Woke up and the fever had abated. It will be a pleasure to get out of bed today and hopefully have a sociable and relaxing weekend. Next week I have masses of work to catch up with. Thanks for all the kind wishes –
While I was lying in bed, reflecting on a few issues, I thought about something I wrote to a friend a few weeks back. In my email I said:
’Sibling relationships are invaluable as a source of uncovering the hidden craziness of the family and I am often amazed at how many of us live with frozen or stalemated sibling connections, while denying to ourselves how this impacts on our ability to process feelings and anxieties.’
Since I sobered up, I have become aware of inner psychic blockages and no-go zones opening up. I am so grateful for this unsought and unexpected healing. It may arise from just a simple willingness to be changed and it is still something of a mystery to me.
I mothered my two younger sisters in my mother’s alcoholic absence. I failed to protect tham from our predatory father. I tried to keep them safe and I could not. As small frightened children we were enmeshed in collusion against unreasonable and dangerous adults, we had nobody but each other. That claustrophobic clinging and desperate attachment set in train the inevitable estrangement of our adult selves, as we fled the parental home and tried to get away and make new lives for ourselves. Communictions between us have been fraught and erratic. All three of us have been substance-dependent at times and I have no idea if either of my sisters have ever sought help. I do not know if my sisters have been able to mourn my brother who died suddenly and violently. I don’t know if they have worked through my mother’s suicide. We have been unable to offer one another practical or compassionate support while our father has lain in a coma, seemingly unable to die, and our younger brother has become severely alcoholic.
We relate tenuously and disconnect frequently. I write to them and neither replies; my sister J calls and she is drunk so I will not speak to her. My sister K has baffling somatic illnesses and will only write about those. I don’t ask them for emotional support; I am still the elder sister, the older one and they are the little ones. It is hard for me to see them as adult and entirely possible they know and resent this.
Some years ago I worked in a media office with a features writer I shall call Sylvia who reminded me very much of my sister J. She seemed to expect me to prop her up and make excuses for her shoddy work. She took far too much sick leave and I decided she was a classic hypochondriac. I found her work poor and voiced criticism, but I did not like it when she received sympathy from other colleagues and I was seen as being unneccessarily harsh towards her. She was moody and a sulker and her private life was filled with dead-end infatuations.
When a love affair ended, she decided to emigrate. I had been distant and cold and often scathing about her. On her last day with the company, she came nervously into my office and sat down. She thanked me for helping her and said how much my writing and mentoring had helped her, that I had been tough but fair. She said that I had been like an older sister to her and she had often felt she was letting me down by being so ill.
I sat there and inwardly a huge painful transformation took place. I looked at Sylvia and saw her for the first time. She was not my sister J. Her illnesses may not have been what she thought them, but Sylvia’s suffering was very real. I had felt resentful and jealous and threatened by her and I had no idea why. I said goodbye so warmly that she began to weep — I hugged her and wished her well, deeply ashamed of myself and vaguely aware I had been in thrall to a negative transference connected to my lost sister.
Then the door closed again, and I went on in the drunken floundering and darkness for several more years.
When I sobered up, I was able to think about sibling rivalry and enmeshment and estrangement in a new way. I have been able to let myself feel the intense jealousy I felt towards my sister J because she was my mother’s favourite. I have lain awake at night feeling the envy I have of my sister K’s children, her life abroad. I have sat struggling with the resentment I feel that I had to mother small children when I was just a child myself. And little by little I have come to realise that my sisters are adult and separate from me, that they are not split-off parts of me or damaged by my brokennness.
Often we have to cut off and distance from family members or unhealthy situations. Getting away from my family helped me defuse and find a breathing space for myself when I was 18. It was necessary, just as it may have been necessary for my sisters to break with someone who was neither sister nor mother, but a child like them. Individuation takes time and it can be very hard.
Even though it may be necessary to cut off and distance from certain people, that in itself resolves nothing. The rupture has haunted all three of us. I don’t know what may be possible but for the first time in my adult life, the frozen stasis may be buckling and melting. Change is coming. What once seemed intolerable now takes on different proportions and I am ready for a new kind of contact or at least an awareness of what I need to do on my own in order to release that love-hate bond, to move forward in freedom and love. I am able to feel the loss of my sisters, to bear feeling that loss.
It is all about grace, the gift of staying sober and being receptive to the unexpected. The remaking of human relatedness. Fresh air blowing into a darkened and once locked room, what Kafka spoke about when he talked of finding an axe for the frozen seas within each of us.