As I sort through the formative moments of my past and reflect on where I am today, I am amazed. For some reason, even when I was very young, I knew that what was happening around me was wrong. For some reason, even though I was traumatized, I chose to go a different route with my life. For some reason, I survived. I am grateful to be alive. And yet, being a survivor has its own challenges and problems. There is no happy ending for childhood trauma. I can get perspective on the basic needs I was denied as a child, I can heal my brain, but I can’t get my childhood back. In fact, healing means that every day I am realizing more and more the gravity of what was stolen from me. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the people in my life I have today, but having good people in my life now does not negate what horrible people did to me when I was a child.
One of the most difficult aspects of the abuse I experience is that I am a lone survivor. I have come to accept that there will never be a day when my parents wake up and realize what they’ve done. Family members who are untrained to recognize the personality disorders and abusive patterns around them will not ever understand what really happened. It’s not because they are incapable of seeing it, it’s because they choose not to. Even though I have found people who do understand, I am constantly aware of the isolation I feel due to all the people who don’t want to understand.
And then there’s my brother. I’ve mentioned before how unfair it is to both of us to be compared to one another, but there is no better comp for how my life could have turned out. We were in the same space. We experienced many of the same things. And only one of us overcame it.
My brother is not an easy person to sum up, but here’s a stab. When we were kids, I was the “rebellious” one who occasionally pushed back. He was the quiet one. My parents made it known they liked him better, because he mostly kept to himself, and didn’t cause trouble. My brother absorbed more of the toxic environment than I did. His behavior mirrored my narcissistic father’s. At first, I thought it was because he was older than me that he was so insistent on being the “best.” It was a profound insult to him that I could be more capable at something. Looking back, his intensity and obsessions pointed directly to what he would later become.
My brother got into Transcendental Meditation and attended Maharishi International University. Most people are interested in TM, which is a mantra-based form of meditation, because they are interested in stress reduction, or are looking for a simple way to relax. My brother got into it because he believed it would give him superpowers. He wanted to read minds and walk through walls. He wanted to be enlightened, which to him meant he could be more powerful than anyone else. A lust for power and control over others is a core component of his psyche. He wanted to be special, and he truly believed that he was. My brother was super intense. He practiced an advanced form of mediation which includes a “flying” sutra. He joined Purusha, which is like a type of monk who meditates all day. He pushed himself harder than what was recommended. And then he had a breakdown.
After his psychotic break, he was diagnosed Bipolar with Delusions of Grandeur. In his depressed state, he would go catatonic and lie around for days, flat affect. In his manic state, he had some intense obsession of the week. One week, he was into tarot cards, and bought ten packs. The next week, he suddenly had celiac diease. The next week, he bought all the books on toxic parents and believed my parents were, literally, soul murderers. (Though there is some truth to that.) He decided that Maharishi and TM were evil because he met an (unofficial) exorcist who, for a fee, delivered him from all his demons and diseases. Of course, he was also cured from his mental illness after that. He got into faith healings and became an exorcist, himself. He now believes he is a prophet, and believes that God has revealed to him His plan for the end times, which, of course, includes lifting my brother up into becoming a post-apocalyptic world leader and smiting all the people who didn’t believe him.
I wish I could say that he was so crazy that nobody ever fell under his spell. My brother has an intense, charismatic, forceful, personality, and he preys upon people looking for someone to tell them what to do and how to think. He has hurt a lot of people along the way. I live with a not-so-unrealistic fear that I will wake up to the news that people are dead because of his influence.
I haven’t seen or talked to my brother in over ten years, but occasionally I get calls from investigators looking for him. The drama which surrounds my brother is so intense, I have to limit my thoughts about it. All things considered, my measly PTSD is nothing compared to the hell my brother lives in and perpetuates. But it’s sobering to see, even from a distance, where my childhood influences could have taken me.
I struggle with survivor guilt, and I am learning how to manage it. My brother is a lost cause, but knowing there are people right now under his influence, I feel compelled to do something to help them. But what can be done? How can you save people from themselves? I wish I knew. Sometimes surviving doesn’t feel like it’s enough. And yet, I look at the difference of the paths my brother and I have taken, and what it means for the next generation. And there is the fruit.