b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: abuse

half-sister, my sister

29 years later
we meet in person after all of this time
I remembered you, a faded memory of adoration
then we found each other online
and you recounted your tales of pain
now finally we’re together
once again you recount your story of woe
you suffered, you suffered, but you survived
we share the same cruel father
our torture presumably the same
this devastation is your signpost
upon which you hang your identity
it’s familiar because I once did the same
‘Look at me, world, see what I overcame’
a badge of courage and strength
giant chips on my shoulders as warnings
to set the stage for all relationships
you want me right there with you
marching and holding the bloody flag
I am conflicted because you are a dream
a mythological creature I hoped to see someday
I don’t know what I thought I’d find
But I want our connection to be more than the past
I don’t want to keep reliving the pain
comparing scars triumphantly
I feel discomfort, unease
a part of me pulling away
I have spent so much time dismantling the past
I healed, recreated, renamed, rebuilt
I want to focus on now and moving forward
into health and happiness and ease
I don’t want to walk backwards
the road to the light was…uphill
I like it better here, I can breath again
I don’t know if you would join me
the intensity you live doesn’t say

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Sisters

So much damage, for so many years, to both sides. Knives cutting and cutting. Never backing down. Never surrendering for a moment. Both egos completely dedicated to winning. But we were really both losing. It was easy to judge. My ego loved feeling justified anger, justified superiority. All of it masking a desperate need for closeness and love, while ensuring anything but. Years of cold war went by. Mom liked to leak information to both sides, double agent, hoping for an opening, for possible reunification. Summarily rejected over and over. Ego likes to twist the state secrets into judgement induced superiority. But there’s an emptiness. And a shame. A dark, dirty, embarrassing guilt that flows under it all. And always that longing. Longing to finish each other’s sentences, to laugh at inside jokes that only we know, to hold each other close and give and receive comfort from someone else that really does understand completely, because she was there when no one else was. We saw the horrors together. We escaped together. Each of us so strong, pulling in our own directions. Trying to pull the other one with us, but it wasn’t working, it forced us further apart.

Finally, an opportunity to try again. To hopefully put past pain aside and try to find each other’s hands to hold. To hopefully reach out and be received with love. To reunite. To recombine. To join forces. I think we have always been connected, despite distance and silence. Even apart we were moved by the same music. Our paths meet again, now parallel, healing.

My sister / My daughter – Part 1 of a series

Dear Sister,

I am so, so, so, so sorry. There are no words that can possibly ever come close to describe how sorry I am. Our mom says we were monsters. I was a monster. I expertly studied and executed what our father demonstrated. When it came time to engage, the lever that controls all emotion was pulled down to the off position. I was calculating, cruel and efficient. I analyzed your weak spots and sliced with precision. I was good at it. I enjoyed it, the skill and expertise. I did not think about the consequences. I acted, concluded, then went back to whatever I was working on before. I was actually surprised, and somewhat annoyed, by how long it took you to “get back to normal.” I had no idea what I was doing to you. I didn’t actually understand you. I never bothered to try. I only knew my boundaries, and operated with those in every situation. It took years of confusion, of making people uncomfortable, and of offending people, before it suddenly dawned on me that other people have different boundaries.

But that’s not what this writing piece is about. This is about two girls trying to establish order after the tyrant was exiled. Two strong and stubborn leaders fighting for dominance and control. Two rulers angry over the non-compliance of the other. We were children (she 10, me 12) taking on adult roles, using the tools our parents taught us. And those tools were violent and sadistic.

This is about accepting responsibility for my actions. This is about guilt, and figuring out how to release it. I was awful. But I was a child.

This is about reframing. I have happily looked down on my sister as an example of all the things I have overcome and decided not to be – victim, martyr, high on justified anger and anxiety, drama seeking, pathetic. But it’s not that simple. She is a strong, capable human being who is using different tools to survive. And truthfully, at this point, after over 5 years of little to no contact, she’s a stranger. Think about how much I’ve changed in the last 5 years, I am a completely different person. She is too. It has been so easy to make her the bad guy. It’s so easy to make people the bad guys. And so much more complicated to see them as they really are, complex creatures worthy of love and respect.

have a mother’s day

I am deeply ambivalent about today’s hallmark holiday. Even with this beautiful girl sitting in front of me so full of life and love, I am flipping through the list of ways I have hurt her or failed her. Thank goodness she’s so resilient. But mostly, thank goodness I’m not my mom. She showed me over and over that I was worthless and undeserving of respect. She chose everyone and everything over me. She took my childish worship for granted. She whines that she loves me, she misses me, but her “love” is limited and unhealthy. And it hurts. Sure, you miss me now, now that you’re old and lonely. Her neediness makes me angry. What about when I needed you. Yes you feel guilt for so many of your choices. But I remember your face when you first made those decisions. Completely unapologetic, proud even. Ugh, stop, I don’t want to waste my time dredging up the ugliness again. I forgave you long ago, not that you’re off the hook, but that I chose to not carry around my resentment anymore. I set it down, and decided to accept you just as you are, limited, selfish, OCD, and not welcome in my life except when I feel like I can handle your immaturity and disconnectedness. And I decided to look at my current life with relief and gratitude. This is Motherhood 2.0 – my turn. I get to create a new mother/daughter relationship. In this version, the mother is present for her daughter, listens to her, treats her like a complete human being and shows her she believes in her. This time when the mother makes mistakes, she admits them and apologizes for them, and doesn’t make excuses and doesn’t laugh about the pain she’s caused. This time the daughter is able to ask for her needs and get them met. This time the daughter knows how much she’s loved both in actions and words, over and over. And this time the daughter has a very loving and supportive and fun and safe father who would never harm her, never torture her, not in a zillion years. I am so lucky and so grateful for my family. We are imperfect. But we are good people. Sometimes I forget that I’m part of the good. Sometimes it’s helpful for me to look back at the bad, and see how much I am not that, not by a long shot. Then I can go through my list of successes instead – and realize that I am a part of making my child’s life good.

Describe an event that changed your life forever

My life has been peppered with life-changing events, like signposts on a long and windy road. The first, and possibly biggest, was my parents’ divorce. It was only once we escaped that I realized a brutal and terrifying childhood was not normal. My understanding of my life and the world was turned upside down, and so many objects were thrown loose. It was exhilarating, the drama, the freedom. I was encouraged by therapists to let it all out – and so I did, everywhere and to anyone who would listen. I realized my story had value, like currency. In exchange others would share their struggles. And I was able to connect with many on levels deeper than the usual shallow exchanges. I was free, I was wild. I was the bad influence many parents wanted to keep away. But not because I did anything illegal or immoral – quite the opposite. Due to my mother’s neglect, my younger sister and I had to take care of ourselves. We were and continue to be very responsible. Many parents didn’t like me because I spoke my mind. Because I didn’t keep to “my place” as a child. I was honest, too honest. My eyes were open. Perhaps I was disrespectful. I didn’t see, nor wanted to acknowledge, arbitrary boundaries. There were also many parents who adored me, who figuratively adopted me and became one of my surrogate moms. Sometimes (often?) I liked them better than their kids. I connected better with them, I felt like they understood me. Memories fade, and I no longer remember the details of time spent with them. But they gave me guidance, acceptance and love that I so desperately needed. I carry them with me in my heart, even today. And I am forever grateful that they were placed in my path when I needed them.

white knuckling

I’m holding it together. But only just.

The words are back – the liars. They’re telling me, I’m telling me, that I’m a failure as a parent. I’m so mean to my little girl. That voice, I cut her open with contempt. All she wants is a mother’s love. I’m her mother. But I forget. Just do what you’re supposed to do. What I want you to. Obey. But she’s 5. She’s supposed to be her own person. And I crush her. She bounces back. But what damage have I done. What scar tissue am I generating under that beautiful, soft skin.

How        do        I        stop.

Please let this be hormones – this depth of this suffering crying guilt.

Does this mean I’ve failed. That I need to go back onto antidepressants.

I’m so tired. The mantra of my life.

Door slams shut inside. Feel nothing feel nothing feel nothing. Maybe if I hold really still, this will go away.

 

What is your birth position in your family? Does it impact your mental health? Why?

So, as the story goes, when my little sister was born I tried to climb into her crib to kill her. I was one month shy of 2 years old. Of course I have no memory of this. But it was enthusiastically rolled out at social events by my mom. I can always count on her for embarrassing stories. Is that who we become when we get old? Just a collection of stories?

I was always faster and stronger and smarter growing up. I felt good about that. But it wouldn’t be a competition if there wasn’t more than one person. And competition definitely took place. Scholastic success was always easy for me. I don’t remember if she struggled. I was articulate and enunciated perfectly, she smeared her words. I was always taller. Even now, when we’re both adults, I’m 3 1/2 inches taller. And I loved it. She won in other areas, she hit puberty first. And she loved to rub that in my face. Boy we were mean to each other. She would claim to have a better voice, a soprano to my second alto. I have better nails, she was a nail biter for so long that her nails are wide and squat. I was proud of that. We both talk incredibly fast. In fact, if you don’t know us well, you’d be hard pressed to determine which of us was talking to you over the phone. We actually tricked a friend once, on purpose. She was prettier, but I was smarter. And did I mention I’m taller.

I don’t have many memories of our early years. But when I’ve babysat young sisters close in age and I watch the way the older one treats the younger one, I feel shame. Something inside me tells me I did that. And even though it’s clearly human nature, I still feel guilt. We tormented each other, but I was perhaps a little better at it. She was definitely more sensitive, the wounds I inflicted years ago are still festering. That’s her choice, she loves to hold onto pain and wave it around like a flag of glory. I won’t take responsibility for her pain. And she hates me for that.

It’s been over 4 years since we stopped talking. 2 weeks after my daughter was born. Our “on again” lapse was tenuous at best. Basically a reconciliation about a year earlier for my wedding, heavily driven by my mom’s desire to live in an alternate reality where we’re a tight-knit loving family.

Well thanks to my dad’s death, and my sister’s need for a new drama/stressful project, plus her poverty/debt/greed, we’re back in communication. The estate lawyer, and more importantly, my husband, said to “walk away” from dealing with the mysterious trustee, who my sister now says should never have gotten any of his money. She’s on a mission, filing criminal charges. Let her have her crusade. I’d never be able to talk her out of it. No one could. She keeps texting me, updates and steps she’s taking, but also how stressed and anxious she is. Oh woe is her, look how she’s suffering. When my mom called me up to tell me what my sister was going to do, she was all riled up. I had to talk her off the ledge, I said to her, “he’s dead, why do you want to dig him back up?” I mean really, why waste another second on him. Let him fade away till even his memory is vague. Indifference is what he deserves. He’s gone, he no longer exists, it’s glorious. Why bring him back?? One of today’s texts from my sister says, “Hate that it came to this. That even after death he makes me sick.” Oh what a victim she is! How about instead you take responsibility for the choices you are making. Up to and including how you think and feel about what’s going on. Not everything needs to be a nuclear meltdown.

But maybe she needs that. I remember when I needed intensity all the time. It made me feel alive. I invited all sorts of brilliant but toxic/destructive people into my life. I enjoyed them thoroughly. The stings didn’t warn me to run, they were familiar and comfortable and understandable, and they produced endorphins. Yes, I got high off of cruelty, both giving and receiving. Somehow I justified it, believed I had it all under control. Do I miss it? Only theoretically. I don’t have the time or energy for drama anymore. What little energy I can scrape together is for myself, and my family (husband and daughter).

I feel like I haven’t really answered the question. Yes, birth order matters. I was looked up to (literally), copied, followed around. And it made me proud (and sometimes pridefully annoyed). And when my sister finally found her own power, was she embarrassed of the esteem she had had of me, and was she resentful of my position. I’m sure of it. Into our young adult years I was our mom’s favorite. I’m sure she knew it. And my damaged mom, overflowing with guilt for decisions she’s made and our resulting childhood, clings now to the only daughter that will throw her crumbs. Hint, that’s not me.

It’s complicated, but also simple. We all just want to feel important. We want to be listened to. Why couldn’t we be kind to each other – our parents didn’t model that behavior. Even after years and years of therapy, it took my auto-immune disease to humble me, and my teaching experience to learn to understand and love all kinds of personalities, and then, most importantly, my husband’s sweetness and honesty, to melt my ice fortress.

And now, it’s my daughter’s temper and impatience and stubbornness that is teaching me just how hard it is to break old behavior patterns. But that story is for another post…

Dead.

Finally. Fully. Completely.

My heart raced as I read the email, “I regret to inform you your father is dead.” Just a few minutes ago, I told a longtime friend that I just had to accept that you would never die. You’d cling to life with your fingernails, being around to scare us forever. And then, just like that, you expired. I was elated. I called my mom and we shouted and laughed. The world outside seemed brighter, the leaves greener, everything was sharper and in focus. I went with another friend to the coroner’s office to pick up your keys. She said you had died the morning before, around 11:30 AM. I liked to imagine you woke up early, like you always do, and lay there suffering, paralyzed, until your shriveled, black heart finally gave up hours later. I want to imagine that I gave a speech at your funeral where I told everyone the ugly truth about you. I like to plan going to your grave and pouring urine over it. But this isn’t making me feel the justified anger and superiority it used to. I don’t feel good about these thoughts. I just feel sick to my stomach, nauseated. And I didn’t just cry. I sobbed. I sat there in my car after leaving your apartment and I sobbed and my shoulders heaved and I screamed. I felt like a crazy woman. And as I sobbed I’d start smiling, and then my heart was filled with so much pain that I screamed again.

You’d love to know your trustee and full beneficiary showed up. She gave you an honored man’s burial, whereas I’d have had you cremated and flushed you, or unceremoniously dumped you in the trash (which is where I put your 30-day memorial candle, by the way). I don’t care that she gets all your crap. I cut ties with you long ago. That Will I found where you said I get “NOTHING!” I laughed. Of course. But her stories about how wonderful you were made me want to vomit. That’s what made me sick. You loved her children in the non-violent ways you never loved us. I wanted to yell at her to shut up. I wanted to tell her my stories. How you told me every night that if we ever tried to leave you’d chop off our heads and burn down the house. And then finally, during those 4 torturous hours at the mortuary, she finally let me tell her. I didn’t see her face, I was so lost in my pain.

I did a releasing meditation. The first step was to imagine the situation(s) that brought me pain. I was lost in the primal child’s experience of “please don’t hurt me” and “I’m so afraid.” Then the second step was to confront you, and boy I let you have it. Then, during the third step, I pushed you off my cloud and cut the rope and said, “I forgive you. I release you. I let go.” But it was too late. That box, those boxes, that I had shelved long ago, that I had built justified anger around, they tumbled off the shelf and it all spilled out. An ocean of pain. Every last drop. And I sobbed. I sobbed till I was wrung out, like a towel, dry and twisted.

And when I stopped, I started to be filled again, slowly at first, then so fast I was completely soaked with joy and gratitude. My life, my husband, my daughter, my friends who are my family – they love me so much. They would do anything for me. They are healthy (oh yes you are!) and positive and caring and so, so loving. And I am so lucky, so blessed, so grateful that this is my life now. So relieved and thankful of the decisions and choices I have made, not despite his torture, but because of it. This day and every day is so bright and beautiful because we can and will continue to bring in love and laughter to our lives. And we never have to live as he did or torture as he did or suffer as he did.

I can move forward now, untethered.

I leave the past behind me. And I walk forward with strength and gratitude and a new love for life.

Write about the boundaries you have established in your life. Do they work? Why did you establish them?

I have always been attracted to brilliant but disturbed people. They didn’t fit in, like I didn’t fit in, and the things they thought or talked about were so beyond what normal people did. They were toxic but I didn’t care, they weren’t boring, so it was worth it. Maybe they made me feel normal in comparison. Maybe I was just re-creating the dangerous dance of abused/abuser, and trying to fix it, this time around. I’m not really sure anymore. What I do know now is that those relationships are no longer acceptable.

When we were dating, I lost two of them. One extracted herself, painfully. The other attacked. Both were threatened by the healthy and fulfilling pairing up of me and my now husband. Snip. You are cut out. It was, for some reason, okay for you to abuse me. But now that I am teamed up with someone else, it is absolutely not okay for me to expose my partner to you. Which is a bummer, because we certainly had fun times.

When we were planning our wedding, I lost another. I just couldn’t bring myself to invite an undiagnosed alcoholic to an open bar party on a boat. We had been roommates in the past, and I had seen firsthand her behavior while intoxicated. And I just couldn’t subject the wide variety of attendees, who were trapped on the water for 4 hours, to this gal. We had had some really brilliant conversations in the past. I would miss them. She self-extracted. Wrote in shock and surprise on facebook about not being invited, then unfriended me. Snip. I hope one day when she has to plan a wedding she will see just how hard it is to put together a guest list. Weddings are extortion, especially if you’re paying for it yourself. And the pressure from family members to invite people you’ve never even met is ridiculous. Thank goodness that’s over.

Snip, snip, snip. I will miss you and the fun times we had. But now I’m responsible for yet another person, my daughter. And there’s no way you’re getting any access to her.

So what does that mean? Toxic sister – snip, the week after my daughter’s birth. Toxic mother – well, that took longer. Sort of snip? Very, very limited access, and only while supervised. It sounds terrible to say, but I will be relieved when you’re gone. I’m sure I will wrestle with guilt and what-if’s. But at least I will be able to finally let you be who you are, since there’s certainly no changing yourself when you’re dead. I’m trying, I’m really trying to lower my expectations of you, and yet you still find ways to disappoint me. You’re a mess. And it pisses me off. And it’s just better for everyone if you go live your life over there, and I’ll go live my life over here. Then I can go back to focusing on being healthy and balanced and on maintaining and nurturing the precious relationships with my husband and daughter.

Rage.

I am so angry. Fire pours out of my eyes and mouth and I roar so loud glass breaks for miles around. My anger burns hotter than the core of the planet and spreads farther than the known universe. It is all consuming. I hate it. I reject it. I judge it. I suppress it. And in return, it gets bigger and hotter and more painful. Anger. It was my father’s tool to inflict fear and pain, so much pain. Pain of the flesh yes, but much worse was pain of the mind. Ripping away your sense of security, of self. Humiliation. Horror. No exit. No escape. My anger is my father living inside me. When I scream at my daughter, it is his voice that comes out. I will not hit her, I will not. But oh how I want to. And that, right there, is disgusting, and fills me with self-loathing. Because she is so young and so innocent and so oblivious. She can’t know the depths of the anger she triggers with her attitude and screaming and hitting, yes, hitting. I want to yell at her, “don’t you understand how lucky you are to not get hit!” But she doesn’t understand, and that’s a good thing, and that’s the whole point of this second version of my child-parent experience. She pushes and pushes and pushes. She uses tones of voice she can’t possibly understand yet that are condescending and mean. She mirrors me, when I start yelling, she starts yelling over me. And I can feel my anger, rising up behind my eyes, to a level of total irrationality. And so I pull the shut off valve. Everything shuts down. I am emotionless. I do not care about anything anymore, including her. It’s safer this way. I am done. Done trying to communicate with her. Done arguing. Done being around her. I am shut down. I am still. And I flee. Gotta get away. Don’t want her to find an override button somewhere and reactivate my anger. Run!

But last night I didn’t run. I went back into her room and held her and rocked her. And as I comforted her and loved her, I was comforting and loving my inner child too. “You are loved, you are loved, you are loved,” I silently told her. We rocked and rocked. We both needed this. We desperately needed to feel close.