Monday, September 14, 2009

Save your mama from the drama.

Where was I?

...Oh, yes. Snake bites and necrosis. Well, all is well the land of Real Drama. Asher is better and should in fact be on a plane home to England today for further treatment and recovery in a London hospital. Whew.

That's inevitable drama. The kind you don't invite and finds you anyway, moving in like a gnarly houseguest, scratching its crotch while swigging straight from the milk jug, and emitting loud belches in quiet moments.

That's bad enough, right? WHY would you invite drama over on purpose?

And yet, I bet every single one of you could name a friend or relative who does. They are captains of industry, if the industry is manufacturing drama. It's big business among narcissists and perpetual victims.

NOTE: I'm not talking REAL victims. I'm talking folks who enjoy playing the part and will appropriate other people's drama for themselves if that's what it takes to do so. I'm talking about the dummies who see drama coming, twirling it's black, curly mustache and then lay down on the train tracks and wait for the drama to tie them up so they can scream for rescue.

That's manufactured drama.

Wednesday I spent worrying about my brother and his girlfriend and their fear over Asher and his snakebite. That's tiring, but in the end, I'm only the most marginal player in that drama. I'm the girl in the milkmaid costume on stage with no lines.

Thursday morning we got a phone call from an acquaintance who ONLY calls when there's an emergency. His wife was sick to the point of needing hospitalization and he risked losing his job if he couldn't go to work. Could we come help?

Kenny and I have been through this with them many times before, so we said sure. We packed James off to school, loaded the baby in the car, and caravaned over to their place. Kenny got their two kids out of bed, including the six-year-old that had been forced to miss school, while I dealt with Mom. Mom was severly dehydrated and admitted it was self-induced. Husband had dropped a bomb on her (slept with their eighteen-year-old babysitter--not his first indiscretion) and even knowing her aunt (who had been helping out for a few months) was leaving in two days, Mom decided she was too hurt to get out of bed and didn't eat or drink until she got sick enough to start throwing up and become dehydrated.

I probably sound unsympathetic. I am. This is at least the fourth time we've had to cope with this particular scenario, not to mention the number of times it's happened when Mom's brother or aunt or mother has to pick up the pieces. Anyway, I took her to the doctor who urged her to try a stronger anti-depressant and seek psychiatric help. Mom: no dice. There's nothing wrong with her head, she says, even though she told her husband she refused to get out of bed and he would have to deal with the kids because she was going to teach him a lesson.

I took her to the hospital for IV fluids and then watched her kids all day. Went to pick her up at 8 that night while she complained about being discharged even though the doctor pointed out TWICE that their entire blood panel and chem screen had turned up nothing and they couldn't do anything else for her.

In the past, I've never said anything. I was a little naive in believing that this was all some mysterious illness that came and went for her. A little fact checking on BOTH sides of the story have cleared up some of that mystery. This time, I straight up told her, "I'm sorry your husband is a jerk. But it's been pure luck I've been able to step in every time you needed me. If all that's standing between you and caring for your kids physically is hydration, you need to drink some water. And only water. Or Pedialyte."

I'm frustrated by the half-truths she's dealt out over the last two years and her unwillingness to draw a direct line between herself and her location at the brink of disaster. In her mind, it's far more important to punish her husband than it is to keep it together for her kids.

Don't get all over my case about mental illness, etc. I KNOW. There is definitely some depression in play here. BUT, and I know because I have spent vast amounts of time as an observer and have had conversations with her mother, that the greater issue here is that she likes being a victim. Taking her anti-depression meds makes her less of a victim so she's reluctant to do it.

I could go on. Just know it's a mess and I finally took a step back from it. I told her I'd do anything I could to help her kids but they don't want me for a mom. They want her, and she needs to find a way to be there for them. I realized I was being an enabler. It's hard to back away, but the truth is, it's a situation where the best thing I can do for her is cut her loose for right now so she doesn't have an audience any more.

I realize a lot of you are going to be mad at me for being insensitive or judgmental. Let me point out that you haven't had a seat at the fifty yard line for the last two years like I have. This mom will be okay. So will her kids. Her husband, while not so good as a husband, is a good father and will make sure of that.

But in the mean time, I feel badly for her mother who calls me sometimes from Canada, worried and helpless. I feel badly for the kids who are too often put in the middle. There are some simple (not easy) choices this mom can make to dial the drama back so everyone can breathe a little easier.

She doesn't. But she could.

This is an extreme example but I'm sure we all see this to a lesser extent on a regular basis. It's the victim mentality where this is typical:

Sue: Did you hear about that Jaycee girl who got kidnapped? She's back with her family now.
Peg: Oh, I know. It just about broke my heart. I couldn't bear to send my kids to school today. I kept them in bed with me all day. I'm not sure I can go to work tomorrow, either. This has just shaken me up so bad.
Sue: (Confused) Oh, did you know her?
Peg: No. It's just so sad.

Appropriating drama for herself, you see?

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the occasional pity party when genuinely cruddy stuff happens. You know, like you get in a car wreck. As long as the problem isn't that you weren't carrying insurance because you blew it on a Coach bag and now you're screwed and weeping and wailing about the money and the car, it's fine to be like, "Man! I got in a car wreck! The universe is spitting on me! I NEED CHOCOLATE! BRING ME CHOCOLATE!" Totally understandable.

I could go on for days and you could too, I know. But I'm going to go sit in a corner and sing "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel" over and over again until I experience an adjustment in my attitude toward service, regardless of the degree of crazy I am called to serve.

Hm. Did that just sound like I still don't have it quite figured out yet?

Well. At least I stay hydrated.


Josi said...

What a sad situation--but one I can, unfortunately, relate to. I have a family member who ended up hospitalized three times in a psych ward because she would get totally drunk after a fight with her husband and threaten to kill herself while taking all her antidepressants at once. The police would come, she'd refuse to tell them how many she'd taken, and she'd get her stomach pumped before her hospitalization. After the third time we finally told her that we'll watch her kids, and we'll keep her in our prayers, but we were burnt out on caring about her life more than she did. I saw a therapist for help in getting my mind wrapped around it and it has helped so much. The drama in her life hasn't changed, but my lines are drawn. I even think one day I can have a somewhat-normal relationship with her. We'll see. For now, I'm just glad that my kids and I are not pulled into the middle anymore.

Good for you for telling her to pull it together--I sincerely hope she does.

Chris said...

I know that this is not why you do it, but you deserve a medal.

I was glad you wrote this. I see your willingness to serve even those who don't seem deserving of service and it makes me think twice about my own attitude toward that. I think I needed your blog today.

Debbie said...

Insensitive? You did that woman no end of favors. Especially by telling her to pull herself together. You may have saved her life. Good for you!

April said...

Sometimes it is hard to do what you just did. There are so many the kids, what people will think of us. I applaud your wisdom to know when enough is enough and stand by it. Hopefully, this will be a wake up call to this mother.

Lara said...

Like I said, I know someone who does this kind of thing. I feel for you. And I applaud you for stepping back and quitting the enabling. You'll be happier, and she'll either find someone else to enable her, or maybe (dare we hope) she'll start to get her act together a bit.

Kristina P. said...

I had just sent an email to a friend who has been having problems with her sister, who is lying to friends and family about a major issue, that some people really do thrive on drama and attention.

I broke up with a friend of 8 years because of that. She was the source of a lot of drama in my life. I do miss her, and she's still friends with my friends, and when I think about rekindling the friendship, all I have to do is read her blog to realize nothing changed.

I don't think you are insensitive. You are realistic.

Don said...

Wow. This is all kinds of yuck.

When we were dealing with all of my wife's health issues (without any diagnosis to give us direction) there was quite a bit of suspicion that she was pulling this kind of hijinks herself. One doctor almost had me convinced that she was making herself sick, but on close examination the evidence just wasn't there.

Now years later, with an official diagnoses and real physical healing going on, I still shake my head at the thought that anyone would bring that kind to drama and tragedy into their lives on purpose. Obviously they do, but it is totally beyond my comprehension.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I too struggle with the gray area that lies between being service-minded and being an enabler for behavior that is not healthy. I have to confess that I usually err on the side of "insensitive" to protect my own feelings and my own family getting sucked into the messes.

InkMom said...

Wow. Just, WOW. And good for you.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

Would you mind talking to my parents? They are hard core enablers and it's at the expense of people who really deserve the service and love. Maybe I'll send this along to them.

Kimberly said...

I just really, really hope she listens to you. Those poor kids. I have a lot more patience for manufactured drama that annoys more than it hurts. When people are so focused on their own need for attention and hurt/neglect others in the process it's a different thing altogether.

And honestly, though I know it wasn't your intention to look for praise, I can't help but applaud you.

Becca said...

Um, I think I need a drink.

Good words today. And I wonder how much of my drama is legit. (I usually think I'm pretty much in control, but sometimes, I wonder. Like when the words come into my head: "Is everyone nuts but me?" I have to wonder...)

Heather of the EO said...

This is definitely something that's tricky to navigate. I did work with the mentally ill for eight years and I'm not arguing with you because I think you're right. Your gut is right. The trickiest part is that she has a personality disorder. Which is an Axis 2 diagnosis and is much muddier than even depression or mania or schizophrenia, etc, which are Axis 1 diagnoses (in the DSM that psychiatrists, etc use if you have no idea what I'm rambling about)

Some people have been choosing drama for attention for so many years (usually their entire lives) that they have actually altered their own brain chemistry.

Adrenaline rush due to drama = a certain pathway in your brain being used over and over and over until that's the only way your brain (and you) knows how to live. It's MAJOR work to re-train that sort of brain.

And she's got one. Yes, I can tell just from reading this post.

It's really hard to sympathize with this particular "condition" Really hard.

Stephanie Faris said...

I feel for you. And I know how you feel. We have a neighbor who is ALWAYS doing something for attention. I'm just over it already. For a while I felt bad for him and helped him. He cheated on his boyfriend of 10 years, then kicked him out, then the next guy he got involved with dumped him after a while. Now he's in a new relationship and the guy's always working. So it's obvious he is looking for attention...but since I moved in there it's been one ailment after another. He's been off work since January, claiming he's too sick to work. It's just one whine after another. Now he text messaged everyone in his address book to announce he has cytomegalavirus, Ebstein Barr virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, and heart problems. I'm not making this up. Direct from a text message this morning.

There comes a point when you just stop believing. Luckily he has no children, just a couple of dogs. But I can't deal anymore. He's always needing something, CONSTANTLY asking us to drive him to the hospital because he's having another attack, blah blah blah...

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Wow. How did you know there was a character in my book named Jaci that gets kidnapped?

Anonymous said...

I must say, I think the worst thing this woman is doing is staying married to this man. Have you ever been cheated on? I have been. It kills you. Like makes you want to throw yourself over the banister and die. You physically can't eat, you can't drink, you can't sleep. All you can do is cry and follow your husband around the house like a pathetic sheep.

It's hard to be a mom in a time like this. I had just given birth to a baby when this happened in my life. Rather, when I found out about it. My baby was four weeks old. My milk dried up. I couldn't nurse. He cried at night. I couldn't make him happy. I was depressed and suicidal and so extremely unhappy.

Unless you've been cheated on...YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND THE PAIN THIS WOMAN FEELS.

But you're right. She's making herself the victim. She should get out of that situation. It's not good for her and it's not good for her children.

Melinda said...

What you said was a hard thing to put out there, so many people have so many different experiences and see things differently. I totally can see what you're trying to say and I completely agree. I really like what Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said, about being service-minded and being an enabler. Thats where I have to draw the line. I would help anyone, I would do anything for you. Until you start using me, until you'r behavior is so bad that I am just enabling you. Its such a hard line to draw, but you're a good person for trying to say something to her, hopefully she'll listen. :)

Heather of the EO said...

I came back here tonight because I hope I didn't sound like a big fat know-it-all.

And I wanted to add that I DO think you're doing the right thing with drawing boundaries for this woman. That really is exactly what she needs. You are wise and your gut is right. Don't feel bad for what you've said here. We all face this with someone at some point, and it's good for people to think about how they're dealing with it, or how they're going to deal with it.

Geez...I must really like you, I've been thinking about you a lot today :) Obviously.

Kazzy said...

It doesn't take long before you fall into an enabling role with people like this, huh? And pretty soon YOU are the one bitten by a snake. Good job with the boundaries.

DeNae said...

Oh, I could write volumes...

My favorite is the woman in our ward who develops temporary cancer any time someone else is having a crisis. Then after the appropriate amount of attention has been diverted to her "emergency", she gets up and bears tearful testimony of yet another "miracle' courtesy of priesthood blessings. The real miracle of course is that no one has shipped her off to Betty Ford with a 'no return delivery' sticker slapped on her forehead. She's so addicted to pain meds she practically glows in the dark.

And like you, I have very little patience for manufactured drama.

wonder woman said...

Fortunately, I don't know many people like this. But I do know a few. And it's interesting to me how these kinds of people are drawn to one another. More often than not, both the husband AND the wife (or both partners) tend towards the drama. Real or manufactured. And sometimes the real drama HAS been manufactured, like sleeping with your babysitter.

I don't think you're being judgmental. I think there's a point where you need to recognize your role and if you're enabling, intentionally or not. I think you're being responsible. I don't think it's wrong of you to tell the woman to drink some water so she can take care of her kids.

Sheesh. Drama is SO EXHAUSTING. I don't know how people do it all the time.

p.s. I like the drama on TV -- the kind that's not a part of my life. I LOVE that kind!

Luisa Perkins said...

I am related to many chronic victims, and I have come to the conclusion that victimhood is addictive. There's no other explanation, as far as I can see.

As I read your post, I had that sickening feeling of utter recognition. This could so easily have been someone in my family.

Now you know one of the reasons why I moved 3,000 miles away from where I grew up.

Good job for being honest. And helping. And seeing reality. No judgment here (at least, not directed at you :D).

Eowyn said...

Wow. Just wow.

I think you did the right thing by drawing your boundaries.

(I also hear the woman who says that hubby cheating hurts like none of us can imagine. At least I can't.)

Here's hoping some good can come out of this.

L.T. Elliot said...

I'm not mad about this post at all. I think you did the right thing. Life sucks and bad stuff happens but the kids are more important. Sometimes, you can't live for yourself: fine. But you get up and you live for those kids. Life might not be fair but that doesn't mean we get to make it even MORE unfair for kids.

Julie Wright said...

I have a few people like this in my life. They are the black hole of emotions that just suck all of my energy away when I am around them. Good for you for standing up and letting her know she needs to stand up for herself and for her kids.

charrette said...

You are so wise.
That kind of love -- the straight talk -- is the hardest to give sometimes. Hooray for you for having the guts to tell it like it is. Hopefully someday she'll realize what you've given her.

Elly said...

The best book ever written:

"Living Successfully with Screwed-Up People" by Elizabeth B. Brown

It'll help you take your life back.


"Stop Walking on Eggshells" by Paul T. Mason and Randy Kreger

It helps you understand...

LisAway said...

That's awful. All of it. Unfortunately it sounds like she found the kind of man to marry that would give her fodder for her drama for the rest of her life (since she'll probably never divorce him).

Good for you. Good job being there and helping her. Good job backing off and helping her by not helping her. (which I know isn't exactly what you've done or are saying, but you know what I mean).

stewbert said...

Totally familiar. We had to tell a family member to stop calling me because they involved me and our whole family in all their drama all the time (i.e., showing up in the middle of the night asking to crash here, taking a day of my time to speak with an attorney, etc.), but they kept going back to the situation and crying that "no one" would help them. yeahhhh ... I don't do drama.