Punished For Your Honesty?

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by steve319, Feb 12, 2006.

  1. steve319

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    I have a personal issue on my mind that I’d like to offer up to the forum for some feedback if I may. Actually, it’s a follow-up to something I’d posted awhile back.

    (warning: this is a long one)

    The Nutshell Version:

    Several months ago I posted about a personal breakthrough I’d had in finally sharing my struggle with alcohol abuse with my closest relative. She and I have always been close and the weight of the lies and cover-ups over the years had just become too much to bear; additionally, my big goal for last year was to be a more open and emotionally available person, to let go of the litany of lies that I’ve woven for so long to conceal the sad realities of my past life, so I felt that, after being so open here in the forums, unveiling it to her would be a good next step.

    And it has been—not only immensely liberating, but also a reassuring reminder that I am still capable of massive personal change for the better. After growing up in a family where hiding Dad’s alcoholism was a way of life, where creating the facade of the “normal” family was the lesson learned early on, coming to the point of being able to open myself up at all was a struggle. Issues with intimacy and openness have been big obstacles in keeping me from being able to create solid relationships of any sort. The breaking down of those walls is my current project, and I’m making progress. (Being open here has been a big part of that, by the way.)

    Anyway. This relative has been having a tough time since a miscarriage last year—panic attacks, meds, seeing a counselor, etc. To top it off, she got married in December, so her life has been a whirlwind of changes for quite awhile now, and I’d hate to think that I added to that pressure, but part of the reason I decided to go ahead was to let her know that we all have times when we need help, and I felt that my sharing might help her go into her counseling with an open mind and a willingness to make it work. Win-win for us both. She seemed to take it very well. Tears were shed, hugs were exchanged, and I felt that we were on the way to being closer than ever, able to share our lives on whole new levels.

    Well, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. I know she’s having a rough time, and as a newlywed, her life is changing. I know it’s egotistical to think that it’s my little revelation that has triggered a withdrawal, but I can’t help feeling it is a contributing factor, getting in the way of communication. Unreturned calls, avoided family gatherings, and ultra-speedy visits give me the impression that this is more than just a busy time in her life.

    I’m not really looking for advice on this situation. I mean, we will get past this sooner or later—we’re family and this will resolve eventually, I think. What I am hoping to discuss is the underlying issue of trust and openness. Have you ever been punished for your honesty? Marginalized and judged as a result of your openness? I’m not talking about being an abrasive asshole, but simply about unveiling the realities of your inner life and then paying a price for it.

    Since working to break down my barriers, I’ve had many episodes where I’ve felt attacked or isolated for unleashing my junk. And there have been instances where I’ve felt that to be the case when, in fact, it wasn’t, and screwed up an interaction by my panic anyway. (Yay me. :frown:)Just did that last night with a very good friend, as a matter of fact.

    In a way, I’d like to think that most of us are always evaluating and making decisions about our communication and controlling not only the way we come across to others but also based on what we think they can “handle.” (Am I wrong there?)

    Where does one decide who can handle your “truth” and who can’t? Is it offensive even to do so at all? And once one begins removing those long-standing barriers, how does one decide where to reassign them?
     
  2. rawbone8

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    Steve

    I think we "negotiate" agreements to share with each other with our intimate "junk"

    there are verbal and nonverbal cues that signal willingness and openness to the exchange

    in a sense there has to be a "dance" to feel each other out and establish the ground rules, and degree of deepness of the information and through this we acknowledge we are open to hear it

    otherwise it can be a bit selfish to unload on someone without their consent, though reciprocation builds trust.

    depends on how well you know someone. that's my take. best wishes
     
  3. SpeedoGuy

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    Glad to hear you've surpassed those demons in your life, Steve.

    Punished for honesty? Oh yes, I've seen it happen more than once. Since you asked, I'll offer my view of why it sometimes happens. I'm not saying that this is exactly what happened to you, though.

    In my view, there's a cruel type of person out there who thrives on enticing others to open up and reveal their vulnerabilities and insecurities for their own amusement. These people are skilled at portraying a veneer of friendship that weakens your natural defenses. They are most likely to strike when you are already hurting and/or distracted with serious life events.

    They move in gently, they slickly coax personal info out of you, they fake friendly solidarity with you and then they turn on you. They gossip your personal information to others (while denying they do so) or spread half-truths and lies. They begin treating you rudely and eventually cut off contact with you. They might also create a smokescreen of attitude that makes you the bogeyman that caused the "friendship" to shatter.

    Sorry to be such a downer but I've seen it happen too often to believe otherwise.
     
  4. naughty

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    Workin' up a good pot of mad!
    Wow!

    I started to answer this thread because of Steve's initial post, but now I am blown away by Speedoguy's take on things. Yes , Speedo unfortunately I have seen this happen quite often. But we should tell the truth, anyway. I know it is easy for me to say take the high road when someone rips your heart out by taking the low road, but it is about personal integrity.
    There are however some things that you really dont have to tell until you have reached that point in a relationship.
    Speedo, perhaps we should look at it this way. They save us from a life of hell on earth. Would you really like to be with a person with whom you can not be totally honest? Someone whose affection is a ever shifting plane of conditions ,and the first time you slip you are gone? I dont think so.

    Steve,
    I am so sorry this is happening to you and your family member. It sounds more like the problem may be something going on with her and you were already poised to see any signs of rejection anyway. She may not be avoiding you at all because of anything you have done but perhaps things that you know about her or things she is afraid you know about her. I hope things work out for her and for you. Don't push it .Let her come to you. Obviously there are issues which you may not know about. It is so unfortunate that an entire family culture of guardedness and control occur whenever there is one or more family members who are out of control. If it isnt Alcoholism it is something. Believe it or not your family is probably a lot more common than you might think.They say that it take 3 generations of sobriety to outlive the consequences of addiction. So count yourself a survivor and family pioneer. My hat is off to you in that step towards transparency and know that you are moving in the right direction.

    naughty
     
  5. rawbone8

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    Steve

    I applaud the effort you've made to go forward with those changes you have made, and want to add another observation, though nothing profound.

    It's that I've found that my family and families of some close friends often depend on hanging on to the status quo as much as possible. We get assigned roles to play and slapped down in some way or other when we step outside them. It threatens the familiar. So at 25, 35 or 45 siblings and parents can still have lame ass expectations of us and try to punish us if we change. In a well functioning family (is there such a beast?) there is more acceptance and perhaps room for honesty.

    Weak people feel threatened by change, and by witnessing vulnerability in their "stronger" close family members, or the unveiling of some deeply hidden weakness, they can get angry, which is a mask for fear. Time should offer some opportunity for building a new common ground.
     
  6. Lex

    Lex
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    It is so hard to be honest--because the truth hurts. People run from the truth all the time. When faced with the hard truth, many would rather hold on to the lie they have created in their own mind for comfort's sake.

    SteveBear--I am so with you (and you know this). I am punished for being honest all the time. I was attacked and chastised by some when I first revealed that my wife and I decided that I would have a BF or that we would remain married through my sexual exploration. People lashed as they could not accept my truth: I was not who I am now when we married. There was no deception.

    Now, the question we must ask ourselves in these instances is: "Is that ME or is that THEM?" Either answer makes for difficult choices and further hardships. It's SO easy to say "It's them. Oh well" and move on with your honesty in a potentially dangerous and dismissive manner. Harder to say "It's ME" because you SO want to feel like you are doing everything in your power to be transparent. And if you are trying to do so, believing it is YOU means that, next time, you hold back and become anxious (as you have noted, SteveBear).

    Where I have come to (I think) is that I must live with a principled center. Principles are unwavering and, therefore, the compass always points North. My goal is to live with integrity and transparency (read if you will: honesty) and it is more than that.

    Integrity is the value I place on myself--that I say what I mean, follow through, practice what I preach, and that I am me all the time--good, bad, or indifferent. Integrity is owning your words, actions, and truth--making them one with your inner energy.

    Transparency lives on the far side of honesty. It goes beyond honesty in that instead of choosing which things to share and be honest about, you allow others to see your truth at all times without carefule selection of topics and subject matter. It's SO hard to do this.

    And (not "but," as "but" negates all that comes before it) I know in my heart that what I am attempting is good. It is good for me (and my trust issues) to push through and past honesty to transparency. It is good for others to interact without feeling "protected" from my truth (as weird and uncomfortable as that feels to us both/all). Who am I to think I can or should protect them, anyway?

    And, as such, I must realize that there will be times when I am judged, marginalized, and compartmentalized by others who feel this truth and, perhaps, are unprepared for it. I realize that their marginliazation, compartmentalization and judgement of me is a more primitive reactionary protection that we all do when faced with the things (truths) whose presence transcends our limits in new and unnerving ways.

    I realize that while my natural instinct in those moments is to refrain, to hold back, to second guess--that my compass points North. And that as I walk this very challenging path, I reflect on what my greatgrandmother always said to me as a boy: "The long way home is the best way."

    You're doing phenominal work, SteveBear. I feel your pain. So much of you in me and vice versa. Terrifying and refreshing all the same. Push through, man. Push through.
     
  7. headbang8

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    There's an Australian movie called Head On, in which a youthful Alex Dimitriades plays a teen from a troubled home. When asked why he keeps his life so secret from his parents--even the innocent bits--he replies that he would never tell them the truth, because they'd find some way to use it against him. Nothing personal, they use anything they can find aganst anyone. They're that angry. Or frightened.

    The truth is a weapon in alcoholic families. The moment it is uttered and acknowledged, you can never go back. Unintentionally, in telling a truth, you wielded a powerful force that, perhaps, she had only ever seen wielded as a weapon. I think you might have frightened her.

    It takes courage to face your demons, and those who haven't yet summoned the courage to face their demons seldom thank us for demanding such courage from them, or even gently trying to coax it out.

    What happens when you set the truth--any truth--on the table? The suffering sons and daughters of an alcoholic family don't feel safe.

    Am I right in guessing the woman is your sister? My remaining immediate family still pretty much recoils when anyone mentions the past. In fact, we pretty much recoil from each other, period. We simply can't fake a happy family. We don't even try. An acknowledgement of the horror we suffered in a dry-drunk home, maybe? (which is facing the truth in a fashion.)

    Of course, your intent was exactly the opposite. You found it liberating to face your demons; others, unprepared, may find it traumatic. And no matterhow well-intentioned, talking about your suffering doesn't necessarily forge a bond; it might just rub salt in her wounds.

    In my experience, not much you can do. The shrinks, social workers, 12-step literature all say detach with love under such circumstances. Give her time and space.When she's ready, you'll come back together.

    Maybe she'll never be ready. My own sister (she's 42, I'm 48) and I detached from each other in such a way, finally, this last rather miserable Christmas. I'm glad. She needs to work it out for herself; to grieve for a lost youth, to grieve for the warmth and love she couldn't enjoy because the lies and emotional demands of adult infants got in the way. You can't rush grief.

    Reconnection does happen, in its own good time. I made peace with my late father's family. Not so easy with my mother and her family; I keep releasing the dove of peace, and they keep shooting it, one way or another.

    Pecker is a model of personal serenity--a serenity he conscously sought after a similarly troubled upbringing. I'd be interested to hear his views on your story.

    Feel free to PM me on this subject if you want, Steve.

    HB8

    P.S. We've exchanged posts on Al-anon before, have we not? I'm a big believer; it helped me enormously.
     
  8. Matthew

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    Steve, they say no good deed goes unpunished, and telling the truth is no exception. If doing the right thing was always the easy path, none of us would have many problems. But it seems like those of us who want to improve ourselves or the world around us always fight an uphill battle. I guess it's par for the course - no pain, no gain.

    I think you're right, we are always evaluating how much of ourselves we let others see. How to determine who should learn what? I'm a big believer in following your instincts, but it sounds like you might be having a hard time trusting yours. I think the key question is, like Rawbone said, how well you know them -- AND, how close to them do you want to be? As you know, a relationship that's not based on both parties sharing their truth can only be superficial by definition.

    You can only tell how much someone can "handle" by giving them a chance to handle it. And if they can't, they obviously don't need to be a deep part of your life at this time. I tend to lean on the side of taking risks, at least small ones. If you don't, you can be sure what you'll gain -- nothing. When it's possible, maybe try letting a piece out at a time so you can gauge their reaction and decide whether or not to take the next step.

    Stay strong brother, you know we got your back.
     
  9. wonderland

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    Great reply......I have had this happen to me.

    It is true that people will punish you for the truth. Maybe she is just to stressed at the moment and she just can't handle anymore. I am sure she will come back around.
    Good luck working on your issues.
     
  10. Love-it

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    Most people are confused by honesty because they don't have a clue that someone might be telling the truth, since they themselves have hidden behind lies all of their lives.

    Some people are just plain dumb.

    Some people are uneasy and don't really know how to respond to emotions and possibly even reality.

    Some people don't know what you are asking for, or need, since they have never opened up to anyone in their life.

    Some people feel that they don't have the time or energy to get involved in someone elses problems.

    Some people don't give a damn.

    Some people don't know how to communicate. Whether it is emotions, or common language/situational barriers. English is a poor language to get across meanings not to mention emotions, but communication in any language is difficult.

    Some people feel that they can't relate because there is no commonality of experience, or that they are willing to admit.

    If you are lucky you will have one friend you can confide with, who will take time to listen, and can offer sage advice, but only if asked.

    The rest are ass holes.
     
  11. steve319

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    Thanks, guys, for your kind sharing of wisdom and experience here. You’ve given me not only food for thought but a good deal of peace of mind as well.

    I’ll try to keep it brief, but I have a few specific points:

    rawbone8—Good point about negotiating the readiness level for these things. She and I know things about one another that no one else in the family knows, but there are, of course, plenty of things we keep to ourselves as well. I really felt that I was making the generous choice here, that sharing my own low spot from years and years ago, and the way that seeing a counselor helped me get a grip on it, would give her the encouragement she needed to go into her own upcoming sessions with an optimistic attitude. And she seemed genuinely encouraged and happy to have me share. Of course, I do realize that, now that she’s had time to process this whole thing, she probably feels a bit betrayed that she didn’t know before now or that, as you said, I’ve let her down in fulfilling my role as the “together” one. Of course, she might also be hesitating to have personal contact with me now for fear that I’ll ask how her process is rolling along (if she’s even still going).

    SpeedoGuy—Yeah, I feel that there are definitely people out there who are “hooked” on emotional intimacy and use it as a weapon for power or influence. Maybe it’s an ego thing, a type of seduction that gives them a sense of power? Timely that you would mention it because this phenomenon is one of the many little paranoid fears my brain is drumming up to stop me from breaking down these personal barriers. I am worried about moving my personal boundaries and then not being able to put them into position again. A gateway behavior effect—once one begins changing what is allowable for oneself, it might be hard to halt the avalanche. Or at least that’s my fear.

    naughty—Of course you would contribute something substantive and thoughtful! That’s just the way you operate. You’re right, I know, in saying that there’s a high likelihood that this has as much to do with the high level of anxiety she’s dealing with right now as it does with my own revelation.

    Lex—Thanks for the kind words about the progress I’m making. I know you understand because of those personal traits, reactions, and qualities we’ve discovered that we share. (Spooky! :wink: ) For one thing, I know we both have that instinct to hold personal things back to protect others (and ourselves). Not sure I totally agree that we shouldn’t ever do that (perhaps my timing with this has made things worse for her), but it is certainly something to aspire toward. I have a long way to go there, and you’re one of those who make the road easier.

    headbang8—I’m fascinated with your take on my truth having frightened her with its import and weight. While she isn’t my sister (niece, but just a bit over a year younger than I am—long story) and we didn’t grow up in the same household, we lived very close to one another and were always close. She grew up a victim of my older brother (her father) and his raging alcoholism while I did the same under my father. If anything, it was likely much worse for her since her mother was long gone. Yet, as close as we’ve been, we don’t speak of that—instead, we fret over her father’s and two brothers’ ongoing descent into the depths of alcoholism. The notion that my story (even thought it is a success story) has burdened her seems more likely all the time, doesn’t it? You and I have indeed discussed Al-anon—hard to do in a small town, but I’d like to do some reading on my own, I think. The “dry-drunk” concept alone demands more investigation.

    Matthew—I know you guys have my back, and I appreciate your encouragement and ideas. The thing you said that keeps coming back to me, even days later, is the bit about how “a relationship that's not based on both parties sharing their truth can only be superficial by definition.” Not only in relation to this situation with my niece but also in regard to my current efforts to be more open and honest with others in my life. Food for thought.

    Wonderland—I hope you are right about this just being a stressful and busy time for her, being a newlywed and all that, and not just that I’ve placed more onto her than I should have.

    Love-it—Good observations there. The world really is full of all kinds of people. I feel led to say that I AM lucky to have good friends, several new ones I’ve met here as a matter of fact.


    Thanks, guys, for the feedback, suggestions, and wisdom. You’ve made me feel good about my decision to be open, at least here in the forums. Being involved with such a supportive group has been a great encouragement and source of insight since I’ve been here.

    Hugs all around. :hug:
     
  12. DC_DEEP

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    Steve, sorry to hear about your struggle, but what a wealth of support and infomation you have gotten in response!

    I, too, have had a couple of "friends" such as SpeedoGuy described... one of them actually sorta "stalked" me for a while, and was harrassing me at work after the shit hit the fan.

    Lex has put a lot of things into perspective, too. He and I have chatted quite a bit off the board, and his thoughts on "honesty" and "transparency" are pretty revealing.

    Keep in mind that it is not just with addictions in the family that these sorts of "webs of secrecy and deceit" occur. I grew up in a fairly small town, so (at least in my childhood, before the hometown grew a lot) everyone knew everyone else, and everyone was expected to meet certain "standards." It was really tough growing up gay in that sort of environment. I have 5 siblings, but was always especially close to one sister. One evening, she and I were having a heart-to-heart while she and her husband were going through a minor crisis. Without realizing it, she convinced me to come out, which I did. When I told her, she just had this stunned look on her face for a moment, then she started crying. I asked her why, and she replied "I just had a moment to think about how HARD it must have been for you all these years." I decided at that moment to be out of the closet, period. I made up my mind that I would start with the family, then the friends. My tactic was to emphasize "I am the same person you have known and loved for all these years." I had resolved that those who continued to love me were fine, those who rejected me didn't deserve to be my family or friend. Period. I adopted a philosophy of honesty and transparency, without wearing a sign-board. Now, when I meet people, if someone picks up on it (not often), then it's cool. If they ask me about my orientation (or if I have a girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever) I answer honestly, without offereing additional info. I just simply keep it simple and honest.

    Is that for everyone? Well, probably not. But even though it can be difficult or painful at times, it is unbelievably liberating.

    Sometimes distancing yourself from people whom you have been close to is hard, but in the long run, it is much healthier for your mental well-being. It is truly great, though, to have absolutely no pressure to impress anyone or conform to anyone's ideals. Be true to yourself, and the road to happiness will suddenly appear right in front of you. If you can't be yourself around a particular person, perhaps you don't need that person in your life.

    Peace and good luck to you.
     
  13. Lex

    Lex
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    We could have a whole conversation on just how much of that stance is "I know better than you do--LORTNOC" versus "That's just me and the way I am so what?" couldn't we?

    I like to think that a vascilate between the two stances in my efforts to be honest and transparent.
     
  14. SpeedoGuy

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    Jesus H Christ that must have been difficult.

    I was raised in a semi-rural town in what is inaccurately labeled liberal northern California. Well, small town redneck prejudices prevailed everywhere. Growing up there as a thoughtful young man more interested in books than contact sports was a challenge. Conform or suffer the consequences, in other words. In spite of the repression I was still always was my own man but I paid for it. Oh yes.

    At least I didn't have to deal with sexuality stigmas. That must have been much worse.
     
  15. headbang8

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    These links might be helpful.

    www.wnc-alanon.org
    http://www.alanon-alateenservicesnc.org/

    When you say "hard to do in a small town", do you mean hard to keep from your parents? Remember that all these groups practice the same rules of strict anonymity that AA does.

    I'm not trying to pressure you into doing something you feel uncomfortable with, but as I say, it helped me a lot.

    That was one of the reasons I took so long to recognise and start dealing with my demons. My father was a recovering alcoholic by the time I was born, but still behaved like a drunk: mood swings, perfectionism, rageaholism, and inappropriate intimacy. I couldn't quite work out what was the problem--he didn't drink, so it must have been me. But alcoholism is a family disease that affects the spirits and personalities of even those who have given up, or never touch a drop--when I started to shake the family tree on both sides, though, it was amazing how many drunks fell out. I always thought my family reasonably abstemious, but discovered that both my grandfathers (neither of whom I knew) died of cirrhosis of the liver. And I had my own issues with alcohol in my youth.

    Keeping the focus on yourself is key. You can't fix your family's alcoholism, your parents' misery, or your niece's despair. You can only deal with your own life.

    That may be another source of your niece's discomfort. Remember that she's married, now. You stepped on emotions that are personal, and intimate...especially the miscarriage. It's the kind of support a wife seeks from a husband, and a husband from a wife. Maybe this was a bit of inappropriate intimacy on your part--or at least, she may have interpreted it so. A well-intentioned mistake on your part--or hers--but in retrospect, maybe a mistake nonetheless.



     
  16. naughty

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    Workin' up a good pot of mad!
    Headbang,

    This is fascinating. I know a number of people who probably live with dry drunks and their children and children's children suffer.
    Having gotten to know Steve319, I can not think of a person who would be less likely to cross the lines into impropriety. She is probably still dealing with the issues of her miscarriage but it also sounds as if there are a number of other things going on as well. But then again you may have stumbled upon the source of her puzzling behavior.

    Naughty
     
  17. madame_zora

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    Steve, you are one seriously optimistic guy, and I love you for that. You honestly believe that most people are continually evaluating their own judgements and communication abilities? I certainly wish that were true, but I'm going to have to play devil's advocate here. In my own life, I've found the amount of people in a state of near stagnation to be alarmingly high. Acknowledging a truth is horrifying, because even the very emotionally disconnected know deep inside that if you admit you have a problem, there's probably something you're supposed to DO about it. Change is EXTREMELY frightening to most people, they'd much prefer the miserable life they KNOW to the possibility of a better future, but one in which they'd have to be willing to make changes.

    So you know her dirty little secret, and she knows that you know. Maybe she thinks about this sometimes hence the hesitation to call, but look at the bright side- it WAS spoken and she DID hear it. I know you well enough to know you'd never use the truth as a bludgeoning tool, but yes, sometimes love asks us to step up to the plate and do uncomforable things. Regardless of HER reaction, YOUR decision was made in love, and with great concern for her well being, not just her happiness.

    Safety is more primal than happiness. I think it shows great courage to be willing to show your own weak side in the hopes of making another's struggle less painful. Rest assured, a seed has been planted. Maybe this is not the right time for her, but if that time ever does come, she'll know she can talk to you.

    I rarely give actual advice, but here's a one time offer (haha)-

    Call her up and invite her to lunch sometime when you know her schedule is free and use what influence you can exert not to let her out of it. Then say absolutley nothing about any of this, and talk about your daily doings as if nothing ever happened. If she's not ready to deal with this, she needs evidence that she can still enjoy your relationship without talking about it until she's ready. I mean not one word!

    Then sometime, just send her a card in the real mail that just says you're there for her if she ever needs a friend.
     
  18. headbang8

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    There's a little saying when in recovery, MmeZ, is there not? Fake it until you make it. Even if behgaving in a normal adult way makes you feel uncomfortable, do it. You don't un-learn emotional lessons intellectually. We learn new emotional patterns by doing them.

    Steve can help his cousin most by doing exactly as you say. However, if she really is so damaged that she can't talk about these subjects like an emotional adult, then it's seldom that even the most persistent goodwill can make a difference. Some elephants in the room are hard to shoo away.

    I bump this thread to the top becaise I'm curious to see how Steve is travveling with this--if he feels comfortable sharing it with all of us. Howya doin' Steve?
     
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