The Sister Visit: Abusers Recruit Siblings

My sister wants to meet for coffee next week. She’ll be in town from across the country before she moves across the globe. In a previous email, I explained to her that being around my family en masse is a terrible idea. (Summary: Because my family is abusive and says negative things to Luke and Oliver) My sister persisted. She insisted over and over that she wants a relationship with me and wants her son to know me as his aunt. She claims to accept my (step)kids too.

All of this may seem fine on the surface, but my brain has other ideas. I’ve started having nightmares and night terrors about the abuse I suffered in my late childhood and early teens. I dream about becoming homeless, getting screamed at, getting beaten by my mother or sister. When I do not dream of an event that actually happened, my mind melds abuse scenarios together by incorporating events that happened with people or places that weren’t involved. Instead of my mother hitting me with a phone while my sister holds me down, my sister beats me with a shower head while my cousin holds me down.

Something that few people realize about child abuse: Often, an abusive adult will recruit or allow siblings to abuse the target child.

The Oppressive Heat

The temperature was 95 degrees at 97% humidity for most of the day. It has been so hot that the dogs preferred to lie on the tile floor in the basement instead of going outside.

I woke up at 5A to clean before the house warmed up. I’ve been waking up early every morning to close the windows, shades, and curtains to trap the cooler evening air. It makes the house tolerable until 11 or so.

During the heat of the day, I tried to stay out of the house as much as possible. Luke and I went thrifting in search of shorts that fit. Luke, of course, got fed up with shopping after a little less than 1hr and wanted to go home. Then, I picked Oliver up and went grocery shopping. At first Oliver didn’t want to go, but he was glad to be in an air conditioned grocery store once inside. We took our time walking leisurely through the aisles since it was the only chance we had to cool off.

Although it wasn’t in the budget and I honestly can’t afford it, I purchased inexpensive desk fans for Luke and Oliver. They were just so sweaty and miserable. Plus, I have a fan in my room and I didn’t feel it was fair for me to sleep somewhat comfortably downstairs while they roast in their beds upstairs.

I remember growing up without air conditioning. My mother was so paranoid of home invasion and robberies that she kept the windows closed and locked every night no matter how hot the day had been. Sometimes the temperature inside the house was over 100F. I tried to get comfortable enough to sleep, but the sheets would cling to my sweaty skin as I tossed and turned for most of the night. Sometimes I’d try to sneak into the basement, where it was cooler, but mother wouldn’t allow it.

I don’t want my kids to feel miserable like I did. The oppressive heat wasn’t the only cause of my misery.  My mother was abusive. The oppressive heat just to added a suffocating layer to her oppressive parenting style. No one dared get out of bed at night for fear of getting screamed at or beaten no matter now miserable we were. I won’t put my children through that sort of misery.

The Explosive Pyrotechnic Shit Show Email

I have many topics I could write about this evening, but it is late so I’ll leave you with this:

I described my mother’s (abusive) behavior as an “explosive, pyrotechnic, shit show” in an email to my sister.

As in:

“…My kids don’t need to be exposed to our mother’s explosive, pyrotechnic, shit show behavior. It’s unfortunate enough that we were forced to deal with her abuse growing up. I refuse to subject my children to her behavior even if only for a weekend while you’re in town…”

I feel like I deserve some type of toxic family literary award for conjuring such an apt description.

You’re Right…

You’re right. My toxic sister has not changed. She only emailed me to collect gossip material to spread to the rest of my toxic family. Sadly for my sister, she only learned that it snowed here recently and that I own a four wheel drive vehicle of unspecified make and model so I drove to work in the snow. Some people…

Lately, I’ve been thinking of these two women I used to work with at Soul Suckers, Inc. I hate those women with every fiber of my being. They constantly gossiped, manipulated, and back stabbed. At first I thought they only targeted me, but I later found out they also targeted other women in the office as well. I’ve been thinking about why I hate them both and I’ve realized I hate them because they behave like my sister and mother.

I don’t mean the ex-coworkers physically abused me, but they use the same abusive, manipulative tactics. Female professionals who backstab other female professionals for fun are likely sociopaths, in my opinion. Although the job I have now isn’t fun, at least I don’t work with gossiping, backstabbing, abusive assholes. Geeze Soul Suckers was such a terrible place to work.

 

Has My Toxic Sister Changed?

My sister, who has been rather mean to me for years now, has started writing me super nice emails. Like sappy sweet “Hey! Do you like to garden? I LOVE gardening!!!” sorts of emails. It’s weird.

It’s weird because my sister has put a lot of effort into being nasty to me for a lot of years. As a child, she routinely helped my mother abuse me physically and emotionally. My mother held me down to allow my sister to kick me in the gut in my very early teens. My sister rummaged through my things, stole from me, and read my journals. She would report details from the journals (or anything she overheard) to my mother who would punish me for made up infractions. My mother’s “punishments” typically included physical violence and always included screaming, demeaning, and insulting. My sister really enjoyed watching the punishments and would later tease me about them by mimicking my mother’s insults…”Stupid little bitch.”

As and adult, my sister excluded me from her wedding party because I was “too fat”. At the reception she sat me at a table in the back of the hall with a group of strangers. I later learned my sister told her in-laws that I’m an unemployed artist (in reality, I’m a computer programmer). Years before, when my sister attempted suicide after her boyfriend cheated on her, she told my parents she attempted suicide because of me – I had been so mean to her. Basically, she’s the sibling version of my abusive mother and I do my best to stay the hell away from her.

So, out of nowhere, I get emails asking what I’m doing with my life and how her “nephews”, Jonathan’s children, are doing. Part of me wants to tell her to shut up and go back to the level of hell from whence she came. Part of me is wondering if she’s grown up and has realized she’s been a horrible asshole. Then there’s the third part of me who wants to send her a fake “this email address has been deleted” email and avoid interacting with her completely.

If a friend were in my shoes, I would tell that friend to ask the sister why she’s suddenly making polite contact. However, in my family, everyone gossips exaggerates and starts trouble. If I ask, my sister will likely spread some ridiculous rumor to my entire extended family that I will have to hear about for the next several years. This happened during my divorce.

What would you do if you had a sibling who helped a parent abuse you as a child and that sibling wants to pretend like nothing happened while asking you questions about your life?

Christmas Crap? No Thanks.

I asked my sister not to send me anything for Christmas. This is the same sister – my only sister – who told me I could not be in her wedding party because I am fat. When I photographed her wedding at her request, she treated my assistant and I like slaves. She treated us worse than the catering staff, actually. After the wedding, she demanded I burn the unedited photos to a DVD and ship the DVD to India out of pocket and that was just the tip of the nasty-behavior-iceberg. She’s not a good person, my sister.

Every year she sends my gift to my mother. My mother quite literally hates me and doesn’t speak to me unless her boyfriend forces her. It’s my sister’s way of ensuring that I interact with my mother and that my mother gets a chance to tell me how I’ve ruined her life. It’s all manipulation.

I’m done with manipulation. I told my sister that Jonathan, Luke, Oliver, and I already have so much and to please donate to our local animal shelter for Christmas. My sister can complain and whine to my dad all she wants but I’m not accepting her Christmas gift of arranged abuse this year. I’m done putting myself in horrible situations for the convenience of others.

Luke’s Depression and Breaking the Cycle

Somehow, I managed to talk BioMom into meeting with Jonathan, myself, and Luke’s therapist. TheTherapist asked Luke a series of questions and rated them against a scale composed of other children’s answers. Luke is in the 90th percentile of childhood depression. Less than 10% of kids report feeling more depressed than Luke.

During Luke’s private meeting with TheTherapist, he indicated his mother BioMom and younger brother Oliver as the primary reasons he feels worthless. Oliver calls him names, teases him, steals his things, and destroys his room. In reality, it’s been months since Oliver and Luke shared a room and Oliver is no longer allowed in Luke’s room to steal or destroy Luke’s things. Each time I catch either child calling the other a name, I reprimand the child who is name calling.

Luke’s problems with BioMom are harder to nail down. Luke reports that she makes him feel worthless, like he can’t do anything right, like he’s stupid, and like he’s a bad child with no redeeming qualities. I’m not around when Luke is alone with BioMom and I really don’t know what’s going on. Several months ago, however, Luke reported that BioMom slapped him, screamed at him, and pulled him by the hair regularly. Of course BioMom denied all of this and Luke ran into the woods instead of getting in the car to go to BioMom’s house on her scheduled custody day.

We have assigned reading…The Optimistic Child. I downloaded the e-book version immediately, but I’m not so sure BioMom will follow through partly because she’s unpredictable, partly because she sees Luke as the problem, and partly because the book is written with college level vocabulary and BioMom typically refuses to read books altogether.

After reading much of The Optimistic Child, very little about my interactions with the kids has changed. I never said things like, “You’re dramatic.” or “What is wrong with you?” in the first place. I’d say, “Your behavior choices are really stinking right now. You need to make better choices and stop doing _____.” or “Why are you choosing to act this way right now? Are you feeling ____?”

Yes, I have read a number of child psychology books. The most clear communication book I’ve read is How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk. I also clearly remember the things my mother said to me and how her statements made my life a living hell growing up and into adulthood.

“You’re so stupid. Why can’t you study like your sister?”

“You’re such an ungrateful little bitch. If I knew having kids was going to be like this…mm. mm. mm.”

“I can’t do anything without you fucking it up. You’re the reason I’ll never be a writer.”

“You have to stop eating so much! You’re eating the family out of house and home!”

“I’m so glad you’ve finally started dieting.”

“God you’re lazy. You’ll never hold down a job because you can’t even get out of bed on time.”

“No one touched you, you lying little bitch.”

“I don’t see how you’ll ever get married. I can’t even stand to be around you. Your personality what polite society calls an ‘acquired taste’.”

I spent my childhood feeling worthless and miserable. From the age of 7 on, I wanted to die or kill myself so my mother could be happy as she vocally blamed her live circumstances, misery, and the disintegration of her marriage on me. She blamed any problems my younger siblings experienced on my behavior and encouraged them to participate in her abusive tirades. My brother and sister were allowed to take my belongings, and verbally or physically assault me without consequence.

Growing up this way was horrible. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, let alone my very own Luke. Therapy continues. Techniques to help Luke continue. Jonathan sullenly asked what on Earth we will do to help Luke and my answer is: the best we can. We will make changes and if those don’t work we will make new changes. We will talk and make changes and read books and keep going to the best of our abilities because that is all we CAN do.

Jonathan Smokes Weed

Jonathan smokes weed. I didn’t know this before we lived together. I mean, I was vaguely aware that he had in the past, but not that he smokes weed every night. Every night, I smell it on his clothes. It’s not my imagination. The scent is unmistakeable. Only burning walnut tree leaves and branches smell similar.

My mother’s “friend” would smoke weed before he came to my room at night. I was 5, maybe 6, and he would come in my room and get in bed with me on nights when my dad was at work smelling of cheap beer and weed. I thought that if I tucked the Care Bear Comforter tightly around my body like a sleeping bag that he couldn’t get to me, but that never worked. The smell brings back the memories.

I suspect Jonathan uses weed to treat anxiety. He is lovingly referred to “Anxiety Man” by a few of my friends who also suffer from anxiety attacks.

Jonathan knows I was physically and emotionally abused as a child. However, Jonathan doesn’t know I was raped by my mother’s boyfriend. Jonathan doesn’t talk about certain things that happened during his childhood but he does allude to those things. The things which happened that he’ll “never tell anyone about”.  Since he will never tell anyone, I will never tell him.

We all have our secrets, I suppose.

My Mother’s Birthday

My mother’s birthday happened sometime this week. I can never remember if her birthday is 8/21 or 8/23. Normally, I’d ask my family the date of her birthday but this has gone on so long I’m embarrassed to ask. Every year I send her a birthday card although we have barely spoken in two years.  I want her to know I care for her and remember that she is my mother, but maintain a comfortable distance from her nastiness. Choosing the card is always difficult. Every year it takes almost an hour reading every last card in the card aisle until I find a card that fits.

What card do you buy for a mother who whipped you with the metal end of a fly swatter because you didn’t get off the phone in time? What card do you get for a woman who played no small part in manifesting your eating disorder by constantly commenting on your weight and eventually refusing to feed you? If we still spoke, she would comment on my weight now. Comment on how fat I am….I can hear her now. She’s asking where I find clothes in my size because I’m so large.

I have 5 good memories of my mother. Only 5. I try to on the positive memories but there are so few. Pink floral cards with declarations of love and friendship and close maternal bonds simply won’t do. Those cards are cloyingly sweet…inappropriately sweet…like the kind of cards I hope my step children give me when they’re grown, but definitely not something I can give to my own mother.
After almost an hour of looking and attracting the attention of several sales associates, I settled on a cheery yellow card with birds on the cover. It says “From near or far. From here to there. Happy Birthday.”

I’m here to create, not to compete (PS My Family Sucks)

The on coming storm
The on coming storm

We stood in the field together. She stares past my long curly hair as she twists her shoulder length hair around and around and around her finger. She glances up and down my body silently searching for weight gain. Sizing me up. I am well dressed in expensive indigo flare slacks, a retro-inspired black top with white polka dots. My makeup was flawlessly applied. She’s dressed sloppily in a pink and white strip tank top, jeans, and no makeup. She hasn’t shaved her armpits. Before I arrived I knew I would be judged so I dressed to impress. My attire will become the primary topic of conversation after I leave the dinner table.

“So, like, I’m not working now. I’m a supervisor so they just let me work when I want which is nice because having kids is SO hard. I mean, not that you would know, but it’s hard. Especially because my husband can’t pick him up from daycare so I have to get out of work early. I just decided not to work…”

Her single participant conversation trailed off in my ears as I started thinking of other things; any other thing. Anything not to get angry. Anything to keep me from saying what I really think of her for using her child as a pawn to get under my skin.

I watched Owen drive off in the golf cart with my dad. Jonathan and Luke were pointing at some purple flowers beside the house.

“Those are four o’clocks”, I shouted to Luke hoping that identifying flowers would give me an excuse to exit the conversation with my sister.

Every conversation is equally uncomfortable with my sister. For her, life is money and feeling accomplished. Currently having a child fulfills her longing for accomplishment. Comparing her son to my childlessness makes her feel like she’s accomplished more than I have in some way. She continues not to acknowledge that Luke and Owen are my children although they spend more time with me than with their mother and I provide for them as though they are my very own in every sense. Luke and Owen ARE my children and I don’t need her approval to make it so.

For me, life is not a competition.. I’m not concerned about my family’s judgement, really. I dress well and it gives them something to talk about. I’m more concerned about why my family suddenly decided to include me in an event when they typically exclude me. In the past, I was upset by their exclusion. Now, however, I prefer to be excluded. You don’t get tangled in the web of constant drama when you’re excluded.

I keep a close eye on Luke, Owen, and Jonathan the entire trip because I feel like I’ve been invited to be mocked. This family gathering doesn’t give me a friendly vibe. Instead if feels like I’m the geeky 6th grader invited to the 8th grade cheer leaders lunch table for the sheer purpose of being ridiculed.

My sister loudly conducts a conversation about my mother’s heart attack with my father’s extended family and my suspicions are confirmed. I knew nothing about Mother’s heart attack or that Mother had quit her job. From that point forward, my sister repeatedly tried to shame me in front of the extended family over my relationship with Mother.

Just as I suspected…