Family Doesn’t Mean Everything

I have a friend who has some deep and painful issues with her family that we’ve been talking about quite a bit lately and it reminded me of all of the work I’ve done over the years to overcome some similar familial challenges. I won’t tell you her story because it isn’t mine to share, but I thought I would go into some of my story and some of what I shared with her from my experiences. 

As a recap for those of you who haven’t been here long, my parents divorced when I was twelve, they were always fighting and berating one another and us children, both parents were addicts of one thing or another, neither had any desire to take care of themselves in life, my mother died a few years ago of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and my father is an absolute disaster. With all of that and more, I stopped talking to both of them and both of my siblings. I still don’t talk to my father or one of my siblings and I have no intention of changing that, even if they were on their deathbed. Yeah, it’s that kind of family.

And that is where you probably either were ready to cuss me out and tell me how horrible of a person I am, or you were intrigued and really want to know more because you might be in some kind of similar situation. If you are of the first mindset, hear me out. If you are of the second, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. For many years, I thought I was alone and it really wore on me. I am not and you are not.

So, why doesn’t family mean everything? Because family, while yes they may be blood-related, they get no more right to negatively impact your life than any other person in your life. If a girlfriend or boyfriend continually emotionally abuses you, steals from you, or uses you, most of your family and friends would tell you to drop them like something that was on fire. Why would that be any different just for the fact that you share DNA with a person? It isn’t.

No matter where you came from, the family or economic background, or whatever, you have every right to take care of yourself and make sure you are safe and properly cared for. Even if you are berated more for not answering your mother’s phone calls. Even if your grandmother says family always gets a pass. No matter if your sister cannot ever financially provide for herself and her children. Even if you are battling your own demons. No matter what the circumstance is, you need to take care of yourself because if you deteriorate to a point that you can no longer take care of yourself, then you are no good to anybody else. 

I stopped talking to my mother as soon as I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and no longer needed her taxes for financial aid. I stopped talking to both of my siblings around the same time or shortly before. I only talked occasionally to my father for a few more years because my grandmother forced it upon me.

I was not there when my mother was losing her short-term memory and was diagnosed in her late 40’s with early-onset Alzheimer’s. I was not there when my older sister left our mother in her home uncared for and still smoking cigarettes when our mother messed herself and left burning cigarettes because she forgot about them. I was not there when my uncle stepped in and got my mother to sign over power of attorney for herself. I was not there and didn’t financially contribute to the low-end nursing facility Medicaid approved for my mother. I was there in the final last two days, but I was not there as she passed. In my opinion, neither was she.

I was not there when my father broke his ankle, then overdosed on painkillers and broke it worse. I was not there when he was having withdrawals because his doctors switched companies and no longer could provide my father with “care”.

I was not there when my older sister lost this job or that job or another job. I was not there when she moved states to try to find someone to be close to. I was not there when she finally decided to divorce her abusive ex-husband. I am not there for my nephews who desperately need a positive role model in their lives.

I was not there for the birth of my younger sister’s two children or any of her life for about ten or so years. I went to her wedding because our grandmother forced it. Our last argument was about our mother’s condition three days before she died. This is the only family member out of all of them that I reconciled with and it wasn’t easy or quick. There is still a lot of pain in this relationship.

All of that to say that I am not a terrible or horrible person for not being there. It’s not that I don’t care, because there is a deep-down part of me that does. It’s that I need to care for myself and my well-being so I can live MY life. There are people in my life that do not understand this and continue to try to force a relationship with or even conversation about one or more of these people. 

If you are in any kind of similar situation, here is what I said via text about caring for and being present for the end of life, and regarding the person who may be calling you a terrible person. Pronouns and identifying details have been omitted or changed.

About care for the person and being present:

You do [care] because there is a lot of baggage to unpack and work through. There are so many feelings, subconscious and conscious that you can’t explain or identify. And you may care about this person enough to be sad for their situation, but still be hurt enough not to be able to go down there while the person is alive. Or you may want to go and when you get there find that you break down without control or show no emotion at all. Regardless of seeing the person or going for a funeral, the complicated feelings you have will bubble up into breakdowns you can’t explain or hate that you need to get out. What you feel is normal for your history with this person. It is perfectly complicatedly normal. You are not a terrible person for your feelings or emotions regarding your person.

About a family member calling you a terrible person for your choices:

What your family member doesn’t understand or even recognize is that he is blinded by her relationship with the person. The family member will never see any of your views as plausible or if she does, it won’t acknowledge it because he can’t admit she is/was wrong.

Here’s the thing, these fractures in our families are devastating and painful, not just for us, but for other family members who are too blind to see it or who refuse to acknowledge anything outside of their opinion. These fractures harm other relationships and may even cause other fractures and it fucking sucks. It really does. 

Cutting people out of our life isn’t about being better than those people, it’s about taking care of ourselves and stopped the literal or figurative bleeding from the pain they have caused us. This bleeding is most definitely not always obvious to everybody else and that is okay. We don’t have to explain it. What we need to do is to stop the bleeding and find a way to heal ourselves. Most of the time the first step to healing is by removing the cause of the pain from our lives.

If you are a person who typically judges people who don’t live and die by maintaining the family unit, I hope you take a second to listen with an open mind to the people who are hurting. They have a very valid reason for what they are doing.

If you are a person who has cut someone out of your life but is still on the receiving end of hate from other family members, I want to tell you two things: first, you have a very valid reason for cutting that person or those people out of your life and do everything possible for yourself to heal, you are your priority; and second, if the rest of your family can’t respect or give you space for your decision, maybe they need less access to you as well.

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