I Carry Your Heart
From one sibling to another, I hope that you never have to deal with this. I hope that you never have to watch your brother or sister melt down over and over for a decade. If this does happen to you and your family, I believe that you'll make it through, but it will not be easy. It will make you question everything you thought you knew. It will take away your basic sense of stability in the world. Because if someone you love—someone you know has a good heart, a good mind—can just disappear like that? Can just vanish into a haze of rage? Then you'll start to think that maybe everything is illusory. Maybe nothing is certain. Maybe anything, and anyone, can be lost at any moment. And that's true enough. It's true that the vulnerability involved in being human is terrifying. But it's not true that we're alone in it. Everyone has to face this awful reality; no one is exempt. You just had to face it earlier than most, honey.
Maybe you're like me, and you've listened to your parents tell stories like this one: “Your brother had a hard day yesterday. We were on a walk, and he was getting agitated, getting too heavy-handed with the dog's leash. But he wouldn't let go. We were walking by the playground of your old elementary school when he hit me, and tried to tackle me. Yes, I'm fine physically, honey—it was just … traumatic, that's all. And then he kicked the backpacks—these little children's backpacks that were piled up by the side of the playground. Their parents were upset … ”
If your parents are like mine, they'll tell you these stories as quietly as possible. They'll say, “I'm just thankful it wasn't worse.” But if you're anything like me, you won't understand that. You'll be in shock. For the life of you, you won't be able to see how they're being so … calm. It will get worse after you hang up, after the emptiness passes. Feelings will arise—fear, anger, grief—and you'll wish you could go back to being numb. A wonderful line of Anne Lamott's will run through your mind: “She told me to feel the feelings. I did. They felt like shit.” And they do. But you'll know better than to think you can skip over these feelings. It would be great if you could stuff them down with food or alcohol or exercise or compulsive productivity, but you can't, not for long. The futility of it will be too clear. The feelings always win.
Friend, I'm sure you've already figured out that parts of your experience mirror that of families who deal with addiction. In some ways, it's like your sibling is in and out of rehab. They're always trying to get their life together, yet they relapse again and again. Only in your case, the truth is blurrier than that, because you don't know what drives your sibling's behavior, or how much control they actually have over their actions. It's an awful ambiguity, really. And there isn't anyone to blame. Everyone—including your sibling—is just doing the best they can.
So here's what I hope for you: I hope that, when you feel that you can't take it anymore, someone steps alongside you. I hope that when you say, aloud, “My heart is just so heavy,” you'll have someone wrap their arms around you and say, “Then I'll carry it.”
I hope you have someone to carry your heart.
The person who says those words to you may not know the eponymous ee cummings poem, but you will. You'll hear the verses in your mind, and they will quiet you:
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)