Sometimes, I think about my parents or my brother or his children. Those thoughts are accompanied by deeply painful, gut wrenching feelings of loss, separation, and grief.
We are not separated by death, but by the truths and transgressions of our lives. I haven’t spoken with my brother in nearly a decade and I last spoke with my parents in 2014. Those are mutual decisions, set in place by all parties to preserve the narratives necessary for our survival.
“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” (p.97)”
It is just easier to let people assume I’m rejected for being queer and/or mentally ill when the complicated truths of our stories stretch back decades, into centuries filled with violence, poverty, abuse, neglect, addiction, and other oft-cited characteristics of America’s white working/lower classes. It is about my mental health and my identity, but also my politics, my refusal to toe the line protecting abusers, and my refusal to be ashamed of our working class roots and realities.
I dislike the phrase “chosen family” much like I despise the bastardization of the “Island of Misfit Toys” analogy. I didn’t choose my family, but they made most of the formative traumatic choices defining my life. I don’t want another family. I want my family to do better. I want my extended family to reach out. I want my partner and I to be considered family by the whole world, not just people who indulge us.
Not that I’m a stickler for blood and legal ties. I grew up with strictures about my “real” cousins versus adopted cousins, distinctions that made little sense to me. I tended to categorize cousins by their behavior during our annual swimming parties – the realness of kindness over the cruelties of a cousin who shamed and derided me because her family had more of everything. Fast forward to the present era and you can guess who quickly blocked me on Facebook and who did not.
I learned that family relationships can be forged by more than DNA or legal documents. But I don’t try to replicate parental or sibling roles. My two nephews are in my heart, but their moms are not my sisters. That would be weird. And unneccessary. We just are family without labels and it works.
“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”
I don’t choose family because the one I’ve got has not set the bar high. I choose my friends and colleagues and neighbors and comrades. I hope to find peace of mind around all of these things one day, but I don’t count on it. Being an out-law to my partner’s family is nice, but my hardness and rigidity make it a challenge to fit in … I am fortunate to have loving, supportive people in my life.
“Generally the rational brain can override the emotional brain, as long as our fears don’t hijack us. (For example, your fear at being flagged down by the police can turn instantly to gratitude when the cop warns you that there’s an accident ahead.) But the moment we feel trapped, enraged, or rejected, we are vulnerable to activating old maps and to follow their directions. Change begins when we learn to “own” our emotional brains. That means learning to observe and tolerate the heartbreaking and gut-wrenching sensations that register misery and humiliation. Only after learning to bear what is going on inside can we start to befriend, rather than obliterate, the emotions that keep our maps fixed and immutable.”
But I miss having parents, at least the idea of parents. I also resist the idea that I am obligated to fix what was broken long before I came to be. And that just leaves me occasionally crying unexpectedly over a memory or fragment of the past.
As I prepare to begin trauma processing therapy, I realize it might be years before I see and feel the world differently. And I realize I may not have a chance to reunite with my family during that time.
The difference is that I know taking the time to overcome the traumas of my childhood and youth is something I can control. It is more likely to succeed in helping me than the adults in my young life who overwhelmingly failed me and each other. I can’t fix that. I can’t even begin to think about forgiveness until I am no longer haunted and tortured.
“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”
I wish it could be different, but I can’t see that path right now.