Proud2Bme | In Support of My Sister

In Support of My Sister

By Adam Radwan--It's my first time driving along Pacific Coast Highway and I am completely enchanted by the landscape: blue ocean, palm trees and million dollar Malibu mansions.

It looks just like it does in the movies. As I make a turn off the highway, I am instantly reminded that I’m not here to be a tourist and rejoice in my new surroundings. I’m here to take part in a family workshop at my sister's eating disorder treatment center.

Knowing that my parents were unable to travel that weekend, I made the trip from New Jersey to California of my own volition. The prospect of meeting and bonding with other siblings in my shoes was what got me on that plane. Ironically enough, I arrive at the center to discover that I am the only sibling among a sea of parents. I am instantly annoyed –- what do you mean I’m the only sibling here? Who appointed me as the ambassador for all the absent brothers and sisters that weekend? Don’t they know that the probability of recovering from an eating disorder is higher when ALL members of the family are collectively involved?

Trying to find something in common to talk about with the parents proved even more annoying. I’m not a parent, so I really can’t tell you what it feels like to have a sick child, to pay exorbitant medical bills, or to deal with disingenuous insurance companies. I do, however, have a dog -- that's the same thing, right? Nope. I tried my hardest to relate with all of them, but nothing was clicking.

On top of feeling annoyed, I was also feeling alone, awkward, and even a tad angry. I carried these feelings with me into the first family member session of the workshop and couldn’t have been more resigned. It was written all over my face. I used up the five minutes of speaking time I had to complain and complain about how my sister’s eating disorder had damaged our relationship to the point of no return and that nobody can truly relate to my experience. I told them that watching my little sister die is like hell on earth; that everything around and within me suddenly became consumed by the twisted and toxic disease; that for three years, I was living with a monster that was thriving on my misery while thriving on my sister's body. I finished my rant, convinced that siblings were the forgotten caregivers in the world of recovery - not just from eating disorders, but from the multitude of deadly mental health conditions, diseases, and addictions that run abound today. It sucked and I wanted everyone in the room to know it.

She is only 18 months younger than me, but given how deep our relationship is, we really should have been born twins. We did everything together growing up–- wake up at the same time to get ready for school in the mornings, explore the mall together when our mom was taking too long at Macy’s, and stuff our stomachs with pizza bagels as we watched Saturday morning cartoons. We would always joke about how we were special and one-of-a-kind, no one else like us in the world. Not only was she my little sister, but my best friend, my partner in crime, my kindred spirit.

We were both in college: I was in my third year and she was barely making it through her second. That was when I realized she needed to seek proper treatment for her eating disorder. She was dangerously underweight. I told her point blank that she was dying and needed to get help. My parents would tell her the exact same thing, but she wouldn’t listen to them. However, she did listen to me. I knew from that point on that I needed to step up. I needed to be the older brother that would do anything and everything it took for her to heal. I just didn’t know what kind of ride was in store for me.

After that first morning session, we were given the opportunity to go on pass from the center and have lunch with our loved ones. I drove my sister to this cute café nestled in between the hills. As we waited for our food, we had a brutally honest conversation. I expressed how frustrating the workshop had been for me so far and updated her on all that I was dealing with back home. She listened but didn’t give me any advice. She then expressed her anxiety over the meal she had just ordered and how her fourth bout in treatment had been going so far. I too just listened and didn’t give any advice. During a moment of sibling synchronicity, we implicitly understood that we were both struggling in our own way and that it was perfectly okay. We continued to chat through lunch, and given the entertainment junkies that we are, spent a lot of time talking about all of the celebrities she’d seen since being in California. She didn’t finish her meal, but did a pretty good job. I acknowledged her and off we were back to the center.

To be fair, the parents and staff members welcomed me with open arms and often commended me for being the stand that I am for my sister. “If only my other children would do the same,” one parent confided in me. By the end of the weekend, I realized that my complaints and frustrations were merely natural reactions for a sibling to have, but that they don’t have the power to change my commitment to my sister (unless I grant them that). More importantly, I also realized that my sister is not her disease. She is not her bulimia, not the pizza and sushi and candy and ice cream she consumes only to purge later, not her ever-fluctuating weight, not her depression. She is my sister, a beautiful and talented young woman who makes me laugh uncontrollably, who lights up a room, and who is fighting desperately to get her life back.

That was three years ago. As I write this piece, the fight wages on. My sister is in her sixth year of recovery, this time at a different treatment facility in Florida. She hopes to one day become a nurse so that she can give back to others. As her sibling, I will continue to fight with her and support her in creating the career of her dreams. Whenever I feel stopped or discouraged, I am reminded of the inspiring words she wrote in a birthday card to me earlier this year: “Thank you for making me the woman I am today.” Now more than ever, I am present to the power of a siblings’ relationship. In an interview with Salon, science author Jeffrey Kluger reinforces this notion when he states that “siblings are the only relatives, and perhaps the only people you’ll ever know, who are with you through the entire arc of your life.”

I declare that I am choosing to be with my sister through the entire arc of our lives. I hope that there are other siblings out there in the world who are choosing to do the same. If you are one of them, I encourage you to reach out to me and join me in creating a powerful movement that will reinvigorate and bolster the role we play as siblings of a loved one recovering from an eating disorder. I am confident that we can forge a new path in the support systems that are so vital to our well-being. The last thing I want is for a sibling to feel like she or he is forgotten.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

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