When I was a little girl, I remember tagging along with my four older brothers. They often didn’t want me playing with them but would begrudgingly include me when they had to – when my Mom would yell to them, “Boys, you let Liz play with you!”
Sometimes when we were out riding our bikes together they would suddenly sprint way ahead of me. Pedaling as fast as I could, I would call out to them, “Wait up for me!” But I never could catch up to them. I found out later that my brothers had a code phrase that they would use when they wanted to get rid of me. It was “DH” which stood for “Ditch Her.”
I found out about “DH” when my brother Bill told me years later. I was surprised but not really hurt, because by then I had rationalized that this was typical behavior of boys and I had accepted that this was just how my family was – that I would never be able to catch up to them.
When I was in the midst of working through the aftermath of the abuse that occurred within our family, the real pain underneath the story that I had told myself about being ditched surfaced. Underneath the little hurts I experienced by being excluded by my brothers was a much deeper and more devastating pain and isolation that the abuse had left me with. I felt ditched all over again when my brothers and the rest of my family did not accept my memories of abuse. I felt like they ditched me again when they stood united in their version of our family history – the one in which there was no abuse, just a misguided and “crazy” little sister who was falsely accusing family members of sexual abuse. I felt like that little girl looking up the hill on James Drive watching my brothers speed away – standing there all alone with the truth.
I stood there at the bottom of the hill wishing and wanting so badly for them to come back and join me in the truth. I stood there for a long time waiting. Somehow I thought that everything would be OK if the rest of my family acknowledged and healed from the horrible things that I had remembered, that by sharing the burden of these dark secrets and traumas, my pain would somehow be lessened. But it gradually became apparent that this was not going to happen. As year after year passed, with nobody in my family coming forward with memories of abuse, I realized that all I could do was continue with my own healing.
To help me channel my feelings of rage and disappointment towards my family, I exercised a lot, which made me feel empowered and energized. When I took spinning classes at our gym I would lose myself in the dark room and loud music and let my mind wander. I would imagine myself biking with my four brothers up a steep mountain. As I pedaled faster and harder I would pass each of my brothers – sometimes knocking them over with a hard kick on the way – winning the race to the summit. When I would swim laps, I would visualize that I was kicking away as fast as I could, leaving them behind to choke on my bubbles. I’ll show you, I thought as I pounded the pavement running further and further away from them. I knew that living well was the best revenge but I still wanted to win. I wanted to beat them. I wanted to be right.
When I had kicked, pedaled, pounded, cried, and wrote much of my anger out, when time had softened my stance, my need to beat them faded. Finding peace of mind, health and happiness was winning enough for me. It didn’t matter to me anymore what my family of origin believed about me and about what happened. This became poignantly clear to me last week when my brother Bill joined my husband, my two children and me for a 5K on Thanksgiving morning. I’m not much of a runner, but I wanted to participate so I could experience running my first 5K with my family. I was slowly jogging along, perfectly content to just finish the race, knowing that I would be the last one in my family to finish. At one point the course looped back on itself and the runners ahead of me began to pass me. As I passed my son, he smiled at me and gave me a high five. Then I saw my brother Bill running towards me, instead of passing me he turned around and started running along with me. He wasn’t running away from me anymore. He stayed with me as I half-walked and half-jogged the last mile of the race. We crossed the finish line together.
I later thanked Bill for sticking with me and joked with him that he had now redeemed himself for all the times he “ditched” me as a kid. Although we both laughed I don’t think the significance was lost on either of us. We had both come a long way. It was a powerful moment for me to know that despite all of the differences and hurt feelings between us, we have found a way to walk with each other. There is no more competition, no more “I’m right and you’re wrong.” We are just two people – a brother and a sister – running side-by-side, heading towards the finish line.