One day, when I was about ten years old, I sat watching TV in the living room. It was kind of a big deal, because we had cable now for the first time!
Suddenly, my older brother came stomping down the stairs and into the living room. Without saying a word, he grabbed the remote control and changed the channel.
“Hey!” I shouted. “I was watching that!”
“Well, I don’t want to watch that,” he shouted back.
We were suddenly thrown into this deep argument. He felt he had the right to do whatever he wanted, even if it inconvenienced everyone else.
Ok, I know… first world problem, right? But this is just one example of a common day occurrence while I was growing up.
Here’s a glimpse at childhood with an older brother who has Asperger’s Syndrome, ODD, and Bipolar Disorder:
- He threw chairs across the room when he got angry.
- He punched holes in the wall at least three times growing up. He even got so angry once that he pulled the sliding car door right off of our mom’s minivan!
- We’d be on our way to a museum or amusement park, when mom would have to turn us around because my brother was having a temper tantrum. I’d have done nothing wrong, but still felt like I was being punished….
- I was constantly on edge, because I never knew what would set my brother off on a tirade.
- I couldn’t have friends over because my brother was having a bad day.
- My brother wouldn’t stop talking about everything I didn’t want to hear.
- People looked at my entire family as if there were something inherently wrong with all of us.
- My brother was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility nine times within six years.
Things I remember hearing my brother say to or about me:
- “You’re wrong!”
- “I hate you!”
- “I want to kill her!”
- “This is all her fault!”
- “I don’t care what you want!”
- “That’s not fair!”
- “You were supposed to be a boy! I wanted a brother, not a sister!”
- “Life was better before she was born!”
I want people to understand
I love my brother! And I forgive him!
Whether it’s you or a loved one, navegating mental illness can be challenging and scary, but there is hope!
THE FORGIVENESS JOURNEY
Growing up, my mom constantly told me that I needed to forgive my brother for his hurtful behavior, because it was “just his disability.”
How do you forgive someone who has hurt you so deeply?
No direction was provided…. So, my childhood answer?
Stuff the pain. Ignore it.
Pretend it never happened.
But that didn’t solve anything. It just bred bitterness.
“Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
That is so true! I was dying on the inside.
- I decided to be perfect, and then fell into deep depression because I wasn’t perfect.
- But then I kept trying to be perfect, which only created deep seated anxiety.
- I isolated myself from my family, not sharing my emotions, problems, or
- I was already self-harming by the time I reached kindergarten!
- I used food, tv, and sleep to escape my problems, which means I never learned healthy coping methods.
Getting Away For a Time
In 2006, I moved to Waco, TX and began my freshman year at Baylor University. Within a couple of months, I got involved with a local church called Antioch and joined a lifegroup. For the first time, I was held accountable in spending time with Jesus every day. That changed my life!
I quickly learned that God’s love for me is not dependent upon my ability to be perfect. This revolutionized everything! But what does that have to do with forgiving my brother?
For the longest time, I pretended nothing was wrong, I was happy, and things were great, because that was “the Christian thing to do.” When I realized that God loved me no matter what, it released me to admit that I wasn’t ok.
And admitting that I wasn’t ok meant that I no longer needed to bottle up my emotions. Suddenly I could explore my pain, fear, and low self-esteem, because I knew that Daddy in heaven would love me the whole way through it!
I didn’t just wake up one day and forgive my brother. It was more of a combination of many things:
- The distance really did help. Things had been fairly toxic growing up. Being able to set some boundaries helped us each gain perspective and decompress. When I would go home to visit, it was normally for short periods of time, maybe just a weekend, and tension wouldn’t have time to build. That meant we were able to develop newer, happier memories. That didn’t mean the bad memories went away, but it helped us begin to create a newer, happier history to help balance out the places of pain.
- I realized that he wasn’t the only one who was messed up. I had my own junk and my own problems to work through. I had never been perfect and often made my own mistakes. I’m sure I have hurt him too. Many times. I lashed out. I was mean. By no means was I innocent. We were both just two messed up, struggling people in need of a Savior. Did that excuse the ways he had hurt me? No. But he no longer seemed such a villain when I discovered my own villainy apart from Jesus.
- So much of it wasn’t his fault. That might sound strange to some people. I do believe there’s something important about taking responsibility for our actions. And I’m sure some of my brother’s behaviors were simply the result of immaturity, just like many of mine were. Yet at the same time, he struggled with a very real mental illness that impacted his thought processes and behaviors. And suffering from a mental illness was not his fault. It was not the result of some sin that he committed or anything like that. He didn’t ask for it. It just was. Thankfully he’s on a good mix of medication now, has learned some coping methods, and has also matured a lot. Just as I needed to do.
- I began praying for him. While I was in college, my brother was not a believer. I prayed almost every day for him to encounter God, because I knew God was the only one who could help my brother find purpose and healing. My prayers weren’t about forgiving him, but that’s still what happened, because the more I prayed for him, the more I received God’s heart and love for him.
- I was able to replace the lies in my head with God’s truth. One of the challenges of verbal abuse during childhood is that you grow up internalizing all of the negative things spoken over you. Those lies and negative perceptions become a part of your world view, to such an extent that it’s hard to separate the lies from the truth. As I began exploring my childhood pain with God, the Holy Spirit helped me identify various lies I was believing and replace those lies with truth from Scripture. For example:
- Lie: No one loves me. Truth: For God so loved the (entire) world (including me!), that He gave His only Son to save it. – John 3:16
- Lie: I’m never going to be good enough. Truth: I’m forgiven and I have been made into the righteousness of Christ! – 2 Corinthians 5:21
- Lie: Things will never change. Truth: Things have already changed, for eternity, because Christ took a fallen and broken world, and He saved it! And now we go from glory to greater glory! – 2 Corinthians 3:18
- Lie: I am helpless.Truth: I have the strength of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of me! – Philippians 4:13 and 1 Corinthians 3:16
- God’s truth healed my places of pain. As my thought life improved and my perspectives grew healthier, I noticed that I didn’t experience as much pain when I’d think back on my childhood. Those childhood memories no longer carried the same amount of power. And that released me to forgive my brother as well, because I was no longer living in a place of fear and victimization.
- I was able to release myself and my brother into the hands of God. One of the hardest things about forgiveness is choosing to let go. We feel that, if we hold onto the resentment, we can play the martyr, which somehow makes us seem “more righteous or just.” And if we hold onto the resentment, the whole world will somehow know all the terrible traits of the person we hate. But that’s just not the case. If we hold onto our anger, we’ll live a life weighed down by bitterness. We’ll never grow or feel freedom, because we walk in chains, bound to the very person we hate. But if we release our anger, we can fall into the arms of Jesus. And there is no place I’d rather be!
WHY I LOVE MY BROTHER
Let me end by sharing all the things I love about my brother! I want people to know how amazing and wonderful he is!
- He is a teddy bear! I know that sounds counter everything I described above, but my brother really does have a tender heart, once you get past the surface. And he’s great with little kids! They love him!
- He is so smart and loves to learn! I’ve had so many fun, interesting conversations with him, and it never gets boring!
- We enjoy taking walks and just catching up.
- He wants to know more about God and often asks questions.
- He looks up to me. That might seem like a prideful thing to say, but it speaks to the change in his heart as well. God has restored our relationship and I’m so thankful! And in awe!
- We can have awesome, nerdy conversations about things like Stargate, Doctor Who, and Final Fantasy.
- He’s family. We’ve been through so much, and I honestly think we’re stronger because of it!
- He loves to dream big. He doesn’t get stuck in the doubts, but pursues the passions of his heart.
- He really does love us. It may be hard to show it sometimes, and it may come out in … interesting ways … but he loves us, and after everything is said and done, I am thankful!
HOW ABOUT YOU?
HOW DO YOU FORGIVE SOMEONE WHO HAS HURT YOU SO DEEPLY?
One word: JESUS!
Sometimes the places of pain are just too deep. We can’t handle them alone. For those who have been abused, there’s often a level of fear that’s so deep. We just don’t want to open the wound long enough to get out the infection.
You need Jesus! He’s the only One who can heal us. He’s the only One who can help us truly move past our places of fear, anxiety, and prejudice long enough to even consider that a different reality might be possible.
Jesus! We need You!