I’m fairly new to the writing scene but I can already see that a large part of my work will have something to do with my personal interactions, most of which involve my family in some shape or form.
As I noticed this trend it got me thinking about family and the influence they have had on my life, as well as the interactions I’ve witnessed from friends and their families, or lack thereof.
I fully believe family can make or break a person.
If you allow them to. Does this mean that anyone dealt a crappy hand of cards in the family department is doomed to fail as a functioning adult? It can, but it doesn’t have to. Family is not just a mom, dad and two and a half respective children. Family is a unit of people you choose to surround yourself with.
I grew up in, what from the outside could be considered, a broken home. My mother had been divorced twice by the time I was five and married a third time by the time I was eight. Her third marriage brought a new man and his two sons from a previous marriage. These are all strongly developmental years for a child, and divorces and blended families can reek havoc on children all the way into adult hood.
I’m not the poster-child for the idealistic american woman but I turned out pretty well all, things considered, and I give a big nod to my family for that. All during the years my mother was going through her divorces we spent time with her brothers, sisters, parents and cousins. I don’t think I have a single memory of social interactions, from that age, that didn’t involve some sort of family gathering.
Celebrated birthdays; Family was there. Went out to go swimming; Family was there. School functions; family. Holidays; Family. Emergency hospital stays, Family. Lazy afternoon watching a movie; Family.
I loved every minute of it, but what happens when the family unit that surrounds you is toxic? As a child you don’t have much choice in the matter but as an adult you have the control to let those influences go or let them destroy you.
Sounds easier said than done, I know. I had a best friend who I always considered the sister I got to choose. We became friends in kindergarten so it was a long time friendship that I always assumed would be there…forever. But such is life that people grow and change. Dynamics of family and friends evolve as well, and ours became a give/take relationship where she took and I gave. The last few years before I decided to call it quits I knew the relationship had gone sour but it just hurt too darn much to just cut the ties. She was my sister, confidant, best friend. Eventually I could see through the fog of my idealized hopes and dreams, that was our continued association, and realized keeping it together was killing me.
It had become toxic and I was ill equipped to fix what had broken.
Also, I didn't want to! I knew it shouldn't be my sole responsibility and it had been for years. There wasn't any big declaration or Facebook announcement that I was leaving the friendship. I’d already voiced my concerns to her in the past and was met with excuses and fake platitudes so I knew a repeat dialogue would do me no good. What I did, seemed huge to me. I just stopped trying. I didn’t call. I didn’t text. I did block her on social media for the sheer fact that watching her life unfold without me hurt so much. She didn’t care to include me anymore, so I silently let the friendship float down the stream and we went our separate ways.
Do I miss her? Of course! But it’s sort of a dull ache now and hurts less each day. It definitely stings less than the pain I felt when I was trying to keep the relationship afloat and that’s how I know I made the right decision.
Yes, I realize she is the sister I chose. It’s not the same if the toxic family is say, your parents, siblings, or a child. Those would definitely be harder ties to cut because you may choose to distance yourself from the toxic relative but the rest of your family may not. That means you will see that person at family gatherings which, potentially, could put you right back into a toxic situation and who wants that every time there is an important family event.
That does not have to be the case at all. Practicing indifference is my go-to tool in those situations. It take an inordinate amount of patience and practice but its worth it to remain healthy and sane. There were many years I couldn't involve myself in my brothers life. Every day was a new drama filled with stress and turmoil, most of which was self induced. I love my brother but being around him caused me so much stress. He needed so much help and I couldn't give it to him. So I was stuck watching a car crash again and again with no means to stop it. I would cry myself to sleep feeling like the worst person in the world because he was suffering so much and all I wanted to do was run away from it.
It affected my marriage as well as my interactions with my children and I finally had to step back. I had done all I was humanly possible to do for my brother and I just couldn't give any more. I didn't cut him off. I didn't make a big statement declaring my intentions to leave him be. I just slipped into his periphery of drama till I just wasn't there anymore.
And you know what? He did just fine without me. Yes, he still had drama and trials to overcome but I wasn't a part of it and better yet, I came to the realization that he wasn’t any worse off with me not there. When family events inevitably happened, I would smile and node and give my condolences to him when he was struggling but I didn't make myself a part of it. I eliminated the part of the relationship that was breaking me.
It felt like I was breaking free!
The great thing about human nature is that it’s ever changing. Just because you decide not to be in someones life or allow them into yours right now, doesn't mean it has to stay that way forever. I talk to my brother much more now. He is a different person. He still has drama and hardships like everyone and if they ever get crazy again I can pull back, because that’s OK!
Boundaries are OK! There is no familial contract that states you must stay involved in crazy toxic drama just because you are related to someone. There also isn’t anything that demands that those in your own family have to be related.
Like the girl who was my friend; I considered her family. I had known her longer than my own sisters. She was the family I chose to surround myself with and now she’s not. Now I practice healthy boundaries with every single person I allow in my life. Those people to whom I consider part of my family. I no longer allow anyone, especially family, dictate or affect my happiness and peace. I surround myself with friends and relatives who uplift and rejoice in my triumphs, mourn with me in my tragedies, and allow me into their lives to do the same.