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Atwater: Time, effort needed to begin healing process

Published: Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

“Donna” hadn’t talked to her brother in more than five years. She always felt he had been given every chance by their parents, and while she had worked hard for what little she had, he had never tried and had been bailed out at every turn.

His drinking had gone from bad to worse, and what made it even harder was he seemed to take no responsibility for it. It was always somebody else’s fault. Things were never quite right for him to succeed: The teacher didn’t like him. The boss was unreasonable. His associates were morons. The economy was bad. Nobody cared. His girlfriend didn’t appreciate him.

The final blow was a telephone conversation followed by a series of poisoned emails and a final self-righteous text, which blamed Donna and her elderly parents for not doing enough for him. He blamed them for abandoning him now in his time of need. This time, his time of need required bail money for a domestic violence charge resulting from another drunken scream-fest with his girlfriend.

Donna made the decision five years ago to cut off all contact. Hurt and angry for years, she thought she was doing the right thing, and her friends all agreed. During the five ensuing years, her brother made several attempts at getting sober and had little success. But this year, he entered treatment, according to cousins, aunts and uncles, with a different attitude, and sure enough, Donna’s phone rang.

She didn’t answer the phone that night, but she started to reflect on the situation. Despite the bad feelings, she realized she had never tried to understand her brother’s alcoholism and always basked in the glow of being “the good one.”

She realized she had been angry at him for things that were his issues, not hers. She knew, too, that her dad’s drinking, long ago stopped but never addressed, had been an undercurrent in the family for years. Her brother had probably taken more than his share of the hit for decades, although he may not have been aware of his feeling of being entitled any more than his dad had been aware of the way he handled his guilt.

Although Donna still felt angry about some things, she had found a new understanding and wanted to call her brother back. She was tired of being resentful and estranged and recognized these as her problems. She called him back.

They made a date for coffee the next day. Through the miracle of a little recovery, a little self-awareness and a little forgiveness, they’ve begun the process of healing.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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