The half-brother I’ll never meet

Today is my half-brother’s birthday. When I was a teenager my mother told me to commit to memory her first child’s birth date, hospital name, city, and state. I recited them to myself again and again and throughout my life, I made sure to not forget. My mother had given birth to her first child a few weeks before her 16th birthday. She was taken to a very closed adoption state to give birth. She had told me they said “It’s a boy” and took him away without letting her see him. My mother said nothing else about the circumstances of her son’s conception or birth. 

Almost 30 years ago I contacted his birth state about records and possible ways to find my half-brother. I continued to look for ways to find him but the system was cumbersome and expensive.

This brother played prominently when I attended a 3-day Family Constellations seminar in the fall of 2018. The therapist said that my connection to him was important. That he’s the brother I needed. I believed it. I wanted the closeness of an older brother who might be especially glad to have a younger sister. As long as I can remember, I wanted an older brother: somebody who would kind of replace the father figure who wasn’t there for me. Somebody who would look out for me, take me under their wing, stick up for me, give me some guidance, and just be an important older person in my life who I can feel safe with. That’s what I really wanted, the kind of safety that I imagined I could have with an older brother.

The Family Constellations therapist suggested that I choose a name to call my half-brother. I knew his father was a carioca, so my half-brother’s name would be something Brazilian, like João, so that’s what I called him, after the famous composer, singer, and musician, João Gilberto.

After that seminar, I tried again to find my half-brother. I contacted the state again, and this time was told they could put a note in his file in case he was looking for contact info. I also had my DNA analyzed at Ancestry and 23 and Me, hoping to find some connection. About a year later, I received a message from my half-brother, who had just learned he was adopted. 

The Family Constellations therapist had told me that “ João” got the better end of the stick, meaning that his life was easier than those of his younger siblings. I figured it was likely because at least he didn’t have the influence of our father. It turns out that he did have a much better life, although not without its tragedies and traumas, including the trauma of his position in the family. He was the replacement boy for the young son who had died. The father was a physician and blamed himself. The substitute son could never feel like he measured up or like he was really part of the family. The older brother was abusive, as well. And yet, his better childhood environment gave this brother a more solid foundation. He didn’t have so many obstacles to overcome just to function. So he went to college, started a business, had a career, a long marriage, and good health. 

When she was impregnated with her first child, my mother was just a few months past 15, about the same age I experienced the start of a year of abduction, slavery, torture, trafficking, rape, and gang rape.

Now that I understand the magnitude of the transmission of intergenerational trauma unless it is mindfully stopped, I understand that my mother wouldn’t have trafficked me if she hadn’t been trafficked herself. If it hadn’t been normalized in her childhood. She wouldn’t have given me drugs and alcohol and left me alone with strange men. She wouldn’t have orchestrated these types of encounters. She also wouldn’t have set me up to be strip searched by US Customs. Or laughed about it after. Her mother did horrible things to her and my half-brother’s father was probably one of them. A pedophile who liked pretty young girls, maybe especially virgins. That’s what kind of man he was. A man who would think it’s okay to shove his tool into a teenage girl. 

By the time I met my half-brother online in 2020, his wife was declining due to the recurrence of cancer. He expressed delight at the idea of having two younger sisters and younger brothers. We had some very nice phone calls and messenger chats. I thought he was the kind of older brother I always needed. He told me I was the kind of sister he’d always wanted.

His wife passed and the rest of our siblings flew out for the funeral. I was incapacitated by hypercritical allostatic load from compound trauma. I could not function well enough to travel. 

At first, my half-brother offered some empathy, as well as admiration for what I had survived and how well. Over time, though, his view of me changed. He made clear his opinion that my real problem was that I was actually not the kind of sister he always wanted. He wanted a sister who met his expectations to follow his advice, regardless of whether it was helpful or even scientifically sound, much less, appropriate for me as an individual. I did not follow his unhelpful advice but gave him the neuroscience about why it was unhelpful. My half-brother, a career science teacher, discounted and ignored the neurophysiology of my condition and chose to chalk it up to a supposed character flaw that made me unworthy of his respect. He treated me as if my thoughts and behaviors are the problem and he is the solution; his corrections would fix what was wrong with me if only I would do as he decrees!

My half-brother gave me the equivalent of “Just do some yoga, think better thoughts, be happy, and your life will be wonderful like mine.” When I declined, his response was essentially, “You’re an idiot who wants to be stuck where they are. You choose your misery so you deserve to be degraded and kicked and spat upon by those who say they want to help you.” Perhaps my half-brother treated me like his “A brother” (Adopted brother) treated him and perhaps how their father treated both of them. That would make sense of his behavior. He certainly treated me similarly to most members of my family of origin.

In my half-brother’s blinkered view, my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are the problem. In actuality, they are expressions of the real problem: a nervous system dysregulated by people like him. By people who treat me as he demonstrated that he wants to treat me. My half-brother wants to give me more of what ails me, just like the mainstream culture and the medical-psychiatry-pharma-insurance complex. NO. 

Dr. Dan Siegel says “Empathy is not optional in our relationships,” and this is particularly true for trauma survivors. Empathy is the number one need, as it is the foundation for safe energy and information flow in relationships. Without authentic empathy, there is no genuine safety. My half-brother’s display of contempt and cruelty precludes him from any meaningful role in my life. I have gone full no contact. Total cut-off. Unless and until he can recognize, describe, and apologize for the harmful behavior as well as demonstrate new patterns rooted in goodwill, acceptance, mutuality, and respect. 

My half-brother wanted me to dishonor my natural, normal, and necessary integration process and pretend to be someone I’m not so he could be more comfortable. In other words, he was trying to shut me up. NO.

Ironically, all of my “B” (“Birth) siblings have met our half-brother, but I have not. I will not, even though I’m the one who knew about him from our mother, tried to find him, and had the biggest hopes for a relationship.

It’s likely that part of me will always be a little sad that I didn’t get to meet this brother, that the connection was faulty and superficial, and that I’ll never have the older brother I would love so much to have. But mostly, I will be thankful I have the capacity to recognize this and let go of the idea that he has to be close or that I even have to have an older brother. I certainly have made it this far without one.

My real problem is that I’ve been around too many people like my half-brother. I need only “I’m okay, you’re okay” relationships, no “I’m okay, you’re not okay,” which is what he tried to assert. No, thank you. Bye-bye. Next!

Maybe I’ll observe the day with a brother casting-off ceremony. I’ll burn some little bits of string to symbolize that the dynamic between me and my half-brother is too small for me. I’ll burn them in the name of freedom, lightness, authenticity, and safe connection. I can’t focus on unsafe connections. I can’t convince people that I’m worthy of connection or make them capable of it. I must accept that some don’t have the capacity to connect with me. Therefore the effort to connect with them is a waste of time, energy, and focused attention. So instead I turn evermore toward the things, people, places, relationships, and memories that support a healthy nervous system, an integrated brain, and secure attachment. All that feels like home. 

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