For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I was sexually, physically, and psychologically abused by one of my older brothers for years. I’ve written about my resulting PTSD and the personal challenges I have faced in learning to live with the effects of trauma. I’ve written about my healing journey – how I’ve learned to work through my fears, discover my inner warrior, and strengthen my Spirit as I strive to live an authentic life.
I have now entered a new phase of my journey. My brother, Kevin, read the introduction and one story from my book that are available online. After reading them, he felt compelled to email me at my book’s email address. Here is what he wrote (I have his permission to share these. He wrote to me that he hopes his emails might help someone).
“Hello Barbara. This is a 45 year old overdue attempt at an apology for the unforgivable things that happened to you at my hands and that of our parents. First off I want to congratulate you on your book that I wish you never had to write. Unfortunately I have suppressed most of my childhood memories, which resulted in a lifetime of failure, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, 2 failed marriages, and a lifetime of mistrust directed at anyone that got close. I’ve sought help from a couple of different doctors, to no avail. I recalled some things after reading excerpts from your book, which I intend to buy to maybe gain some insight to my past. I do recall the abuse that I put you through, but none of the threatening that you describe. Obviously that is a small part of which I can never expect forgiveness, but I do need help in recalling that part of my life I have no recall of. Father did a number on me that even you are not aware of. I recall being beaten, bullied, terrified to go to school and even more terrified of going home. Instead of being your protective older brother I became the monster in your closet. This letter isn’t an attempt at an apology because I know I can never portray how sorry I am with words. I pray that someday we can reach out to each other in an attempt to heal the wounds of our childhood, but I expect nothing can be done in my lifetime to make amends. I sincerely congratulate you on your inner strength and hope you continue to heal and help others. Forgive me for taking so long in reaching out, and may your life be filled with nothing but joy and success.”
I responded to him by thanking him for taking responsibility for his abuse and for validating my experience. I wrote that I know what he went through, that I’ve always considered him a tortured soul – both as a child and adult. I wrote that I hold no ill will toward him, that I forgave him many years ago. I wrote that I am concerned about his alcohol abuse and that I will need strong boundaries – as well as consult my therapist – if we are to proceed with any attempt at healing the wounds of our past. I suggested that he try another therapist and to try Alcoholics Anonymous. This is what he wrote in response:
“Thank you Barbara for your response to my letter. I truly appreciate all of the kindness you are willing to share, but I know I’ve got a long way to go in deserving any of it. I wanted to let you know I’ve been drug free for about 5 years now, although alcohol is still a small part of my life. I have a supportive roommate named Linda. She’s been living with me for 2 years now. She’s a suicide survivor who has also been diagnosed with ptsd. We talk a lot about our past experiences, and now we have a whole slew of things to discuss. I’m not sure if AA is the right thing for me, what with my personality being what it is i.e. my stubbornness. If you like, after talking with your therapist on Wednesday you could contact me so that maybe I could learn some more insight as to how to move forward with this incredibly important phase in both our lives. Thank you for your forgiveness, but I still need to do a lot to deserve it.”
I shared his email with a few people, including a pastor I know – all of whose insight I trust. One was highly optimistic about his reaching out, noting his taking responsibility for his actions and his validating my experience. She got the sense that he truly wants to make amends. One empathized with his pain, noting that there is a potential for healing between us, but urged me to remain cautious due to his continued drinking. One wrote that he hadn’t actually apologized, that he never wrote the words, “I’m sorry.” I think he did apologize in his own way when he wrote, “This letter isn’t an attempt at an apology because I know I can never portray how sorry I am with words.” At least, I got the sense that he truly does feel remorse. She also noted that he quickly made the whole thing about himself and what a victim he was, though I do not think that was his intention. She wrote that he never asked for my forgiveness and showed no actual remorse. But, in his defense, he did write that he believes his acts were unforgivable. I take her words as a caution to be careful as he and I move forward with communication. The pastor wrote that it is a powerful confession – that he ached for him as he read his email, and that he ached for me even more.
I think he did take responsibility for the abuse. I recognize that it must have been a very difficult email to write. He allowed himself to be vulnerable and opened himself up to the possibility of my being angry toward him, rejecting him. This was no small feat on his part, in my opinion.
So, how do I feel about all this? I feel hopeful. I’ve wanted to heal things with my brother for years. I wrote him a letter three years ago, after he had asked my mother for my phone number (she didn’t give it to him). I wrote about the effects of his abuse on me and that I couldn’t have him in my life as long as he was still abusing alcohol and having violent outbursts – he had just had an incident. I wrote that if he wanted to try communicating with me via letters, I would be open to that. He told our mother that he received my letter, owed me an apology, and would write me a letter. He never did – until now.
The first thing I did when I found out he had sent me an email was to check in with my inner child, Penelope. I wanted to make sure she felt safe. For whatever reason, she did. She trusted me to be able to handle things. It was just a few months ago when the mere mention by my stepfather that Kevin wanted to meet with me sent me into a tailspin of flashbacks – my PTSD was triggered big time. But through all this, I haven’t felt triggered in the slightest. I feel no anxiety and no fear. All I feel is hope – and relief. I don’t know what has caused the change in my reaction, but I think it is a good thing. I feel that I am ready for this. I have spoken with my therapist and she agrees that this is an incredible opportunity for us both to heal. I will keep my boundaries strong and will continue to check in with Penelope as I embark upon this phase of my journey.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash