“Are you guys twins?”: I was born fifteen short months after my brother. He was blonde and blue eyed, and I was just the opposite. My mom somehow managed to get pregnant with all of her friends at the same time, and they each had baby boys. When I was born, I immediately became “one of the boys.” I followed them everywhere and loved every minute of it. I pushed myself to be able to do everything that they could. In my mind, it wasn’t acceptable for me to be left out of anything because I wasn’t physically capable of doing it. This mindset led me to have a pretty tough skin from an early age.
Big Brother: I’ve lived my entire life looking up to my brother. Because we’re so close in age, we’ve gone through all of the phases of life together so far. At times we would be best friends, and other times we couldn’t stand to look at one another. No matter what though, at the end of the day, we knew we were each other’s only siblings. To both of us, that meant a lot.
Off to College: My brother left for college before me, and the transition was definitely hard. I hated not having him at home. It was especially hard for him to leave, because we had been the closest we’ve ever been in our last two years of high school together. His introversion became much more clear after leaving to go to school out of state. I didn’t hear from him much, and when I did, it was always me that initiated the conversation. I always questioned why he never would reach out to me, but played it off as both of us being “too busy.”
Something’s Different: College changed my brother. It was subtle at first, but every time he would come home it was more noticeable. We became much more distanced and absorbed in our own lives. His new-found habits became more apparent and more severe each time I saw him. My brother started getting into drugs and quickly fell behind in school. He ended up dropping out and moved back home last fall.
Family Drama: My brother’s current situation has always been tough on me and my family. I want to be able to help him and understand him more than anything in the world. He has such awesome potential, but has become so lost. I’ve tried extremely hard to be there for him and to be someone to listen to, but lately our talks always turn into fights. It’s hard living so far away, and not being there to see what’s really going on day after day. It’s also difficult, because it’s been going on for over a year now.
“Empathy feels connection, sympathy drives disconnection”: I met one of my best friends at CU when I transferred last year. We had an instant connection and we suddenly felt comfortable telling each other our whole life stories. When I told her about what was going on with my brother, it was all still so new, and I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly was going on. I felt so guilty that I didn’t have a better idea of what was happening or how I could help. She made me feel better immediately. She told me about her experience growing up with four brothers. One of them struggled with a drug problem and went to rehab multiple times. Instead of telling me she was “sorry” I was going through this or that she “felt bad,” she connected to me from within herself on a deep level and made me feel like I wasn’t alone. She could understand exactly the way I was feeling and had a “direct personal awareness of [my] experience.” Not only did she have a genuine connection to my story, but she started to give me advice on different things I could do. She listened wholeheartedly and told me we could do this together.
Loyalty: After the conversation I had with my friend about my brother, I knew we were going to be close. Throughout the year she would check in on me asking about my brother and what was going on at home. Just because we had a good conversation about the situation didn’t mean she was going to drop the subject and never bring it up again. She knew what I was going through, and has followed through every step of the way. She has helped me set boundaries with him, which has helped create mutual respect. Although things are still hard, I feel more comfortable with how to handle the situation because of her. I have been able to communicate with him in a much more effective way. Her empathy towards me has given me the ability to be more empathic towards him, and I will be forever grateful for that.