Hi folks, I am making the last few edits to this newsletter here in Florida with my sister Rita.
Today I’d like to share with you details of my own personal evolution and healing with one of my sisters. I want to do this to make a key point: In the final analysis, how we treat others has everything to do with us and nothing to do with them.
Here is how my life story goes. I have two sisters. Rita is six years older (that’s Rita on the left with me on the right in the main picture above) and Carole is eight years older. As a child I’m told I was very adorable (and obviously chubby, see picture below). Rita would never stop hugging and kissing me, and Carole really looked after many of my needs. This was a blessing because both my parents were alcoholics. They had sincere hearts and good intentions to provide us with a secure family home and stability – none of which either of them really had. However, their own personal life traumas and their unresolved grief over the loss of their only boy before me fractured their relationship and led them to their addiction.
My older sister Carole had a nickname that basically sums it all: “mother superior“. Don’t be too quick to judge however. By the grace of God Carole became our role model for how to behave in the world, and paved the way for Rita and I to go to University and get careers. Unfortunately Carole left the family home when I was 10. I know it was hard for her to leave me in this mayhem.
Rita at the time was a true product of the 60’s. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Her bouts of overdosing on drugs convinced me to never touch that stuff. Fortunately she outgrew this phase and by the time I was 15 and she was 21 we grew closer together. At 17 we traveled through Europe together and then I joined her to study at Carleton University where I did my undergraduate. We were very close then and shared the same circle of friends. At 23 my partner at the time got a position at SFU and Rita moved to Tennessee where she has enjoyed a lifelong career as a Spanish professor at the University. We visited frequently and met in Montreal regularly.
But after some years I became more and more judgmental of the way Rita was living her life and all that she was becoming. I became more distant and more critical of her. She was becoming more like our mother whom I had always been very ashamed of. I was ashamed of where I came from. I moved 5000 miles away so I could start a life where no one knew me as “the daughter of the Alcoholics”. Every time I saw a Rita I was reminded of my past and I rejected her.
But I came to see clearly that this was my own shame and my own embarrassment about my past. But instead of owning that and working with it I projected it all on Rita. I made her the target of the stuff I couldn’t stand in myself.
She on the other hand continued to extend her unconditional love towards me. But I pushed it away. Not because of her but because of me. I was depriving myself of a special connection because I had a belief system that fostered shame. How I treated her had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with her.
Several years ago she got really sick. At times we weren’t sure if she would make it. Given that my mission in life has been to achieve inner peace, I asked myself “will I be at peace if she died tomorrow?” Clearly not! I didn’t want to live with the regret of having “grown apart” because of my inability to face my mistaken stories that somehow I was flawed, bad or broken because of my family. So I made a concerted effort to change these beliefs I had about myself and heal the shame that these beliefs created. As a result I discovered I was able to let in the love and support of a sister that truly adores me. It gave me emotional freedom.
So here I am in Florida with Rita who bought a home here.
What I’ve discovered time and time again in my life is that our own judgments of others is the only thing that gets in our way of having a connection and it’s the root of “growing apart”. The judgments we have of others and the grudges we hold against them is always and only a reflection of the judgments we have about ourselves. I wrote about this in my newsletter on the shadow. Everyone is just a mirror for us to take a good look at ourselves and to help us achieve this emotional freedom from suffering.
Having said all this, please don’t think that I am condoning any abusive, bullying or negative behaviour by assuming it’s our responsibility. Owning your story does not make you passive. It makes you better able to respond rather than just react. It makes you address situations in ways that does not foster conflict, but resolution.
So perhaps for the New Year you can make an inventory of the most challenging relationships in your life and start healing them.
But please understand. This healing doesn’t happen over night. It takes time and a concerted effort. You are the master of your own destiny by the thoughts you choose to entertain and hold onto.
As for my relationship with Carole…. well that’s for another newsletter!
Happy New Year folks….
Claire Maisonneuve, MA.
Registered Clinical Counsellor
Director of the Alpine Counselling Clinic