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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I love my baby sister but sometimes I hate her too.

This morning I got a text. “Have you seen your sister, she didn’t show up to work and nobody knows where she is. Her phone goes right to voicemail”. The last anyone had heard from her, she’d planned on going hiking. Even in the summertime, hiking in the Rocky Mountains can be dangerous and the weather can turn on you in a heartbeat. One of the office ladies drove by her house, her car was there but no other signs of her. Still no answers to her phone, no signs of her on social media. I tried reaching out to her roommates on Facebook but I’m not friends with them so who knows who long it might be before I heard back.

Next, I called our dad to see if he’d heard anything. He hadn’t. I explained that I thought she’d gone hiking and that I was going to call the RCMP. Luckily, his girlfriend overheard our conversation and said she had seen my sister and her friends. They were going drinking.

At that moment, I stopped worrying and got angry. She’s not supposed to be drinking on her antidepressants. In fact, she’s not supposed to be drinking at all. Her counsellor told her to look at joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Not only did she go out drinking, she obviously drank enough that she wasn’t able to come to work the next day.

Eventually, she sent me a Facebook message to tell me that she’d lost her phone and slept late. Then: “Yeah that’s a pretty pathetic lie”.

One terrible decision after another, my sister keeps plummeting to rock bottom. I cannot make decisions for her and I cannot soften the consequences when things go sour.

We were extremely close as children. We shared a bedroom until we moved into a bigger house when I was 11 and she was 6. She refused to sleep in her own room for another two years after that. After the first few months of her “sleepwalking” into my bed every night, her bed was moved into my room and the sleepwalking stopped. It wasn’t until I was 16 and in high school that we really grew apart. My time was taken up by school, work, homework and the Air Cadets. I wasn’t the constant presence that I had been for the first decade of her life. I guess I grew up but let her down at the same time.

Our mother didn’t help to bridge the developing chasm. She used to always tell me that it was too bad that I wasn’t as pretty as my sister, I didn’t have the curves, that my sister was built like Barbie. Unbeknownst to me, my mother used to tell my sister it was too bad she wasn’t as smart as me. Being constantly played against each other makes it hard to maintain a relationship. Mom didn’t care. She didn’t want us leaning on each other, she wanted us to lean on her so she could offer or withhold the support to maintain her control.

Arguments between my mother and I never reached the physical stage. At the slightest indication of her discontent, I would back down and concede to whatever she wanted. I was lazy, I was selfish, I was disrespectful for staying out so late working. Name a flaw and I would admit to it in the hopes of somehow overcoming it and being worthy of her love. My sister and mother are far more alike and their fights were awful. My sister is missing her two front teeth as a result of a particularly volatile argument. One counsellor that my sister and I were both seeing had told me that I had abandoned my sister and that is why she hated me. The counsellor asked if I had considered what my leaving had done to my sister. Never mind that I was married and living in another city. By leaving my siblings at home, I had abandoned them.

Today is not the first example of a crisis centred around my sister. Cataclysmic events are no longer isolated events like a 100-year flood, they become more like tropical storms. A crisis will appear regularly but the strength, duration and destructive power are yet to be realized. Every time something happens, I beat my head against a wall because I want my sister to be healthy and happy. I want her to be okay. But I can’t fix things for her. As much as I wish that I could wave a magic wand and make everything better, I can’t. She needs to figure out if she wants to fix herself. Until then, I can’t help her and I won’t continue to enable her self-destructive behaviour.

Maybe this is my greatest failure as an older sister. The monsters that she has to face now aren’t the type that I can chase away.

Crazy dog mom, mental health advocate, project manager and writer

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