Bulimia – A Sister’s Tale from the Sidelines
I am not someone with an eating disorder, but I am the sister of one.
Often we hear, or poignantly don’t hear, about the stories of young women battling with their demons to lose weight and control their universe. Their struggle is difficult and one I can only sympathize with. I know what it is to look in the mirror and hate parts of my body, but it has never pushed me to measures that will harm myself. For that, I consider myself lucky.
However, being the older and only sister of someone who consistently hates herself, and hates her body, is also a painful road.
I don’t want this anonymous article to sound like a pity party for someone without a real problem, but I do want to share my story so other women or men will know that there are others who feel the pain of standing to the side with hands tied.
When my sister was little, I was her watchdog, her bodyguard, her advisor and possibly her worst critic. I was loyal, I was motherly, and I was honest. I kept her from family troubles, and I made sure that when things were bad, she was safe.
And then one day, I left. I went off to college and was so tired of having to hold up my sister and my parents that my new freedom did not encourage me to come home very often. I was happy away from my family and I didn’t care who needed me. It was liberating and selfish and necessary.
Unfortunately, my sister’s first line of defense against mean friends, bad parenting and self-doubts was gone within a 24-hour period – giving her no time to adjust. I didn’t have time to return her calls, and I was working out my own problems. So, when a team captain on her cheerleading squad recommended that for she could shed pounds (and my sister was by all accounts, overweight) if she made herself throw up after she eats.
So, my sister’s new habit went undetected for eighteen months by my family – no one was there to watch her closely as I had. This exploration in weight loss had become an animal all on its own and had begun to control her logic. When I came home on rare occasions, my normally big-boned sister was startlingly thin and looking unhealthy. Her face was gaunt, her breathe stank and her personality was on edge. However, everyone said she looked great, and she was finally getting attention from boys. So, I, as the normally gangly older sister didn’t rain on her skinny parade (especially as my freshman 20 was kicking in).
Then it was discovered that she was bulimic.
And I became enraged.
I was mad at all those girls who had ever made fun of her weight (including me). I was mad at the people who had pressured her to be someone she was not (including me). I was mad at every critique she had been given to be more studious (including me), to be more organized (including me), to be more active (including me). Let’s face it, any and every event that could have lead to her illness, I was included.
Is this rationale once again selfish? Perhaps, but it’s the only way I can see it. And maybe it’s better than blaming her.
Her first therapist told us we weren’t allowed to talk to her about “it.” We weren’t allowed to confront her. We weren’t allowed to do what was so normal in our relationship: to scream and get it all out there in the open so we could all move past. We had to do the very unnatural task of just letting it happen without saying a word. And so I closed up. If I couldn’t say what I felt to her without the fear of making it worse for her, I would just shut my mouth.
I have posted this article without a byline because I have been still unable to talk to my sister about this anger I have. I know: it’s a conversation five years in the making. Now that she appears better, I need to tell her that I am sorry. That I blame myself. That once I heard I had failed as her watchdog, bodyguard and president of her fan club, I decided I was no longer worthy of the job. I stopped being her sister and just started being angry. I couldn’t talk to her without getting mad at myself with that anger turning toward her. Her failure was my failure.
To this day, when I come to my parents’ house, I am a guest. I stopped using our once shared bathroom, AKA, the scene of the “crime.” I leave the house after every meal because I don’t want to be home to see her sneak away.
The moral of the story? Maybe this is the first step in my sister getting her sister back. Maybe it is just my rationalization for being selfish and cutting ties with the volatile family dynamic I dislike.
But, maybe this will help other siblings, spouses, parents and friends out there who have also stood by and watched their loved one slowly destroy their bodies. Know you aren’t alone. And that we all have anger, sadness, and feelings of personal contempt for being unable to fix what you hold dear to your heart.