Upset (Photo credit: Jeremy Bronson)

My nephew had his 14th birthday last month. My Dad also turned 85.

I was looking forward to a nice get-together with them both. I had thought that my sister and I had a truce and that things would go ok. Last year we didn’t get together because we had had a misunderstanding that had developed into a huge “lets-bash-Mary-fest.” While neither my sister or her husband apologized, they both indicated that they were willing to put our differences aside.

Apparently not. Within an hour of us getting together I was kicked out of their house. Why? For the grievous “sin” of not have enough money to pay for my nephew’s birthday meal, something I had never agreed to pay for in the first place. I gave my nephew cash, which is what he wanted. But apparently I was, in my sister’s convoluted logic, expected to pay for his meal also.  She claimed I had done so in the distant past (which I can’t even recall) so that means that I should have done it this time as well.

Now I would never put a petty argument about money above my nephew’s happiness. But I am on disability and have had a lot of extra expenses this year. While It would have been better for me to have brought this up before the big day, she knew that I was having financial problems in general. Before I even gave my gift to my nephew I told her that I had $70 to last for the rest of the month and I had only peanut butter and vegetables in my house to eat.

Her response was to scream at me “It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” like a two-year old.  For once, I did keep my calm and tried to reason with her, but that only ended up in me getting kicked out. I had no clue as to why she reacted in such a violent manner.

As I was leaving my brother-in-law showed up with my dad. I was absolutely in a state of shock and I was crying. I went to my dad to try to explain why I was leaving since we were celebrating his birthday as well. My sister started shrieking at me to not say anything to my dad because that was “tattling.”

Later on, she sent me a e-mail which she tried to make it sound conciliatory but in fact it was simply another attempt to put the blame all on me.

She said that I should have arranged to postpone our get together until next month when I had more money. Huh? Really? Yes I would have had more money but that was not the main issue at all. The money issue was a trigger for her rage, not the cause. She claimed that she would have “understood” if I had put it off. Yeah, like she really has shown a good track record of being “understanding” towards me.  The fact is that I did consider that as an option, but I was afraid that she would get upset. I was in-between a rock and a hard place.

She said that she had to kick me out because she didn’t want to “upset” our dad and her son with our quarrelling. Too late! My nephew was so upset that he tried to give the cash I gave him back to me because he thought the argument was his fault. Our dad considered going back home because of this. But of course, none of that was her fault. It was her crazy, bipolar, abusive sister’s fault!!!

But here is the craziest part of her “logic”. Everything was my fault because if I didn’t pay for my nephew’s meal then that means that I was expecting our dad to pay and that I was putting her in a bad position with Dad.

Um, no. I never said that it was our dad’s responsibility to pay. In fact, all I was saying was that I not only could not afford to pay but that we never had an agreement for me to pay in the first place. It was up to her to decide how to work it out. In fact she was the one saying that our dad had to pay, not me.

Now all of this happened before we even went to the restaurant so there was plenty of time to work things out. There was no reason that it had to be decided right that moment. Thus there was no reason to kick me out. The most obvious solution was exactly what ended up happening. My brother-in-law paid, which apparently he was planning to do all along, but failed to communicate that to my sister.

After that, you would think that she would realize that she owed me an apology. But no, instead I was bombarded with other accusations:

1. She was angry that she had to pick me up from my house even though I had made it clear that the dial-a-ride service (for the disabled) that I use has become unreliable and that there was no guarantee that I could get a ride from them in the first place.

2. We all had agreed to meet at their place and decide from there about when and where to go for lunch. I suggested to my sister that before the guys got caught up in deep discussion regarding “computer stuff” (usually we have difficulty prying them away once they have gotten into something) that maybe we could discuss with them about going a bit earlier than usual, since I had very little food to eat in my house and hadn’t eaten breakfast. According to my sister I was being demanding and selfish and wanted to ruin everyone’s “plans.”  What plans???  We hadn’t made any yet and it was open to discussion!  Plus it was almost 2:00 anyway and no one had eaten since breakfast as far as I knew.

In spite of everything that indicated that I was not the one at fault I trotted off to my therapist and asked him honestly to show me where I went wrong. Maybe I should have known these things would upset her. Maybe I had been insensitive to her feelings. It was the same sick feeling of shame that I had when I was growing up and my mother accused me of intentionally trying to hurt her when, for instance, I talked at the wrong time.  I am not saying that she was wrong to punish me. But she would cry and tell me that she couldn’t understand why I wanted to hurt her. In reality it was a case of my being thoughtless rather than intentionally trying to upset her. I actually grew up believing that I must have had some bad intention when I did not.  One day it dawned on me that in fact I had no evil motive and sobbing, I told my mother that I did not mean to hurt her. She told me that I was just feeling sorry for myself and that was the first and last time I ever expressed a genuine feeling to my mother. Or even felt a genuine feeling. Until I had a nervous breakdown at sixteen.

What has complicated the problem of who is to blame when I have had problems with my family is that yes, I have behaved inappropriately many times with my bipolar illness. So there are times when I feel like I need to get someone else’s input.

My therapist told me point-blank that he did not see that I did anything wrong and that my sister had acted inappropriately. Something was going on with her and I just got caught in the cross-fire. He also asked me when was the last time she ever apologized for anything. I couldn’t remember.  Ten or more years, at least.

In order to solve a problem, you have to label it correctly. Since I did everything in my power to avoid a conflict with her then that means that I was not the one who was being abusive, she was.  And I am under no illusion that she will ever apologize.

I have a pretty good idea of what is really going on with her. My dad finally gave them the ultimatum that my brother-in-law needs to get a job rather than mooching off of him.  I didn’t create this situation and frankly I really have very little sympathy for either one of them. My dad has supported them for over two years after my brother-in-law got fired from his last job. This is just one of a long string of jobs that he has been fired from and expected my dad to pick up the pieces. Dad has been supporting them for much longer than two years when you count in his support he has given over the years. Quite often even when my brother-in-law was working he made no effort to keep his hours up and expected my dad to make up the difference in his wages.

My brother-in-law decided this time to not look for a job because he had started his own business and so that should have been enough for dad.  Except this is not what dad agreed to. Dad never agreed to invest in his business or support his family while my brother-in-law tried to make it work. My dad is 85 years old and he worked hard to save money for his retirement. At one time he had a very nice amount put away but he was never rich. Now he has to worry about whether he will have enough to last him for the rest of his life. The only reason why he has let this go on as long as it has is because he didn’t want to hurt my sister and his grandson.

My sister is not completely blameless in this matter, though. She has supported her husband’s bad behavior. Not only that, but she is physically disabled and has qualified to get disability benefits for many years and yet has refused to apply like my dad has repeatedly told her to do.

Basically the only way to get either one of them to act has been to give an ultimatum to just completely cut off the money to them. He has given them two months to work things out. Now they are facing possibly going on welfare. My dad has been more than fair to them and he would not have to take such drastic action if they had acted responsibly in the first place.

My brother-in-law’s excuse? “I didn’t mean this to happen!”  In other words, he is saying, “I knowingly put my father-in-law in a position where he would have to pay my families’ bills if my business was unsuccessful, but that can’t possibly be my fault!!!”

Puhleeze!  The guy is in his fifties and he has never learned to take responsibility for his own actions.  In fact he is extremely critical of me for being on disability for both mental and physical problems even though I do not expect my dad to support me.

So all their accusations against me have to do with their inability to take financial responsibility for themselves.

There really is no reason for me to feel guilty because my actions only revealed the cracks that were in our relationship in the first place. And I didn’t create those cracks, they did.

I feel badly that others have to suffer for this, such as my nephew and my dad. But my therapist said that he felt it would be a bad idea for me to give in simply because it would just give them permission to continue their bad behavior.

Right now, I do not believe that our relationship can be salvaged. It really is up to them if they want to continue this. If this results in a permanent rift, that is not my problem. I cannot give up my integrity to please them. They are the ones who are not playing fair.

I have been laboring under the impression that as I took responsibility for my bad behavior when I have been sick and learned to control it, that my relationship with my family would get better. Actually it has gotten far, far worse because they see it as an opportunity to blame me every time we have a disagreement. They are taking advantage of my genuine remorse for my behavior in the past.

This whole thing has opened my eyes to the fact that I am powerless to fix the problems in our relationship simply because not all of it is my fault.  Real relationships involve give and take, and they are not willing to do that. And I shouldn’t feel guilty about that at all.