my family relationships. I'm frightened to travel home for Christmas, but not sure what to do to get around the holiday. My instinct is not to go. My therapist suggests my brother and I schedule separate holiday celebrations with my parents. How do i do this?

This May, finally had had enough of my brother's abusive, alcoholic behavior when he threatened to throw me out of his house for the second time in two years (at 3 AM, in suburbia, me without a car) because he thought I was "smirking at him."

I'm a woman, my brother and I are the only children, we're both unmarried and single, no kids of our own, late twenties/early thirties.

I didn't do anything dramatic, just...slowly stopped responding to his 1 AM phone calls, which usually ended up being 1/3 rants about how perfect and great i think I am while I'm actually unlovable, alone, stupid, etc. Despite that, It was actually a boyfriend who is a recovering alcoholic who convinced me to stop answering those calls. (This was six months ago, that relationship ended for unrelated reasons, and I'm single now).

In the late summer my brother started sending me messages about what a terrible person I am, leaving me phone messages and sending me emails about what a stupid horrible person I am. All in the middle of the night.

I decided not to go home for Thanksgiving (I live in a city 500 miles from my family's city, my brother lives 20 miles or so from my parents) in part because of this and told my mom that.

I was a bit stunned by her reaction - she said, "you're both bad, you need to help him." I won't go into everything, but I've never called anyone at 1-2 AM to scream drunkenly at them, much less a family member. This is on top of all the regular alcoholic behavior on the part of my brother, DUIs, fights on all holidays, embarassment on trips we took together.

I did try to help him, lots of times, but now he thinks if I suggest a therapist I don't mean it and am attacking him and using "get therapy" as a weapon.

I've been in therapy for years and while not depressed or anxious now I really value it - I'd never use it as a passive aggressive shot.

My therapist suggested I send my parents an email detailing all the things my brother has done over the years, so maybe my mom would understand the extent of the situation so I did - dating back to the mid aughts when he was drunk at my cousin's wedding and woke me up in the middle of the night because some girls at the bar wouldn' talk to him, to trips we took together where he locked me out of hotel rooms we shared, and I had to hide money from him in a town with no ATM or credit card acceptance so we could get a taxi out of town, otherwise he'd have drunk it. There were like ten examples of this. I also sent them a series of texts from this summer that he sent me about how stupid and terrible I am, how I think I'm so perfect but I'm not.

My mom didn't respond, and when I talked to her about it she was like, "why are you fixating on things from ten years ago." Then she cried and cried because I ruined Thanksgiving by not coming home. I was like, it's one holiday, I'll come home for Christmas. I just need a break. I just wanted to spend some time with friends who would smile at me and be gentle and kind, not travel hours to get abuse from my brother for two days and then travel hours back again and back to work.

My mom said she would send me a letter in regard to my email because it was too hard for her to talk about, but I haven't gotten a letter. Meanwhile she's upset that I'm curt on the phone, but I don't know what to say. She's like "I have to listen to both sides, you are my kids" but I don't understand my brother's "side." He's treated me like this for 15+ years, I've tried crying, indifference, lack of contact, daily contact to "support" him, everything but nothing works and I'm exhausted. He's been unemployed for over a year which I think is exacerbating the behavior but just makes my mom think I need to "help" him more. The only thing I've done is not answer the phone from 1-3 AM weeknights when my brother calls to be nasty to me. I explained to my mother that I can't do this because I have to go to work and be well and want a healthy peaceful life and she was like "yeah yeah, your precious life, it's all about you."

I ended up just not talking to my mom any more about the holidays and trying to keep it light, and just expected to go home at Christmas and I guess, cross my fingers that things would be ok because all the drama over Thanksgiving would just be at 11x if I say I won't go for Christmas.

Over the last weekend though, my brother called me 25 times between 2 and 5 am. I had my ringer off so didn't hear it, but I woke up thinking someone had died. My parents aren't in terrible health but they're elderly and have some problems, a sudden death seemed like the only reason to call me so much in the middle of the night.
He had left messages, some with angry rants that I had blocked him on Facebook, which I did because he would call and yell at me whenever I posted something positive ("why are you so happy on Facebook but you never call me?") some just had breathing. There were emails too, with the theme of what a terrible person I am. I responded saying I hope he gets help and I would be happy to talk to him during the day, but I shouldn't have responded I know. His response was more about how terrible and fake I am.

My therapist thought I should send my parents the messages and tell them I'd like to visit them at Christmas, but insist that my brother can't be there. I'm worried about my mom's reaction to this given the Thanksgiving stuff.

I feel like if this were a romantic relationship people would tell me it's abuse, stalking, even my parents would admit that. But since it's my brother I'm supposed to have this unflagging love.

I want to see my parents, but I don't want to see my brother. In one of his messages he said "You'll never see me at Christmas, you'll never see me again" but my therapist says "he's not done," which is chilling. My brother has been semi violent in the past but stops short of hitting.

All I want is to go at Christmas and not see my brother, or not go at all. I don't care if my brother goes to therapy, I don't need my parents to fix our relationship, I don't care about anything at all except that I am gripped by fear at the idea of Christmas.

We don't have anyone else coming to stay with us this holiday, i don't have a partner to bring home, I have one friend living nearby who knows this situation but not the extent of it, and she's pregnant and I don't know how to say "if I call you in the middle of the night scared, can you come get me?" and it seems absurd to need to say that.

Should I send the email about the 25 messages? Should I just not go?

I see no win here, what can I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (78 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm really sorry you are going through this. I think your therapist is exactly right. Send the email about the messages, and explain that you have now (which you should do) blocked your brother's phone number. If something happens to your parents, you can find out about it some other way.

It does sound like your mother is part of the problem (calling you "both bad") though. Does she understand that she is being hurtful and abusive to you?

If it's possible, I would schedule Christmas with some friends. Or go on a short vacation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:17 AM on December 5, 2015 [27 favorites]


Don't go home. Don't feel bad about not going home. You can only control yourself here. If your mother calls you bad or selfish then explain to her you have to be because nobody else looking out for you. It's a horrible situation and I'm sorry you are dealing with it but you have to take care of you.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 6:22 AM on December 5, 2015 [49 favorites]


Why don't you decline visiting at Christmas but invite your parents to visit you later on? Your parents and your brother together don't have to be a package deal.
posted by bquarters at 6:24 AM on December 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


Don't go home. You have no reliable way of evacuating yourself or protecting yourself if things go wrong. Your mother doesn't seem to realise how dangerous and frightening contact with an alcoholic like your brother is. This makes her part of the problem: pushing your buttons in order to make you do things which please her but endanger you. Therapy can help you to weather that button-pushing, and in the long run this is really the best thing. I found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy worked astonishingly well for dealing with anxiety caused by having to maintain boundaries against family expectations and pressure. If this isn't the kind of therapy you are getting, then you might want to look into it in addition to your current therapy- you can learn to use the exercises yourself too.

You can then work to set boundaries with your parents about visiting without your brother being involved.
posted by Flitcraft at 6:36 AM on December 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Your brothers behaviour towards you is abusive. You are under no obligation whatsoever to meet him, talk to him, help him or spend time with him in any way. If this means not meeting your parents at Christmas, that's sad but it can't be helped (at least, not by you).
Whatever you do, plan a nice, safe and pleasant Christmas for yourself.

Your mother is enabling him and that, too, is sad but it's not something you can change. I'm very sorry.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:41 AM on December 5, 2015 [42 favorites]


I am not sure that your therapist's advice is tenable, because your parents see you as the problem. They know exactly what your brother is like. This happens sometimes, when parents know that one child will certainly not bend to make peace so they put all the pressure on the child who will bend to acquiesce to the other child's bad behaviour.

This does not actually make it your fault. You did not cause this situation. The target is not the assailant.

It is up to you to protect yourself, and up to your parents to protect themselves, and also up to your parents to make it possible for you to visit them if that is what they want. They do not sound willing to do that, so if I were you, I would not go at all. I'm sorry for the loss of the shared holiday. It just does not sound safe, and it does not sound like there would be much celebrating.

Your brother absolutely has the potential to become violent. If he were an ex, you would be filing a restraining order. You can do so with a brother as well.

The book that is most recommended on this topic is The Gift of Fear.
posted by sadmadglad at 6:43 AM on December 5, 2015 [59 favorites]


Yes, you can absolutely cut off contact with your brother and still have a good relationship with your parents. I had to cut off contact with a similarly abusive sibling (it became easier when it dawned on me that the relationship was in fact abusive) due to similar reasons. It was a tough transition and it took a while for my mom to understand, but now it's normal. We keep everything separate, and I don't talk about my sibling at all, especially not to my mom.

If your parents ask, tell them you think it's best you and your sibling spend some time apart, and while you won't be able to make it for the holiday, you would love to see your parents come visit you in the spring.

And yeah, there might be presssure. You might feel like you need to make absolute pronouncements and draw lines and explain everything. But really, you don't have to explain.

Anyway, I know it's not easy, but I have been through similar and I'm happier now. Please feel free to memail me if it would help to chat. You are not alone.
posted by mochapickle at 6:49 AM on December 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh honey, I am so sorry. I have been through something similar and it is REALLY hard during the holidays when everyone else is spending time with a seemingly loving family and you have nothing that resembles that.

I feel like your therapist isn't giving you the best advice. Trying to pit your parents against your brother isn't going to work — he IS their child. It's not fair to them, even if thay are somewhat contributing to the problem. You need to be managing your relationship with your brother, not going through your parents as a conduit. My advice to you is to totally cut off contact with your brother. Block his number. Set up a folder in your inbox that his emails go directly into, so you don't have to see them. You need to do this for your own mental health.

If you really want to see your parents for the holidays, maybe see them over New Years and explicitely ask that you get to spend alone time with them, without your brother present. Maybe he'll find out about this but who the fuck cares? He'll be blocked from contacting you so he won't be able to harass you about it. If they can't guarantee alone time, tell them a visit is not possible.

YOU need to be setting boundaries, and sticking to them. FOR YOUR OWN MENTAL HEALTH. You are not a terrible person, and needing to do this does not make you a bad person. You can't fix him. You can only take care of yourself. Your parents can't fix him. Only he can fix him.
posted by Brittanie at 6:51 AM on December 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm so sorry you're going through this. It's so difficult when the people we're supposed to be able to trust are the ones we have to protect ourselves from. Your safety needs to come first and I applaud you for having the courage to remove him from your life.

One thing I would encourage you to think about is that your mother isn't protecting you but is in essence dismissing your experiences. The thing is, no matter how much you try to re-explain, I'm not sure how likely it is that your parents will get it or support you. It's a very difficult time of year to be alone, but your emotional and physical safety are more important than maintaining a relationship that harms you. And I think that includes not just your brother, but your mom too.
posted by A hidden well at 6:52 AM on December 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


This doesn't sound safe at all. Unless you are willing to call 9-1-1 on him if he shows up and threatens you in the least, I don't think you should go.

After your mom's responses about his behavior, I have 0% confidence that she will help keep him away, especially at Christmas.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:10 AM on December 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


So, if you set up a plan to visit your parents and request they not invite your unemployed brother at the same time, how likely do you think it is they will not invite him/stop him at the door if he comes over/kick him out? Yeah, me too. The whole visit would put me into panic attack mode the entire time (and I don't have panic attacks).

This would be a good time to pull back from your family as a support system (since they can't be one) and invest that time and energy into building a local support system. Get a new phone/phone number and email to give to your friends/work etc and keep the old number and email just for your parents and brother. Check the "family" phone/email no more than once a day (less is better). If I were you I would put a restraining order into place against your brother. It sounds like because it has been your life for so long it has becomes "normal" to you but his behaviour is definately illegal in my jurisdiction.

Your therapist's advice is not something I would expect from a profesional with the same information you have given us. I'm not sure what to make of that disconnect.
posted by saucysault at 7:13 AM on December 5, 2015 [21 favorites]


As a survivor of a childhood with an unpredictable and occasionally violent alcoholic parent, I suggest you don't go to visit your family at Christmas. I further suggest that you block/delete/unfriend your brother from your phone/social media and go no contact. His fixation on you is disturbing and somewhat atypical in mixed-gender siblings. As others have pointed out, his rage may not have escalated into physical violence yet, but a fraught holiday gathering is not the place I would want to be with someone so out of control.

Stop trying to explain to your mother, she's not hearing it. Stop doing so much emotional labor for your entire family. This is not yours to fix. Find friends to spend the holiday with and continue to focus on building and maintaining your own positive peaceful life.
posted by little mouth at 7:15 AM on December 5, 2015 [68 favorites]


So sorry you're going through this; don't go home for Christmas or any other time you know he'll be there. (If you're in the Northern Virginia area, I'm willing to meet up with you -- we can do Christmas dinner at a nice restaurant.)

Your brother is, yes, abusive, and you have the right idea blocking him on facebook. Go further: block him on everything. Block his phone calls, his texts and anything else. Don't open anything from him, whether its an email or a letter. Basically, go the full No Contact route. Don't respond to anything from him: total radio silence is the best thing for you to do, completely cut him out of your life.

As for your mother: tell her you don't want to discuss your relationship with your brother with her, and hold fast to that rule. If she starts talking about him on the phone, politely tell her goodbye and hang up. If she starts talking about him while you are with her, tell her you don't want to have that discussion, and if she continues literally walk away. Walk out of the room, and if needed walk out of the house. The heck with it, if she keeps it up go home. No explanations from you, no excuses from her about your brother's behavior or why and how he drives you crazy: tell her once to stop, and walk away if she continues.

And any time that you do visit your parents, not just for Christmas or another holiday, make sure to stay in a hotel, not in their house --- yes, it's more expensive than staying with family, but that space is a godsend at times.

Good luck, and yes I'm serious about inviting you to Christmas dinner.
posted by easily confused at 7:16 AM on December 5, 2015 [36 favorites]


You're getting a double whammy in my opinion, because you are dealing with abusive behaviour AND you're dealing with a parent's repudiation of your safety and need for trust. It sounds like you have had this triangle your whole life, and your mother is part of the abuse cycle. As painful as it is, and will be, you might have to sit with/face down the paradigm that puts your mother firmly in the picture as someone with whom you have to establish boundaries, for your own safety and to draw a line about how you will be treated.

You do not have to enable abuse, and she shouldn't either. She's not stepping up for you and that's not good enough. Crying, accusing and lamenting your needs for safety is shit parenting. You get to be angry and firm about that.

Tell her true things that aren't passing on your collected evidence of her son's transgressions about you, and simply say true things about yourself and your needs. Eg 'I'd love to spend Xmas with you but I am unwilling to spend it with my brother. He has been abusing me for years, as you know, and this is the year where I say 'no more' - you can either help me with this situation, or you can see me at another time."
posted by honey-barbara at 7:25 AM on December 5, 2015 [22 favorites]


There's a series of boundary problems here. That starts with your brother's problem with alcohol. He sounds both unable to control his consumption, and unwilling to accept that as an alcoholic, the likely solution is perpetual abstinence via a programme like AA. His behaviour is not only self-destructive, but as you have pointed out, also abusive.

There is one boundary that has been set, and that is between you and your brother. You write as if that has already substantially improved your life, by reducing the noise and harm from interacting with him.

Then there are two more interdependent boundaries that can be set. The first is between your parents and your brother. The second is between you and your parents. Ultimately, those not only look like interdependent boundaries, but also exclusive boundaries. If your parents are not willing to set a boundary with your brother (as it sounds like they are not), then you will have to set a boundary with them (as it sounds like you are).

There is something in the context here, between you, your parents, and your brother which sounds unresolved. The first is that you sound split between taking care of yourself, and enduring a relationship with your brother. When I read your words, I see the split manifest in that you want a boundary with him, but at the same time, you feel obligated to engage with him / support him. Your mothers words connect with a part of your consciousness that exists, for when she says, "it's all about you," that puts you into the same position he attempts to put you in. Which is, 'if you choose yourself, you are not choosing me/us/our family."

Many people – and some people here on MF – will have had the experience of rejecting that logic both from your brother, as well as from your parents. That is setting a boundary, and it looks like rejecting your brother's entreaties as well as your mother's judgement. Right now that boundary sounds permeable, to where their words modify your thinking and behaviour.

For you could have just as easily said, "I hear your words, and I understand your point of view. The reality is that he an abusive alcoholic, he abuses me, and I choose to take myself out of that situation." Any further protestations by your mother/parents are irrelevant at that point, for you have made a decision that stands, regardless of whether they approve or disapprove of that decision.

In the greater context, if you look at the behaviour of an alcoholic, and look at the enablers that sit around them, there are similar behaviours that manifest in different ways. Broken promises of letters. Black and white judgements. I have to listen to both sides – and therefore am out of control.

Broken promises because it sounds like your parents refuse to accept that he is an alcoholic. Black and white judgements because that is a form of ultimatum that shifts decision-making from them onto you. Listening to both sides means refusal to take an opinion, make a judgement, and in essence, set a boundary.

Reading into the situation – and I will may be wrong here – there is something in the context that created your brother's alcoholic behaviour. Perhaps something in the family dynamic, perhaps not. That behaviour does not sound transient, rather it sounds quite entrenched at this point. That is also the kind of behaviour that affects the entirety of a person's life, and therefore becomes quite obvious. That your parents continue to engage with him on a placating basis, and are not support you – their other child – indicates at best denial and at worst, an abdication from one of their fundamental role as parents, which is to protect their children from threats. Be those threats to self, or threats from within the family itself.

If I read into the situation further – at the risk of being more incorrect – there is a loop between your parents' denial of your brother's situation, and his behaviour. The greater that they deny the truth, the more eccentric and dysfunctional his behaviour becomes in an attempt to seek a basic form of recognition. Perhaps, for him, this is a desire to have your parents identify with who is, and his true experience of life, rather than with their version of him. What they see as unconditional love and sanguine acceptance may be the most infuriating treatment for him. While he cries out for help, they only encourage him through acceptance of those cries. Thus the loop of denial that they may well be co-creating. It's an unfortunate thing to be, however, not completely uncommon.

For to break through their denial and into a place of his reality, your parents must accept their responsibility in either co-creating his reality, or responsibility of rejecting it. Each of which is a painful experience that results from dispelling delusion and dealing with the situation at it presents itself. The moderate path of sitting in the middle in what looks like a sibling feud is absolutely the safest place to hide within their delusion, for that posits the problem between you and your brother, and abdicates any formal role that they have in encouraging the behaviour.

And finally – and again, from afar with limited knowledge – I would say three things about your role in this situation.

The first is that as long as you are an active participant in the situation, you are helping to co-create it. For your brother acts out – sometimes violently – to you. You inform your parents of the behaviour, and they chastise you for asking them to engage in a solution. What's left out is your parents directly engaging with your brother's behaviour. You are in the position of being the conduit between your brother and your parents, and it sounds like that is a role that you have come to accept and embrace. For when you attempt to deviate from that role, not only do your brother and your parents chastise you for it, but you find yourself in a place of self-doubt and isolation.

The second is that you are also acting as an enabler in the situation, for while the situation is unpleasant, it is also stable for you, your brother, and your parents. Your brother acts out, you absorb it, you report it to your parents. In that process, it appears that you have a stable, if not dysfunctional loop. While his behaviour is destructive and painful, it is also familiar. While your parents' refusal to engage and take a stand is both enabling and isolating, it is also familiar. While your role in between them is both suffocating and painful, it is also familiar.

The third – and final point – is to see what happens if you remove yourself from that role. You have already made attempts to do this, however, every time you do that, you see their defensive characteristics exhibiting. Your brother becomes violent, and your mother becomes dismissive and passive aggressive. Yet, within you, you know that role is not productive for you, and you know that role is a role that you no longer play.

What's the gravity to it then? Why is it not a simple decision of informing your parents that you'll visit them on a certain day, and your brother that you have no desire to see him until he becomes sober? The first is that whatever the context of the family has resulted in you feeling disempowered to step away from that role. That in stepping away from that role, things will somehow become worse than they are. Similarly to a belief your parents may hold that if they address your brother's alcoholism head on, things may become worse then they are.

Yet, you've already said that you want to step away and take some time out from this situation. You have realised that your own health requires, and further, that the situation itself is unhealthy.

So why is it so difficult for you to make the boundary impermeable and step away? What's the most likely result if you do?

Something different will happen between your parents and brother when you no longer play your role in the family. You removing yourself from the situation will result in a different relationship between them. And as you have not removed yourself from the situation before, you do not know what that situation will be. If you have internalised enough of your brother's nonsense, then perhaps you are afraid that they will have a wonderful time without out, and you will be on the short-end of the stick for missing out on family Christmas. It's not uncommon that an enabler feels that THEY are the root of the problem, for on that rests the vicious cycle of enabling.

Or perhaps you are afraid that without you to moderate the situation, something else may occur. That when you leave the situation completely – either temporarily or permanently – that will cause something to happen, which it will. And then perhaps you believe that when it does, that you will bear some responsibility for it happening, which you do not. If your belief is that of your mother, which is that by wanting to take care of your own life, you "allow" something else – potentially very painful – to occur in the family, that is a selfish act on your part.

I see the reality is that your parents and your brother are co-creating a delusion together that his drinking is not slowly destroying him and the family. Until now, you have been a participant in that delusion. Now, you no longer want to participate in that delusion. Yet, if you cease participating, an unpleasant but familiar situation will changing into something else – potentially more unpleasant. And now you are sitting at the crossroads wondering if that is okay – if you can make that choice for yourself, a choice to step away from not only your brother, but the entire situation. And you are doubting yourself, because at best maybe you will be lonely and miss family, and at worst you could precipitate something else.

I will leave you with the thought that what if you stepping away makes it better, not only your life, but also theirs. By you taking the space you need and the distance away from your brother's abuse and your parents' denial, that you create for yourself new possibilities. You probably won't even know how deeply your brother's aggression has affected you until you have lived for some time completely free of it.

Without you in your role, there then becomes a cost to your parents' delusion, which is that you have removed yourself from the family situation. At that point, they will be forced into a choice of either continuing the delusion, which comes at the cost of having you around, or beginning to dispel the delusion. Either way, your absence has the ability to make the delusion an active choice on their part, which is about the most you can do, since you yourself cannot actually resolve it for them.

Overall, I will say again, the choice to leave one's family for a period – either temporarily or permanently – is a choice that a lot of people have made. Dysfunction, while unfortunate, is not unique. If you remain in the situation as you have, the situation will remain as it has. By moving away from it and embracing your own life, I see that you have little to lose and much to gain. The only requirement is that you listen to yourself, rather than the stories of your mother and brother, each of whom would rather exist in a known place of pain, than an unknown place.

You have the same decision, whether to continue to exist in a known place of pain, or to move into an unknown place.

TL;DNR: There's codependency in the family. Break the chain and go live the life that makes you happy and allow them to live the lives that they choose to live regardless.
posted by nickrussell at 7:33 AM on December 5, 2015 [26 favorites]


I had a sibling that used to do this, only difference is sibling did it to my parents as well. You can't help an alcoholic when they don't want help. I say this as a recovering alcoholic myself. If your mom doesn't understand this, it is not your problem. I think your therapist is giving you good advice.
IMHO, you brother doesn't need a therapist, he needs AA. Therapy isn't going to do any good while he continues the insanity of active alcoholism. But he isn't going to go there until he is ready. Let him stew in his own juices, it is the quickest way for him to get ready to seek the help he needs, or not seek it. He may never get sober. Many of us don't.
The good news is, sibling got sober, we now have a wonderful relationship. So, there is hope.
posted by rudd135 at 7:39 AM on December 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm so sorry you are going through this. I've been in the same situation with an addicted sibling (even the wording of the abuse is similar) and enabling parents, and it's just so hard.

I think your therapist has the right idea in terms of setting up boundaries with your parents. You can't fix your brother, or your parents, but you can protect yourself.

Here's the script I used with my parents:

"I love you and want to see you, but I do not feel safe around brother. I cannot see you if he will be around. You are welcome to come visit me at any time, but I will not enter your house unless you can guarantee he will not be there. Can you do that?"

Repeat that last sentence until you get a yes or no out of them. It's their choice, and the only one they get as far as your visiting them goes. If they can't do it, stay home. If they can do it, and he shows up anyway, you leave. Have a backup place to go.

In addition, go no contact with your brother. If anyone asks, including your parents, say "It's a difficult situation, and I'd rather not talk about it." If they persist, leave or get off the phone. Repeat until they stop.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:44 AM on December 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm so sorry, but you cannot go there for Christmas. Your brother is entering dangerous territory and is fixated on you and your 'glamorous' life, which in reality is just you having a steady job, a decent place to live and friends who don't feed on each other like wolves. Your mention of rage and semi-violence is scary- this could be the year he strikes you or worse, he is getting close to the edge imo.

Do your parents have a trusted neighbor or another relative who would know if they became ill? You should start thinking about who other than your brother can contact you if one or both of them takes ill or has an accident, etc. Talk to that person and make sure they have your contact info for emergencies.

The healthiest thing would be to block him completely, phone, email, social media, EVERYTHING. Your mother is in deep denial- she's probably very afraid of where her son is in life and thinks you, having a more normal existence, are better able to cope and should allow brother to abuse you (she doesn't see this as abuse sadly). Tell her you won't be letting him treat you this way. She won't understand, just decide on your boundaries and stick to them. Do keep an open line with your mother, she may eventually want to talk to you to get some relief, although to an outsider she's doing a lot wrong, this must be very hard for her.

Stop trying to get her to see your side, she in unable to do that. Work on boundaries with your therapist and enforce them. Do NOT go there for Christmas. Lie if you have to, a sudden project at work, a financial emergency, illness, truthfully say you won't go, just don't go. Stay home, enjoy your friends and a blissfully quiet uneventful holiday. If you can afford it, pay to send your mother a plane or train ticket to a town halfway between you or to your town for a long weekend in late Jan. That way you get to see her but on your own healthy terms. It's too late for your brother, now you must protect yourself from him. I'm really sorry, it hurts like hell to become estranged but you have to care for you.

My eldest brother was the golden child-so handsome, witty, bright, the world was his oyster. Then the alcoholism that runs in the biological family made him very sick and his life went on a downward spiral (I was adopted and dodged that bullet, but basically all my brothers are alcoholics of some degree). The descent, the bottom, no here's the bottom, wait, NOW we're at the bottom, this shit went on for years. I cut him out of my life approx. 15 yrs. before he died of alcoholism due to rage directed at me for no reason other than I was the one there at the moment. He would literally rage on whoever the poor soul was that was in front of him. I decided that person would not be me. Arguing was a blood sport to him. The drama was unending, I was a distant observer of it and it was upsetting to me from afar. I saw him 10 yrs before he died and was frankly shocked at how bad he looked. My mother stuck by him and bought him bottle after bottle of hard liquor for those last years, him living with her, etc. It was ugly. She chose him over anyone else. But I see now she felt she had to enable him, I'm sure she still saw her beautiful 20 yr. old son when she looked at him. That might be what's going on in your mother's mind. She can't face this. Next he'll lose his home or apt. and move in with them if they can't fund his rent/mortgage. Shit will go south fast then, so plan on being supportive to her as much as you can, while guarding your sanity.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 8:02 AM on December 5, 2015 [21 favorites]


Some super helpful and insightful things have been said here. Here's my take. (My credentials: survivor of an emotionally abusive relationship, married to another survivor, licensed professional counselor.)

If this person who is abusing you were anyone but your brother, you would have restraining orders against him in multiple states, assuming you and he live in different states.

My 2nd hand opinion of your situation is that he's escalating/stepping up his aggression. It may be a response to your recent limiting of contact, but when we draw boundaries with these people, their response is often to create a shit ton of drama to draw you back in.

Your parents--I don't know if you can be healthy and safe while maintaining contact with them. At least for now. Your mom either has no insight or is in denial about your brother or both. She may never have any. She's not gonna keep you safe so you have to do that.

You have no obligation to love your brother. The people we get as family--that is a crapshoot, it's chance. The family we choose . . . the ones who are kind to you and smile at you and have your back--those people are your true family.

I think your therapist is underestimating the danger your brother is to you. I think no-contact with the entire fam is the way to go for now, and then to see about resetting boundaries, if possible, after a cooling-off period.

I agree with the person above who said it will be revealing to see what the dynamic is between your parents and your brother if you remove yourself from the situation for a while.

I also think that documenting his behavior will be helpful if you need to get those restraining orders.

2nding a new phone & number (finances permitting), new email, and not giving your fam that contact info.

Last but not least, I am so glad he's 500 mi. from you.

You can memail me if you like. Keeping you in thoughts.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 8:22 AM on December 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


Your brother sounds actually dangerous. Yes, it's abuse, plain and simple. It really frightens me to think that you might meet him.

You have every right to prioritize your own emotional and physical health and well being. This means you do not have to listen to abuse - nor to anyone telling you that you need to put up with abuse - and you sure as hell have the right to sleep uninterrupted by angry drunken rants. You don't have to go anywhere near abusive people. Your mother's "yeah yeah, your precious life, it's all about you" leads me to believe this isn't a message you grew up with. Your brother is abusive, and your mother is enabling his abuse of you. I'm so sorry, that's a shitty betrayal to deal with.

When my sister was going through some issues in her 20s, she used to have these unexpected, scary bursts of anger - screaming fits really - like grown up tantrums. Totally peanuts compared to what you've been putting up with, but the thing is: I used to complain about that to my mother, who would invariably shift the blame to both of us, and so I'd try really hard to make her see the reality of it. Until one day my mother turned to me with this look of anguish on her face and said: "Well what do you want me to say? She's my child, too, and I want to love her." And it was only then that the penny dropped: my mother really, really needed her denial, and she would never be able to support me in this. From then on, I quit trying, and just made my own arrangements to avoid risky interactions with my sister.

Wrt your mother, it must be horrendously painful to lose a child to alcoholism and mental illness. That has already happened, and the only thing standing between her and the abyss is her refusal to see it. You're dealing with iron hard denial and defensiveness, and frankly, I'm a bit baffled about your therapist's suggestions so far: why is s/he encouraging you to keep explaining and defending yourself and asking your mother to take your side? Don't get me wrong, that would be fair (and wonderfully reality-affirming), but I think it's obvious by now that it's not going to happen, and keeping at it will be disappointing and painful to you. Maybe accept that your mother is not able to face the truth about your brother (that he's abusive), which also means she can't see the truth about you (that you're innocent). I'm sorry. Just let that dream go. Get your reality checks elsewhere.

Finally, I have a nagging feeling that even if you tell your mother that your condition for coming over for Christmas is that your brother won't attend, how sure are you that your mother would keep her word?

You really don't have to go. Have a lovely, happy Christmas in stead.
posted by sively at 8:22 AM on December 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


There's lots of good advice here! I especially like snickerdoodle's script to use on your parents.

As you can see from the comments, this is a shockingly common situation. You are not a bad child for blocking your brother or not going home for Christmas. You are a good person for caring, but caring will not help your brother.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:30 AM on December 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've been close to stuff like this before, and I have friends and family that were even closer. You get stuck in a negative cycle. This is what you need to keep telling yourself, and your parents:

My brother's problems are too big for me to fix. I don't have the professional training or skills needed to make a difference for him. Anything I (or my parents) do is likely to be the wrong thing and just make the situation worse. And until my brother wants to get better, I have to limit my involvement. It's not selfish, but just the opposite. I want to help my brother, and disengagement is the only way I can at this point.

Keep repeating shorter versions of this to your parents. Practice in the mirror, it really helps! Come up with some practical logistical plans to see your parents without your brother's involvement. Take the full responsibility of planning, and present it to your parents as a finished product. "I am coming home on Tuesday for a family dinner of just the three of us, and leaving on Wednesday at 4:00." "Y'all come here on January 3rd, and we will have our family Christmas dinner at my place." Remove yourself from the drama of your brother's life without bringing your own drama in to the situation.

Any time they try to circumvent your wishes by including your brother, use Metafilter's favorite phrase "That won't be possible." If your brother shows up, call an Uber driver and leave. Keep your stuff together in an overnight bag so you can just scoop it up and walk out the door. Your main goal is to get what YOU need from your family without drama. Because that's what grown-ups do, they plant their feet and take care of themselves with the least amount of fuss.
posted by raisingsand at 8:35 AM on December 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Then she cried and cried because I ruined Thanksgiving by not coming home.

People have given you great advice about your brother but I'd like to also point out that this is so far from normal that it is also neglectful and emotionally inappropriate.

I grew up with a drunk and verbally abusive dad. He was also charming and funny and smart during the day at a level many of the people in our family had really never been around before. So when I started to put up boundaries, the way some of them dealt with it was basically pointing at me and saying: "Why are you doing this to us?" I am here to tell you fuck them and fuck that and once you get even more distance from all of this you will see this as the terrible tar pit that you are getting yourself out of.

Like, when you're kids and you and a sibling are fighting, it may actually be appropriate for a parent to say "Both of you stop it" but once you get older and you can actually look more closely at power dynamics (this personal is abusive, this person is afraid) you're supposed to move on from that and actually either, as a parent, allow the kids to manage it on their own (shitty but you see it happening) or actually help the situation by helping protect the scared/endangered kid even if they are an adult. Your mom is making it all about her and I'm sorry you have to deal with that because it's awful but the proper response is to tell her that's totally inappropriate and hang up the phone and tell her you will talk to her when she is not doing this. And then stick to that. They don't get to process their emotional issues about your brother at your expense. I am sorry your mom is broken but it may be time for a bit more distance from her because she's actually part of the problem and one that may be more complicated to manage. I wish you luck, I wouldn't go home to this family.
posted by jessamyn at 8:48 AM on December 5, 2015 [52 favorites]


>Then she cried and cried because I ruined Thanksgiving by not coming home.

And did you then cry and cry until she did what you wanted? Or would it be immature, irresponsible, unfair, and kind of reprehensible to use guilt and emotional manipulation to try to control a family member?

People who aren't prioritizing your feelings don't deserve and can't demand to have you prioritize theirs.

Christmas and Thanksgiving are not real. They are just days like any other damn days. You're allowed to do whatever's necessary, in your judgement, to keep yourself safe and happy, and your family is supposed to help you do that.

You know what you need and want in this case, and you're not wrong for needing and wanting it. Please don't let people force you to do something you know is wrong for you.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:06 AM on December 5, 2015 [32 favorites]


Your therapist is doing that "professional" thing where they let you come to your own decisions in your own time. S/he is failing you.

You are not safe, you are harassed and abused. Your parents are also participating directly in abusing. At any point your brother could physically harm you. I suspect when that happens, your parents will still put the blame on you. It will be easier, just like right now it is easier to blame you. They are afraid of him, too. None of this your problem.

Put up every barrier you can think of. Tell your parents they are free to visit you, you will no longer be traveling to them. Block your brother's contact in every way possible. You don't need to keep tabs on him, you're done.

- Incidentally, I've tried the heartfelt letter twice with two different family members when things got serious. Both times the response was... Silence.

I can't tell you how easy it will be to seperate from these people. They're only involved and abusing you because you are allowing it. Once you put down boundaries, they'll scatter like roaches when you turn on the lights.

These people are more concerned with continuing their abusive, damaging, and dysfunctional patterns. They don't want to face themselves and change. They will not protect you, your brother will actively hurt you. And they will scatter into the past once you put up boundaries and protect yourself. They want easy victims, not to improve, change, or fix their mistakes.


See a grief therapist and grieve these relationships and the hope you had for them. It's your way out, it will make you strong even your parents come around and step up (don't count on them to change, only count on yourself.)

I'm not sure what's up with your therapist. Your brother is actively abusing you, your therapist has been too relaxed about the danger you are in. You might re-think that professional relationship.
posted by jbenben at 9:12 AM on December 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


There is a place for people like you. (And me.) There is a place where you can find help and advice and fellowship. It's called Al-Anon and it's free. And the only qualification to attend is if you have been affected by someone's drinking. You have. (I have too!) You're not alone.

You can find a meeting near you. (There are meetings outside of the US too.) Try a meeting. When they ask who is a newcomer, raise your hand. If you don't like the meeting, try another. Every one is different. There are women's-only meetings, too. There are meetings in the morning, afternoon and evening. There will be a meeting on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, too.

These are your people. I am your people. Support is there for you in this difficult time.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:12 AM on December 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


It doesn't help your brother to have you as an emotional punching bag. You've listed the many ways you've tried to have a healthier relationship with him, and he hasn't been able to reciprocate with any of those attempts. It sounds like you're feeling that right now, the best choice for your own sanity would be to have zero contact with your brother--and that would be enough of a reason, in my opinion, but in case it helps, I'd like to point out that it would likely be the best choice for your brother, as well.

A practical suggestion: get a new number and port your old one to Google voice. Using Google voice, block your brother's number. Answer calls from your parents if you feel like it. This way, you can still have phone communication with your parents without the risk that they'll give your new number to your brother.

Regarding the question about sending your brother's harassing and abusive messages to your parents: I think that ship has sailed. You've tried to show your parents the pattern of behavior from your brother, and they're not willing to listen. You've given them sufficient evidence, this isn't about them not having the facts. I don't think it will make you feel better to send them more evidence and have them dismiss it.

Try to work with the facts you have right now: your brother is continually abusive toward you, and your parents are willing to tolerate his behavior and (unfairly) blame you for disrupting family harmony. If you choose to visit, I strongly second the suggestion to stay in a hotel and get your own rental car so that you can easily exit a toxic situation. Either way, gather some supports for yourself--friends, your therapist, books or blogs on alcoholism in family dynamics, volunteering or other community activities. Make sure that you are looking out for your own emotional needs. You deserve it.

Finally, it may make sense to take holiday visits off the table for a while. Emotions tend to run higher, and people tend to both exhibit and tolerate worse behavior around the holidays.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:14 AM on December 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mail one of John Bradshaw's books about alcoholic family systems to your Mom for christmas, along with a scarf or what ever you would send. Leave them with their alcoholic son for this season, wander out into your friendships, or form a new bond with self and enjoy the change of the year.

Aside from forwarding emails from your brother to your mom, do not communicate with any of them until January. Let Hallmark get your back on this one. Block your brother on your phone. Once he gets to your folks place, block their phones. Forward all emails from your brother to both parents and let them deal with him.

Bail on it entirely. Let your parents know, you will not discuss him. Let them know in no uncertain terms you will not relate to him through them, nor will you accept intercession through them. If your mom can't talk to you about you, and her, then bag it until your brother explodes on their, or someone else's lawn.

Go over to the blue and read, then re-read if you have to, the article about the feminist who was stalked for eleven years. This is the same thing, but your family is enabling, because they don't know any better.

So, block your phone.
Screen calls from your parents by taking messages.
Do not go home for Xmas, make great or modest plans and stick with them.
You may be lured into talking with a parent, then there will be a pause, as soon as you detect your brother's voice, hang up.
You can't be all deer in the headlights about this.
There will be cloying and sweetness, and just no.
P.S. do not read the emails you forward.
Forward for a week, then block for the rest of the holiday.

If he really has to play the game, watch your routines and your driveway. If his car shows up get the police involved.
posted by Oyéah at 9:17 AM on December 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I just want to point out that if you set up all kinds of boundaries with your parents, you'll still be doing ALL of the work to keep yourself safe and abuse free. Your parents likely will not be mindful of your rules and boundaries. Just like they are not currently mindful of keeping you safe from your brother.

You're not obligated to put yourself through that effort. Keep this knowledge in your back pocket. You are free to walk away at any moment. Keep yourself safe, including keeping this valuable energy I am discussing for yourself, your career, and your own marriage and family if/when that happens one day.

See what I am saying?
posted by jbenben at 9:27 AM on December 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Never forget, his primary relationship is with ethanol. Your parents are figuratively, still bottle feeding him. All other hoopla is just a disguise for this fact. Get safe. Without you in the dramatic production, then the curtain falls.
posted by Oyéah at 9:29 AM on December 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Additional thought re: the suggestions that your parents come to visit you, instead of you visiting them:

That's all well and good, but make sure they know ahead of time they are going to be staying in a hotel, never in your home. (Lie if you have to, say you don't have the space or maybe you've got a friend couch-surfing right now, but they can't stay in your place.) Up above in my previous comment I suggested you always stay in a hotel when you visit them, to give you breathing space from your parents; it's also true that when they are visiting you, you will still need that space. Additionally, since your brother lives so close to them, who's to say that even if you invite only your parents --- making it very clear to them that your brother is not welcome --- that they won't bring him anyway, expecting you to welcome him into your home?

Heck, even if they didn't bring him as a surprise (unlikely) I'd still suggest only meeting them in public spaces and never letting any of them, parents or brother, set one foot inside your door.
posted by easily confused at 10:02 AM on December 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


I agree with everyone above who points out that your mother is part of this abusive dynamic right now, and that trying to prove your side to her right now is futile. You gave her enough information for her to understand the situation, and she chose to dismiss it. More information is unlikely to change that.

I'm sorry. I can't even imagine how hurtful that must be, but I think you may want to focus on dealing with that hurtful reality for right now. Things may absolutely change in the future -- your mom may come around to understanding, your brother may stop drinking -- but the reality you're in right now is that your brother is abusive and your mother won't protect or comfort you.

I would absolutely not visit my family at Christmas if this were the dynamic, and I would just tell them that I didn't feel safe there and then refuse to engage when they tried to minimize my feelings.

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. You don't deserve it, and it sucks that you have to do all this work because of something that is absolutely not your fault.
posted by jaguar at 10:05 AM on December 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's a concept called "triangulation" that happens in families, where two people in the same family talk about and gang up on the third. It happens all the time, and the thing about it is, you can't predict if it's going to happen to you, especially if you are attempting to use that tactic with another member of the family. Generally, the "point" of the triangle is a parent, who generally does equally love all siblings equally, and has a very hard time "choosing" one over the other.

With triangulation, the "bad" sibling tends to win out over the "good" sibling, because the "good" sibling will try their best to make peace, which is exactly what the parent wants. It doesn't really matter if the behavior is hurting any of the parties (up to a point), because many parents just want everyone to "get along," and getting along often includes all showing up to family events.

The only way to stop this is to refuse to participate. You state your reasons for not attending Christmas, you tell your Mom you love her and will see her at another, safer time for you, and then disconnect. IT WILL BE HARD this first Christmas, then a little less so the next one, and eventually you'll either make a new holiday tradition, or she'll have to find a way of having you to Christmas on your own terms.

Stay strong and have a happy holiday season. You're doing good work standing up for yourself.
posted by xingcat at 10:05 AM on December 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


Possible alternate reading from the parents' POV:

Your parents know he's an alcoholic. They know he's abusive to you. He's probably abusive to them ffs. They know they should cut him off, but also feel obligated to help him. They don't know how to do that. They feel ineffective at helping and spineless for what they put up with. At least they have someone on their team who understands - you. Not now, though. You're bailing on the team, abandoning them to deal with your brother on their own.

Which is not to say you should let it continue like it has. I'm just saying, while you're cutting off contact with your brother, a more direct conversation with the parents might help. Not providing evidence, etc. They know. Just: "when you're ready to start doing something about this, I would like to help. I will no longer ignore it, live with it, or help sweep it under the rug."
posted by ctmf at 10:22 AM on December 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm a bit baffled about your therapist's suggestions so far: why is s/he encouraging you to keep explaining and defending yourself and asking your mother to take your side?

Me too. Ultimately, you don't need your mother to acknowledge your brother's treatment of you. You know what's going on and don't need to prove it to her. Just move ahead based on your own understanding of the situation.

It makes sense to block your brother and to tell your parents that because you don't feel safe around him, you won't be coming home this year. In fact, if there's any chance they'll come to your place uninvited, I'd go on vacation this year. Things are generally most dangerous right after you draw a boundary or make a change.
posted by salvia at 10:37 AM on December 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Don't go home for Christmas. Even if your mom somehow agrees to a separate one. Your brother only lives 20 miles away and I can rock solid guarantee that he's going to show up while you're there. Because you parents *will* tell him when you're coming. They may do it in a "you can't come because Anon is going to be here" way, but they'll tell him. And he'll come. And it will be dangerous.

I watched one of my friends go through this exact dynamic. It got dangerous, and she had to move without giving any of her family a forwarding address. She said that in retrospect she would have cut off her parents if they were going to continue enabling her brother's addictions.

Your therapist is trying to make it so everyone gets what they want, but that isn't possible. Are they very young or new to the profession? Because this is really terrible advice, which could absolutely put you in harms way. I'm worried about your safety. There's lots of good advice in this thread, and good resources for reading more. Sadly, your situation isn't unique. But that does mean there's support and help. Please take care of yourself. I'm so very sorry that your mom doesn't have your back. You deserve someone having your back, even if it's just you.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:52 AM on December 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


Al-Anon has made my life much better in a way that many years of therapy did not. The therapy was useful but my therapists never discussed either codependence or Al-Anon with me, which turned out to be key concepts for shifting from feeling victimised all the time to taking control of my own life and becoming healthier and much happier.

Al-Anon is for the friends and family members of people who have problems with alcohol (and/or, in my case, mental illness--but that's not the official line). One of the best tools Al-Anon offers is called loving detachment. When I was in the middle of a bunch of alcoholic drama, I spent all my time reacting to others. I wanted to help, I wanted to fix, I wanted things to be different so I stayed in the middle of the mess instead of calmly stepping out of it.

Nothing got fixed and nothing changed until I found Al-Anon and began detaching, emotionally, from the alcoholics (and other unhealthy folks) in my life and pondered what I wanted and what I needed. I was confused; I thought that if someone loved me then I owed them something. That's not actually true; I didn't ask to be born (as my Al-Anon sponsor once pointed out), and, for example, I do not owe my dry-drunk, rage-oholic father a home with me even though he wants one.

Nor was I obligated to continue a relationship with an alcoholic lover who insisted (and convinced me for awhile) that I was responsible for his feelings. Nope. I am responsible for my words and my deeds but I am not responsible for how others feel about them.

Your mom who cried for days because you "ruined" Thanksgiving? That's on her. You explained why you couldn't come. Her feelings about it are up to her. She had a choice about how to respond to your need to protect yourself. She made a shitty choice and that's not your fault nor your problem--unless you allow it to be your problem.

That's where loving detachment comes in. We learn to keep loving the people we love while stop being emotional (or actual) doormats. We learn to understand that we didn't cause the alcoholism, we can't control it, and we can't cure it.

So please, follow Blahlala's excellent advice. Go to a bunch of different Al-Anon meetings. Find one that feels right to you and keep going. Doing that 5 years ago pretty much saved my life. Continue focusing on your own needs (as you have begun to do--yay you!) and plan the most kick-ass holiday ever. It can be quiet. It can be bold. It doesn't matter. It just has to fit you. (And if it's not perfect, that's okay. It doesn't have to be perfect. We're all human here. We're all practicing.)

This thing with your brother? It might be an opportunity to make it all about you in a good way. To truly become the star of your own story and to take care of your own needs and to tell your parents that you love them and, also, won't be seeing them at Christmas because you need to feel safe. End of discussion.

And then go enjoy yourself however you define enjoyment. It's okay to choose yourself. It won't feel natural, at first. You've had years of training that it's not okay to take care of yourself. But it's more than okay. It makes life better, way better. (Sometimes, it makes life better for the rest of the family as well. That's not something to count on, but it does happen. It happened with my family.)

You can't fix your brother nor the rest of your family. Here's what you can do: Love yourself, protect yourself, and make plans for the loveliest Christmas imaginable. The kind of Christmas you would give yourself if you could give yourself exactly the Christmas you want. Without family drama. Without drunken rages. Without bullying. Without guilt or shame.

Since my kid is grown and I live alone, I'm no longer forced into family holidays with a tradition-bound script. I can do whatever the hell I want to. And it's delightful. Congrats on fighting for a healthier life. Happy holidays, dear one!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:03 AM on December 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


I have a very different read on the therapist's advice from others – she's suggesting to send proof to your mother, trusting that you will decide what to do next based on your mother's reaction. Indeed, you already have a gut feeling of what your mother's reaction would be. I'm sure your therapist does too. It also sounds like you and your therapist have a relationship where your therapist trusts your judgment in these matters, as you do theirs.

A really good therapist very likely (barring imminent violence) would not straight out say "don't go to Christmas with those people," especially if/when you have a relationship where they can see that would be a realistic choice for you. Therapy is all about building our resources, learning new approaches, trying them out, and learning to trust our judgement. Your therapist is doing well by not giving you major shortcuts.

I think your gut intuition of how your mother would react is correct, and that you're afraid that is exactly the case. It's never an easy thing to confront. But it's best done now, while your mother has a chance to prove her true colors (or not, who knows), before the holidays, when you would be at much more risk.

I also am getting a very creepy vibe from your brother that goes beyond sibling relations. You do not have to spend Christmas with these people. Especially not him. If worst comes to worst and you're alone at Christmas – no worries, you are not alone, there are many of us in this world who do just that. I'm spending yet another Christmas alone, and though it's lonely (all my nearby friends will be spending it with their faraway families), it's immensely freeing to be celebrating on my own terms. So don't feel like it's the end of normalcy; it's just a different normal, one we don't often see mediatized!
posted by fraula at 11:16 AM on December 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


Nthing AlAnon. You will find people there who understand what you're dealing with.

Your mother may or may not come around to understanding your perspective. Rather than enumerating and describing the countless times your brother has done this crazy drunken shit to you, just simply tell her he's done it too many times and you do not want to have any contact with him and you will not come to their house until he's been sober for at least a year. Put your foot down. Refuse to engage with her in any discussion of your brother. Reassure her that you would welcome her and your father for a visit to your home. And don't back down.

Where is your father in all of this family drama?
posted by mareli at 11:32 AM on December 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your therapist scares me. Was it their suggestion to send the emails? Did they consider what might happen if your brother happened upon them? This worries me greatly.

I am in agreement with the general consensus above in regards to not going for Christmas, and setting boundaries. Also, it will get harder before it gets easier when you set a boundary, but that is usually a transition/retraining time. In a year from now, you and your mother will have both adjusted and gotten used to the new statue quo. It will feel more comfortable by then.
posted by Vaike at 12:58 PM on December 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also absolutely everything Bella Donna said.
posted by wwax at 1:21 PM on December 5, 2015


Chiming in to suggest Al-Anon as a source of strength and support, this holiday season and always. Alcoholism is a family disease and affects every single person involved in different ways, including you and your parents. I "discovered" it via MeFi during a crisis and I cannot imagine my life without it now. Feel free to MeMail if you want to chat.
posted by juniperesque at 1:39 PM on December 5, 2015


I don't understand why your therapist is interested in your proving this experience to your parents beyond the legwork you've already done.

I explained to my mother that I can't do this because I have to go to work and be well and want a healthy peaceful life and she was like "yeah yeah, your precious life, it's all about you."


This is a cruel response. She surely has her own deal, her own conflicted feelings, her own hauntings, but this is beyond what you are responsible for. You're responsible for protecting yourself, and it sounds like disengaging on all fronts might be the best thing for you.

I would ask your therapist why it your mother's validation of your realities is important. It sounds like your mother is in deep denial, can't offer you anything, and this isn't going to change. Accepting that and making decisions accordingly is really important.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:01 PM on December 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


All I want is to go at Christmas and not see my brother, or not go at all.

Don't go. And with respect to your therapist, conversing about this with your mother is taking a huge emotional toll on you. I suggest taking a communication break with brother and mother, and reading The Gift of Fear for tips on how to deal with this kind of unwanted communication without listening to the messages/reading the texts.

As a parent, I can say that it would be extremely hard to cut off a child, especially one who did seem to be mentally ill/weak. That doesn't make it okay AT ALL--your mother is doing you a huge disservice. I'm not saying this to defend your mother. I'm saying this so you can strategize accordingly, and adjust your expectations way, way downwards. She's triaging your needs and your brother's "needs" and as long as you're healthy and relatively happy, chances are you'll lose in this process. It's profoundly unfair that being the normal, healthy one gets you less support from your parents, but it's true in the vast majority of cases.

She also feels guilty about the fact that she's making this decision. Parents generally hate seeing their kid being hurt (meaning you) even if they've made a decision that allows it to happen. So she's going to be avoidant about the fact that you've been sacrificed for your brother.

So, your strategy: convince her that your brother needs you and your mother to set serious, firm boundaries. Frame it as being for his sake You'll have a better shot at it actually working if she thinks it's a win/win. You might need to stop talking about this topic with her for a while to make it more convincing. Or pretend like you read something new and now you realize that Boundaries Are the Solution!!!

I doubt it'll happen by Christmas. Plan a happy Christmas without her. Try doing something you personally really want to do that you can't do with your family. Travel, do something strenuous, go to a metal concert, whatever. Get out of your everyday routine and do something special and fun for you. Proactively decide that you're not going home and don't wait on your mother's permission.

As someone with an alcoholic, irresponsible, and abusive sister (who nonetheless has ended up with a substantial portion of my elderly father's social security check) I feel you so so hard. I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:29 PM on December 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mom, of course you love Brother. I hope you will help him get treatment for his drinking. He has been behaving badly to me, his behavior is extreme, and I plan to spend as little time as possible with him right now. I really want to see you at Christmas. I'm arriving on Christmas day and will be staying at hotel/airbnb/friend's place. I hope to see you for dinner on Christmas. I'd prefer not to see Brother, and will work around your schedule. I'm staying for several days, so we'll have a chance to have a good visit.

You can't control who your Mom invites to her home. You can control when you visit. Your mom loves your brother, and that makes sense. Respect her for that. Rent a car so if Brother shows up unexpectedly and/or behaves badly to you, you can leave quietly and quickly.

Your brother's behavior sounds extreme. Ask your Mom if he's behaving well to her, and talk to her about what to do if he's not. Use Caller ID and do not talk to your brother. Block his email. His alcoholism is way out of control, and, sadly, you can't do anything about it.

I'm from a family where there was alcoholism and mental illness and lots of drama. Renting a car when I visited made it so much better. I wasn't trapped, I could just leave, go for a drive, visit a friend, whatever. I had to be totally independent in order to get out of the mess, and it was well worth it.
posted by theora55 at 2:36 PM on December 5, 2015


Also knowing violent alcoholics...there's no way I would put myself in a room with your brother, where your brother could be, or anywhere that your brother might be able to find you. I would not go to Christmas at all. Even if your mother doesn't invite him, or she tells him he's unwelcome, he could show up. He might be angrier and more scary if your mother disinvites him or doesn't invite him. I strongly suggest that you absolutely do not go, even if your mother disinvites him on your behalf.

I didn't make it clear earlier that this is for your physical health in addition to your emotional health, but it is. Don't go. Definitely don't go with the intention of leaving if things get bad. That's like the worst of both worlds because by the time things get bad, things are bad. It's not workable to be desperately calling a cab from the bathroom or trying to sneak out the door between screaming episodes.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:42 PM on December 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also if he knows where you live I would consider moving and not telling your parents where you are. This is really scary, it's escalating, and your mother is not going to be able to protect you. Act accordingly.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:42 PM on December 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Everyone, including your brother, is choosing to support him. Someone needs to support you. Be that person and do whatever you need to do to be safe. Your parents and brother have chosen their path but that doesn't mean you need to be dragged down too. This is a terrible situation but sometimes you just need to look after yourself first.
posted by Jubey at 3:06 PM on December 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


[This is a followup from the asker.]
I just decided to call and talk about this plan with my mom. I called and said I didn't think I'd be able to come, and hoped I could be all "Wont be possible" about it but lost my cool unfortunately. She was like "you're making me very sad" and said she won't come to see me at a hotel and that its enough now and I have to come home.

"He's not a bad person, he's a very good boy."

Sorry Metafilter, I got really upset. I told her I didn't feel safe, she said that's ridiculous. I told her about the messages and she said "he said you blocked his Facebook and phone, what kind of person are you?"

I said I blocked his FB because he'd call and harass me about it but never blocked his phone and have fifteen messages, some with heavy breathing.

Her denial just blows me away. She said she talked to him about the drunken stuff in the email and he told her he doesn't do that anymore. He also told her that he called me that night to apologize, and I said, he left fifteen message (not blocked by phone)
and some of them were just breathing. I was like he's lying.

So then it went back and forth between me giving evidence of the terrible things and her alternating between "he doesn't do that" or "he doesn't mean it" and "what am I supposed to do? I cant drive him to a hospital. I said "I just want you to say you're sorry that happened to me" She said "I support you in everything you do, I love you"

So, all these right turns and detours. This went on for a while. I said "if this were a husband or boyfriend you'd tell me it's not safe and stay away" and she said " you can't divorce your brother ok?" and "Don't listen to people outside the family" like we're in the Sopranos or something.

Finally we ended up having a semblance of a normal conversation and she said "he told me he called you to tell you he was sorry" which sort of broke my heart. I said "no he called me fifteen times and said never to speak to the family again and I think I'm perfect." It was like the 20th time I told her and it seemed like it was getting through.

She asked if I could go to a therapist with him and I said, yes, absolutely if he asks me and makes me feel safe about it. I think she just started to shut down after a while and was like "great, take care, snuggle the cats for me."

I know this is all a bit textbook, but i admit i was a little clueless about how bad it was until my exboyfriend mentioned gently how I was doing enabling/dramaing behavior by answering the phone, and also how I didn't need to listen to that crap.

It was like a bolt of recognition. I'd honestly had no idea. as for the stuff with my therapist, I think this was new information for him too, Id kept a lot of this to myself. He also reflects a lot of my own feelings in his strategies for me. He'll be like "often, people react to this kind of thing in x way" but I think he was surprised she had no reaction and was still in so much denial. Like fraula said, I feel like he knows what i want to do and helps me deal with my reactions - like he knows it will go this way or that way and helps me process the positive and the negative. We have a long relationship and Id never do anything on his suggestion I'm not comfortable with. BTW, he too brought up the restraining orders.
I guess I've tried to prove my case with my mother because...she was always a rational, calm person. She's a doctor, generally a thoughtful, fun, playful person. I never, ever fought with her before the last six months. This isn't the person who i feel raised me. That's part of what's so shocking. It does sound a lot like what she said my grandmother became in her old age, demanding the family rally around her and put on happy faces at all times (this is the WASPy side of my family, but my mother was raised in a different culture. and now we're in America, where I was born)

Also, I feel some guilt because I've become much closer to my father in recent years. As for his role, he just refuses to talk about it at all. he thinks my brother is a disaster and yes he was also a victim of my brother's abuse. He did read through the email and was like "if you want to meet me at a hotel in a nearby city I'll do that."

When my brother and I were kids though my dad was the rageaholic. So i feel a bit guilty that my mom might be like "I was this steady rock all these years and now she's closer to dad." I think my brother is also angry that I am closer to my dad. didn't mention things about my dad because I had written a similar ish post about this topic over a year ago, when things were bad but before I realized my complicity, where people told me to look at how I might have hurt my brother in the past, and how my dad was the real problem and may have sexually abused my brother (NO basis for that, it's kind of outrageous). So this post is the exact opposite, possibly the way i wrote it.

I'm grateful for all these answers, would love more, and honestly thought I wanted to print out the whole thread and make it into a blanket and just wrap my self in it when I feel badly about this stuff.
I have been to Al Anon and did find it helpful, but you're all right, I should find many more meetings and really use that network. I also downloaded the Gift of Fear.

Thank you all so much. I've been around here a long time but the answers here have exceeded my expections. I'll MeMail those of you who suggested it and anyone else who'll have me :)
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:09 PM on December 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


This: "My 2nd hand opinion of your situation is that he's escalating/stepping up his aggression. It may be a response to your recent limiting of contact, but when we draw boundaries with these people, their response is often to create a shit ton of drama to draw you back in."

My take is this. The abuse (phone calls, yelling, stalking) is an effort to alleviate his own shitty feelings... and to control you. By stopping taking the calls you are denying him his release valve and challenging his control. He will be desperate to regain control and relieve his considerable emotional distress. The only tools he has to do this are abuse and control. So he will deploy these tools with increasing vigour. In short, he will amp it up to extreme levels to get you to engage so he can feel better and in control again.

I'd also like to flag that for this reason the time you end/exit an abuive relationship is very dangerous. The abuse may escalate and there is a good chance it will become violent. Even if he has not hit you before please don't rule this out as a possibility. Please have a safety plan in place for yourself, including what to do if he turns up at your door, enraged and looking for a fight. I know he's miles away but it never hurts to be prepared. Being unprepared on the other hand can hurt very very much. A domestic violence shelter will be able to help you formulate a safety plan by the way. It doesn't have to be complex - check locks, rehearse what you will do, who you will call, let friends know what's happening. I'd say there's a good chance you can do this over the phone with a telephone counsellor.

And don't go home for Xmas. They will all be upset at you. It will be a shitstorm of grief and rage and blame probably. You will be painted as the bad guy. That will suck. However. Not as much as being raged on and abused at close quarters by someone with a scary stalker-level fixation on you. And two other people who won't defend you. You will be safe at home away from them. Stay safe.

Qualifications: emotionally, verbally physically abusive parents who I set boundaries with. Psycho ex I cut off.

Ps I'm so sorry you're going through this. It is possible to come out the other side though, promise. It's nice here where you make your own family and they're not total shits. Memail me anytime.
posted by t0astie at 3:40 PM on December 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


Apologies if this sounds harsh, but there has been no progress made here yet. You are at the very beginning of a breakthrough, but you must not let your guard down now. You have taken steps toward independence from the situation, however you have a long way to go.

The pattern is present in what you have written your mother said:

"You're making me very sad"
"He's not a bad person, he's a very good boy."
"he said you blocked his Facebook and phone, what kind of person are you?"
"he doesn't do that"
"he doesn't mean it"
"what am I supposed to do?"
"I cant drive him to a hospital."
"I support you in everything you do, I love you"
"You can't divorce your brother ok?"
"Don't listen to people outside the family"
"he told me he called you to tell you he was sorry"

The worst moment is this:

She asked if I could go to a therapist with him

You have just established that your brother is abusive, which she denies continuously. She then asks you to be part of the solution. That you and the very man that you feel unsafe being around, who's behaviour is tenuously unstable, should go to a therapist together so that you can help him solve his problem.

That is not your responsibility. If she wants someone to take him to a therapist, she can take him to a therapist. Putting that on you shows that 1) she is not truly in touch with the reality of the situation, and 2) she is afraid of you leaving the situation. Most likely, she knows what you say is true, and she cannot confront the reality that her son has a difficult addiction and is threatening her daughter. If we ignore it, it will go away. If you see a problem with him, why don't you fix it.

Further, you are making excuses for your mother's lack of engagement:

I guess I've tried to prove my case with my mother because...she was always a rational, calm person. She's a doctor, generally a thoughtful, fun, playful person. I never, ever fought with her before the last six months. This isn't the person who i feel raised me. That's part of what's so shocking. It does sound a lot like what she said my grandmother became in her old age, demanding the family rally around her and put on happy faces at all times

1) You want your mother to be the way she was.
2) Then you identify that she has become something else.
3) Then you explain it away by saying 'this is how the family is'.

For the moment, I strongly suggest that you unpack these relationships in the four people. You, your brother, your mother, and your father. Together they compose "the family", but the family identity is getting in the way of everyone's sanity here. Choose your level of engagement with each of them, but recognise that:

1) Your brother's behaviour is controlling. He's threatening you, lying to your mother, and he's alienated your father. Your mother's solution is for you to take him to therapy. (I can't quite get over that one, really. 'He's abusive.' 'Why don't you go spend some time alone with him and see if you guys can work on that'. REALLY? Her denial is so deep, she may well be putting you in danger, but she would rather do that than admit her 'very good boy' is a fucking monster.)

2) Your mother is pushing you back into the situation whenever she gets the chance. She's bullying you out of your opinions, and using her role to manipulate you into being complicit in her denial that your brother is at best self-destructive, and at worst, destructive to other people. She is not looking to protect you in any way, and therefore you not only must protect yourself from your brother, you must also protect yourself from your mother.

3) Not sure about your dad, but you can see your level of denial in the very statement, "I was this steady rock all these years and now she's closer to dad". You have absorbed her issues and made them your own, to the point where you cannot protect yourself out of a duty that you think may be expected by your mother. She was the parent. She made her choices and she had her life. You have no obligation to any of the three of these people to do anything.

Commonly, in treatment programmes, it's mentioned that family situations can be the most abusive specifically because of the loyalty and attachment that people feel to their families. Regardless of the fact that those situations can be abusive or detrimental. Because they're family, many people think they must accept behaviour they would never accept from any other person. The reality is that these are people like any other, and you have the same obligation that you have to any other person. Regardless of background, or culture, or anything else. Those are all labels that you choose to accept. And you are choosing to accept this treatment now.

The biggest watch area I see here is that you are not at the end of your journey out of this, you are at the very beginning. You have made the first step toward sobriety and escaping whatever situation your brother and mother are locked in, but you have a long way to go. Choosing a healthy life means first establishing new relationships and a new identity away from your family. As you develop that identity, you can begin to connect with your family on your terms.

But be very aware that your brother may well be a dangerous person deep in the throes of addition to the point his behaviour could easily become violent. Keep in mind that your mother's solution is to put you and him in the same situation, despite your protestations and the fact your brother is potentially dangerous to you. I would urge you not to look at these people as your brother and your mother, but rather as a sick man willing to do anything to feed his addiction, and your mother as the woman who enables him to do that.

Any engagement will result in you going back into your role as an enabler. I would say for all intensive purposes, you should stay far away from your brother and limit contact with your mother until he goes into intensive treatment. Unfortunately, she's chosen which child she is going to back, and it's not you, it's the abusive one with the addiction. That shit may sting, but you have to move in. For when the parent in denial pushes you into a room alone with the abuser, that parent no longer has your best interests at heart.

Good luck. Stay strong. Tell those voices in your head that make excuses for your family to fuck off. That's an old story you don't need anymore. Get away. Live your life. Come back later when he's hit rock bottom, she wakes the fuck up, or preferably both. There's nothing for you there anymore.
posted by nickrussell at 4:11 PM on December 5, 2015 [28 favorites]


There’s a lot of talk here about whether the therapist has given appropriate advice or not to OP.

Dear OP, here is my obligatory disclaimer: I am a counselor but not your counselor.

According to my training (as an LPC) the ideal situation is that you join with your client, reflect their feelings and meaning, and and help them over a period of time to gain insight and change their behavior themselves, because they see value in it. Or you help them deal with the behavior of others while caring for themselves as much as possible.

There are times when a therapist needs to be more directive, however.

If my client came to me and said “I’m frightened to go home for the holidays” and described the behaviors of her abuser to me (in this case, her brother), as well as the reaction of her parents to said abuse, I would very quickly be running through my legal and ethical obligations and the “duty to warn” laws in our state.

I totally do not want to diagnose anybody 2nd or 3rd hand but given the reported behavior of OP’s brother I would suspect a dual diagnosis of some sort. Not only the alcohol abuse but another personality issue. OP has not said he is different when not drinking—that would be revealing.

I am kinda tired and not too sharp tonight but I didn’t want to wait to post. OP, please MeMail me if you want to talk further. My email is also temporarily visible is in my profile if you would rather get a throwaway gmail account for yourself and mail me there. I'm not your counselor but I really want you to be safe.

sis
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 4:18 PM on December 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


Anon, I feel for you so deeply. First, I'm just sending a hug and solidarity.

Next, and this is hard to hear: Nobody's feelings about this ASIDE FROM YOURS are any of your responsibility. Not a single one.

It's super unfortunate that your mom is so upset about this. She seems really mad/in denial/frustrated by your brother's actions, and yours, and other peoples'. And wow, your brother is clearly a mess and hurting and behaving badly.

And yet. NOBODY'S FEELINGS BUT YOUR OWN ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. Nor can you control them. Nor should you own them, or try to do anything about them. In fact, none of your problems in this situation are ever going to go away if you don't stop engaging with other people's expectations/thoughts/opinions/demands and instead engage with yourself.

In reading your post, I see statements like "I [don't] feel safe." "I don't want to see my brother." "I see no win here."

There is a win here—an opportunity for you to take care of YOU. Listen to yourself, love yourself, and give yourself what you need. Your mom sure as hell isn't going to, and your brother isn't going to. This may be the hardest thing you ever do in your life. Disentangling yourself from abuse and fear is so, so hard. But you are worth it and you can do it. Listen to yourself and take responsibility for your emotions and care for yourself.
posted by mynameisluka at 4:19 PM on December 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Could you, for the time being, take your relationship with your Mum to email and stop the phone conversations?

It sounds like it's not safe for you at the moment to speak to her on the phone because therapy hasn't yet enabled you to set safe boundaries with her. She doesn't mean to, but she is persuading you to endanger yourself. If you move to email and to doing things by writing, then you don't have to respond to things immediately, then you can take the emails to your therapist and get help to look at them rationally without being emotionally overpowered. You can look at the evidence for what she says and challenge your own negative thinking which makes it hard for you to set boundaries, and deal with the unpleasant and difficult feelings which it brings up. It will give you more control over the interaction and even things up a bit - parents are emotionally very powerful people and a phone call isn't a level playing field in a situation like this.

I don't know what sort of therapy you are in, but I can tell you from experience that they don't all work for this. Mum isn't meaning to hurt you but she is kicking off feelings and patterns of thinking in you which cause you to act against your own safety and to put yourself at risk. Therapies which directly challenge the thoughts which are setting off those feelings, so they diminish and you can think clearly, are the ones which I found to work.

It's as if she's pushing you towards a cliff-edge which you can see but she can't - she's unfortunately emotionally incapable of seeing it - and so she doesn't understand that she's pushing you towards danger. You see the cliff-edge, but when you speak to her, she tries to persuade you it isn't there - down comes the fog and you can't see the edge anymore and you're in danger of tumbling over. For both your sake, and for your Mum's sake long-term, you need help to keep that cliff-edge visible and to refuse to be pushed towards it, and that means for the time being, until therapy helps you overcome it, you need to avoid these phone conversations, and avoid going home for Christmas. When you reach the point where your mum can't manipulate you on the phone and make that edge start to disappear, then you can safely rebuild the relationship.

Also the stuff about going to a therapist with your brother? I'm so sorry, but that shows Mum has no idea of the danger she is putting you in. It really sucks to have to be your own parent when your parent is pushing your towards danger, but you should on no account do this.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:24 PM on December 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am a huge believer in cutting off family members for short or long periods of time. My family of origin was full of drama which I will not delve into here. In the past I have gone 6 months without contacting my mother, had various spats with my father, and stopped talking to my sister entirely after age 25. My life improved enormously. My dad, too, is the one who never really gave up on me and who I've become closest to, because he is more rational and realistic about people's failings. My mother has always been rather concerned with appearances and denial and not speaking to her for a while was a very good decision that has helped our relationship. At the time I really never thought we'd reconcile, but we have to an extent, with healthier boundaries. I feel like I'm really the Adult now when I talk to her, and she respects me in a way she did not before.

Break up with your family. It is rare, but necessary in some families and incredibly freeing. Financial independence is a wonderful gift. Enjoy your adult life!
posted by quincunx at 4:26 PM on December 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sadly, I'd also worry about visiting your dad at a hotel. I worry about him telling your mom what hotel it is, and your brother finding out from her, and them all tagging along with your dad or otherwise not respecting your boundary. You're better at assessing this risk than I am, but I wanted to mention it because I have a long history with messed up families and it seems within the realm of normal for a parent who is desperately trying to make everyone be "nice".

I understand the guilt you feel. But I would suggest that if you can, and it helps, trying to reframe the situation to center your own needs as a child and as an adult. You deserve to have support from your father. You deserved it as a child, and didn't get it. That was not a good situation. You're getting support from him now. Whenever a child gets healthy support from their parent and can have a healthier relationship with that parent, it's a good thing.

I'm terribly sorry you have to deal with this right now.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:59 PM on December 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


[This is another followup from the asker.]
Here's an a throwaway email address: anonfambly@gmail.com
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:13 PM on December 5, 2015


I'm sorry but Fuck. Your. Family. Your brother is scary abusive. Siblings with normal relationships absolutely do not do this, absolutely not! And your mother copping out and just sort of believing in the hail mary that everybody will be slappy happy for the holidays because that means she doesn't have to do anything about it. She knows she can put it on you because you are not scary abusive and handle familial relations like a normal person. Seriously, seriously, do not do Christmas. Do not spend time worrying about their feelings, only your feelings. Do not even bother trying to make an alternate Christmas with your mom, just fuck the whole thing. Find some friends to spend Christmas with. After a few holidays on your own, you will be amazed at how little you miss them and the drama. To summarize and recap, fuck your family.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:15 PM on December 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


I want to say as a disclaimer that there's been a lot of domestic violence in the families of the people I work with this fall/winter, and I apologize if I am catastrophizing. I don't want to be alarmist, but at the same time, this post has a LOT of red flags for a very dangerous situation that your mother is in denial about and your therapist seems to be minimizing.

So: please do not go home for Christmas for your own very real, personal safety. The situation that you've described is incredibly dangerous, and currently escalating. This is not something that would be stalking if he was a romantic partner and not a sibling. This is stalking. Your brother is terrifyingly, irrationally fixated on you as the source of all of his pain. He is stalking and harassing you over social media and the increasing volume of phone calls indicates that he's ramping up his rage in a scary way. He feels he needs and is entitled to get in touch with you so he can vent his rage at you and *punish* you. If you meet up with him over the holidays, IMO there is such a huge chance that he will become physically violent or otherwise harm you in some major way that it's just not worth it. Your mother can cry about your ruining Christmas all she wants but it's not worth getting thrown out into the street, it's not worth being attacked, it's not worth your life.

- You need to document all of this. The facebook messages, the history of violence and theft, the voice messages of verbal abuse and heavy breathing. You may need to get restraining orders moving forward and you want to have everything ready, especially if your family is invested in lying about whether or not this is really happening.

- There's a possibility that he or your parents may bring up, if he's leaving voicemails and not texting and giving himself a record of events, that your brother may actually have been totally blacked out when he left you the string of voice messages and not realize he's doing this. Please don't let this be turned into some kind of excuse, ie, he may not have been flat out lying to your mother, but may be so generally high on anger and alcohol that he doesn't know what the fuck he has and hasn't done. Again, this is not an excuse for his harassment. Both possibilities indicate a really dangerous mental state.

- Go to Al-Anon for support, and also, get a new therapist, because the one you currently have seems totally oblivious to how bad this situation is and is currently undermining your attempts to stay safe.

There's a line from your mother here that absolutely chilled me, where she was being dismissive about "your precious life." Because here is the absolute truth: Your life is precious. You are precious. Your ability to stay alive, functional, and unharmed by your unhinged, wildly abusive brother is something that is so precious, and that you deserve with no qualifications. I am so sorry your mother is being sarcastic about this instead of protecting you. But this mefite, and I think everyone in this thread, who all want to wrap it around you like a blanket, wants to say that yes, you are precious, and your happiness and well-being is something you don't have to suffer x amount of abuse in order to deserve.

Please take care of yourself, honey, and keep yourself safe. I think it might be wise to call the National Domestic Violence hotline for tips on what is basically going to be extracting yourself from a long-distance domestic abuse situation. Their number is (800) 799-7233. We are all here hoping for you.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:00 PM on December 5, 2015 [22 favorites]


What does your father say about all this?
posted by Kwadeng at 6:00 PM on December 5, 2015


I am scared for you and I'm so sorry you're going through this. Please stay safe, and by that I mean in addition to staying home for Christmas, I think you need to stop speaking with your mom about this. She is so deeply in denial and the way she speaks to you about this is compounding the abuse you are already getting from your brother. He is gaslighting her ("I called her to say sorry") and trying to gaslight you through her (when she passes along the information). Please take a break from communicating with her, in addition to continuing to block communication with him.

I think you should look into a restraining order against your brother, his behavior is escalating in a very scary way.

Be with friends at Christmas or leave town and go somewhere warm and mellow. Stay safe.
posted by thereemix at 7:24 PM on December 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yep, this is cut your family off time. At this point, I wouldn't hesitate. Don't explain, don't say why - they know why - just do it. They've told you and they've shown you that no one will protect you so you need to be your own parent. Seriously consider getting restraining orders as well. I'm so sorry, big hugs.
posted by Jubey at 7:24 PM on December 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


And yes, calling the Domestic Violence hotline I think would be a good idea as well.
posted by thereemix at 7:25 PM on December 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is way past time to cut off contact with your brother. Change your phone number and email (don't just block him), never ever answer anything he sends your way, cut him out of your life. You can't help him, and he can only hurt you.

Be prepared when you do this for your parents to take his side. They do this because they are parents, and they see how he is hurting, and they hear his side of it almost exclusively. You are going to have to set very clear boundaries with them, because your brother will try to use them to continue his abusive behavior towards you. He will get your new phone number from them if they have it, so you need a plan there. You may end up having to cut them off.

And get a new therapist.
posted by LarryC at 7:29 PM on December 5, 2015


I can't believe she said all of that to you! Things are now officially Out Of Hand. Please, book yourself tickets to a warm, sunny beach for Christmas.
posted by salvia at 7:33 PM on December 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know you already deep inside know better for yourself and on your own because you keep coming back. I believe this is the stage of bargaining and denial? Something like that.

Why do you suddenly trust your dad?

You need some kind of road map or diagram showing you how common all of this abuse and dysfunction really is. Right down to you wanting your parents to be better than they must be given that all the facts say otherwise. I guess the question is how many more rounds are you going to go?

You have EXACTLY the right perspective and the right therapist if you want to keep going in drama circles and putting yourself in danger. My bills are paid by me, I don't have to play fast and loose with your wellbeing to keep you as a client. I'm free to yell, "Hey! Look out for that brick wall you're about to slam into again!!"

On a related note -- It's not to be discounted that in a previous question folks suspected your dad hurt your brother. Forget the sexual abuse. I'm sure folks were spot on your dad was just plain old emotionally abusive, if nothing else. Your own comments say as much. Why does the abuse have to be sexual to rise to a certain level of unacceptable? Really ask yourself....

Loved one should never threaten your wellbeing or make you consider restraining orders.

Therapists and your family should not normalize systemic emotional abuse. Anyone who isn't 100% on Team You when presented with evidence of harassment or abuse requires YOU to discern this is unacceptable and act accordingly.

This is all squarely within your control at this point. As an adult, you can choose where to put your energy. Your mom is going right back to her inadequate position concerning your wellbeing despite this recent conversation. I know you know this because you've been through it a thousand times already! You have experience. You know.

Grieve these failed relationships. Move forward relying on yourself. I trust you. Make a new life, a better life. You'll make some mistakes, sure. New people will sometimes be weird, unsafe. This happens. You adjust and keep going.

You can have a better life. You can. This therapist can't do it for you. You need to do it on your own, for yourself. You might need a new therapist that agrees with reality, not your family's normalization of dysfunctional interactions.

Stop getting used. Change the exchanges in your life to win-win. Overall, BE SAFE.

I know you know what I mean. What you've got going on right now is not living. Do better. You are capable and stronger than your fear of taking on this responsibility for yourself.
posted by jbenben at 9:26 PM on December 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, for the record... I was really really mad for a hot second when I read your update via cortex because you basically bargained and reinvested right back into the same position from where you started asking this question...

So I gave it some time and mulled over your response. I think I spent much of my 20's and early 30's in a somewhat similar mindset as you. I tried to remember how/why I could not hear wiser folks telling me the truth...

First, most folks just won't commit to judging and would rather pretend. Others are protecting their own dysfunction and don't want to put the effort in concerning their own issues, so they go along. There's a sizable chunk of people who do not recognize abuse, they are clueless and intellectually immobilized when hearing you recount your experiences. There are the folks who secretly delight - your damage is just like theirs! Let the enabling begin!! And then there are the folks who have nothing to profit - they are indifferent or try once or twice to alert you before dropping all association with you.

Systemic family abuse thrives because it is normalized and socially unacceptable to interfere with others and how they choose to live their lives.

You are at a crossroads. Continue on this path you have, or forge into new territory where you decide for yourself what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable.

No one tells you this choice will come. Yet the choice exists. And here it is.

You might continue to defer this choice, as you have been based on the fact that you posted a similar question to AskMe last year about your family. That's OK. Some people defer this choice indefinitely. I think it's OK as long as you don't have children of your own before making this choice. As long as you do not repeat the patterns of abuse you're OK.

These patterns poison relationships. Even if you don't have a family of your own, you might end up in living situations or career situations that mimic these awful dynamics you are "normalized" to accept.

Change the script, is all I'm saying. You can be your own arbiter. I'm not giving you any other directive other than to break free and trust yourself. The rest is none of my business. You do you. Like I said, be safe.
posted by jbenben at 9:57 PM on December 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sorry Metafilter, I got really upset.

Don't be sorry even to yourself! It sounds like this was a really great conversation. I'm not being sarcastic. If you read your words over, it sounds intensely illuminating and cathartic. You may be left with a sense of sadness and lingering insecurity about what you choose to do -- i.e. walk backwards slowly and have yourself some lovely holidays somewhere else -- but this is the gift of clarity in one painful package and even though it is painful, it's important information for you to have all around and in the end makes life easier, even though reality can be a bummer.

Your mother's right turns and ricocheting around - saying in one breath 'he's a good boy' and 'what am I supposed to do, drive him to a hospital?' and various attacks on you prioritize your brother (who sounds like he desperately needs help--that's not your problem, but your mother may feel that it's hers), undermine of your feelings of safety, discount your factual reality, and prevent any possibility of closeness.

You're saying there are clouds in the sky--looks like maybe some lightning soon--and she's saying what are you talking about, it's a sunny day, let's go to the top of that there hill and fly some kites, ya killjoy.

What intimacy can happen between those views?

So there's no room for common ground. I have more than a passing familiarity with mothers' denial of basic realities. I know how much it hurts to be disrespected this way, how crazy-making, and how confusing it is for your mother to not have your back--whether you're fifteen or fifty and how much you still want her to have your back.

But this is what it is and getting to a point where you can start confidently walking away is the road you are on and that conversation was a gift.

Just as data points, a couple of things my therapist did for me recently (different situation, so her prescription would be different for you) but when I went home for Thanksgiving and made my plans with my usual choking resentment and guilt for five days--Wednesday to Sunday--my therapist was basically like, no fucking way are you doing that. 'Absolutely not. You go Wednesday, I want you back in the car with your husband and child on your way home by Friday morning. You need a weekend to decompress after that and you need to get out of there.' I think she actually said the words, 'Absolutely not.'

She also got me off of my guilt-striken five-day-a-week telephone protocol to one call a week dutifully made on the drive to work after therapy. My life in this regard is imperfect, but much improved. (I have a chronically ill family member and the situation isn't bad enough to go full no contact, but the relationship is extremely psychologically damaging and has been my whole life.)

It's a different situation and my family is different but let me tell you having someone say 'absolutely not' to me spending five days at my parents house was such a comfort. In a way, I guess, she was being my mom. Oh hey, I just typed my way into realizing my therapist is taking on the role of my mom--or I'm letting her. Fine. She's a way better mom than my real one.

Anyway: you need a mom. In this case, until you can mom yourself, crowd source it. Let Metafilter be your mom:

You're not wrong, you're not crazy, take some steps to shield yourself from your brother, read the Gift of Fear, get support, stop trying to convince your mom something she doesn't want to believe is real, and have a lovely holiday away from all of these people. Invite friends -- or don't.

Have a tree and make a huge pan of lasagna and play nice music and light candles and breathe the lovely clean of peace and serenity and putting down the burden of everyone else's emotional labor.

Pick up a copy of the New Yorker or a cooking magazine or gardening magazine or write some code or make cookies. Surround yourself with things that you get solace and comfort in.

Buy a wool blanket from LL bean, see if it can get it here by Christmas. They're the heaviest coziest blankets in the world. (Disregard if you're sitting in a tropical rain forest. You get the idea, though.)

And if you must call home, call home a day or two in advance so you don't do it on Christmas. Don't get into why you won't be calling, just say 'I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas' and get off the phone without too much engaging. You'll need the 24 hours after to bleach your brain.

Count me among the people you can feel free to MeMail. We can talk crazy anti-reality kinda hurtful non-moms.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:47 AM on December 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Also, for the record... I was really really mad for a hot second when I read your update via cortex because you basically bargained and reinvested right back into the same position from where you started asking this question...

I know on Ask we avoid chatter between answerers but I hope in this instance it's okay:

This type of change, in my experience (I'm 46) takes geological time. Rejecting a mom, or recognizing a mom is subpar, is painful and complex. I'm not speaking of OP in particular, but of some of the issues surrounding family failures and mothers, and for now setting aside the issue of actual danger, which requires far less abstract treatment:

We wonder how much we are like her. We feel bad and protective of her. We need her validation and when it doesn't come, we feel small and uncertain. We do not want to be without our mothers. We do not want to feel unloved by them. If they do not love us, or if they behave as if they don't, are we lovable at all? Who can love us if our mothers have looked us, seen us fully, and appear not to? How can we be safe when the first person charged with protecting us rejects us? How, exactly, do we stop trying--going back, hoping against hope for a different outcome, willing to be believe that we are crazy or deficient rather than believe that our mothers have failed us?

And if the relationship does continue in its subsequent crippled form, how do you deal with the pain? How do then make Thanksgiving dinner with that person? What do those interactions look like?

Most people don't do full no-contact. That might be best for OP, but to speak generally about the pain of separating -- man, that's a slow evolution. Taking a year on that one is nothing.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:23 AM on December 6, 2015 [23 favorites]


and she said " you can't divorce your brother ok?"

I just wanted to point out that this is really far off the normal meter. Marriage is usually considered the primary relationship of our adult lives, if we marry. We take vows to be with this person for better or worse. And yet, still, people can and do get divorced if their spouse becomes abusive or scary. Your mother is literally saying your bond to your brother should be more unbreakable than the bond you would make with a spouse. That is not normal.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:30 AM on December 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Well, there you have it. Your parents refuse to believe your brother is abusive, and they won't protect you from him. You're going to have to protect yourself.

Don't go home for Christmas, and don't discuss your brother with your parents. Change the subject, and if they won't let you, hang up the phone. Every single time.

I know this sounds hard, and it is. I didn't see my parents for four years, and I probably won't see my sister again until her most-likely premature funeral. In the meantime, I don't let my parents complain about her stealing from them, or trashing their property, or how this time she really does want to go into rehab. Because I didn't cause this, and I can't fix it. I can only save myself. You can do it too.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:58 AM on December 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


The best-case scenario would be to not go home for Christmas. Make plans with friends, take a vacation, do anything else.

If you feel you absolutely must see your parents at Christmas, arrange somewhere else to stay - preferably a hotel/motel. If the pregnant friend is single, only stay there as a last resort, in case your brother were to show up. Plan to meet your parents in a public place for a meal or two, make it clear that you WILL leave if your brother shows up (and follow through), and keep it short and sweet.
posted by stormyteal at 6:19 PM on December 6, 2015


I'm a big believer in "the price you have to pay to have a family." As in, in order to get such-and-such from these people, I am going to have to put up with XYZ that I don't like. However, if I can't take XYZ, then I can't have this family.

In this case, the price you pay to have a family that you can see at Christmas is literally running the risk of getting you murdered by your brother if he starts to go beyond words. As others said, if a boyfriend was acting like this, it'd be call the cops, restraining order time. The price your mother is willing to pay in order to keep her son in her life is to give up her other child. If you make her choose, she's going to pick him. After all, he's in trouble and you can take care of yourself, you're more likely to come around some day (family pressure/guilt), you probably won't drink yourself to death or end up in jail in a few years like he very well might--she has the time to spare to reconnect with you again, but she can't give him up.

Unfortunately, you're in "this could get me killed if I want to see my parents and they pick my brother" territory, and at this point it means you either risk murder or give up your family, at least temporarily. Which is awful, because it's not like you can get a replacement mom (or at least, it's not likely) at this late date. But...it's risking your life here, and that is probably not worth it to have "peace" and a "family Christmas" in which your brother cusses you out in front of everyone or worse.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:26 PM on December 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


OP, please don't feel like you have to put your family's absurd wishes above your own well-being. I agree with others that this is actually a quite scary situation, and it's probably best you don't visit your family for Christmas.

I was never in a situation quite as terrifying as your own, but I did disown my birth family in my twenties, going 100% no-contact. It took me much longer to cut the strings than it should have. Here's the epiphany that put me over the edge. The very last time I visited them, with my then boyfriend, I decided I was never again going to subject anyone else I cared about to their bullshit. Not a partner, not my friends, not a child if I ever had one. It took me much longer to put two and two together and realize that *I* am a person I care about, and I shouldn't subject myself to their crap either.

You deserve better than to be repeatedly hurt by people who supposedly care about you.
posted by ktkt at 4:42 AM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


The greatest part of having a family, in adulthood, is that you can interact with them on terms that are mutually agreeable. For your mother and brother, this amounts to a fair amount of denial. When they're together, they might be able to have a good time that's unencumbered by his problems. When you are alone with your mom, you might be able to interact well -- as long as it's not about your brother.

Your mother needs to accept this. To an extent, most families have small, unspoken rules about interaction that limit conflict. It may be as simple as not bringing up certain topics at the holiday dinner table, or it might be lapsing in communication with a sibling for months, if not years, until you can communicate as adults. If it even reaches that point. Family relationships are more difficult than other situations due to the emotional stakes. These are the people you grew up with, have shared history, and emotional tension has a very low trigger level. If your mom can enable your brother by giving him space to live his dysfunctional life, she can give you the space to keep your life functional.
posted by mikeh at 9:37 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


"You can't divorce your brother ok?"

As nakedmolerats pointed out well above, this is a completely ridiculous thing for someone to say. Maybe she can't extract herself from her bad relationship with her son (totally possible both because of people's feelings about parental commitment and also her own dysfunction) but you totally can and should. You are not stuck in this situation and should rebuff other people's attempts to get you stuck here. You may, however, have to accept that you are never going to get your mother to see this from your perspective or even actually agree with you about some of the facts of the situation. However, you know what you experienced and even though your mom is being super (but predictably) weird about this, you can still totally make your own decisions free from the manipulative and childish actions of your mother.

"You can't divorce your brother ok?"

The only proper response to this, in my opinion is "Watch me."
posted by jessamyn at 9:50 AM on December 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


Yeah, it's like your mom is asking you to go to couple's therapy with your brother. And he is definitely fixated on you in a way that is fucking bizarre for opposite sex siblings. There's a dynamic here where you're set up to be his caretaker/wife and your mom is trying to solidify it with this therapy thing. IT IS WEIRD.

I say this as someone who has had to cut off contact with my family when my socially isolated brother is being a total dick. I've had my mother cry and accuse me of making her choose between her children while demanding that I help my brother. I totally get it. I get how hard it is to set those boundaries because I have failed at them myself and my heart breaks for my mom even when I know she's being manipulative. But I also know my brother is not my responsibility and that whenever she tries to push him onto me, I am like, I am not his wifey. I am his biological sister. There is something sexist in your mother setting you up as his uncomplaining nurturer and caretaker. Are you supposed to be The Woman in his life? Because brother/sister therapy where one is an abusive alcoholic sounds more like "save the marriage" therapy and you just should not do it at all.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 1:31 AM on December 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Of all the bad ideas presented to you by your family, going to therapy with your brother is the worst. That sounds HORRIBLE.
posted by the bricabrac man at 8:41 AM on December 13, 2015


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