I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid

My mother would have made a brilliant cult leader.

I say that half in jest, and half in all seriousness.

When you think about it, my mother already has her own cult. It may be small, it may only consist of some family members and those around her, but it has the dynamics of a cult nonetheless. Her followers do her bidding, no matter how out there her requests and teachings may be. She gets them to leech on to her as if she was their only remaining source of life. By some miracle, I managed not to become a member in my mother’s cult.

Today’s therapy session was mostly about my feelings of guilt concerning my brother. I realized, thanks to my therapist, that these feelings of guilt were the result of my mother’s programming. My mother ingrained in me a sense of responsibility for everything bad that ever happened, even the things that had nothing to do with me.

My therapist is already well aware of the differences between my brother and I, despite the fact that we both experienced some of the same abuse and trauma growing up. While I distanced myself from my mother as best as I could, my brother did the exact opposite; he was drawn to her. My therapist reminded me that even though our approaches were quite different, my brother and I were working towards the same goal: keeping ourselves safe, and not “poking the bear” that was/is my mother.

In the middle of our discussion, my therapist told me “you’re here because you didn’t drink the Kool-Aid.” She was right. I didn’t drink it. But my brother did. And as a result, he is stuck with her, physically, emotionally, and financially. He is so deeply brainwashed that I don’t think there is a chance for him to ever get free. I can’t change him. I can’t save him. He’s been drinking my mother’s Kool-Aid for so long that it’s in his blood. Even though he has brief moments of clarity, moments where he feels fear of her, it’s not enough to break free. He has always, and will always, report back to his leader.

My therapist asked me if there was a way my brother could ever be free. My immediate thought, which I said out loud, was when my mother finally dies. But as I thought about it, not even her death would help him. It may even damage him further. They are so enmeshed that I’m not sure he could survive without her. I have hope that he can, but I’m also realistically doubtful.

“It’s remarkable that you came out of this the way you did. You developed empathy in an environment where there was no empathy, you learned how to feel even though you were punished for feeling.” My therapist was right. But that very fact is why I often doubt my own experiences. How did I end up halfway decent of a person? How am I able to function? It doesn’t make any sense.

And then I look at my brother, a man so badly damaged, so unable to control his anger, living his life as a puppet with my mother as his master puppeteer. Although he experienced much less brutal abuse than I had, he is suffering nonetheless.

We are a perfect example of nature versus nurture. There is likely something in my wiring, something in the way my brain works, that allowed me to respond to my life experiences in the way that I did…something very different from how my brother’s brain is wired. These differences allowed me to survive and eventually to live a free life. While my brother is technically surviving, he’s not really living at all.

I used to be so envious of my brother. Now I see that my mother treated him differently in order to keep him in her favor. She needed a member, and my mother knew early on that I was too resistant, too obstinate, too strong-willed to succumb to her ways. My brother, however, was too easily swayed, too willing to follow, too blind to see reality – he was the perfect candidate. And my mother groomed him so perfectly that now, as a man in his mid-to-late thirties, he knows nothing other than what comes out of my mother’s mouth. I would never want his life. It’s not a life at all.

He drank the Kool-Aid. I didn’t.


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