b a r e

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Tag: sister

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


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.

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.

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…

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.

Dear Sister

I love you. You probably wouldn’t believe me. I admit, I have mistreated you, I have been cruel. I learned my skills from a professional, our dad. I know your weakness, your soft spots, and I have struck there intentionally. You have done the same to me, but for whatever reason I am more resilient. My anger burns hot, like a branding iron. But once I have dealt the blow, the heat goes out immediately. The cycle has run its course, the program is complete, I go back to normal. But not you. You wail and moan and gnash your teeth and cry to the heavens and curse and vow to never forget and never let go and never trust me again! I thought you operated like me. Until one day when I was in a junior in high school. We flew out of state to visit some cousins. We had a huge angry, violent fight in the bathroom. You got in the shower to have the last word, but I came in after you. How violating that must have felt. Then I was done. I went next door to the bedroom to calmly fold some clothes. That’s when I heard it. Your sobbing. I sat there listening to your sobbing and it broke my heart. And that’s when I realized you and I were not the same. And in my mind I started cataloging years and years of fights and imagining you sobbing like this after each one. I felt so much guilt and shame. It was a turning point for me. I could finally understand the depths of your anger – you weren’t done when it was over, the way I was. You carried it with you all the time, tucked it into you bed each night, took it out on the town with you. While I locked mine back in its box and continued my life. I started letting you punish me. I accepted it, I was doing penance, in the hope that one day we could walk forward together without that past. This went on and on and on, years and years. And I started to get annoyed. How much is enough? And that’s when I realized, there is no “enough” for you. You didn’t relinquish any anger towards me, not a drop! You hoarded your bitterness, it gave you power, fed you. So then one day we had the conversation. I told you I loved you but that I realized you would never be satisfied with any amount of punishing me, and so I reject any more. “You’re so mean!” you said. “I love you, Sister, but I’m done being punished. I’m not that person anymore. I don’t deserve to suffer. I love you, but your anger is yours, not mine.” It was one of the few times we were talking, in our long history of off again on again. Years later we’re in an off period. It’s been almost 4 years. I don’t think about her that much, life is too busy. But sometimes I do, like today, and I wish things were different. I wish I hadn’t done all the things I’ve done. I wish she wasn’t the type to hold onto grudges and hatred and anger forever. But wishes don’t mean much here. If she doesn’t want to be healthy, there’s nothing I can do. If she isn’t ready to be close, I can’t make her. Wishes many not do much, but hope can. And I have hope that one day she’ll take off that heavy mantle of anger and hatred, realize how freeing it is, and think about me in a better light. And if it never happens, that’s okay too. I will always think of you with love in my heart.

Dear Dad

I hate you. But not with intense burning. I hate what you represent. You were my childhood monster and torturer. Believe me, I have cried because of you. I could fill an ocean with those tears. I wanted you to suffer, and to die. And now, with you laying in the ICU from a heart attack and open heart surgery, my wish just might come true. You who broke my heart, had yours cut open. My mom and sister went to visit you. You weren’t awake. They don’t actually want to interact with you. They are all broken up about it, roiling with emotions. But I just can’t find any for you. Not even pity, that cloying, sticky, disgusting feeling. You loved pity. After you’d beat me, you’d come crying to me apologizing. And I would say, in my grown up voice, how you needed to learn to control your anger. Gross. Your teeth. I remember your bared teeth when you were angry. It’s starting, I knew. And we never knew what would set you off. Always full of surprises, you were. When my sister came to visit you or her own, the nurse said immediate family only, and she said I’m his daughter. The nurse said, he said he has no children. Imagine her shock! Even in an emergency, you find ways to surprise us. Part of me wants to send you flowers with a note saying, “I hope you die soon!” But a bigger, healthier part of me just wants to move this topic back to the file room, the archives, where it belongs. And then, when you do really, finally die, I can bring out those dusty files and have a celebratory bonfire. I will dance with joy. Or maybe, I’ll just unceremoniously dump the files in the garbage. Yes, I keep those files. I know I “shouldn’t.” But I know how you are. Ever the sneaky, cunning bastard delighting in sabotage. It wouldn’t be that hard to find me. To terrorize me again, and even worse, my family. That’s why I still hold onto those files. Just in case I might need them. How nice it will be to get rid of them when you’re gone. How much relief. How much weight removed, jettisoned. And so, I’m going back to my life now. One that is beautiful and meaningful and joyful and full of love. One where you don’t exist and aren’t invited. That’s where I’m turning my full focus now. That’s where I belong.

What subconscious issues do you need to surface and address in 2013?

I’m sure there are a ton. But rather than upset the apple cart, I’m going to try one at a time.

Closeness with my daughter – something is blocking my ability to feel close and comfortable with my daughter. I have brief moments where is has occurred, when I wasn’t paying attention. But striving for non-thought isn’t going to work. My daughter triggers neural pathways (as my therapist would say) related to my mom. Those I have addressed here and there. But even worse, she reminds me of my sister. I have lost count how many times I have almost called her my sister’s name. It might seem harmless to you, but that’s because you don’t know my sister. Ever the martyr and victim, wielding justified anger against the world, drama magnet, cruel, nothing is ever her fault. We have had a hate-love-hate relationship. She is poison. She is unsafe. She is nothing like my daughter. And yet, time and time again, it’s her name that leaps to my mind. I think it has to be the big sister dynamic resurfacing, that must have started when my sister was my daughter’s age. Because I do forget sometimes that I’m her mother. After she was “born” (extracted) she didn’t feel like the baby I had carried in my body for the better part of a year. She was a stranger. I didn’t want her. She was one more thing interrupting my extreme physical and mental anguish. It wasn’t until she was 2, I was sitting there rocking her, and suddenly occurred to me that this was the same baby I had manufactured inside me, sung to, talked to. I felt overwhelmed with joy at the reunion. “It was you all along!” And yet there was still remains a distance. There is definitely the inability for me to connect with my mom. And here I am recreating it. What am I afraid of? Closeness has always meant pain growing up. Always. I’m afraid of pain. Of her hurting me with my love. A little distance allowed me freedom to shut off my emotions. But then, there I go, recreating the mother-daughter lack of connection. I don’t want that! This ongoing push pull struggle is in itself painful. I want to chose love. I want to choose closeness. Even if that means pain. Because pain is normal part of life. And closeness and love is food to my soul. So little by little I will creep forward towards my daughter. Little by little I will open the door to my heart. Wish me luck.