Category Archives: Brother and Sister

Speak.

I love my new therapist. For those of you who are in therapy, I highly suggest switching therapists at least every 3 years. A lot of growth and discovery can happen in three years when you’re committed but after that time, it is necessary to have someone else’s strategies, if for no other reason than to shake you out of your comfort zone. I have reluctantly changed therapists three times (and by therapists, I mean the 3 good ones I’ve had). This time, I took a year off and then finally realized that it was time to bite the bullet and “start over.” That is why it took me so long to see someone else – I just could not bear the thought of rehashing my entire life for someone new. I even thought it may be unhealthy for me to do so. Not so! She has an entirely new approach and expertise in areas I didn’t even realize would be relevant for me, such as post traumatic stress. I’ve learned extremely valuable lessons from each of my therapists – but there’s something different about the one I have now. She questions me, which means she’s really listening. She challenges my thinking, which means she’s not afraid to call me on my shit – who doesn’t need to be called on their shit!? NO ONE. The most important thing she has done so far, though, is to validate me in very specific and important ways.

I have come to a place where I tell “my story” as if I’m reading from a script to anyone who will listen. I almost don’t even thing about the events of my life, I just explain them and then ask, “Why am I not over it?” I didn’t have my records transferred to my new therapist because I wanted to start anew, and this was a wise choice. As I am explaining matter-of-factly the huge decision my parents made when I was 15 that I’ve always said forever changed my life, she stopped me and reminded me, “You realize that a decision means they had a choice, don’t you?” My immediate response was “Well, they didn’t really have a choice… my dad would have lost his job if…” She stopped me. “What may or may not have happened with your dad’s job is part of what they had to weigh when making the decision. But regardless of the factors that played into their decision, it was still a choice.” I was somewhat speechless and shocked that I’d never actually believed it was, which had allowed me to pity them and feel guilty for being angry at their decision for so many years. I had to think about it for a few weeks before I could make sense of it. And it seems so simple, doesn’t it?

I started to realize how often my parents, and my entire family for that matter, present scenarios to me as if another choice other than the one they are choosing is just not possible. In fact, every one of these circumstances absolutely do involve the option of a more respectful, less hurtful choice. So, I started to ponder the concept of choice in general. This realization has freed me in a way 200 more therapy sessions of hearing myself talk never ever could have. I’ve told that particular story my therapist heard at least 20 times to various people in my life, therapists and friends alike. Every time I have presented it as a tough situation for my parents in which they had no other choice. Just changing the beginning of the story will now change the way I tell the rest of it. This particular epiphany is quite monumental.

Since I have decided that this new therapy journey I’ve just embarked upon will be the one that heals me apart from my family as well, I have been pushing myself to challenge my self-talk. And, what do you know? I do it too. I make decisions and remain in circumstances as if another choice is simply not an option. “I hate my job but I can’t do anything about it because I have to stay here so my husband has the freedom to change jobs as he wishes because he’s hated his job longer than I have and our benefits are with my job.” Now, it may seem noble of me to make that decision. But I’ve been making that decision A LOT, practically for our entire marriage. I just figured out part of the reason I have such resentment for my husband – because of CHOICES that I have made. It is a choice for me to stay in my job. I have potential that far outreach my day-to-day “duties” and yet I accept that doing anything but collecting that paycheck and those benefits is “impossible.” It’s not impossible. The resentment plays in when I don’t see my husband actively applying himself to looking for a new job as I feel he should. So, he doesn’t spend every waking hour looking for a new job – the longer he spends procrastinating the longer I have to stay in my job, and you see how the tension in my house remains fairly high. What I really need to do is to make a different choice.

A wise friend once told me that taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do, because if you don’t do that, you can’t take care of anyone else. I used to think that was selfish way of thinking – and the reason I felt that was a selfish way to think is in part because I have been surrounded by people who did not take care of themselves my entire life. I was also taught that any attempt to take care of self was, in fact, selfish. I am still being taught that looking out for myself is selfish.

And, here we arrive at the title of this post. This weekend, my parents were to come to town – for their usual 24 hour visit. The details of what occurred aren’t really relevant. My parents made another hurtful and extremely selfish decision. Considering many recent events in my and my sister’s lives, we were both extra bothered by this decision. My sister has always been the peace maker and regardless of how upset she is, she will never stand up and say why. I usually don’t either, but I’ve been closer and closer to the end of my rope in the last two years and I finally couldn’t take it any more. I refuse to enable their behavior, and that is a choice that I’ve been making for my entire life now – mostly subconsciously but now that I realize there are other choices, I’m going to start making them. I called my mother and explained to her that her decision had caused unnecessary confusion, energy, and hurt. I was respectful, calm, and very direct. I am not normally direct. 10 minutes after I got of the phone with my mom, my dad called. I let it go to voicemail because I knew exactly what had happened in the last 10 minutes. My mom called my dad and told him that I was mean. My dad called me to “punish” me. His voicemail essentially said that he didn’t like my “attitude” and that I could call him if I wanted to discuss the situation. Let’s be clear… by “discuss” he meant lecture. I was not interested in being lectured, so I made a choice to save myself the pain that would have come from taking his verbal abuse in that moment. The voicemail was enough.

So, blogger friends, this is a giant step in the right direction for me. I like this study on the power of choice. I like the perspective it’s given me. The realization that my parents have had a choice in how they treated me and still treat me gives me the freedom to take back the power of my own choices. And I choose not to sit by and let their choices affect my daily life any longer. It will be and has been a long journey, but I am getting there. The first step was today, when I made the choice to SPEAK. And I think I’ll be doing that much more often.

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My brother: Chapter 3: ME.

That phone conversation sent me into the dark place… that place where I go when I feel emotionally trapped.  I’ve been to that place oh so many times over the years.  I’ve lived there for months at a time.  I don’t go there very often any more, but when I do, I go with a new awareness that makes the pain deeper, and therefore shorter lasting.  There was nothing I could say… nothing.  Anything I said would have made me look like the ass hole.  I couldn’t believe the tone in his voice, the matter-of-fact way with which he spoke… the absolute void-of-emotion conversation we were having.  He was leaving to go back across the ocean in less than 24 hours… no desire to see your sister who is one of the greatest people you’ve ever known???  No NEED to see her and hug her and say thank you, I love you, one more time?  No.  Nothing but a slight obligatory tone indicative of a family member who is obligated to appease another family member just by showing up when is expected.  And then my mind started spinning…

Of course he was acting distant to me now that he’d come home and my parents were completely and amazingly supportive of his situation.  He’d called them and told them and given them a few days to think it over before he called back to tell them he was coming home to marry Rachel.  I finally spoke to my mother about it and her word-for-word comments were these,”I mean, what are we supposed to do, but be supportive?  We can make a big deal about it and worry about what everyone will think, or we can just accept that this is what it is and love them and be the supportive parents that they need us to be right now.  It could be a lot worse.”

Pause still for shock and awe.

My jaw nearly fell off my face.  After a few seconds of speechlessness, I managed to tell her how proud I was for her and how right she was.  I told her I was proud of her three times.  She acted surprised… and finally said, “Well, ya know, we’ve been through a lot, Ellie, and we aren’t going to be the kind of parents that aren’t there for our children.  I can’t tell you what some of my cousins went through with their families and the lack of support they received.  We’re just not going to do that.”  She talked a little bit more but I tuned her out… I told her I was proud of her for the last time and we said goodbye.

I shared this apparent awakening with an old friend and was able to laugh about how I feel that I have a right to take credit for some of that obvious emotional growth and development that has occurred in my parents… I like to think I broke them in with my bi-racial marriage and all.  They ignored my husband’s existence for 2 years and lectured me about how they’d burn in hell before they had black grand-babies… they told me at the age of 25 that I had no “idea” what I was doing and that I “better stop it now” before it’s “too late.”  Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what they meant by “too late.”  They never reacted well to any situation I found myself in.  They were never supportive of me in my darkest hours when I needed them the most.  As proud as I was of them for the way they were handling this situation, their ease and acceptance just dug the knife they planted in my heart many years ago in just a little bit deeper.  That is a pain that is profound and very energy consuming to cover up when they are around.

So, here was my brother, home and spending time with my mom and dad who completely and almost immediately embraced him and the girl they once said they could not stand.  They surrounded him with the love and support he needed almost immediately, as he said they would.  He told me, “they don’t have a choice, they’ll love her and be supportive of her because our family is amazing and that’s what families do.”  It has taken me years of therapy to realize that they very much do have a choice when it comes to what kind of parents they choose to be.  I am finally beginning to understand this. Parents always have a choice as to how they will react to their children.  Herein lies the “ME” part of this chapter.

In my frustration, I tried calling my parents, no answer.  I tried calling my sister, no answer.  I just could not bring myself to seek comfort from my husband, who had the knowledge to offer the most compassion, but lacks a general ability to actually show compassion, which presents an obvious problem. But, I decided to tell him anyway because quite frankly, he was the only one who knew the history and sometimes I just can’t be bothered explaining it all, nor do I want everyone in my life to know the drama that is my family.  I explained to my husband that I was feeling hurt by the entire situation on multiple levels:  hurt that my brother was showing no interest or even care about whether or not he saw me before he left the country, hurt that my parents had shown him such support and love when I never have been able to receive that from them. I told him that if it were not for me and all of the things I “put them through,” this would never be.  His response did not shock me… he told me “Don’t even take it there, Ellie.  Don’t even take it there. This isn’t about you or your parents…”  I stopped him and calmly explained that the situation involves me because of the bond I have with my brother.  I explained that I am allowed and should be granted full permission in my own house to feel things as I need to feel them as I adjust to the situation.  I explained that he must understand my shock and awe at my parents behavior considering that I had received such opposite behavior from them on multiple occasions in my life.  Certainly, he could understand that?? Apparently not. So, I told the blog. 😉

They finally came by; it was after their dinner reservations, around 9pm.  I’d just put my son to bed.  As soon as I saw him, all the anger and hurt I’d been feeling all day naturally disappeared.  I hugged him and told him to please keep in touch once he was back home.  I’m a bit of an over protective sister at this point and I do recognize that I have some adjusting to do, but who wouldn’t?