I’ve written this post several times over but I struggle each time because our history is ugly. Leah and I didn’t have much of a relationship growing up. We lived in the same house and for several years, the same room. We were sisters by blood but that’s as far as the connection went for most of my life. I don’t want this post to bash my sister, that’s not why I am writing it. As an adult I have been able to look back and reflect on Leah’s early years, and gain perspective as to why she hated me (turns out she didn’t really hate me, she didn’t like herself and had a lot of inner pain). And because of my ability to remove myself from the equation and focus on understanding the bigger picture, I’ve been able to release myself of all ill feelings and resentment towards Leah.
Leah experienced feelings of rejection as a little girl. My parents separated and our dad disappeared for a while. Leah was left with feelings of abandonment and although she was only 2 when it took place, she remembers it in detail. As a 2-year-old you perceive things quite differently. Those feelings never changed as Leah grew older. And although my parents had reconciled and to this day maintain a beautiful and healthy relationship, she held on to old feelings formed in an undeveloped mind that belonged to a little girl. Those feelings had an unhealthy effect on her relationship with our dad, as well as with myself.
Soon after my parents reconciled and started working on their relationship, I was conceived. Leah was 4 when I was born and she took to the big sister role quite well. She did however struggle with sharing the attention of our parents. For a while it had been just Leah and our mom, and she had just got her dad back when I popped out. That was difficult for her, but the real issue came around when I was able to talk and assert myself. Around the age of 4 or 5 I no longer took orders and had my own ideas and opinions. When I was 1 my brother Bryan was born and he became my BFF. I no longer needed Leah as a playmate and it appealed to me that I didn’t have to do whatever she told me, in order to have a friend in her. I had an equal now in Bryan, and Leah soon withdrew from my life.
Another factor was age. Leah is 4 years older than me and for developing children that’s huge. We didn’t relate much. We were always in different stages, with different interests. She was into modelling and performing, I was super shy and reserved (weird right?) I liked barbies, she hated them. In fact, she liked to shave their heads and shove them under my dresser leaving the feet sticking out, so I could see them but not get them out. Leah did some cruel things and never let me forget her dislike of me. Often she would pinch me hard and not fess up when I cried, or threaten me over telling on her for anything she had done that was mean or wrong.
Honestly, I just wanted her to like me and love me. I’m not saying I never did anything mean back, or annoyed her or even provoked her. We were kids after all. And I knew we would never be best friends, but I wanted a sister. I longed for a sister I could confide in and get advice from. That never happened. I remember a time when our arguing and Leah’s cruelty had reached an all time high. Our parents were fed up and handcuffed us together in a room. They had hoped we would resolve whatever the issue was and even though I tried to talk it out, Leah wouldn’t listen. She told me that she was going to hug me and pretend like everything was good so she could get away from me. And she did, and it worked.
When I was 7 I sang a song to her that I had worked really hard on. The song was “Love Can Build a Bridge” by The Judds and I am pretty sure I cried while singing it to her. I thought that by singing, which she loved to do, we could relate to each other and try to be nice to one another. I remember Leah hugged me and said how much she loved me and liked the song. That moment stuck with me and to this day brings tears to my eyes. I let her know how badly I wanted to be close to her, I let her know of how some kids were making fun of me for being so small. I thought we could find something to relate to as she struggled with her body image as well. And briefly we did connect and it felt nice. But all that disappeared once I got sick.
My health declined rather quickly soon there after and I was in and out of doctors offices and hospitals. I began taking of a lot of my parents time and attention due to the muscle disorder and Leah needed more from them. She resented me for this. She knew it was nothing I was in control of but instead of being supportive and sympathetic she retaliated by telling me ” You’re faking” “You’re a liar” and “I hate you”. I now know that at that time Leah was dealing with he rown emotional pain and adolescent challenges. She was being bullied at school, feeling a lot of insecurities over her body, struggling to keep friends and loathing being poor. I became the target for her anger with life. Of course then I didn’t know what was taking place in her life and internalized all the mean things she would say and do. I was in physically pain, struggling with my own losses and fears and all I wanted was a loving sister. This continued into our teen years.
When I was 15 I had become even more sick. Leah had been living away from home since she was 16 (early to college then a banking career) but returned home when she lost her job after 9/11. I begrudgingly shared a room with her and tried to forget she was there, as well as the mess she left in her wake (the mess will always travel behind Leah…). It had been 3 years since spending time with Leah and she didn’t know the magnitude of what my disordered had done to my body or my life. Soon after returning home, Leah witnessed one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had with my muscle disorder.
I got into a bath to calm the spasms that were taking over my legs. The pain was excruciating and none of the meds I had taken were working. After a bit of a soak in the bath my breathing began to grow weak. I started struggling to keep conscious and it took all the air in my lungs to cry out for help. My memory of this experiences is shadowed with intermittent consciousness, but I know my mom pulled me out of the bath and wrapped a towel around me. They brought me to the living room and laid me on the floor. I remember gasping for air but it felt like none of the oxygen was getting in. I remember opening my eyes just slightly, seeing my father over top of me, and my mom and sister at my feet. I blacked out. I stopped breathing for several minutes and my dad began rescue breaths until the paramedics showed up. I regained consciousness shortly before they arrived, but I couldn’t move. My breathing was shallow and my legs were paralyzed. This episode ended in an ambulance ride to the emergency room, blood work, medication evaluation, and an extended stay in the hospital.
Now, I wasn’t searching for sympathy but I did think that by Leah witnessing that, she would show a bit more compassion toward me and maybe believe me about my disorder. She couldn’t still think after all these years that I was faking it? Nothing changed though. Everyone in my family came by to offer their best at cheering me up but it wasn’t until a couple of days later that Leah appeared. I was happy to see her but was soon disappointed when I realized she wasn’t there for me, she was there to talk to my mom about her job and something good that had happened for her. She left without saying anything more than hello to me. I discussed with my mom how hurt I was, and she was sympathetic. I said that I thought I needed therapy because this thing with Leah hurt so badly. I don’t want to always feel like this when she comes around.
After the hospital stay I sought counseling for a number of issues and gained a lot of knowledge and perspective. After a few weeks of talking it out, I was in a better place emotionally. My counselor urged me to write a letter to Leah about my feelings towards her, specific memories that pained me, and more importantly, letting go of what I longed to have with Leah, a friendship. Leah was unsafe for me. It was the unattainable dream and only brought me pain when I would seek it. I had to let her go, in order to heal and move forward. I never gave the letter to Leah because it wasn’t actually for her. It was for me. I started over with Leah like she was someone I just met. I treated her as an acquaintance. I was cordial and never talked about anything other than surface. She was unsafe for me at that time and for my heart and well-being I had to keep her at an arm’s length. We went on for several years like this and I began to feel better in regards to Leah. I had essentially mourned the loss of a close sisterly relationship, and replaced it with something different. We still had our spats but generally, this new approach to a relationship went well. I lowered my expectations of her so I wouldn’t be let down, therefore, rarely became angry or disappointed. I know that sounds terrible, but it’s true and it’s what I had to do to be in contact with Leah.
When I was 17 a shift happened. I don’t know exactly why it did, but I do know that as things got better in Leah and our dad’s relationship, things seemed to improve within our relationship. I’m not a psychologist but I believe that as she addressed old feelings of rejection from our dad, as well as her own insecurities as a child/teen, she was able to evaluate the driving force behind the cruelty she exhibited towards me. Leah began to make changes and apologized several times. I don’t know how many times, but I think she knew she would have to say it a lot. She was determined to make sure I knew how sincere she was each time she did so too.
The more effort Leah made, the more I would open up for her. I did however remain guarded but I kept an open mind and didn’t allow any hiccups to discourage me as we rebuilt. Over time, Leah and I established a new relationship. It took a lot of effort on her part to win me over again and through the course of a couple of years (and a lot of ups and downs) we’ve arrived at a good place.
We didn’t have a great start as being sisters. We don’t have good childhood memories together to look back on with fondness. We missed out on a lot of years together. We built walls and burned bridges.
But made ourselves a second chance and we have a lot to be proud of. We worked through difficult feelings towards each other. We learned from the mistakes we made as children, teens and young adults in regards to one another. We tore down the walls and rebuilt the bridges to make new memories. In the process of rebuilding, we formed a healthy relationship and discovered appreciation for one another. We accept each other for the unique individuals that we both are. Instead of beating each other up, we offer words of encouragement. We support one another in life and give all we can to one another without any conditions.We are who we are, and we are beautiful sisters.
If I had to choose to have you as a loving young sister or a loving adult sister, I choose the adult sister hands down. I used to mourn not having you near when we were kids. I used to think that I missed out on this huge thing, but ya know what? You can give me a heck of a lot more support and love now, than you ever could have been capable of then. And you do Leah. I no longer look back and feel pain or sadness over our relationship, but I use it as a marker to see how far we have come.
I know our relationship is not perfect, and we’ll always have to work harder to maintain it than we do with other family members. I know we’ll always need to err on the cautious side when confronting an issue and take extra care as to not wound one another. Because although we have moved forward, we still have scars, and our relationship will always need to be nurtured.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of your adult life. I am blessed to be your friend and happy to see you blossoming as you move into your 30’s. You are a wonderful mom and a great wife, you are simply outstanding! Besides being awesome moms and wives, we have few things in common. In fact, we couldn’t be more opposite but I think that makes things exciting. I am proud of you for everything you have accomplished in your life, as well as all the effort you have made to mend my heart and our relationship. I love you Leah. Thank you for being the sister I always wanted. And thanks for loving me for me.