Wednesday was National Siblings Day. I woke up Thursday to a sweet message from my sister; if not for her, that day would have passed me by unnoticed.
Which got me thinking, reflecting, and thus writing.
My sister was born right before my 3rd birthday but our parents separated before she was born. She lived in Illinois with her mom, I lived in Washington with our dad, and we both spent the first 7 years of her life not knowing each. Our dad never spoke about her to me, I always considered myself an only child.
When I was 10, our parents tried again. She and her mom moved back to Washington to live with us.
It didn’t last long.
Still, I have memories of being a sister – of our bunk bed, of trips to the lake, of playing outside at the playground at our apartments, and even of her being an annoying little sister and getting me in trouble.
Within less than a year she was gone again. We didn’t keep in touch. Not our fault, we were young. Our dad was a shitty dad and her mom had her own issues as well. Still, our paths would cross again, as they were meant too.
My sister and her mom were the last stop of guardianship during my troubled childhood, just 10 weeks after my grandfather killed himself during the trial for my abuse. Unable to adjust to the manifestations of my mental illness in the aftermath of my grandfather’s suicide, I left my grandparents in California and moved to Illinois.
Unfortunately, her mother’s treatment of me only compounded the trauma I’d already lived through. Within 18 months I took off into the world and completely dissociated from the people who loved me; my mind and body shifting into survival mode as protection from all the pain and abuse I’d lived through in my short life to that point.
And I just turned off.
For over 20 years, I’ve not put in the work most people put into family relationships. I have never fully invested myself emotionally. I’ve never lost touch with my sister, but I’ve never been truly present with, or appreciative of how important she is to me.
Over the last couple years, I’ve been sharing how dissociation due to my childhood abuse has effected my life as an adult, how hard it has been for me to reconcile. This is an example.
I’ve missed the majority of my nieces’ lives; I wasn’t there for my sister as she struggled as a single mother, and I neglected myself an amazing friend to be there with me through my own struggles. 20 years worth of achievements and milestones we didn’t get to celebrate with each other.
I am not sharing this due to guilt (though overcoming guilt is part of my healing), I’m not even sharing to say “hey appreciate your siblings” (though you should).
I’m sharing because I want my sister to know unequivocally that I am here with her now and I’m not going anywhere.
I am sharing so people see how mental illness and childhood abuse manifest in adult survivors.
I’m sharing because moments of awareness, of connection and emotional wholeness, when in the throes of mental illness should be shared.
I am very lucky; my sister understands, she forgives, and she and I have spent the last couple years rebuilding an amazing friendship and getting to know one another again. She’s there when I need an ear and she calls me when she needs the same.
It took me almost 40 years to realize how lucky I am to have a sister, and to be a sister. The awareness of just how precious this relationship is to me is a silver lining to the years of missed memories.
I love you Anna ❤️
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