I’ve always been the black sheep of my family. Everything about me was different starting with some weird and rare conditions that I was born with, but beyond those, my entire personality was different.
I was raised in an upper-middle class neighborhood. We were Catholics, but from an early age I began to question and disagree with what I was being taught. Like many different opinions that I’ve always had, I was invalidated for them and told I was going through a “phase.” For years I was forced to attend church every Sunday despite being very vocal that I did not agree with the majority of what I was being forced to listen to. When I was fourteen, I flat-out refused to get “confirmed” into the Church, and luckily it was not something that my family could force me into.
I have an older sister. We weren’t exactly enemies (we threw the occasional insult but it was mostly quite impersonal), but we were most certainly never friends, or even friendly. We were nothing to each other. Well, I was nothing to her. To me, she was everything that fit fine into our family when I did not. She was the quintessential model daughter that fit into their version of “normal” while my interests were so very different. Heather was “preppy” and enjoyed shopping at the Gap while I liked black clothes and Hot Topic. She listened to New Kids On The Block while I listened to rock and Nirvana. (Despite discovering them after Kurt’s death, which I was so passionately convinced was actually a murder. I still find the circumstances questionable…) She went through the motions of being a Catholic daughter at a Catholic school while I BEGGED my parents to let me go to a public school (they wouldn’t, until I was sixteen). I loved reading, writing, and horses. Heather liked … boys. Heather was popular. Heather was the ideal upper-class suburban daughter, as “normal” as can be, and I was … just different.
Heather and I have no relationship, even as grown adults. She is married and has two kids, twins who just turned fourteen. I have too much trauma and PTSD to have a healthy relationship, and I never had the chance to have kids. Nine seconds out of every ten, I’m content and fine with all of that. But the thing is… being compared to Heather, whether directly or indirectly, is a battle I had to fight throughout my whole childhood. Why couldn’t I just be like Heather? When I did things differently, there was something wrong with me. A few of my health conditions I knew about since birth, others I didn’t sort out until adulthood, and a few, quite recently actually. I felt so alienated when I was a kid. When you are different in any way, you are shunned by your peers. Adults fail as well because if there is something physically different about you, for some reason that I don’t understand, adults often treat you like you have a mental disability instead. I’m not a genius, but I do have an above-average IQ and I always felt so humiliated by the way other adults treated me.
I see Heather, her husband, and my nieces on average once a year, sometimes twice. Even that is too much. She ALWAYS manages to say or do something that really upsets me, and I can’t say anything about it because then I’m the crazy one or the dramatic one or -insert some other type of invalidating accusation here.- So I go home (usually after Thanksgiving) and I’m just super upset for days afterward. I most certainly can’t talk to my family about it because they turn it around on me, and I always feel like its just too complicated to try and explain to anyone else. I’m having a hell of a time trying to write this blog, lol.
A few weeks ago I was having dinner with my dad, stepmom, and stepbrothers, and they mentioned that one of my nieces may come out for the weekend while the other had a soccer tournament. They said they were trying to think of stuff to do with her. I offered to take her to the barn and my stepmom replied, “Eh, I don’t think she’d want to do that…” I found that response very confusing as my nieces are equestrians and they have two horses (the one thing I have/had in common with them at all) so I asked,
“Why not?” She responded with,
“Apparently they haven’t been to the barn in a while, they’re losing interest and Heather is thinking of selling the horses.” That really struck a nerve with me and I felt very upset hearing this, but again, I can’t say anything because even as a grown adult (I notice a theme here…) I still get gaslit / railroaded / invalidated by my family for my feelings. I have a complex psychological theory as to why this is, but that’s a whole different subject to tackle at a different time.
Why can Heather, or anything regarding her family, upset me so intensely and so easily, even as grown adults who have no relationship? As I found myself extremely upset after hearing the news that my nieces are losing interest in horses, I took a while to think and reflect on what causes me to feel like this.
When we were kids, I was abused. I was abused for years a parent, verbally, emotionally, and psychologically. (My other parent was just self-absorbed and obliviously inappropriate, but to clarify, NOT in an SA way. Again, a very different topic for a different time.)
Heather never lifted a single finger to help me, defend me, or anything else. Fair or not, she’s my older sister. The older siblings are supposed to protect the younger ones, or at least show the slightest bit of interest in them. She never did. She was my sister, we lived in the same house for the first fifteen years of my life, but I never once felt protected, befriended, or even like I existed to her, at all. I was abused by other people in other ways, and she didn’t notice or care or do anything to protect me. The only time I existed in comparison to her was that I was never as “normal” as she was.
Is it “fair” to ask or expect the older sibling to protect the younger one when abuse is involved? I don’t know. All I know is that I was scared and so alone throughout my childhood… and she never offered me a hint of protection or comfort. From the eyes of myself as a child, all that I understood about her is that I was so vulnerable and alone, especially in my own house and outside of it as well, and she was never there for me and never showed the least bit of interest. Indifferent can hurt just as much as abuse.
Fast forward to adulthood. Growing up, I always thought I’d have a longterm relationship and a family of my own. My reasons for wanting that so badly weren’t the best reasons. I just wanted to do everything better and differently than my parents did. I wanted to prove that I could do everything right verses all of the things that they did wrong. That included how to raise kids, how to have a healthy relationship (theirs was unhealthy during marriage and absolutely horrific post-divorce). But I never got counseling when I was a child for the abuse I lived through because no one really knew, or those who knew some of it didn’t take it seriously / assumed I was just “dramatic.”
So to protect myself I stopped talking and I stopped telling. And it all got bottled up inside of me and poisoned me from the inside out. Relationships? I’m beyond dysfunctional and incapable. I either get addicted and insanely sensitive (my emotions are extreme and dependent on them entirely) OR I try … and feel NOTHING. So I gave up on relationships years ago and focused on myself and my own interests, trying to find meaning in my life outside of needing a significant other. The years went by and children were never a part of my life either; now that I know about health conditions that I was born with and that I could pass them on to my children, I’m glad I don’t have any. I don’t think I could live with myself if I had a child that had to battle some of the things that I have. No fucking way.
The majority of the time, I’m fine with being single and childless for the rest of my life. I certainly have meaning in my life that fills that area instead. But, when I’m around Heather and her husband and her kids… it feels like the universe is slapping me in the face, taunting me and reminding me that something that was once SUCH a huge part of what I believed would be in my future and never was… yet again, Heather has a life that I once wanted. Am I jealous? Honestly, that’s not the right word. The negative feeling that swells up inside of me isn’t bitterness or anger that would be associated with jealousy… it’s sadness. And when Heather makes dismissive or ignorant comments, its like she’s reminding me that she still doesn’t give a shit about me, and never will.
I don’t need that reminder. The message was received a very long time ago.
I don’t forgive her. I don’t forgive her for standing by and doing nothing while I was a helpless kid being abused, who developed so much trauma and PTSD that simple things in life that so many people get to enjoy; love, a family of their own, etc, are out of my reach. I don’t forgive her for choosing to sail through her own life with ease while I suffered scared and alone in the next bedroom over.
This sounds awful. I know it, but I can’t pretend its not true just because it sounds awful. My nieces are mini-Heathers. They had a great childhood, loving, frankly quite spoiled, and have never had to deal with trauma or hardship. Don’t get me wrong, I’m damn glad they didn’t go through any of the things that I went through by the time I was their age, but when they got into horses a few years back, I was relieved. There’s something about horses that is just… real. It was the one way in which I could relate to them or feel connected to them in any way. When my stepmom told me they were “losing interest” I think I got so upset because without horses, they’re just … Heathers. And I don’t want to feel negatively towards two teenagers who don’t deserve their aunt’s anger just because of their mother’s indifference toward me. (I’ve seen them once a year since they were born, they don’t really know me and vice versa, but still.)
And so I will crawl back to my own little patch of the world where I actually do belong, with animals, friends, writing, and meaning in my life. It’s a life I have worked hard to find and I’m so grateful for it.
I have great friends, a job that I love, and a boss that I owe so much to who in some ways is more like the family member that I always wanted but never had. My “chosen family” are people who have never made me feel like there is a single thing wrong with me being me. They share my values of kindness and loyalty. They encourage my silly habits and my passions. I honestly am okay. But in order to stay okay I need to be surrounded by places and people where I fit, and not spend time around people who trigger so much sadness and invalidity, intentional or not.
I think I won’t be going to “Family Thanksgiving” this year. I think I’ll spend it with people that don’t stir up feelings of smallness and sadness. I think I’ll have to get even tougher about my boundaries than I already have been. I choose happiness. I choose me.