My brother the abuser can't come to the wedding

I feel bad about it, but I just can't be there if he's going to be there

Published April 27, 2011 12:01AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I was introduced to your column my freshman year of college, about five years ago. We actually studied your responses in an attempt to define them based on theories of communication ... I do not remember all of it, being so long ago, but your words stay with me and I check in regularly to gain wisdom from you.

So here is my dilemma: My aunt is getting married next month. She is my biggest role model and my relationship with her means the world to me. My mother, her sister, died when I was a 5-year-old and I have been really close with my aunt ever since. She is not only a link to my past but she is the person I want to be years from now: successful, beautiful, an amazing mother and so many other things. She reminds me of my mother in the sweetest way. She cares for me the way that only a sister can care for her deceased sister's children. But it doesn't end there.

I have a brother who causes a lot of tension in my family. Because our families live states away from each other, they did not experience the trauma I received at the hand of my older brother. Not only was he twice my size but would use this to his advantage. He would hit me, beat me, make me cry screaming around my house, break my belongings, lock me into rooms, intimidate and torture me at any opportunity. This went on for years. So basically I have a lot of unresolved issues. (I'm in therapy for anxiety, depression and PTSD) I refuse to communicate with him since he has been out of my life for the last eight or so years, because I believe this protects me from his fury and violence. I will not be bullied or beaten or bruised by this person anymore. I have made that promise to myself.

At this point it is determined that I will be going to the wedding and he will not. It seems that I have "gotten my way" at the sacrifice of my aunt, who is marrying an awesome man and a man who deserves her because as I have already stated she is an amazing, strong woman. I want this wedding to be the most beautiful and special day of her life. But our family is so broken. I know I can go and have a great time with the people who know me, love me and care. It is a cardinal sin to make the bride angry, and I love obeying the rules.

So I guess my question is how much guilt do I need to feel about the fact that my lovely aunt's older sister's children will not both be coming to her special day? This honestly breaks my heart. I want happiness and love and the combining of new friends and families to go off without a hitch. I feel my actions and need for physical and emotional protection would be compromised if my brother were in attendance.

Please Cary, give me some honest advice, not the old "suck it up" situation my dad gave me. Am I out of bounds? Am I ruining her special day? This is tearing me up.

Ice Box Where My Heart Used to Be

Dear Ice Box,

It sounds like thinking about this wedding is putting you back into the mindset of that child who was abused. You're asking if it's OK for you to protect yourself. You're asking if what's happening to you is your fault. You're concerned about being blamed for the upset in the family functioning. You're concerned that because of you everything may not look perfect.

Well, you are not out of bounds. Just the opposite: You are making an adult decision to acknowledge reality and protect yourself.

Talk to your therapist about ways you might bring some clarity and directness to the situation. For instance, maybe it would be a good idea to explain to your aunt directly how awful you feel that your brother will not be invited and yet at the same time how necessary you feel it is for your own safety and peace of mind.

Your father says you should just  "suck it up."

To "suck it up" in sports means not to concentrate on your own problems but lose yourself in the team effort and rise to the occasion. But in a family it can also mean to bury your feelings and hide the hideous, destructive things that are taking place. It can also mean not to challenge the authority of the father. You may still feel let down by your father. You may have expected him to protect you from your brother. Now when he says to "suck it up," it may seem that he is telling you to stifle your feelings of outrage, and even to submit to abuse by a stronger sibling.

You say, "It is a cardinal sin to make the bride angry," and then you say, "and I love obeying the rules." This interests me a great deal.

The statement that it is a cardinal sin to make the bride angry rings of an idealized portrait of the mother, a portrait that may have stuck with you since the age of 5 when she was taken from you. So your aunt is a substitute for your mother, and you do not want to make her angry. What will happen if you make her angry? Might she desert you? Might she disappear as your mother did? Is it possible you have some feelings of guilt for your mother's death? Kids are strange. They think they cause things they have nothing to do with. They think it's their fault. Maybe guilt is the flip side of the child's storied omnipotence.

One thing a wedding does, as a performance, is symbolize the ideal family. But this is not a storybook wedding in which a girl becomes a woman and starts out on the road of adult life. Your aunt is a mother already. Presumably she already has a family of her own, and the father of her kids has a family of his own, and they all have friends and perhaps some of them will be at this wedding also, and some will not. So the presence or absence of your brother will not be a pivotal matter. Many other things will be going on.

Rules won't save you. The rules say that a big brother is not supposed to abuse his sister. But the rules didn't hold.

Your brother cannot come to the wedding because he abused you when you were a defenseless girl. Whether that makes the bride angry or not, that is the truth. Whether it breaks the rules or not, it is the truth.

Your aunt is a courageous and knowledgeable woman who can handle the truth. So this is your opportunity to change your role in the family from victim, asking for permission, to hero, taking responsibility for her own safety and well-being, and truth teller.

So talk frankly with your aunt before the wedding. It will make the whole day go much better.

Creative Getaway

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