Monday, March 31, 2008

The Alphabet Backwards: Vampires

There's no accounting for the strange roads my mind will take me on. Why today for the letter "v," when there are so many possiblities - violets, virtue, vulgarity, vanity, voice, vice, valor - it has lit upon the word "vampires" and stuck it's little brain teeth into it like a dog with a bone is beyond me. But vampires, apparently it is.

There are many kinds of vampires, I guess. There's Buffy the Vampire Slayer's campy, hip vampires, some good, some evil, some really hot and hunky. There are Anne Rice's wonderful, complex soul-searching vampires. I highly recommend her books - The Vampire L'estat, Interview With a Vampire and most of the series are dark, consuming, and make you explore places in your psyche that aren't altogether comfortable, but are good to gaze into from time to time. I think they are profoundly philosophical books, incredible explorations about the complexity of the relationship between good and evil - and they are entertaining good reads as well. Then there are vampires like the Bush administration - evil people who suck the blood and soul out of a nation, its constitution, it's economy and it's spirit without a twinge of remorse or conscience.

But I want to talk about another kind of vampire... The energy suckers. The kind of people who suck the life out of you pretty much just by walking into a room. I'm sure most of you know the kind of person I mean. I tend to be highly empathic which makes me especially vulnerable to such things. My brother was very much a vampire in my life... on many levels. It took me almost 38 years (I'm such a slow learner) to figure out that he was toxic to me and another 7 to extricate myself completely from the web of habit, duty, guilt and love that kept me tied to him. It's now between 15 and 18 years since I last spoke with him at all and 20 since I formally severed our relationship. Before that I was his devoted fan and slave. The rest of the family, who secretly found him at least as intolerable to be around as I did, were quite content to have me do the dirty work, while professing their deep devotion to him. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I guess.

My brother, who I will leave unnamed, is seven and a half years older than me. I adored him for all of my childhood and much of my adult life. He was handsome, very literally a genius (IQ of 163 or something like that), could be wickedly funny and charming. Alas, he had a mean streak that was as wide as it was subtle. He was probably as empathic as I am (very), but his way of using his intuitive knowledge about people was to hurt them with it. I was one of his favorite targets.

I've never written about him before. I'm not terribly comfortable doing so and yet it feels important at the same time. I always thought I'd wait until he died - or maybe forever... the old if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything syndrome.... And of course because I am inclined to err on the side of being so fair that I should be institutionalized, I will herewith make the following disclaimer. It's possible, I suppose, that I'm wrong about my brother. Maybe he's the nicest guy in the world and I have simply misunderstood his behavior towards me for my whole life. Maybe my therapist (who had the misfortune of meeting him in a last ditch effort on my part to either avoid or validate my decision to become estranged from him) misjudged him too. I don't think so. Casting my older brother - my very sick older brother (he has Parkinson's Disease) - out of my life was not a decision I came to easily. It was one I agonized over. It was one I fought. It was one I still occasionally question. Certainly looking at the little boy in this photograph, you would not think he could have wrought such havoc in my life. But he did.

So that's my disclaimer. Here's a small fragment of my experience. As I said, it took me 40 years to wake up from the web my family had sewn me into and to start struggling for escape. I don't know how many people who will read this are old enough to remember the old Sinbad movies and the giant evil spider in the cave. That's how my brother feels to me. Like a giant spider who had me and wanted to keep me in his web, not necessarily to kill me, but to feed on and live off my suffering. I haven't seen him in almost 20 years and I'm still afraid at the mere thought of being in his presence. There are tomes to write on the subject of my brother and I am digressing from the topic of the day - the vampire part of my relationship with him.

I am forever grateful to a pastor I met in 1978. He was an awesome human being who turned my life around in many ways. One was by saying the following words to me: "Katherine, your brother is drowning and he wants to take you with him." My first reactions to those words was to think he was crazy, to ignore them, to fight against them. But really, I must have immediately felt the truth of them, because I never forgot them. They remain burned into my brain. That I have any sanity at all, any life at all, traces back to those words and Pastor Rick's gently nudging me towards reality and therapy. It took me ten years and a great deal of physical and emotional agony to take my life back from this messed up man who was - still is, I guess - my brother. As if to underscore the depth of his power over me, as I lay in bed this morning, thinking about this essay, by back stiffened up and I am in fairly severe pain. Every cell in my body is twanging with anxiety. And this is just a shadow of how I lived for the ten years and beyond during which I tried to separate myself from this family vampire, who sucked the joy and life out of the air around him. Just trying to begin writing about it has put me closer to a panic attack than I have been in 20 years. I don't know how I lived this way. I guess I was younger and more agile. I guess we just live because we do and because life is precious.

The original brother as vampire story that triggered today's post was how when I had not quite solidified my estrangement from him, I went away for ten days to an amazing workshop in the desert. It was an awesome experience. I came home rejuvenated, full of love and peace and compassion for all people. Maybe brother wasn't so bad, I deluded myself. I don't know if he called me or I called him. In any case he came over for a visit. Within 15 minutes of his being in my home, all the energy and enthusiasm of those wonderful ten days drained away. I was exhausted again, having difficulty breathing. It was a rough lesson, but it drove home to me the truth about his impact on me. And this morning as I type this out, in pain and shaking with anxiety, I am stunned by the power of memory and the human mind.

I suspect almost every one has encountered vampires like my brother in their life. One of the things that made my brother's impact so powerful is that he was so charming as he twisted some knife in your back. He was the master of the poisoned apple. "I'm so concerned about you.... I'm saying this for your own good... you know you're old and never going to marry." "Dad used to love you, but since you confronted him about his drinking, he's afraid of you." "I don't want you to worry, but..." (Just a general observation: Anyone who starts a sentence with those last words really does want you to worry. They want it very much. It's Vampire 101. It was one of my brother's favorite sentences. I would add that the motive of people who tell you things for your own good ought to be carefully studied. Look for their fangs and make sure they have a reflection in the mirror.)

There's so much more to write. I don't know if I am even making sense or why it seems so important to put this out there. I just know I must. I ask your forgiveness and your prayers.

*I could not not use the Bush vampire picture, which I found on google, even though I couldn't find an attribution for it. I hope I'm not breaking any copyright laws and that the artist will forgive me and let me know his/her name... and be pleased to see this portrait synopsis of the Bush administration shared with more people. I will regretfully remove it if asked to do so.


Akelamalu said...

There are definitely emotional vampires who use their own unhappiness to make others the same way. I have met people like this and it is best to steer clear of them. It is a shame such a person happens to be your brother, but I can understand why you have distanced yourself from him. This was a very interesting post, albeit sad. x

Casdok said...

Great post. Yes i too have met emotional vampires. I have now learnt and try and steer clear.

WH said...

Well you certainly do have my prayers. I lived with a Borderline Personality for 15 years and she damn near made me crazy--literally. Negative people do indeed suck the energy out of life. They destroy the immune systems and health of those around them.

Misty DawnS said...

I'm dealt with too many emotional vampires!

By the way, sorry for the spam but I'm helping Barb/Skittles let everyone on the Heads Or Tails blogroll know that HoT has a home of its own! You can find it HERE.
See ya on Tuesday!

Dianne said...

first of all - the Vampire Bush inage is perfect, I can't imagine anyone who created something so wonderful not wanting it to be seen so don't fret.

I often describe my son's in-laws as "sucking the air out of a room" and you have made me feel so much better about feeling that way. you have described them to a "t". I especially like how you describe and question all those well meaning phrases people use to preface being anything but well meaning.

I hope you feel calmer now - you deserve to. Your post is healing in so many ways. thank you.

tt said...

Hi Raven...I popped over from dianne's place. I 'ditto' everything she said..
You're very brave to put this in print...I applaud you for it. For me, to put something in print really makes it real. I can't escape it that way. I know about emotional vampires too. One of my urchins is that way. I'm completely drained after talking with him. I feel you...hang in there.

Raven said...

akelamalu - I'm sure working with reiki you pick such things up as well. I won't say I have no regrets about the situation with my brother, but I know I have made the right decision. I don't think about him that often any more but for some reason he reared his scary head this morning. Maybe I'm finally getting him completely out of my system. Hope so.

casdok - wise woman... took me a long time to recognize how reactive I am to others' energy - none-the-less my crazy brother. Of course I was trained by my mother to blame myself for his cruelty. Ah, the joys of dysfunction.

billy - I'm glad you escaped your situation in tact. Given the power of your poetry, I have no doubt that you carry the empath gene which makes you even more vulnerable in such a situation. Thanks for your prayers... may we all remain in vampire free zones from here on in.

Raven said...

misty dawn - thanks for the info on HoT Tuesday. I think I already changed the book mark, but I'll double check.

dianne - how did I know you especially would like the Bush picture? So sorry about your son's in-laws. Vampire in-laws are almost worse than vampire family. You can disown family but you can't punish someone you love for marrying into a nest of vipers. I do feel calmer... oddly, once I crossed the bridge of posting, it seemed to release something in me. Also helped that I talk to my therapist on Mondays. He loves the alphabet backwards. So much material for him to work with. It makes me very happy that you felt the post was healing. Thank you for that.

Raven said...

tt - thanks so much for your kind words. Don't know if I'm brave or crazy or both. I know what you mean about putting it into print. Oddly, crossing this bridge - the publish button - today seemed to release much of the anxiety that writing (and thinking about writing) it produced. Thanks for visiting... and for giving dianne her well deserved award.

moo said...

What a fantastic post! I was just talking about this last month, but I was not nearly as eloquent as you were.

Raven said...

hi moo - thanks so much... I'll have to drop by and visit... I love being called eloquent. (Frankly, I love any compliment.) I bet you were much more eloquent than you think you were.

Unknown said...

Great all the years we've known each other now, and all the subjects we've talked about, you've managed to skirt the issue of your relationship with your brother. I mean, I knew you two didn't get along and weren't speaking and that he was not well, but that was really about it. I'm so glad that through therapy and blogging, you're able to open up and let go. Good for you! I admire and respect you so much!