A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Dysfunctional Family

Sometime in the last year one of my voices was guided by the Higher Powers to tell me that I had been raped by my brother when I was around 7 years old and he was around 10 or 11.  My brother had begun using drugs when he was 9.  I was told that he was high on something when he raped me, but I have no recall of it and can't quite believe it.  But I have a history of not remembering a lot of my life which is pretty common for people who have endured through trauma.  There are certain memories I can remember, but they are always the same ones.  Lately it has been bothering me that I can't remember so much of my experience because without the memories I can't access the feelings and without the feelings I feel a lack of depth to my life.

The idea that something so traumatic might have happened to me as a little girl does make sense.  I didn't develop in a healthy way when it came to interacting with the opposite sex.  My first examples of the opposite sex were my father and my brother and they were both wounded.  My father was very emotionally withdrawn I believe because his father had been an alcoholic and a compulsive gambler. It was almost as if I didn't have a father, but rather a kindly man who lived in the house with us and just minded his own business when it came to me.  Yes, financially he was very responsible.  He took care of his family that way.  Yes, I did go on bike rides with him, to the movies, on vacations, but a true intimacy was not there.  My mother was openly resentful of him.  When she and my brother would gang up on him, I felt a surge of compassion for him and stepped in to defend him because he was not good at defending himself.

I intuitively knew, as children often do, that my father was emotionally handicapped.  My mother knew, too, hence the resentment.  She had to raise my brother and me without a lot of emotional support.  And my brother started showing signs of being "emotionally disturbed" when he was just a little boy, possibly when I entered the picture.  I know he was jealous of me.  In the beginning I was cute and cuddly, but I soon learned that my parents were not so cuddly as I was.  My father appeared to be less threatened of me than of his son and showed me affection openly till I was 4 or 5.  Something negative seemed to happen to me around that time.  We had just moved from Brooklyn Heights to Park Slope Brooklyn.  My brother turned 8 that summer and I started kindergarten at P.S.321 that Fall in 1966.  My response to going to this rather large school was to dislike it immediately.  There were a bunch of kids and some teachers, all strangers.  I had little preparation for going there and I refused to fit in.  I felt abandoned by my mother for the first time.

My mother was not so easy to be intimate with either.  Like my father, she was very responsible about the practicalities of raising me.  Emotionally, past a certain point, she was invariably guarded.  And so I became an insecure child.  When I felt her pulling away from me, I clung to her and she really disliked that.  But who could I turn to if not her?  My father was so withdrawn and my brother was often hostile towards me.  Somehow, despite the neglect, I managed to fit in in school by being a good girl.  I was pretty and polite and I did my work.  I must have been bright, too, because I was always in the more advanced class.  But I was also withdrawn and repressed at school a lot.  I did develop friendships, which did help, both on my block and at school.  And, of course, there were always my cats.  I felt more bonded to my cats than to my family.  They were always open and affectionate and accessible and I could touch them.

My brother and I lived on the top floor of a three story brownstone.  His large room was facing the street and my medium sized room was facing the backyards.  There was a sliding door that connected the two rooms, but that stayed closed, except for the times when I would sneak into my brother's room when he wasn't there.  His room fascinated me because it was not at all like mine.  I had a neat and orderly room and he had a room that looked like a tornado had gone through it.  All his stuff spread across all corners of his room was more interesting than my stuff - leggos, wooden trucks, plastic soldiers, MAD magazines, home-made flip books, records etc...   And I was curious about him.  Who was he this alternately kind and then angry hyperactive boy?  I was a bit jealous of him and his friends on the block and when they were in our house I tried to tag along.  It didn't work and my brother always told me to go away.

It's true my brother had sickness in him.  He followed my mother and acquired her same resentful orientation.  He was perceptive enough to see that my parents had emotional problems that they weren't dealing with and he felt like a scapegoat for the family.  He was the problem child and the rest of us were just okay, which I knew wasn't true either.  Neither of us were getting our emotional needs met.  So he got frustrated and angry a lot and my mother got frustrated and angry a lot and fought with both her son and her husband.  I was in the weakest position; I was the youngest and I was a girl.  My brother took priority over me with my parents.  And so I watched them and often stayed silent.  I didn't feel as if I belonged in this family and later speculated that I had been adopted.  Not true, my mother showed me the band that had gone around my wrist as a newborn with my name and date and time of birth.

It was the 1960s in New York City.  My mother was a frustrated feminist, my father a staunch Democrat and my brother a hippy kid.  I was a hippy kid too in some ways, but too young to engage in the politics and music of the times (except for the Beatles).  My brother was very engaged in part because he was so bright and was going to a lefty school called Woodward.  He was fascinated by many things especially music, politics, soccer, astronomy, gardening and the space program.  But this very bright, verbal boy could not really read and write until he was eleven years old which was something I just didn't know at the time.  And, as I said, he began tripping and then smoking pot when he was 9 years old.  Later he would try downers and speed.

When I was 6 years old my mother went back to school to get a library science master's degree at Pratt Institute.  She hired a housekeeper to do the housework and keep an eye on my brother and me while she went to school for two years.  I was miserable without her and I did not like the housekeeper, an efficient, humorless West Indian woman, who had left her children to earn income and send it home.  She may have had her reasons for not bonding with my brother and me, but that really hurt me and again I felt abandoned really by both parents.  There was no one at home to turn to for guidance and comforts, there were only my friends and my cats.

If my brother did rape me while on some messed up drug like PCP it would have been during this time period.  It could have happened when my mother wasn't there and the housekeeper was busy at work on the first or second floor.  My brother had on several occasions been violent towards me and I was generally wary around him.  But I just do not remember.  I've told some of my friends and my therapist and my sponsor.  My therapist and sponsor think it happened, especially since I went in such a dysfunctional direction in life and became severely mentally ill.  They've asked if I've told my brother about this, but when I wrote to him once about the possibility of me having experienced sexual abuse at home and with some of his friends, he became very defensive and didn't want to discuss it.  And really, I don't want to talk about it with him, especially since I have no memory of it.  But here I am stuck wondering about it all with no answers.  I've heard it said that people who experience trauma often don't remember sometimes until years later when they're ready to remember. All I can do is keep exploring what memories I do have and wait.

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