Releasing the past in order to find myself

Thursday, January 30, 2014

MIL, A History

Warning: This post is long.  I've debated even posting it, as I've discussed this lady in other posts before.  Please feel free to skip it, if it seems repetitive

After almost two years of blogging, I'm feeling the need to revisit some topics in a different way.  As I did with my recent post on my sister, I really want to explore relationships in my life as they relate in a more direct way to me.  That is, I've talked about MIL in a more general way, often as she relates to specific situations and in her role as mother in her family, but I wanted to explore our more personal relationship. 

I have two specific purposes in writing about her now:
1.) To get some outside perspective on my perceptions.  Obviously, my relationship with my mother and sister has been unhealthy, and I often wonder how the effects of that play into my relationship with my MIL.  Has it led me to be hypersensitive towards her?  Am I projecting on her?  Or am I really reading her behaviors to be toxic.    I do not like to throw around the "narc" label lightly.  That being said, I do believe that MIL (and SIS and NM) all rank pretty high on the continuum.  Maybe not completely, violently malignant, but I definitely see a lot of traits.  But I struggle to separate how much influence my other toxic relationships have on this relationship. 

To that point, I will say that I was wrong in labeling my step mother as a narcissist.  I do not believe that she is now.  I DO believe that she has a lot of narcissistic traits.  I do believe that she is over bearing, controlling, bossy, and often has treated me as a child.  But, in the end, I do believe that I could discuss things with SM, I do believe that she has empathy for me, and I do believe that she is willing to work on a relationship.  I've already seen changes in her recently that show me she is trying to be considerate of me.  I believe that the struggles between my step mother and sister drastically colored my perceptions of her.  I often felt "teamed up" with my sister against my step mother, whom I felt was not properly empathetic towards my sister (I now believe that, maybe, step mother actually had a lot of the right ideas).  So, I could very much be wrong with MIL.

I should also add that one of the first things I came across when researching narcissism was the "25 Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers."  I had been looking for information to help me with my mother.  I was shocked to discover how many of the characteristics my MIL "ticked off".  We had always struggled with our relationship, but it had never occurred to me that she and my mother were that similar in pathology.  I painstakingly went through each point on that list, backing it up with specific examples of how it applied to her and presented it to my DH.  I expected him to defend her; instead, he agreed that MOST of these criteria applied to her.  (As a side note, DH agrees that his mother is "odd", controlling, and bossy.  He admits that she can be difficult.  He almost always used to take her side....or at least acquiesce to her, and also expected me to.  He often excused away her behaviors.  He defended her.  A lot.  Now, he has begun to see her in a different light.  He points out her odd behavior.  Like how unemotional she is.  But he is still not quite ready to take the red pill.  He does not believe that she is abusive.  He does not believe that she is mean to me intentionally.  He does not believe that she is out to harm me.  He does not believe that she is a toxic threat to our children.  He DOES support me in never leaving them alone with her.  In the five years since my son was born, he has never pressured me to leave my kids with her alone.  He tries to back me up, and has tried to "manage" the situation so that I'm more protected.  But he just hasn't fully taken that step.  Part of the reason I'm writing this post is because we need to have a conversation soon.  Sort of a "State of Jessie and MIL" address, so that I feel confident that he understands the new boundaries I'm going to set up with her.  That he is fully aware and cognizant of how I plan to handle this from now on. So, that I can finally state how I feel without feeling the need to defend my position.)

2.)  The second reason I want to write this is to just get a more concrete "timeline" of sorts or description of the relationship she and I have had.  A lot of it has been clouded by other things going on and I want to document how I feel in this moment towards her.  This post will be long.  It most likely will be tangential and not follow an actual timeline (so many of her behaviors link over time, and I think that's actually more important than the specific chronological timing of events.)  I fully realize that this may be WAY to long of a blog post for most people.

For those unfamiliar with my in-laws, here is the scoop:

DH is the first born of four sons.  MIL is the first born of four daughters.  MIL's mother has always been kind to me, but distant.  Her mother has been described by family as negative, cold, deeply religious, and punitive.   MIL has never seemed overly "close" emotionally with her mother and father, but is their caretaker and companion of sorts. They appear, to me, to be very enmeshed.   She spends a considerable amount of time with her parents and is the appointed one to take care of most issues.  When I met DH (almost 16 years ago; we've been married for 12), MIL and DH's family were very "close" with his mother's extended family.  Two of the sisters and their families live on a large family property owned by MIL's parents.  Everyone frequently visits there.  Now, as family finances are being divided up and property is being handed out, the wheels have come off that "closeness".  MIL recently described her family as "one of the most dysfunctional" families she knows.  MIL's father is a workaholic, retired doctor.  MIL often told me that the only time she got his attention was if she offered to do chores with him.  Her father has (as well as MIL, BIL2, BIL3, and DH) ADD and can be rude and insensitive (again, I don't throw these psych terms around lightly.  I spent five years specifically in a professional field, administering and helping to diagnosis complicated mental health cases.  I could be wrong with some of my "labels" but I'm basing my hunches on years and years of clinical study.)

DH's second oldest brother (BIL2) is almost 5 years younger.  He has a wife who is beginning to display more and more narc traits as she's "blossomed" in motherhood (or rather withered away from it).  She always seemed immature, spoiled, competitive and jealous, but her behavior has been a bit alarming as of late (really having little to actually do with day-to-day care of the kids and being unaware of basic issues relating to her medications).  She always seemed to be my biggest ally in the family, often being who I confided in and validating my feelings with about MIL.  However, despite how she says she feels about MIL, she has a sort of "deal" worked out with MIL.  She gives MIL lots of free reign and access to her kids and SIL gets lots of "me time" to herself.  SIL has betrayed my confidence recently on several occasions and I've lost any trust that I had in her.  I would never have considered us friends, in fact I purposely pushed away from that and pissed her off, but we are "friendly enough".  BIL3 was born shortly after BIL2.  I was told by MIL when I met them (all DH's brothers were in middle and high school or just graduated when I met them.) that BIL3 had a "learning disability, ADHD, and a very low IQ".  She based this on evals she'd had done over 10 years prior.  The doctor that had performed the evals told her to never have him tested again, as it would be too stressful, and so she relied on this decade old information to "treat" him.  He was not in therapy, had no special educational courses and was generally "shuffled" along.  Most, if not all, family "irregularities" were attributed to this BIL.   The family, who knew that others described them as "crazy" and chaotic, blamed most of it on BIL3 being so "out there".  BIL4 was two years younger than BIL3.  BIL3 is now married to a woman who comes from an extremely dysfunctional family herself (both her parents are drug addicts; she raised her sister basically) and she is just so thrilled to have a "family" that she goes along with almost anything.  She is quiet and reserved and is a care taker.  BIL4 is still single. 

The family is LOUD, crazy, and chaotic.  Everyone is often yelling or moving about.  Communication (even the most basic) is not a strong point.  Just going somewhere causes a flurry of yelling and activity and cross talking.   When I met the family, they were generally described as in chaos (many relatives describe kids flying off couches a lot, kids running around screaming a lot, and general chaos that made visiting a bit difficult).  I was told that "that's just how a house with four boys is".  And while I can acknowledge that to a degree, my father also grew up in a house with four boys and it was NOT like that.  My grandmother still had nice things (MIL claims this is why she never had nice things, bothered to decorate, or update her home.  She lives in the house she grew up in, that she took over from her parents 25 years ago, and she has not bothered to change the d├ęcor of the home at all.  She finally remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms a few years back, but a lot of the pictures, furniture, and such is the same as when her mother put it up.)  My grandmother described her house as energetic, but her boys had rules and manners and didn't destroy her home constantly.   DH often used to tell me that his mother just couldn't control them all.  Meals out as children were described as circus side shows, often embarrassing one or more of the members.  From my own experience eating out with them, I've been embarrassed more than once.   These educated, "respectable" people have been kicked out of THREE restaurants while I've been with them.   MIL often feels that others should "put up" with the loud talking, people moving walking the table, and general chaos that is our family at dinner (but God forbid someone ELSE act like that.) 

DH and his oldest brother were both the "stars" of the family.  Athletic, handsome, smart.  Many, many, many family activities revolved around DH's sports.  DH was the second in command and MIL often deferred decisions (where they should eat, what they should do) to him.  BIL2 steps into DH's role when he couldn't be the golden child (after awhile I encouraged DH to quite making these decisions as resentment was brewing between SIL and us.  The brothers were used to DH making all family decisions but SIL didn't like this.  Understandably so.)  MIL gave these decisions to DH to deflect responsibility from it.  If someone complained, she shifted their anger to DH.  If someone was upset, it was DH's fault.  She also used DH to step in as a secondary father.  She often used proxy recruitment to help her get DH to reinforce to his brothers things she wanted them to do.  She used to try this with me too.  She'd bring up a topic she was upset about, and then when I'd agree with her, she'd say "well, you should tell that to BIL3".  It took me awhile to catch on to what was happening.    MIL relied on this "back up" to help her manage her kids.  FIL is a really, really nice man.  But he is spoiled and too easy going.  In situations when the younger brothers were causing problems as teenagers, MIL would call DH up to come over and help her deal with it.  I have NO CLUE as to why FIL wasn't stepping in.   FIL sort of is lazy, likes the easy road with children, and really didn't like to get involved too much.  MIL runs the family, runs the finances, and generally makes all decisions.  She now uses FIL to do much of her communication with DH (when my son was born, FIL had doctors appointments in our town.  He announced  to DH that MIL would be spending the day with me.  No one consulted me.  It was clear to me that MIL told FIL to tell DH that she would be spending the day with me.  Fuck that.  I said NO.)  FIL is cheap and I believe that MIL filters money out to her sons without FIL's knowledge.  FIL is sort of an ostrich and seems to be fine not "seeing" what really goes on.  I realized how much FIL didn't see money flying out during BIL3's wedding.  He claimed that we had all been given the same amount of money.  SIL3's dress-her family paid nothing -cost half of  the amount they gave us.  Plus, MIL and FIL paid for their reception, their honeymoon suite (MIL booked the room next to her's for them, until we pointed out that it was their HONEYMOON suite and probably not the room you wanted to be next to), their pictures, and the formal attire, as well as the rehearsal dinner (among a lot of other little things).  But FIL just didn't put it all together how much that really cost. 

So, back on track.  While BIL2 and DH were the "golden boys" (MIL often seemed to favor  them), BIL3 was the scape goat, and BIL4 became the "fat" forgotten child, dragged around to all his brother's shit (not surprisingly to me, this brother rarely makes contact with a lot of the family and hardly ever returns phone calls, pissing off both BIL2 and his mother. )  BIL4 was argumentative and mouthy and often argues with his mother (who, even though he is in his late 20s, will rip him apart verbally for transgressions.)

I met DH at 19.  He was almost 22.  BIL2 was about to graduate high school (he is the same age as my sister) and was about to head to a Christian college out of state.  BIL3 and BIL4 were in high school and middle school. 

As I'm sure I don't have to spell out for you, I was desperate (of sorts) for a family.  I had spent my last year of high school pretty much on my own.  And while college had been fun, I had still struggled to find a place to belong.  (I tended to find friends who valued me and then discarded me when I no longer served a purpose.  True friends that I made, I discarded as being "too good" for me;I didn't consciously think this, but I know I have a problem running from people whom I feared would not understand the utter chaos that was my family.  I was very good at hiding my issues, hiding behind the "supportive friend" mask that I had, and I shared very little with people in my life.)  Despite the divorce, I had hoped that my step families (I have three step brothers on my father's side; my dad was not married yet, but were in a serious relationship.  They lived far away, and despite writing to the oldest brother a lot, I never really connected.  My mother brought two step brothers, much younger, and two step sisters, a bit older, into my life.  The brothers were too young to connect to, and the sisters really weren't interested in "expanding" their family.  They were, and are, very cliquish.  My mother and my sister, whom had much more involved relationships with all of them (I wasn't around much, being in high school an hour away and never coming home, and then college) and their personality disorders, obviously, caused disharmony among my step families.  I tended to get "lumped in" with them.)  I struggled with abandonment issues (still do) and rarely got too close to anyone.

When I met DH's family, they seemed close.  They were loud and boisterous and spent a lot of time doing things together.  MIL loved having her kids friends around and there was always a herd of boys running around.  She also used to host athletes from the semi-pro local team in her home every summer.  It was chaotic, loud, and a bit different from me....but family.

My first memory of MIL was that she sent DH a package in the mail.  What else was in it, I can't remember, but one of the things was a package of boxer shorts.  While I thought this was a bit odd, I wrote it off as something mother's did: send care packages.  (Not my NM, but I had seen others do it.)  I also knew that, at the time, MIL was strong arming DH.  She had not wanted him to go to the college I was at.  We have two state colleges.  DH had gone out of state on scholarship for one year, and then had come home and attended the university closer to his hometown for a semester - the one MIL wanted him to be at.  He had decided to switch schools to the other college - his high school buddies were all there - and MIL didn't like this.  She felt his friends would be a bad influence (which is probably true.  But at the time, so was DH ;) ) and so she had refused to give him any money for school any more.  Which I suppose is fine, but it seemed a little heavy handed to me.  (DH also talks about his first year at college, very far from home, and having nothing.  He was on scholarship and had basic needs provided for him, but had no spending money.  He couldn't work, as he was on an athletic scholarship and devoted all of this time to that.  In counterpoint to this, BIL3, who attended a Christian college and then later went on to study ministry at another college - he's now a mortgage lender - under the "guidance" of MIL and her parents, had his college paid for by the grandparents.  He was in school for seven years and ALL of it was paid for, as well as some of SIL, who lived with him for most of their college years.  DH, once "cut off", has never received another dime from his parents, aside from $2000 for our wedding, and various Christmas/birthday gifts.  I also believe that BIL4's education was paid for by his parents.)

Another key point about MIL is that she is religious.  Or "churchy" is more my thought.  She's not particularly prudish, but is conservative and old fashioned.  She follows all the "traditional" Christian ideology: hate gays, hate abortion, no sex before marriage, go to church, the Bible is to be interpreted literally. (I know these are stereotypes, and not necessary what I think Christians are, but merely representative of the type of "Christian" she felt she was.)  Over the years,  I have seen her "religion" change significantly.  DH talked about being involved in church when younger (although he didn't seem very "churchy" to me, actually far from it).  Church life was a central point in their lives.  MIL was in the choir, ran church stuff.  It was her social life.  But DH also talked about MIL being involved in exorcisms when he was younger (maybe only once or twice, and I've never seen her involved in stuff like this) and she also believed in demons and believed an evil spirit lived in her home and had something to do with BIL3 "disappearing" one day (he ran away, according to most relatives).  So, aside from the "normal church" image she presented, she also seemed to have dabbled in other shit too.  It all seemed a little "whoo-whoo" for me, and seemed very contrary to the church lady image she presented to me. 

When I met her, religion dominated all parts of the family.  BIL2 was gearing up for "becoming a minister".  MIL was a very take charge, dominating person.  DH explained that she needed to be like that because of having four boys.  She wasn't largely unfeminine, but seemed to not really "connect" with anything particularly feminine.  Like it didn't come naturally to her.   She struggled to understand fashion and makeup, and so copied those around her (BIL3 once told me that he didn't understand that "mascara" wasn't a blanket term for all makeup until his 20s.  MIL seemed to share very little of herself and those aspects of herself, which I find now having my own son, sort of odd.  I mean, even my 5 tear old has asked me about makeup and "girl" things).  There was nothing, particularly, feminine about the house.  She is loud, and brash, and laughs too loudly and too often.  She teases and pokes fun at people.  Again, DH said this is just how "guys" are and she had adopted to that in her masculine dominated home.   She seemed to have very shallow interests outside of the church and is constantly adopting a new hobby.  Or a new "get rich quick" business scheme.  She is flighty and doesn't stick with anything, except church, for long. 

MIL used God and her religious beliefs to corral her sons.  I remember, upon seeing my small, well hidden tattoo, she said "MY boys would never do that because they know their body is a temple."  BIL2 was her resident mouthpiece, as he tested out his new mantle of working to be a minister.  I remember having many, many arguments with him about my beliefs (I am a sort of "all-theist".  I have no dominate religious belief now, nor did I then, although I "adopted" the label of Christian that MIL pushed on me.  It was very, very important that I be a Christian to DH (and MIL); so much so that I allowed myself to be baptized before we were married.  I had thought I wanted it, but it always felt so fake to me, so not true to who I was.)  These conflicts set up a weird relationship with BIL2.  We often disagreed, and when we weren't disagreeing, BIL seemed to view me as almost "wall paper". 

MIL used to tell her family, and me, that while she was praying God would send her messages for them.  I found this odd.  I remember, early on, her sitting with me, closer than I was comfortable, telling me the things "God had seen" in me ("God told me you are...." and then she stated all the things God had told her I was.)  I had, initially, felt flattered.  And seen.  I wondered why God wouldn't just communicate with me, but figured that this spiritual lady was maybe better at hearing him than I was.  She saw that I was lonely and isolated, and said God had told her so.  I feel now that her messages from God were thinly veiled directives from her.  But I think she truly believed that it was God.  She hasn't done this in a long time, at least to me, but she did try this shit when my first son was born.  She wrote in his card about how God had "sent" her these particular words about him.  Sort of a "description".  She also has told me that God told her that her "first born son's first born son" would be "special" (read: prophetic) in some way and would change the world (a bit dramatic, don't all babies change the world somehow?).  She was SO certain that this prophetic message was to come true that she gave directives to both SIL and I about who would have the first grandchild.  I was expected to have the first grandchild and she hounded me relentlessly for YEARS.  SIL was told, when it became clear that she might have the first child, that "Jessie and (DH)" need to have a child first and that was the proper order of things.  (SIL was so upset by this that she confided in me.  I had been hearing this drivel for years, so I wasn't shocked, but MIL must have realized that, as I held off and SIL rushed to "beat me", that her "prophet" scheme might not come true.)

I always got the distinct impression I was "lesser" as I wasn't as religious as them.  I was...less pure?  I don't know.  I do know that my feelings about religion were not respected in her home and that there was little room for dissenting points of view.  I know I felt I had to defend myself a lot.  I know that MIL pushed and pushed religious lifestyles on me.  After DH and I got married, I received a book about what "good Christian wives" should do (complete with letting my husband make all decisions).  For a feminist, it rubbed me the wrong way.  I had tried to read it, in good faith to MIL, but couldn't stomach it.  When  I asked MIL about it she laughed, saying she didn't realize it was like that.  She had been "recommended" it and hadn't even bothered to read it (which is possibly true, as she will take recommendations as gospel.  Pardon the pun. But who knows.)  Note that DH never got a "what good Christian husbands do" book.   A weekend church retreat was pushed on me and DH (he with a group of men, me with MIL and a group of women, in which we were to "share" personal struggles and heal through prayer.)  My refusal was not taken well.  In addition to the baptism before the wedding, I was also pushed to get married earlier (in the month she had gotten married;  she pushed ideas that would've carbon copied her own wedding) and I believe it was because her mother didn't like that DH and I lived together before marriage.   She turned a "blind eye" to us "living in sin" but I clearly knew where she stood.  Plus, I think she wanted that grandchild.  "All my friends have grandchildren" she said.  I asked her if all her friends jumped off a bridge, if she'd need to do that too (I occasionally snuck in a cheeky comment here and there).

Aside from the religion, I also got other impressions that I was "less" in other ways.  MIL would start conversations, asking about me or my childhood, only to turn them back around to her or her family.  "Oh, you danced all through childhood, Jessie?  (DH) won a dance contest once!"  And then she'd go on and on about the dance contest.  I rarely felt she really heard me.  Even now, I don't know if she remembers my step mother's name (she's forgotten before).  She knows very little about my childhood or family.  The only person she asks about is my sister.  In a sort of, "how's your poor fucked up sister?" way.    There is nothing I can point to, but there is something in her tone, or the smirk around her eyes, or the wince she makes when I reply "she's still waitressing" that makes me think she's not interested so much in my sister, as she is in pointing out that my sister is "still" a loser.  Once, MIL celebrated on BIL2's birthday, on my actual birthday.  Although I was "celebrated" too, it was clear that BIL2 got top billing (his birthday was a week away.)

The first time I stayed at MIL's house, I was set up in the "office".  A sort of smallish "bed" (a bench really) in a cluttered, dusty room.   All four brothers had large queen beds and their own room; DH was set up in his "childhood" room.  But me, their guest, was shoved in a glorified closet.   As time went on, other things started to clue me in that I was "less".   My feelings weren't taken into account on things. I was expected to just go along.  MIL planned everything for her kids, and I was expected to fall in line, it seemed.  At Christmas, she made ornaments with names on them.  All her sons had large ornaments, placed in prominent positions.  My ornament was the same size as the dog and the bird and placed on the bottom.  Not a big deal, but these little things just kept piling up.

DH's FOO seemed to regard themselves the epitome of "normal".  They measured everyone else against their own beliefs about their normalcy. Anything different, was "not normal".  There was not more than one way to be "normal".   They were the All-American, sports oriented, church going, white bread family.  Not rich, not poor, lots of fun, and generally "nice" people. Respected in the community. Except me.   Except BIL3.  He was "weird" and sometimes embarrassing and was often the target of family jokes and "stories".  I grew to hate these stories, as they often were told in order to get a laugh, but at BIL3's expense.  Everyone had a BIL3 story of him doing something completely out-there.  The whole town made jokes (DH is from a small, close-knit town).  But my in-laws thought it was all in good fun.  Everyone loves BIL3, they'd say, most of all us!  And I do think BIL3 was/is beloved for his simple, unassuming ways.  But he was also the butt of jokes.  And he seemed to be the "point person" when ever someone suggested the family was different.  To me, the whole family was loud and hyper and chaotic.  And ADHD.  I didn't see this as a "negative".  For me, having ADHD wasn't a big deal.  Heck, I had depression and anxiety and knew lots of people who had mental illness (obviously).  I was a psych major.  So, one day at dinner, I mentioned that BIL2's extreme fidgeting was probably due to his ADHD.  You could've heard a pin drop.  I didn't know what I'd done.  It seemed obvious to me (really, you have to believe me, it was very obvious that most of the brothers had it), and since BIL3 was ADHD, I figured they knew.  They didn't.  BIL2 was insulted.  (He's recently declared himself with ADHD when his boss, whom he idolized, also had ADD.)  He was angry.  MIL was angry with me.  For them, ADHD was "what BIL3 was".  Calling them ADHD was calling them BIL3.  And that is not OK with them.  FIL joked "And here,  I thought it was just me all this time!"  (And interestingly, BIL3 later moved away from his parents.  One night we were talking and he told me he had moved because, as much as he loved his family, he didn't like who he had to be when he was with them.  That he could be who he wanted to be living away.  Seemed like a damn good insight to me for someone with a "barely above mentally retarded" IQ.)

Different was not good in this family.  It was pointed out, very covertly, that I was "different" too.  My manners and more quiet way of being were laughed at.  Once, BIL4 grabbed a large serving of fish from a family dish.  He proclaimed it gross and dumped it back into the family serving dish.  MIL scolded, "don't do that BIL4, Jessie doesn't like it!"  I felt embarrassed.  I hadn't said anything, but somehow his scolding was blamed on me.  Teasing each other (for physical features, weight, and things that couldn't be helped) was the norm, unless it was MIL.  People didn't often tease MIL.  She didn't take it well (which was actually a family joke). 

MIL started pointing out my "flaws".   When she first mentioned that BIL2 had met a girl at school, she described her as "a Christian, athletic, and blond".  None of these descriptors applied to me.   At DH's graduation dinner, in a room full of 60 people, boisterous laughter broke out, drawing the attention of the whole room.  After some pushing, MIL revealed that she had been making a joke about my breast size.  I was mortified.  DH would later say that it was a joke.  And years later, that I should've just told her I was sensitive about my breast size.  I am NOT sensitive (I worked hard not to be), and I felt being humiliated in a room full of DH's family and friends was tacky.  I had a tattoo.  I wasn't baptized.  I was studying psychology.  I hadn't been in sports (I was a drama and book nerd).  I was crafty, and outdoors-y, and while not girly, definitely more feminine than MIL.   We were very, very different.  And therefor, I was flawed.  (Remember their motto "if you are different from me, you are wrong".)

I often felt, looking back, that I was expected to "fit in".  To be one of them. Not to just accept them as they were, but to also become like them.  To change.   I was expected to bend.  They weren't expected to welcome me in to their family, I was expected to find my place.  I was to learn the rules.  I often think of it now as joining a cult of sorts.   In college, I spent a year transcribing interviews a professor had conducted with former cult members.   I couldn't help but notice some of the similarities.  Here's your manual Jessie, here's your "uniform", now fit in and don't make trouble.

One memory I have that sticks is of MIL and I sitting on the couch together, again in a sort of "forced intimacy".  She has a habit of getting people one on one, sitting too close, and talking in an almost hushed tone (It is in such stark contrast to the boisterous, energetic loud person she otherwise is).    There is a feeling that she is confiding in you.  I've long learned to avoid these interactions, and never let her corner me, but she still does it often to DH.  I'll leave the room to do something and find her cozied up next to him.  I always feel odd, walking into these situations, as if I am interrupting something.  I used to feel badly, as if I'd intruded, but I realized that these sorts of conversations happened a lot.  And always while I was otherwise occupied.  She rarely had these sorts of conversations with an audience larger than one or two. 

This particular conversation revolved around "The Cautionary Tale of Aunt Didi" and I can remember it like it was yesterday.   Aunt Didi was her SIL, married to FIL's brother.   MIL described Didi as an odd woman who was horrible to their MIL (I'll refer to her as grandmother-in-law, or GIL).  MIL claimed that Didi obviously preferred her own FOO, often coming into town and visiting her family and not GIL (GIL's husband died when DH was an infant).  Didi didn't include GIL at holidays, MIL claimed, and had kept GIL's son and grandchildren from visiting as much as they should.  The woman she described seemed unkind and unfair.  Both DH and BIL2 (who was 18) could parrot similar accusations.  This aunt is "weird", this aunt had nothing to do with family, this aunt was bad.  MIL, and I will never forget it, said "that is my greatest fear, that my son will be taken away by my DIL."   She discussed, at length, how she didn't want to be THAT MIL, wanted to make sure that her sons didn't leave, wanted to make sure that this didn't happen to her. 

Now, although MIL made a big production about wanting to not be "that MIL", she never really discussed what she would do to ensure that.  The story was actually not about the MIL either, but more about placing blame on the DIL.  MIL never felt that GIL had done anything to warrant being left out.  MIL didn't point the finger at anyone other than Didi, the DIL.  At the time, I thought she was merely trying to start the relationship on the right foot with me, assuring me she'd try to be a "good MIL"  (although this conversation seemed a bit premature, we'd only been dating a short while).  But I look back and see how clearly the DIL is cast as the villain in the story.  Ironically, MIL didn't have the best relationship with her MIL either.  She often complained to me about GIL, told me she would hide in another room and "let the kids" deal with her.  She hated having to hear GIL tell the same old stories over and over (the lady had early dementia and was OLD).   She didn't like that GIL told stories that she felt where not accurate.  She didn't enjoy her company at all.  Also interestingly, aside from MIL, DH, and BIL2, I never heard about this "conflict" from anyone else.   DH's other busy body aunt never mentioned it.  FIL certainly never said anything.  GIL never seemed to be conflicted by Didi, and I didn't see the reverse to be true either (although I rarely saw them all together).  If there was some conflict, which there may have been, I certainly didn't see it.  I'll also note that Didi's husband, GIL's son, was also never held accountable for not seeing his mother enough.  It was always Didi's fault and this was repeated to me many times.

Despite all of this, I tried very hard to fit in.  My father had insisted on my being respectful, well-mannered, and considerate to others.  I wasn't to speak up and "be rude".  Even though the teasing I got from DH's FOO felt bad to me, I had been told by my father I was too sensitive, so I believed this to be the case here too.  MIL poked fun at me, at SIL, at BIL4 a lot.  I was "uptight", SIL was "ditzy" and fat (MIL once asked her if she really wanted to "eat that butter because (BIL2) won't like it if you gain weight."  BIL4 was the "fat" kid.   DH told me that's just what "guys" do and that they teased MIL a lot too (they didn't).   I knew that my home had been too quiet, and although the chaos was a lot for me, I figured it was just different.  I spent many over nights at their home, went on vacations with them, and even took a 15 hour road trip with MIL alone.  In a Ford Fiesta.  Have you ever been in a Fiesta?  It's a golf cart with a bit more structure to it. I mean, I was trying. I ignored her "jokes", excused her little jabs.  I blamed myself for being too sensitive or uptight and different.

Around two years into my relationship with DH, MIL took BIL2 and SIL's dog for the summer.  They were in college and couldn't keep it for the summer, and so she offered to look after it.  She refused to give it back.  She did buy them another dog though.  And here's the deal, I'm very allergic to dogs.  Not only do I get allergies, but it makes my asthma flare up horribly.  I'd spent most of my childhood struggling with asthma and could never be around dogs.  MIL's dog soon became a huge bone of contention. 

As a kid, my grandmother had a dog too.  My parents would take me to her home, and I would have huge reactions that would cause complications for weeks.  When I became an adult, I had decided that I couldn't sacrifice my health all of the time to be around a dog.  My visit's to MIL's house had to be decreased.  Significantly.   Despite her own kids having allergies, she never really understood it.  She never asked me much about my asthma.  And what she did ask, she didn't bother to remember the answers.  I often got the feeling she felt I was using it as an excuse (I heard "whisperings" behind my back from other relatives about how I never visited DH's hometown anymore.)  We would visit, but would stay at a hotel and our time would be limited in her home.   MIL would make a big production of cleaning her home (while I was there) and asking DH about what she could do to help me.  She rarely asked me personally (and didn't listen, as a lot of what she did was actually harmful).   I was relegated to ONE wooden chair in the home I could sit on.  All other upholstered furniture, the dog was allowed to sit on.   I would spend hours in that damn hard chair.  Once, MIL and FIL fell asleep on the couch, and there I was perched on my wooden chair.   She often wouldn't put the dog in a back room and if she did, would let it out again; she said the dog was whining and felt "left out" with all the family there.  DH would put it back, only to have it out two seconds later.  The dog never went outside.   

I went to the doctor, I got on medicine, I took shots (monthly for seven years) to try and "fix" my asthma (obviously, not just because of the dog, but that was a huge factor).  She didn't ask about my medication, didn't listen to the cost and time and energy I was devoting to it (and not ironically, a few weeks ago, when my nephew had lung issues and asthma was suspected, she went on and on about the cost of the medication and how horrible it was for him not to breath.  Much of the terminology I used to describe my asthma to her, she was now parroting back to me.).  I tried to explain how uncomfortable it was (in an effort to have her put the dog back into the room) but was ignored.   In addition, the BILs had now accumulated FOUR more dogs.  So now, holidays were filled with five dogs, in a small house, with me.   MIL never asked that they kennel their dogs.  She never expected them to be put outside.  I was lucky if they were put in a back room.  I wasn't trying to be a hard ass.  I love dogs.  But I COULD NOT breath.  My resentment grew.  MIL's resentment grew.

She arranged a family Christmas holiday away once (but we still all had dinner at her home and spent the DAY there), as she always had wanted to have a family vacation, she said (her parents did this too and she likes to do everything the same way they did).  But it was clear that there was a tone of "be grateful" Jessie.  Look at all we are doing "for Jessie".  I felt singled out.  I felt that her grand gesture was pointed out to be due to me.  I'm sure she convinced my cheap FIL to do this, saying that she had to for Jessie. The "cost" of the trip was due to me, not MIL's desire to have a family holiday.    Oh, and I paid for it literally too.  DH and I were expected to pay for a lot of it and the hotel room was our "Christmas present" (none of the other brothers paid for themselves.  Of course, I sort of understand this, but it had become typical:  Jessie and her husband always had to pay our way, while everyone else - including BIL and SIL who were married - got paid for.)  I kept feeling guilt for not being able to attend holiday events and family get togethers.  Occasionally, to be fair, MIL paid for a hotel for us.  And I am an adult and we could pay for our own hotel too.  But DH and I were young, fresh out of college, and often couldn't afford all of the visits MIL would've liked.   And it seemed exceedingly unfair that most of my "condition" (as it's been called) was my job to fix, while they couldn't even put the dogs outside.   Or ask that 5 dogs not be there.   MIL even said to me one time that she would NEVER get a cat, as BIL and SIL were allergic (but not asthmatic) and would be angry.  I wondered what the difference was for me, then?  It seemed like I was constantly trying to find ways to make it work, while no one else cared.  And now, even though their dog has died (and she's sworn she'd never get another), she takes BIL2's dog for weeks at a time.  Once, last summer when we were scheduled to visit, she had taken the dog.  I just can't help but feel that she was forcing me to chose between "proving" my desire to be in the family and my health.  Or, she was setting me up to look like the bad guy. 

Despite all, DH and I got married.  We had many arguments at the time about accepting his family.  About ME having to get along with THEM.   That they were the way they were and I was to get along.  And if I didn't, then it wouldn't work.  I loved him.  I had abandonment issues.  I'd been told by my own family that I was wrong all of the time.  I figured it was me.  So, I tried harder.  I tried to accommodate her as much as a could at the wedding.  (You can read my wedding story here).  It was not an easy situation.  I had her on one side, NM on the other, both giving me lots of orders but no one really wanting to help with the shit work.  MIL was concerned with her friends, and her mother, and her dress.  And offering her opinion about my choices (she didn't like a lot of them).  On my wedding day, she didn't say anything to me.  No congratulations, no "you look great", nothing.  Not. A. Word. 

Up to this point, MIL seemed to be the "alpha female" in the situation.  She was in charge.  She ran her family.  And she had expected to run me too, like one of her children.   But after the wedding, something switched.  And suddenly, she wanted to be friends.  Best friends.  She and FIL are her parents' playmates.   They vacationed together (her parents never took any of their other kids) and spent lots of time together.   DH stated he felt like his parents really just enjoyed us as adults, which they couldn't do with their overly dependent other children, and that's why they seemed to "favor" our company.  As this happened, I began to notice other things.

MIL was controlling.  She's been called controlling by her father and sister, among other people.  Lots of people just call her bossy.  She's domineering.  She was an office manager and once complained to me that the women in her office didn't just 'do as they were told'.   She controlled the family "themes": religious views, political views, family views.  Everyone in her family believed the same things.  Liked the same things.  I didn't see a lot of individuality.  DH had some, but MIL just adopted whatever he was in to.  She attempted to control the finances of everyone, or at least have a say.  She felt she had the right to divvy up restaurant bills and other things, deciding who paid what.  And I'm not talking in a fair way.  She would portion out more costs to those she felt were more able to pay, and would let other people not pay at all.  Once, she demanded that DH and I cough up $60 for a glass of wine and a half a sandwich, because she didn't want her sister to pay (her sister was pissed off, and MIL felt it was my fault.  It's a long story that I've written about on my blog and will be glad to provide a link.)  BIL2 and BIL3 are spend thrifts, pissing away money.  DH and I have never accepted a dime and save and budget.  MIL always would make DH and I share in the costs of family dinners but not anyone else.  She controlled family vacations.  She arranged them, she decided the destination, and we paid for them.  Once she invited herself (and the entire family) along on a trip DH and I had already planned.  Another time, she tried to manipulate us into a family cruise.  She had broached the subject with me several times.  I had told her no, repeatedly.  We had limited vacation time (I would've been expected to spend half my yearly amount; I already spent most of my free time with them and felt my vacation should be used to visit my distant family) and  I couldn't afford it (DH and I were saving for a home.  And if we DID have the money, we would've wanted to take our own vacation.)  I repeatedly explained my reasons for saying no.  Several months later, she "surprised" everyone with her plans to go on a cruise the following holidays.  I was shocked.  My SILs were ecstatic!  Free trip! (They feel no qualms about accepting everything they can get from my in-laws.) Except it wasn't free.  It was a free cruise, but we all had to pay for our (very expensive) plane fare to get there (and our spending money).  When I told MIL we could not afford the $1000 for the plane fare, she said, well then you can drive.   It was a 2 day, 1200 mile drive to the airport (and notice it would add a 2 hotel rooms and 4 extra days to the trip).  I agai said, we can't afford that now.  She said "Give it to each other for a Christmas gift."  Thanks lady, for deciding not only what I would give my husband for Christmas (and blow my budget by about 10 times, but the gift is a trip WITH YOU.)

She controlled all relationships and expected to have input and run them.  She ran "telephone" between her sons and their grandparents, even when they should've called directly.  They wanted to visit us?  They'd call her and she'd call us.  (This has stopped, by the way.)   She tried to "manage" SIL's and my relationship.  Instead of allowing us to grow and bond (and yes, maybe even argue if necessary), she squashed anything she thought was conflict.  She would get in the middle of things and control the outcomes of disagreements (when my SIL3 dumped SIL2 as maid of honor at the last minute, after she'd done all of the work, MIL told SIL3 that it was OK.  She told SIL2 that she just had to accept it so that SIL3 could have her day and never allowed the two of them to work it out between them. I'll add to that we ALL were expected to give SIL and BIL3 whatever the wanted to help with the wedding, while SIL and BIL3 contributed very, very little.)  She managed the relationship between her siblings, her parents, her children.  She decides who's feelings get minimized (sacrificed) to keep the peace with the other party.   Someone always has to sacrifice.   I told DH that it felt like we were all spokes of a wheel, orbiting the hub (HER) which controlled and moved us all into the position she liked.  She controlled what food was on everyone's plate, redistributing what she felt was fair.  She wasn't "sharing" as she liked to believe, but rather, SHE was deciding what everyone HAD to share.  For a slow eater who likes to talk during a meal, I often left the table hungry, as everyone would help themselves to my food.  (She recently did this to my son, diving up part of his meal to his cousin without asking.  I came unglued....and shortly after that started this blog.  She loudly proclaimed, to my "son", "we share in this family", which I'm sure was her shaming me instead.)   She expects everyone in the family to like the same things, be involved in the same activities, and go to the same service providers. When we had our kids, she kept making a point about all of us using the same doctor, preschool, and child supplies.  She dictates where people sit at meals, always positioning herself in the middle.  She never arranges people so that it is most practical (with infants) or easiest.  It is always with her in the middle.  She controls and dominates my SIL's house (who allows it to a degree), my niece and nephew's parties, and generally is the "third parent" in all situations with them.  She is not an "addition" to their parenting, but an equal, if not superior, component. 

All information has to be run by her.  She loves to be in the know.  In fact, to know before other people.  She loves to tell me "Oh, DH, told me all about that already."  She expects her sons to discuss everything with her.  BIL2 discusses his marriage issues with his wife with her.  BIL4 was called a "good kid" because he called her every day to "let me know what was going on."  She has to know everything.  All of the time.  When issues came up with BIL4 and his girlfriend, they all involved MIL.  When it got to be "too much", BIL2 stepped in, monitoring what information MIL was forced to see, so she didn't get too upset (his girlfriend sent a message to MIL she had recorded of BIL4 in a rage.  It was graphic and horrid.  So, BIL2 listened to it and dealt with it for MIL.)

She uses triangulation and proxy recruitment.  She has discussed her issues with my SIL with me, numerous times.  Whispering salaciously about how SIL baths or feeds the kids.  How her son does ALL of the work (she does this more to DH, but I've heard it too).  How SIL's mother interferes in their marriage and favors DIL (hahaha!  the irony!  SIL's mother hates MIL back.  There's been many fights.)  She details criticisms, while she implies to you how "concerned" and "worried" she is over these issues.  There is always some pitiful fool to cluck over.   She often used to urge DH and I, if we agreed with her assessment, to talk to the other person.   "Won't you tell them that?" she'd say.  When she decided she needed to "fix" BIL3's mental issues (he was 26 and married) she came to me first and asked that I approach him about getting help from the neuropsychs I worked for.  I told her I'd be glad to help, but he would have to ask me himself.  Not shockingly, he never asked me.  She accepts confidences from her sons and then uses them to "express concern" to another.  For example, DH has been concerned about some poor choices BIL2 has been making in regards to his son's health (not little things, big things, like not getting the kid to a doctor when he's been in pain).   DH's FIRST response to me when I expressed concern was to say "I wonder what my mom has said to BIL, I'll discuss it with her."  I wanted to pull my hair out.  We've been over this; if he has issues with his brother, he should talk to his BROTHER.  This will only lead to MIL saying, "you know, (DH) mentioned you should be doing (this) with nephew the other day."  It sets DHup to be the bad guy if BIL reacts badly.   But he is so conditioned, it's so automatic, that even though he doesn't confide in his mother about other things, when it comes to the family, he runs everything by her.  He gets all of his "news" from her (or his father....who gets all his news from her).   We've only recently agreed that maybe she is not the most reliable of sources.  She never outright says she's "right" in a situation, but she manages to always paint herself in a good light.   When she needs something from my husband, she sends it through FIL.   She picks and chooses when she communicates with me (rarely, thank God.  I rarely get emails, and no phone calls.  Small miracles, right?)  Many times she sends things only to DH (like requests for gift lists, or pictures of them on vacation, or other family "news").  I get forwarded notices that she's bought shit for my kids.  You know, so she gets credit. 

She also uses much more subtle manipulation.  Often, this was so covert that I didn't even know how she did it.  Lots of intimate conversations, lots of subtle hints.  I often think that she had her "boys" so well trained, that she didn't even have to say much.  One example of this happened last summer.  We had gone to DH's town to visit for a music festival.  FIL had signed MIL up to volunteer.  She was not happy about this, as she is actually quite timid and anxious outside of her comfort zone.  It's quite the switch to see this domineering woman turn into such a mouse when she's around more than just her immediate family (or coworkers or church group).  Anyway, she has a habit of "using" her family as a shield in these situations.  She has physically held her grandkids in front of her (once was at her birthday party, amongst her friends) to deflect from herself.  She can be socially awkward and not know what to do with herself (at a recent kids party, she yelled at my kids from quite a distance away instead of coming and engaging with them.  It was ODD.)  She usually runs and hides herself in the middle of the "fold" of her family.  Then, her confidence and brashness comes out.  I had mentioned it to DH, and he noted that he is familiar with it and can "usually calm her down" and that she shouldn't be "tying" the kids up in this role.  Anyway, MIL wanted the kids with her.  So, she started early at breakfast.  She mentioned they had a dancing tent.  Then, she mentioned how good of a dancer I was.  She let FIL fill in a favorite family story about me of being surprised I could salsa dance (I am the subject of few family stories.  And this one is overblown when they tell it.   Often MIL tells family stories to me, in which I was present, but she leaves me out and has "forgotten" I was even there.)  Then MIL dropped the subject.    An hour or so later, she brought up the dancing tent again, saying it was near her "volunteer shift".   And how nobody who'd been dancing there yesterday was as good as I was (she believes this type of flattery works on me; it doesn't.  I couldn't give a rat's ass if I'm better or not.)  Then, she dropped the thread again.  Then, later, she picks it back up again.  "You know, I'll watch the kids so you can go dancing...."  And there it is.  Her point.  Butter me up, subtly suggest something I'd like to do, make it look like she's doing me a favor.  But it's all for her.  To protect her and get her alone with my kids.  I'm OK with working things out so that everyone gets a little of what they want.  I'm OK with negotiating.  I'm not OK when someone doesn't let me know up front that is what they are doing.  That, to me, is the key of manipulation. 

She is the type of person who likes to be noticed.  She is fond of  being in the know about the "best".  She likes compliments.  She is constantly drawing my husband's attention to her new pants, or her outfit, or her new flag pole (seriously).   She reminds me of a young girl calling attention to herself and her toys.  She makes a scene whenever she walks into a room.  She's a loud, hurricane moving into a room.  She's either late or early.  And their is usually drama attached to it (she forgot something, she needs to put my kids' gift together, and on and on).  No moment goes by that something doesn't need to draw attention to her.  Despite her anxiety in social situations, she likes for her family to get noticed.  She loved the attention her handsome, athletic sons got.  She likes the attention my smart, attractive boys get.  She loves everyone looking at us.  She loves to know the "best" foods, and trendiest restaurant.  She will accept the authority of anyone's opinion if she believes them to be "in the know" about things.  She very rarely makes her own judgments or opinions about things.

Despite her strong need to be seen, she treats my SIL and I like carbon copies (I'm not even sure what she does with my third SIL.   She seems to be an after thought).  What one DIL likes, the other gets.  Gifts are identical.  Gifts are often the same thing, but divided up between us sometimes (one gift, divided in half).  She assumes that if SIL likes something, I'll like it too.  She knows us very little on an individual basis.  She has collected "data" on me, but she doesn't know me on a personal level.   She forces gifts on me that continue MIL's traditions.  Her sons get very personalized gifts.  We get assumptions and guesses.  Or gift cards.  Not that I'm bitching.  I'll take the gift card any day over half of a set of two wine glasses that she got free at a wine tasting. 

She does not treat people fairly.  She has already bought gifts for my son TWICE, and bought nothing for his little brother (she did this in such a sneaky manner, it was hard to call her on it.)  She expects DH and I to pay for things, but gives the rest of the brothers money (she has deemed us "financial secure" while they are not).  She used to buy DH season tickets to our college football team.  Seats next to her's that guaranteed he had to spend time with her (she bought HIM his ONE ticket, not the pair that she had).  I had to buy the additional ticket of the pair myself (which, if I didn't go to one game,  she would then take the ticket back and give to her relatives.  She didn't reimburse me).   Despite repeatedly asking her to just get me the tickets (instead of junk and crap), she refused.  DH said it's because she spends more on her kids that her DILs.  Fine.  I told her to combine my birthday and Christmas gift.  Nope.   Can't help but think there is a message in there for me.  Again, I feel like I rank "second tier" in the family.   Not quite in the inner circle.  She spent lots more money on BIL2's baby (born three months after our's) than our baby.  And don't get me wrong, folks.  It's not about the money.  I'd gladly take NO gifts from this woman.  They are laden with guilt and obligation.  But the glaring differences in treatment are hard to swallow.  We are "favored" but they are spoiled.  Her parents are the exact same way and are, currently, struggling with everyone fighting over the spoils of their estate. 

She has NO boundaries.  As I mentioned above, she helps herself to peoples' food and drinks.  She has some weird fetish about "sharing" things with people.  She pushes physical contact, yet shies away from being physical with those she doesn't choose too.  At the football games mentioned above, DH has to arrange it so that he sits between us, or she invades my space.  My children have had to be physically removed from her when they've shown signs of discomfort at her invading their space.  She sits too close.  She is oblivious to other people's discomfort.  She has walked in on my changing my clothes TWICE.  Considering I hardly ever stay with her,  that should say something.  She overstays her welcome.  If she's invited for the weekend, she comes on Friday afternoon and stays until late Sunday.  She doesn't get the hints and we've had to "manage" visits so we don't get stuck.  She invites people to other people's houses.  She comes late, or early.  She shares personal information we share.  In fact, I don't think she talks much about anything else, besides personal information she has heard. 

Lately, she has taking to stalking me, of sorts.  On several occasions, she has been listening behind me while I have conversations with others.  I only know she is listening when she joins the conversation.  The last time this happened, she was over 20 feet away and involved in conversation with someone else, or so I thought.  She follows me around.  (She refuses to be left out of things and will run around like a chicken trying to be involved in all things, and conversations, at once.  In doing so, she often leaves children unattended.)  I have moved around a room to different seats, only to have her follow me, repeatedly.  When I have stepped back, to allow her time with her grandkids (that she says she wants), she follows me.  DH says it's just because she likes me.  Ick.  She has crawled across a floor, sliding off the couch and inching closer and closer, until she has positioned herself at my feet.  This in essence "blocks" me into my chair.  I am extremely uncomfortable with this. 

She doesn't understand privacy, or my need for it (in fact thinks it's silly).  She has sent pictures of my SIL's bare breasts (after delivering her baby) to BIL's boss.  She overshares other people's private moments (like the details of SIL's delivery to my DH).  She gossips.  A lot.  But always in a "concerned" way.  She bought all of her DILs' sexy panties "to wear on their wedding night."  Ick.   She didn't understand why I didn't walk around in my pajamas, but rather covered up, in her home (and around her teenage sons).  So, she bought me a nighty.  Just like hers. 

During stressful times, she does not offer support, but rather pushes her agenda.  When my last son was born, she got testy with my husband that he wouldn't let her visit yet.  We couldn't have, even if we wanted to, but she kept pushing.  As I said, at my wedding, she said nothing.  At the birth of my son, she asked if my nipple hurt from nursing.  I had nearly died (literally).  She did not say congratulations or I'm glad you are OK.  Just if my nipples hurt and than took my son.  Oh, and I got advice on not letting him have a pacifier.  (She did hold her tongue that we didn't continue the tradition of naming our son that she wanted to.  But that was DH's decision and she doesn't argue with him.)  She doesn't ask what she can do, but tells me what she will do for me.  When my husband has been stressed, or in need of support, she has none to offer.  She is not a comforting soul.  Once, when my son was having a breathing episode, MIL kept shoving a package at DH that she wanted to get out of her hands so she could go do something else.  She is insensitive and often misses how her behavior effects others.  She can say insensitive, hurtful things.  She often points out things that are wrong (like noticing a small sticker on a new lamp I've bought.)  Her sister told her she was "negative".  I used to brush off her social awkwardness and lack of social insight and insensitivity on her ADHD.  DH and I both did.  I'm sure, now, that it is not due to ADHD.  My husband is ADHD and says stupid things on occasion, but he always tries to not do it again and is sensitive if I tell him I am hurt.  It is not wise to let MIL know she's hurt you. 

She is a yeller.  Loud anyway, (which makes those intimate "only" conversations she likes so odd), she yells, a lot.  In fact, the whole family yells to get at their points.  No one just talks or discusses.  When she is angry, or backed into a corner, she snaps at people.  Whenever she is confronted about something, she yells back. 

She is blameless.  Always.  Nothing, ever, is her fault.  She blames me, or DH, or ANYONE for something happen than herself.  This has happened several times with my niece and nephew.  Once, she walked away from nephew (who was 2) on a tire swing (I had taken my children somewhere else and, despite her being the supervising adult for nephew, she couldn't stand not being with my kids and left him).  He fell, and she quickly ran to BIL, telling him that she "had almost saved him, but just couldn't reach him in time."  Yup, true. She ran back to save him, after SHE LEFT HIM.  She left that part out.  When my niece went under water and was struggling in a pool (twice, she was barely 3), and I confronted her (she was supposed to be watching her) she said it was my husband's fault, since he had been "right there".  Recently, when told she shouldn't use an ornate glass dish for the kids, she said, "well, I think it's got some plastic in."  WTF?  Her recent falling out with her sister?  The sister's fault (but she frames it as the sister is just confused and struggling.  Which is the sister's husband's fault.)   I have never once, ever, seen her accept responsibility for anything.  Not once. 

When I have (rarely) confronted her (honestly I've been a bit afraid of her or the consequences of that), she yells, belittles, shames, and, somehow, blames me.  It was my fault that I took offense to her gawking at my pregnant belly and making me a specimen at a family dinner.  She and SIL were dissecting my belly, making it a huge deal and discussing "how big" I was in depth.   FIL chimed in that he'd only been looking at my eyes, and I thanked him for that, she became hostile and  turned the situation around on me, for "accusing" her of being rude.  BIL2 is quick (and occasionally FIL) to jump to her defense.  In fact, BIL2 has serious issues with me too. 

Enmeshment runs rampant through the family.  BIL2's biggest gripe with me seems to be that I don't just accept family agenda.  When BIL3 wanted to stay with us for weeks while I was extremely ill with morning sickness and I said no?  Not acceptable.  DH heard an earful about that one.  BIL2 seems to be under the impression that only "first tier" family members get an opinion or voice about anything.  The rest of us are expected to just go along with things.    All property belonging to one brother, belongs to the others for use (this isn't reciprocal.  We lend our stuff mostly.  And they don't have to ask, they think, or return it in good condition).  BIL2 does not consider DH and I's lawn mower, or ladder, or shovel, 'ours'.  He figures he is his brother and has just as much right to it as I do.  He does not believe he owes me any gratitude or thanks for anything. At a dinner that I made, I prepared, and I paid for  completely, BIL2 refused to thank me, only DH, even after DH told him that he had nothing to do with it.   All "relationship contracting" (the give and take of a relationship) is done between BIL and DH.   If I have them over for dinner, he reciprocates by taking DH out.  It works the same way with MIL. 

She can not say no.  To anyone.  Ever.  And she expects the same from her family. She sees herself as generous and selfless.  But I've often seen he sacrifice the well being of someone, in order to say "yes" to someone else.   Everyone is always supposed to sacrifice to the wants and needs of others.   Always. 

And so, everything I own is up for grabs.  My style, my home, my ideas.  My individuality.  MIL is a chameleon that seems to constantly changing identity.  As she decided we were "friends", she suddenly "adopted" my personality.  She dressed like me, became interested in my activities and trips with DH. We bought a car, she bought the same one.  We went to Europe, she went to Europe.  We fell in love with wine....  Of course, people inspire each other.  But this woman has not one unique quality to herself.  It used to be the church, but even that has slipped away.  Sure, she still goes, but she has changed congregations (for some unknown reason.  She is really very quiet about her personal goings on.  I know little about that stuff.)  When BIL2 renounced becoming a minister, claiming disillusionment with some of the more stiff traditions of the denomination he was in, MIL suddenly became less rigid too.  Lately, this 61 year old woman, who used to dress like a church marm, has morphed into a much younger, much more "hip" (but tragically, so NOT hip) version of herself.  She is constantly in flux.  And she grabs whatever imagery or personality trait she can and adopts it for herself.  She has gone so far as to take ideas from me (that are clearly my ideas, there is not mistaking this) and then presented them back to me as if they are her own ideas.   I recently told Kara that no part of me is safe from her stealing it.  Everything, even my thoughts, are open to "sharing". 

This copying seems to be in the same vein as a groupie.  Someone who tries to "take on the mantle" of the person they admire.  Except I don't think she admires me much.  I think she notices that DH has come around to admiring me.  Where I once had a husband who threw me under the bus to her, he know stands on my side (this is a very long story too.  But I will say that, although our relationship is not perfect, my blogging journey has opened up BOTH of our eyes.  Very recently I felt a cosmic shift, as if he suddenly had stepped over to my side.  Not that he always agrees with me, or that things are perfect.  We have a long way to go.  But it is much, much better.)  So, MIL started in on the flattery.  Lots of it occurs to DH only.  "Jessie is so smart, artistic.  You guys are good parents."  Funny thing, she has never complimented me on anything my parenting.  I get lots of flattery, compliments on the "smell of my home" or my toenail polish, or my shoes.  Never my dress or figure (she has issues with her body).  Because, deep down the lady is jealous (which makes me uncomfortable.  I struggle to even comprehend her jealousy of me.)  She gives me compliments like "Well.  Your lasagna is good.  But I make really good spaghetti."  She gets in little digs about my forehead being "broad" or my butt being big (it is, but I'm a very petite 120 pounds.  So suck it lady.)  She claims she loves my kids, but told me my oldest had GIL's "unfortunate nose"  which "none of (her) boys have".  Sure. 

Things have dissolved to the point where I can't stand the lady.  I really don't find one thing about her enjoyable.  I think, even if we didn't have this history, we wouldn't be friends.  She's just not my cup of tea.   And to be snarky for a moment, I can't stand how she laughs too loudly for the situation, her deplorable table manners, her insistence on dumping boxes of junk at my house that she claims are "memories" (she doesn't even bother to clean them out and shoves boxes full of receipts, old school worksheets, and somewhere, if you look, DH's baby book).  She is cluttered and disorganized and forgetful.  She does not listen.  At all.   She offers little to no intellectual conversation (everything she says, much like my own NM, is parroted from "experts.")  But I think I could tolerate her, if she'd just leave me be.  If she'd accept a more formal, distanced relationship.  But she won't.  She wants to be friends.  And hang out a lot.  As I said, DH has come a long way.  He now admits his mother is "weird" and says stupid things.  He admits she can be difficult.  But he still misses a lot.  NC is out of the question for him.  We moved up some boundaries, limited our time with her.  But she's still around.  A lot.  He wants to have family.  She doesn't "bother" him as much as me (shocker!).  He doesn't understand why I can't just ignore her. 

When we had kids, I finally had a reason to put more firm boundaries in place.  I see her less.  I quite going to her home as much, as I wouldn't risk asthma attacks while pregnant or with small infants.  This bought me time.  I had horrible, debilitating morning sickness.  This bought me time.  But, even then, her insensitivity didn't stop her from pushing herself on us.  She drops by on her time.  We are expected to accommodate her "drop in" visits that revolve around BIL2 and his family, her parents, football games, and whatever else she has going on.  She does not consider baby's naps, or meal times.  She acts like I'm rigid and silly for imposing structure in my kids' lives.   I've had to push to not make her wants trump my kid's needs. 

But it's these same kids that are causing her to come around more and more.  She has never babysat, or been along with my kids.  But I don't know how much longer I can stop this.   She is very, very insistent on being involved with the grandkids (she lived with BIL for months taking care of their kids, visits many weekends to babysits, and takes them for weeks or weekends.)  She is unsafe and unfocused around the kids and I don't trust her, but everyone else things she is a saint.  She seems to be of the need to be "the most loved", the "most important".  The beloved martriarch grandmother.  She loves to point out how my niece loves her cooking, or take on parenting responsibilities that should belong to us (she often rushes to feed my kids while I'm making them plates).  I have often got the feeling that for her to be "most loved" that I need to be taken down a peg.    I've gotten more and more the feeling that, in order for her to feel loved (and win), she has to take that love from me (and I loose).  She's full of criticism for my SIL (and I'm sure me, behind my back) while she builds herself up.

Having the kids has also shown me even deeper aspects of her personality.  She is detached with them.  Despite her constant want to be with the grandkids, she struggles to really connect with them.  She doesn't know how to talk to them or relate to them.  She struggles to read their emotions.  Once, when my son was crying and DH took him back, she stated "oh, I thought he was laughing."  She seems more content to hold, kiss, and cuddle them and talk AT them than to them.  (Lots of "grammy thinks you're special!")  She rarely asks them questions.  She is also surprisingly non-empathetic.  She is loud and yells hello at them from the door when we get to her home.  I often visualize a large, barking, drooling St. Bernard overlaying her image.  I can only imagine my kids feel something like that too, as they crawl behind me.  But she has no sense that she is  so in-their-face that she frightens them. 

Her lack of emotion and sensitivity was  highlighted at GIL's funeral last year.  GIL's death was drawn out a bit and difficult.  I head many stories (from DH who spoke with MIL) about all of the things she was doing for GIL.  They way she told it, no one else did anything.  I never heard any stories about what FIL or FIL's sister (who was close to her mother) did for GIL.  Only MIL's stories.  I look back now and realize how unbalanced the stories were.  I can not believe that MIL did the lion's share of the work at her deathbed.   MIL would, the weekend following her death , share the story of GIL's death over and over to every adult at my son's birthday party.  FIL said nothing about his mother's death.  DH related to me how, when he went to say goodbye to GIL, and he and BIL2 came out crying, MIL did nothing to comfort them.  She simple stood back.  At the funeral, she seemed more like "she was at a wedding than a funeral", DH said.  She cracked a joke about BIL4 while we were waiting to enter.  Everyone else was somber or crying.  Not her.  She positioned her "peacefully" heavenward, almost humming and rocking the whole funeral, holding my niece on her lap.  FIL sat next to his FIL, quietly crying to himself.   At the graveside, MIL marched right next to the casket to deposit my niece with my son and me (apparently, she thought the kids needed to be together?)  I stood next to my FIL, holding his hand, as she sat on the other side of the casket with my SIL.  At the reception, she gathered my BILs, their wives, the kids, and HER parents for a "family portrait'.  She did not take pictures of FIL with is FOO.  It felt odd and embarrassing.  I knew she struggled emotionally, but I had never seen how profoundly ignorant she could be. 

I really could go on and on.  I've gone from feeling dejected and rejected in this family, to anger, to depression, to extreme anxiety.  I used to get panic attacks (before help from my blogging friends for amygdala control) whenever I knew she'd be coming (and since she often "dropped in", I often did detective work to deduce when that might be.)  I never felt I had any control of anything, while at the same time I was accused of being controlling.  I went from feeling completely like an outsider, to feeling like MIL wanted to swim in my skin.  I have felt smothered, and pushed around, and controlled.  My MIL problem has been at the root of every marital issue I've had with DH and has pushed us almost to divorce in the past.  I can not get away from this woman.  I am stuck with her.  So, I have to learn how to manage her.  I have finally lost my fear of her, and my fear of losing DH to her manipulations.  I've come to conclude that if he leaves me because of her, there is nothing I can do about that.   I don't fear that much anymore, but I'm still struggling.  I'm still hurting at times.  I'm still struggling to stand up to her and not be bullied anymore.  I'm struggling to wrestle my power and my life back from her, keeping myself, my kids, and my husband safe from her passive-aggressiveness and manipulations. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Validating Response

Editing Note:  I originally posted just CZ's comment with nothing else.  I had meant only to save this on a blog post for my own notes and not publish it.  OOOPS!!However, since I've gotten three comments on it, I will leave it for now, edited to include other pertinent information.  Here is the original link to the CZ's post, that I commented on and she replied:

The post is chalk full of good information, but something CZ had said in her comments to another person resonated with me and was a huge point of validation for me. 

Her words were:
"The most dangerous problem in society is when people do not understand pathology and assume the narcissist operates in the same reality as themselves. My X used to tell me all the time that he wished he lived in my world because to him, it was Disneyland compared to the jungle in his mind (Eat or Be Eaten). It has taken ten years for me to grasp the meaning of his words."

I've often felt that my sister (and mother and MIL, to some degree) live in a parallel but separate universe from me.  That, with my sister in particular, I can't really have a relationship with her because our realties don't overlap at all. 

This was my comment, to which CZ further commented on (the original message of this post, and copied below):

"CZ, this article is enlightening and helpful. But this comment above really struck a chord with me. This seems to be at the crux of my relationships with my narcs. I've been trying to maintain relationships with people that live in parallel but completely different realities from the one I live in. And my narcs, unfortunately, do not have enough insight to realize that I live in a different reality. They assume that I operate in exactly the same way as them. And this in congruency makes any sort of real relationship impossible. "

Sorry for all the confusion on this post!  And sorry CZ for publishing this without realizing what the heck I was doing.  Darn buttons!  I need to pay more attention!!! :) Here is CZ's final comment, the one I found most validating and helpful, and I'll leave it here for anyone else who may find it helpful.

"Hi Jessie! It's lovely to hear from you. <3

A great book for understanding narcissism is "Disarming the Narcissist" by Wendy T. Behary. She practices Schema Therapy and her insights can be particularly helpful for those of us seeking understanding. If we are dealing with a hostile malignant narcissist, maybe not; but the majority of us are not dealing with that degree of pathology. There are no malignant narcissists in my life today which allows me to be less defensive and more compassionate with narcissistic people. When a malignant narcissist is destroying your life, about the only thing people can do to protect themselves is "no contact."

I wonder if you could talk casually about schemas with the narcissists in your life? Not focusing on their schemas of course, but yours. This is how conversations with my X began, when I was in therapy and openly discussing my beliefs. Such as my response to Einstein's question (supposedly): "Is the universe friendly or not?" My X could not believe i didn't see life as "Eat or Be Eaten." This was the first realization we had that our perceptions were polar opposites. He said the universe was predatory and I said it was nice. We were both wrong. hahaha

What this helped me do as his wife (not that it changed the outcome) is recognize his fear which I had 'mocked' to some degree because I didn't understand. The level of fear he lived with day in and day out (fear of failure; the need to WIN at all costs) softened my heart. But I lacked the Rest Of The Story such as the inability to bond to people, etc.

There isn't anything WE can do to change the schema in someone else's head but we can prevent conflicts from escalating because we 'understand.' As I mentioned though, ending the relationship may be the only option if that person is unreasonable. You simply cannot expose yourself to hostility without losing your joy and your self-respect. It wears people down bit-by-bit and even as TERRIFIC as their boundaries may be, NO ONE can live with that degree of insult.

IF someone believes the world is Predator-Prey without allowing for alternative views, no matter what you say, no matter how you explain yourself, they will NOT believe you. They will think (as I mentioned on #21), that YOU are pretending so they'll let their guard down AND then, you'll GET 'EM. You can't work with that mentality and if someone is thoroughly convinced their perceptions are right, there is NOTHING you can do to convince them you have a kind heart and would never intentionally hurt them. As you wrote, "the incongruency makes any sort of real relationship impossible."


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Irrevokable Broken

After writing my last two posts, something has popped up in my brain, a feeling a remembered from my early 20s that I'm only really able to process now.

First, thanks to all of you who have offered your support, advice, compassion, and ear.  I truly appreciate it.  Thanks to Jonsi for helping break it down and process it.  And thanks to my dear, sweet, nurturing friend Kara for holding my hand a lot in the past few months.  Even across an ocean, I can feel you love and support and it has changed my life.

OK, so as I read all of your reactions to my childhood, I'm finally able to validate my own feelings of how shitty, horrible, and difficult my childhood was.  NM not only never validated these feelings, but actually accused me of being a horrible person for feeling this way. 

I never got over the fact that she, in essence, abandoned me and my sister for two years.  Sure, she was there, but she wasn't.  We were often physically, emotionally, and spiritually left alone.

But the worst part was, when in my early 20s, NM's new relationship (and her new family) suddenly lost her luster.  I'd made peace with her leaving.  I was, not thriving, but pulling my ass up by the boot straps and moving on.  But when NM's new family wasn't doing it for me anymore, she came back.  Not crawling back, apologizing, and seeing the wrong doings of her ways.  Nope, she came right back in, shoving the door down, and demanding, in the entitled way she has, her "proper" position as my mother.  Demanding respect.  Demanding I treat her in a way commiserate with her self appointed title as "The Mom".  No sense of understanding of what had happened, no apologies, no acknowledgement.  Just "go back to the way it was"  (which, frankly, was an illusion to begin with). 

I was SO DAMN ANGRY that she thought she had a right to just "resume" being my mom.  That she could come in and demand my damn, attention, respect, and love.  That she thought she was ENTITLED to it.  That still gets me.  Her entitlement.  She feels she has rights to all and every part of my life.  That, OF COURSE, she's welcome in my home, with my kids, in every private area of my life whenever she feels like it.  Because she's The Mom.  WTF, lady?  Where do you get off?  You fucking left me.  Left me.  And my sister.  To fend for ourselves.  And now, you just want to swoop back in and claim your "rights" to me.  You expect me to nurture you, love you, respect you, and deem authority and control to you?  You expect me to tell you what a great mom you are (seriously.  She has really said this.  That she was a GREAT mom.).  You want me to bolster your self esteem, play your therapist, and hold your hand?  You want to just be included back in?  I don't fucking get this.  Where the hell do you get off?

 I read a quote on FB the other day that said something to the effect of if you throw a plate on the ground, and it breaks, and you say your sorry, the plate just doesn't "go back" to the way it was.  You've never understood this, mom.  That things can't just "go back" (and again, go back to what, I don't know, because it wasn't there to begin with or you couldn't have done the things you did).  You have to work, to repair, to earn my trust and respect back as a mother.  You have to deserve the privilege of my trust, friendship, and access to my life.  And until you get that, the plate will always just lie there broken.  You may not take what you feel you deserve from me.  I don't know what kind of accounting you are using, but in my calculations, I've settled what I 'owe' you.  Anything else you get from me is pure kindness.  On my part.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My sister

My younger sister was born the day before my second birthday.  Birthdays from then on, became a "shared" activity, and our enmeshment grew out of that. 

I can remember, at a very young age, helping to regulate my sister's emotional moods.  "Give her what she wants, Jessie.  It's easier than dealing with the fight and we have too....(go to the store, have dinner, whatever)"  I can remember hearing that statement outright, but it was suggested to me in much more subtle ways.  She was giving what she wanted.  She was babied.  I hid so she wouldn't know that I wasn't taking naps and she was.  I helped with her school projects (she did not help me).  I shared my friends (she did not share her's).  She tagged along with me.  She  did everything I did (something she would later become angry at me for).  Mom made me "her little helper" and I helped to take care of my sister. 

Nm treated us like bookends.  Or salt and pepper shakers.  Slightly different, but still a "set".  Every interest I had, she also participated in.  We wore different colors of the same outfit.  Our hair was styled the same.  Anything I got, Nm got NSis one too.  She "evened" us out (in that way that Ns do, configuring "fair" based on some deluded standards). 

I remember being responsible for NSIS's mental states.  NSIS was a bit...temperamental.  Let's call it that.  She was difficult.  She had tantrums.  She boiled over into anger quickly and often. She had to have things just so (she would NOT leave the house without her clothes and hair to her liking, for example.)  I know she tested my parents, but their problem was my problem too.  She was violent.  She hit me.  These weren't sibling fights.  These were unprovoked attacks against me.  I didn't hit back (she was at least as big and strong as I was).  I didn't fight back.  Most of the time, she attacked me for asking that she finish her chores or stop doing something (because I was "in charge" after school and during the summer.  So, I was expected to "control" her.  Make her behave.  My parents struggled to make her behave, do her chores, how was I supposed to do that?  And if I didn't, I got punished too.)  My father knew.  He finally told me to start hitting her back.  To quit letting her attack me.  Stand up for myself.  He punished her, but that always ended up worse (his punishments were harsh.  Partially due to this, I didn't want her to get in trouble.  So, I often tried to resolve it myself.)  And when I would call NM at work, NM would yell at us for "fighting".  Like we were squabbling over the remote.  I was struggling to keep control of this girl, being bruised, bitten, pinched, but I would also get punished for that. 

I believe now that NM, in addition to the enabling, set my sister up to get in trouble.  She allowed her to get away with so much, but then when she couldn't take it anymore, she'd call in my dad.  Have him "lower the hammer" so to speak.  The big punishment.  The resentment and anger that grew between my father and my sister (most of it due to their own personalities, but often "encouraged" by my mother) lingers today.  NM still breeds resentment between the two, while at the same time, encouraging the behaviors in my sister that she asks my father to help with, or by trash talking my father and encouraging anger at him in my sister. 

Despite it all, I felt "close" to my sister growing up.  I wouldn't say she was my "friend", but I enjoyed her company.  Or maybe it was that she was my only choice so frequently for company, I didn't register that it could be different.  We were very emotionally and mentally bonded.  We often could "read" each other's thoughts.  No one liked playing board games with us because I often knew what she was thinking before she got out clues.  I predicted her moods, I was concerned over her emotional well being.  I protected her: from friends, from pain, from my father.  I gave in to her.  A lot.  But she accepted me and knew me in ways that few others did.  Or so I thought. 

When my parents divorced, we grew even more "bonded".  It seemed often it was the two of us, left alone, clinging to a life raft.  NM was gone a lot.  I was in charge.  A lot.  Many, many weekends alone.  My father was depressed and drinking and not much fun.  Things got bad.  I was even more responsible for my sister than ever.  She started drinking, and partying, and hanging out with boys.  She was 12-14 years old.  Some highlights of this time:

My father trying to commit suicide while my sister and mother tried to stop him. This one incident scarred her for life.   The cops came, terrifying me, and he ran.

My sister dating my "first boyfriend". 

My sister still flying into rages at me.

My sister, while I was out on a date (but still "in charge" as NM was out of town), being conned by my "best friend" to go to a party with high school boys and being raped.  I never got over the guilt of not being home to stop my "friend" from taking my sister out.  They also stole my car that night, ran out of gas, and barely got it home. 

My sister, repeatedly, sneaking out of the house at night while I was in charge.  One night I awoke to loud poundings on the front door.  Not knowing what was going on and fearing intruders, I retrieved my father's gun, ready to shoot whomever was coming in.  I was 15 at the time.  I threatened them (and they left; they were kids and were looking for NSIS,: she had fallen asleep).  Thank God, I didn't shoot someone.  NSIS talked me out of it, put me back to bed (I must've been in shock) and then snuck out.  I locked her out for the rest of the night. 

One night, she threw a party at our house.  I had begged her not to, but she didn't listen.  I (soberly) tried to keep watch.  Later, one of her friends was found by the cops a block away playing hide and seek by herself.  I convinced the cops that we weren't drinking and the let us go (the cop remembered us from the incident with my dad.  Dumb, dumb cop).

One night, she took off with some friends of mine.  I searched for HOURS for her before finding her at 1 a.m.  When I got home, NM had driven home (she was at her boyfriend's, an hour away and we weren't there to answer her phone call) and was furious.  I decided to move out to my dad's (I was 15).  NM punished me by selling my childhood home.  She figured if I "wasn't going to be living there" she would sell it.  I'd been gone for two days, and had actually thought she'd bring me back home with her. 

For awhile, I lived with my dad.  He was in counseling (and wasn't home a lot) so things got better.  He and NSIS fought, violently and physically, so she moved back with my mother.  And things continued to deteriorate. 

In the last few years of my high school and into college, NSIS and I grew further and further apart.  She horned in on several of my boyfriends (sleeping with or trying to sleep with several).  She didn't understand the concept of "mine".  She stole from me.  She let her friends steal from me.  She took my things (I ended up having to move back in with NM during my senior year when dad moved.  I actually didn't stay there much, instead crashing on my boyfriend's parents couch for most of the year so I could attend school-the school were NM lived was TWO grade levels behind what I was studying-attend extra curricular activities and work).  NM did nothing when she stole from me.  I would go home on weekends and my stuff would be trashed and picked through.  She finally put a lock on my door, but NSIS just went in through the window.

Here are some highlights of the time between late high school and college for me with NSIS:

NSIS was heavily on drugs.  She hung out with extremely shady drug dealers.  NM was always having to hunt her down and drag her home.  One of these very nasty men offered to kill my mother and step father.  He later ended up in jail for murder.  NSIS actually had enough sense to tell NM, but they all lived in terror that this man (in his early 20s) would shoot them and actually saw him drive by a lot.  They did not report this to the cops.  Later, when NM "let" my 16 year old sister stay with me (I moved out one month before my high school graduation) for the summer, this man tried to find her at my house. 

NSIS ran away.  She was involved in a home invasion.  She was put in jail two states away.  She was beaten.  She was raped.  Again.  In fact, several times.  Once, so badly, she couldn't walk.  She tried to commit suicide, several times.  She was hospitalized.  She was in counseling.  She dropped out of school.  She stole from my grandmother.  She had nothing to do with any family.

My mother looked horrible whenever I saw her.  All our conversations revolved around NSIS and the stress and pressure NSis was putting on her.  I despised my sister.  Blamed her and hated her for all she was putting my mother through.  NM begged for help from me, my father, my grandmother.  She felt we "all should be helping" her.  Later, I would learn that NM didn't want to share responsibility, she wanted to dump it all. 

NSIS and I continued to have confrontations.  I can remember helping my mother restrain her one time and being kicked in the head.  Once, at a visit with my dad, I had told her she shouldn't be secretly calling her boyfriend long distance.  I didn't want her to get in trouble.  She rolled off the bed (I was on the floor), in the dark, and beat the shit out of me.  It was the only time I fought her back. 

Through college, I hated going home.  Hated dealing with it all.  I had no relationship with my sister.  She was lost.  Gone.  And I blamed her for destroying my family.

In my early 20s, she seemed to mellow out (well, not really, but there wasn't the suicide and drugs and CRAZY) of her teen years.  We, sort of, connected again.  She went to college.  We talked at times.  But she lived with my father now and the chaos and drama continued. They fought horribly.  I blamed my step mother and my father.  They just didn't understand or make allowances for all that she'd been through.  She had a boyfriend who beat her.  SM and dad tried to get her into counseling. 

I met my husband and my sister had little to do with him (he wasn't as easily impressed by her beauty and cute ass as my past boyfriends).  She was still all drama and chaos.  Lots of drinking.  Nm told me she had herpes (I only recently learned this to not be true) and so I was horrified when she started sleeping with my husband's friend at my wedding (and also running out all night, leading NM to cause a scene looking for her.  NSIS was 21 at the time, but expected NSIS to be at the hotel at night).  The friend is a narcy ass and contributed to the problem, but I was scared that my friends, my new friends, would discover what sort of human being my sister was.  So much fear and drama.  And on my wedding.  NSIS picked fights and I was terrified she'd cause a scene.  She did little, but complained a lot. 

As time went on, I started to "wake up" and figure out that things were much worse in my family than just "the divorce" (NM's favorite excuse as to why everything was fucked up.  Oh, and the divorce was my father's fault.  Or mine.  NM said she divorced my dad so she could find me a better dad.  A richer one.)  I started not feeling so sorry for NM.  I realized how much she enabled NSIS.  I started to see the enmeshment, the bottomless pit that is NM, the triangulation.  I started to clue NSIS in.

At this point,  I really wanted to save NSIS.  I thought that if I could help her to get past the issues from her past, she could get "better".  I knew what she'd been through.  I could see how the abusive boyfriend, drugs, alcohol, rapes, all of it were just products of the extreme horror that had been our last few years.  I accepted all middle of the night phone calls where NSIS bawled and cried (drunk) for hours, despite needing to go to work in the morning.  I got lots of these calls.  Her boyfriend had left her, had hit her, whatever.  She got several DUIs.  She wound up in jail-she's been there many times.  She once, during a road rage incident got out of her car and decked a lady (my sister is petite, but built like a brick shit house.  Slender and toned).  She was temper mental.  She yelled a lot.  She got in fights.  She and my father fought constantly.  She blew through money.  She worked at a strip joint as a cocktail waitress (in a G-string).  This, for my middle-class, white bread, prude father was too much.

I walked on egg shells with her.  I shared little of myself.  I wanted to help her, to save her.  I knew I could, if I just believed and supported her enough.  I blamed my step mother for butting in.  I blamed my father for his rage and not loving her enough.  And then I started blaming my mother for her enabling.  NSIS started to pick up on the triangulation.  She started to see.  I knew, if I just supported her, instead of fighting her, I could help her.  Some of our childhood bond came back.  It was us against NM.  We realized that NM blamed all of her depression, sadness, anything on the other sister.  We started comparing notes.  I had hope.  Sure, she was still a crazy mess, but I had hope.

In my late 20s, I continued to support her in any way  I could.  I tried to "counteract" NM's manipulative tear downs of my sister (I could see how NM was purposefully doing things to keep my sister needy.  Plus, I think NM secretly fantasized about leading the crazy, "exciting", life she saw NSis having.)  I tried to offer good advice, I listened, I cried.  I spent HOURS and HOURS on the phone.  I cried, I stressed, I was sick to my stomach a lot. 

NIS met another boyfriend who was abusive (this one worst than the first) and the chaos of that relationship reached fever pitch.  She was being beaten, had lost her license, had barely graduated college.  At the time, I blamed the boyfriend for the violence.  But I had started to figure out that she was just as violent (duh, right?)  She was going no where, working as a waitress and not wanting to use her degree at all.  I thought my step mother was putting too much pressure on her.  I believed my dad had given up.  Her boyfriend broke her wrist so badly she couldn't work for months.   I encouraged her to move.  Move two states away to my favorite city (dumb, again) where she would fit in more.  Where she would find the artsy, eclectic, edgy scene I thought she could flourish in. 

Nope.  She has been there seven years now.  She is still a bartender/waitress.  She moves/gets kicked out of her apartment about every six months.  She has held four jobs in the year and a half we have been estranged.  That is about average.  She has had several violent relationships.  Her best friend, a drug user, overdosed and died.  She's been raped, again, several times.  She has been "drugged" at the bar and woken up without knowing where she was.  She's passed out, while closing the bar, to find her money and wallet gone.  Her wallet is ALWAYS getting stolen (she leaves it places unattended and then gets angry that the thieves don't have higher values than to steal).  She drinks a lot.   Despite a, now, long term boyfriend, she still contacts the abusive boyfriend in the old city (in fact, she has flown to visit him twice.  Once in my father's city; she did not visit my father).  She wrecked her car continually.  Someone was always "backing into her".  She took lots and lots of money from my parents.  She was driving some girl home one night (the girl was drunk, she claims she was not) and in some odd accident, she slammed on the breaks and the girls head hit her arm so hard the bone poked out of her arm by two inches. There were legal proceedings around this.  There have been many legal proceedings, from DUIs, from violent incidents.  When I took my three-month old to meet her, we were waiting on her because she was at court to testify that her abusive boyfriend shouldn't go to jail.  She has been hit by a drunk driver.  She still called in the middle of the night, drunk and crying.  She calls my father screaming at him.  He's called the cops a ton.  The list goes on and on and on, but I think you get the picture.  I'm actually embarrassed to write all of this stuff.  Embarrassed to admit it.  Her life is such a far cry from the life I live. 

During this time, I got married, built a house, and started a family.  She rarely is there for me.  When I have confided in her, she later uses that information to hurt me and blame me.  She has raged against me many times and I fear her temper.  I've been discouraged from telling her my "happy" things, as she and NM claims it makes her feel bad.  Makes her feel shitty by comparison.  So, I can't tell her my sorrow and I can't tell her my joy.  She is spotty in her interest in me, my kids, or my life.  She is often jealous and so I can't share with her.  During most of my special moments in life (when my kids are born, or when we moved into our new home) some incident in her life always comes up to change the focus.  Always.  NM then becomes wrapped up in that.   She only occasionally remembers my kids' birthdays (recently, she remembered one, but not the other).  She called me two days after my son's first birthday, never even mentioning it (and I dared not call her on it.  I knew the drill, how dare I focus on ME when she was having so much drama/tragedy/hard times.  This is the constant in our lives.  No Jessie attention because NSIS is struggling.)  When she has remembered an occasion, she goes overboard.  And then complains about having no money for the next two months because she "spent it all on Christmas".  I've spent hours on the phone as she selects gifts for her bosses or her boyfriend, while saying she has no money for family.  She has only acknowledged my husband's birthday once (this last year, during estrangement).  She told me both times that she would come to help me when I gave birth, only to have that plan evaporate (and never mentioned again) as we got closer to the date.  The last time, she wanted to bring the (abusive) boyfriend home to meet me and my husband and "help" me with the newborn and my other child.  It didn't occur to her that a woman with two kids, one a newborn, and fresh off surgery wouldn't be able to entertain.  When I finally told her the boyfriend couldn't come, she decided she had to work and couldn't come either.  (And she'd brought home a boyfriend the year before, who after a fight, left her here....650 miles away from her home and with her dog.) 

I kept feeling like I was her life boat.  Her only true friend.  I wanted to save her.  I had hope.  She knew little of my life, my kids, my husband, but she felt we were "close".  We would go months without talking because she wouldn't get back to me.  She had too much going on in her life to return my mundane little calls.    I knew things were still bad and chaotic, but she seemed to have stabilized a bit. 

Two summers ago, she announced on FB that she had cancer and then quickly retracted it.  She never called me to tell me what was going on.  Two months later she called and screamed at me for not supporting her (not immediately, but it quickly went there).  She had ignored my son having surgery (not a huge one, but still, he was only four) but was screaming at me about support.  She had ignored his birthday.  She didn't return my call or text or email asking if she was OK.   I figured if she needed me she could call. 

I never have found out the truth about the cancer.  (I believe she has some sort of medical issue, but that it is not cancer).  She left me fielding calls from my parents and relatives.  She didn't feel she had a responsibility to deal with anyone because of all she "was going through".  She continued to fight with her boyfriend (and not coincidentally, he had been threatening to break up with her right before the cancer shit), breaking up, getting kicked out of her apartment for it, and then moving back in with him.  She never let me know she had moved.

She tried, several times, to 'play pretend', sending me texts about a bedroom furniture set she wanted to buy (after taking lots of money from my father for hospital bills for the "cancer").  I have finally admitted to myself that she lies.  She sent some gifts to my kids out of the blue and then got angry at me for not accepting them as the bribe they were.  (How dare I suggest that! she screamed).  She has sent me several hate filled emails saying I am a selfish, horrible sister and she is "unsure" how we got to this place from our "close" relationship she thought we had (does the above sound "close" to you?).  She sent some gifts for my son's and DH's birthday.  Again, becoming pissed when I didn't respond the way she wanted me to.  And so, she didn't acknowledge my first son's birthday two months later (and it's not about the gifts for me, it's the using of my kids as pawns in her shitty little games).  She sent one email to me accusing me of keeping (stealing, really) the family photos that NM forced me to 'get out of her house'.    NSIS said that she has tried to contact me, but that, basically, I'm being difficult and stubborn.  I tried, once, in an email to begin to explain where I was coming from.  That didn't go well.  She text-bombed me for an entire day one time.  She has tried to call "out of the blue" and then was shocked I didn't answer (she has been told to only contact me by email if she wants to work this out.  I want this shit in writing from now on.)

We have spent two Christmas', Thanksgivings, and birthdays sending vague and trite texts. She sent two texts/FB messages demanding that I "please talk to me".  Once, she told me to quit being ridiculous (like I was a child throwing a snit)  This year, she started in early December,  asking for ideas for my kids for gifts for Christmas (because it's hard when she doesn't know them, she said.  hahahahaha).  When I didn't respond, she tried again, asking for ideas for my father.  Then, she texted asking for my address because she'd "lost (her) address book" (she's always "losing" her address book).  She could've easily gotten it (and the ideas for my kids) from my mother.  Not surprisingly, she didn't send anything.  (I should also add that during this time, she's twice told me she's sent something that never showed up.  Last Christmas, it was money to put towards there college funds....and this was when she was "broke" from the medical bills and time off from work for her medical problem.  OH, and another interesting tidbit, she is always "broke" but then will find money to go on a trip or buy some new item.) 

NM pushed for a reconciliation (you can find that post here) once.  Mostly, she tells me how she "understands" because it has been SO HARD ON HER to deal with NSIS.  It's always been about how hard NSIS has been on her.

NSIS has never offered a real apology.  NSIS claims I'm being ridiculous and making things about me.  NSIS has not heard me.  It occurred to me that I'm partially to blame because I've never told her my real feelings about our relationship (and her).  But what could I say?  She would attack me for that.  And I wanted to help her.  I believe now she has a mental illness, in addition to narcissism.  I do not know what to do any more.  I'm saddened to find a hole that I used to think my sister would some day occupy.  It was hard to watch her and NM play lovey-dovey on FB at Christmas.  And part of me wanted to reach out.  Part of me wanted the "Christmas shine" to smooth out the cracks in our relationship.  But I know that this is more than just "cracks".  This is trying to have a relationship with a crazy person.  And I don't know how to do that.  I can't continue to watch her treat my husband and children as pawns and competition for my attention.  I can no longer hide her personality from my kids (the one time she was really around my sons, she was good for about a day before she started drinking, bitching about how it was effecting her time, and complaining about herself.)  She is not someone I want around my kids (and I do not want the boyfriend around them at all.  He's, to say the least, fucked up). 

I think I know the real answer is that I can't go back from NC with her.  But that doesn't mean she won't continue to "pretend" that it all go back to the way it was.  I've never actually dealt with her (because what is the point?  She's not going to hear me and will only give her ammunition.  Sweet Violet recently wrote a really good post on this.  I'll post a link if anyone wants it.)  I feel pressure (although I'm not sure from where) to deal with her.  I know she will never just "go away" and I will have to deal with her, at some point, in the future (recently we had a family reunion, which I ended up not going to because she had said she would be there.   She ended up not going-she and NM had tried to manipulate ME into giving her a ride and letting her stay with me.   Seriously, WTF?)  She is not going away.  But I just can't hold out hope anymore.  She's 34 years old.  Her life reads like a horror film (and the above details?  The tip of the iceberg) and I'm tired of witnessing it.  And the guilt, for giving up, for letting her go, sometimes is unbearable. 

Sorry this was long.  To be fair, some of the details are out of chronological order (it's really hard to piece this all together).  Lots of time, my memory of things is choppy (like I remember the incident, but forget exactly where in the time line it fell) mainly because so much of it was so horrific, I've sort of blocked it out.  Thanks for bearing with me and reading along.  All and any advice would be welcome. 

Editing Note (post posting):  To be fair, I want to say that my sister is extremely smart, witty, clever, beautiful, and hard working (when she has the chance).  She can be generous (to a fault) and is not completely selfish and all consuming.  She has so much that she could capitalize on.  Unfortunately empathy, self restraint, and control are not among them.  We have had some good moments together...until we don't.  And those moments rarely last longer than a few hours.  Often she was the only person who had my back against NM, until she didn't.  She used to be my sole confidant about this (as she was the only other person I knew who understood), but she would later use that confidence to hurt me and ALWAYS ended back up on NM's "side".