Here in America and in many countries in The West, the value of the traditional family is bashed into our skulls since day one.
“You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”
“Family is everything.”
But, what many of us know is that this idea can not only be absolutely false, but far, far from the truth. Between divorce, death, feuds, abuse, ego, distance, and about a million other really shitty things that people go through in life, I know far too many people who have lost significant portions, if not all of, their biological families.
Growing up, I can’t remember my parents not being divorced. Lucky for me, they get along better than most married people I know and I still saw both sides of my family. My dad’s side, while huge and amazing, lives in New Jersey and I don’t see them as often as I would like to. My mom’s side was always a central beacon in my life, I had cousins close to my age, lovely grandparents and they all happened to live in the area.
I’ve written before about how I was always the black sheep of the family. I craved attention to a fault, often finding myself crying in my room at family functions because I craved love that wasn’t there. I wanted a fiercely close, protective family and what I got were a bunch of loud, sarcastic Italians and a few really quiet, closed off “cool kid” relatives. I invited them to everything I ever did, wanting constantly to be close, to play and they could not have it.
When I was about 11, my family had a huge falling out in which we lost contact with about six members of the family. I won’t go into too much detail to protect the innocent, but let’s just say EVERYONE in my semi-small town knew and it was hell.
I grew to be a very angry little girl, feeling bitter that many of my friends had these traditional and quiet, loving families. I know now that there is much that we don’t see just bubbling below the surface in these types of families.
We eventually rejoined with these members, much to the distrust of me. I took them back politely, never getting too close. I just knew something would break. I was right.
Right when I turned 20, it happened again. They estranged themselves again but even worse, I was fully conscious of every little detail. I was no longer a kid that everyone felt they needed to protect. I had a relative attending college with me and some of them had previously moved down the street from us. It was hell. I cried myself to sleep night after night at a time when everything else in my life was pretty perfect and I didn’t get to enjoy it.
People, including myself, love to give their tips about how to “get over” romantic breakups. We tell people to delete these people on Facebook, destroy old pictures and take your mind off it. But, nobody quite tells you what to do when you break up with family members.
Much like a romantic breakup, I felt like I had no control over the situation. I felt a loss of love, other peoples’ happiness made me sick and I was relentlessly sad. Also much like a romantic breakup, I found it extremely hard to talk about it with anyone. When I would bring it up, people tended to get really quiet and apologized a lot and it seemed to imply I had this kind of broken home life or something.
Breaking up with this part of my family felt like getting dumped by an awful long-term boyfriend. You feel tempted to stay just because it’s familiar and you feel like you have to, but once it happens, beyond your control, you roll with it because you’re pretty relieved, if not a little sad.
But breaking up with your family isn’t quite like a normal breakup, not really. It really, really hurts around the holidays, around big moments in your life, around their birthdays, around your birthday.
I’m luckier than most. My family and the old members of it simply ignore each other. There was no violence and very few legal battles. I have an amazing family of friends who were there the second I needed them, who knew what to do when I came crawling into their rooms. I had countless invites to Thanksgivings, Easters, parties, and vacations.
I keep good people around. That’s what all of this has taught me. Blood is thicker than water, but sometimes that blood is bad and toxic. That does not have any reflection on you. I think that’s the biggest misconception that people have, that just because you may have been abandoned by your blood that somehow you did something wrong. You can’t always take on peoples’ pain. You have to do what’s best for you, even if that means letting people go. Sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways that have nothing to do with you.
So my quick and dirty advice to those in my shoes? Build yourself a merry band of supporters. Love them. Appreciate them and lean on them. Despite what Hallmark may tell you, family is what you make of it. Don’t push yourself. Make sure you say your piece, even if it’s to your best friend, in a letter you don’t send or to your pillow at night.
And, feel free to punch me in the face for this, but it DOES get easier. It may still have a dull ache, but life does go on. And so must you.
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