The difficulty of estrangement
One of the first things people ask me in the UK when they figure out that I’m American is when was the last time I “went home”.
I’ve been in the UK for awhile now, first studying and then working, but I’ve been wanting to leave the US permanently since 2006. As a disabled person, I wanted a stronger health system that could help me cope with my disorder without having to be ultimately tied to an employer. I considered Germany, but didn’t speak German well enough to get a job, so, after studying abroad in the UK in 2008, I set my sights for London. And London, to me, is home.
If “home” involved my parents, then I haven’t “gone home” for a long time.
When I was 16, my father disowned me. Not because I’m bisexual. Not because I dated people who weren’t white, although that might have later got in me trouble. I was disowned so my father could avoid paying child support. At the time, it was incredibly painful for me. I felt I had a close relationship with my father, but like a lot of people who end up estranged from their parents, sometimes it takes one incident to make you realise how fragile or non-existent your relationship with your parents is.
Today, I’m not very sad about it happening because I realise the person that I thought was my father just wasn’t a real person. If my father is my “home”, I’ve been gone for 13 years.
If my “home” is my mother, I’ve been gone for six years. After receiving therapy for a year, I slowly began to realise that the relationship we had wasn’t much of a relationship. My mother has severe mental health problems which she refuses to see as problems, let alone treat. I ended up not being on Facebook chat 24/7, mostly due to work I got which didn’t involve being on social media, and I realised, the less conversations we had the less panic attacks and social anxiety I had.
Eventually, an argument about money brought everything to the surface. Although I was upset with my mother for not even considering lending me some money for surgery that I needed when I had leant money to her or paid bills for her for the last couple of years — it wasn’t just that.
Our whole relationship was built on a broken foundation, so under the least bit of stress, it crumbled to dust.
I came to realise that there were many things she had done that hadn’t been right and that so many aspects of my social anxiety and OCD had come from being raised by someone with her mental health condition. I broke the law of American Southern taboo and I told my mother all of the things that upset me and told her that, if we were going to have a proper relationship, she would need to get help for her condition.
She refuses to.
London is my home and, in time, it will become my permanent home as a UK citizen. But how do I convey all of this in a light conversation with people who ask me about my family, my relatives, people back in the US that don’t really speak to me despite me trying hard to get in touch?
I avoid discussing estrangement with strangers because, at times when I have, especially if they don’t understand mental illness and the idea that people can be both parents and be cruel, they tell me that, deep down, my parents do really love in me in their hearts.
But love doesn’t conquer and solve everything.
You have a right to remove toxic people from your life, even if they are related to you. Even if they are your parents. Even if your culture tells you that you are indebted to them.
More people should realise that blood is not thicker than water.
Ironically, the phrase “blood is thicker than water” is a misquote of the phrase “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”. And although I’m not religious in that way, I would say that the original phrase has it’s merits.