The Problem With FamilyThe holidays bring about one of two sentiments when it comes to familial gatherings: excitement or dread. Anyone who's watched National Lampoon's Christmas can attest to this.
This holiday season found me experiencing both, but culminating exponentially in dread -so much so, that my place in my family has been sealed: I am invisible. It's the worst feeling and were I brave enough I would share more stories of my invisibility (of being, not having the gift) -all of which led to one bad decision or another at some point.
At my age it shouldn't matter. On my own, I've crafted my self-esteem. Like a Phoenix rising up from the ashes, I rose from darkness. I rose from...many things....so that my worth -who I am, who I see- matters a whole helluva lot. I genuinely like who I am. I know I'm a good wife and good mother. Far from perfect, but wielded with enough redeemable qualities that I can claim good's graces.
Knowing this as I do, you'd think invisibility would no longer be a factor in my life. Yet, I recently found myself slapped silly by the reality that...well, my family flat doesn't give a sh*t about me. And that's a really tough pill to swallow.
I've been stewing on it for a couple of weeks and haven't been able to let go. I hope writing about it finally allows a reprieve.
The thing is, the world is full of people who don't care and will never care. The world is full of meanies, and haters, and all sorts of unsavory folk. Family is where we're suppose to feel most welcomed, most loved, most valued. "Suppose to" is such a tricky tricky thing though, isn't it? At 36 and happily married, I found myself heartbroken....again. I stared into the faces of blood and saw emptiness -sheer emptiness. These are not people with drug or alcohol addictions. These are not people with mental disorders. They're grounded in the working class God-fearing cohort that many Americans belong to. They have no glaring obvious dysfunction that would make them so emotionally inept, yet they are.
My family is very small. Including my mom and dad I have 10 blood relatives.
You would think this would mean we are super close/tight-knit and that we relish in quality time together. Far from it. My parents only call once a month or so. We have no discord; we simply don't communicate for no other reason than life gets in the way. I used to make the time. I used to call weekly because I knew the value of family. But you know..sometimes you want others to show an interest. You want them to want to talk to you. When I didn't get called back week after week, I sort of stopped calling, too. My mom and I, however, are slowly changing this and I am grateful for that. In fact, in a strange ironic twist, she and I are becoming closer as my dad and I drift apart. For most of my life it was always the other way around. My dad and I have always been at ease with each other. But this past visit, I never felt more astranged in my life. Something changed in him and I don't think it'll ever come back. I felt the absence and my heartbroke.
My dads side of the family, consisting of 2 aunts, 1 cousin, and 1 grandpa, has never had interest in me. Funny, though..they're all close with each other, but not with me. I was the first grandchild and first niece. I've heard stories that as an infant and toddler I was adored. I've even seen pictures that make it seem legit. But interest was lost somewhere along the way. I am the obvious black sheep for whom they don't understand, don't want to understand, and still make wild assumptions about. I've tried connecting with my aunts and cousin many times over the years, but it always ends up futile. I don't make the effort anymore, but when the opportunity arises to see them, I am genuinely excited. It is family after all.
What I learned this xmas is that they're not in the least bit excited at all to see me or my husband or my children or learn anything about my life. I was ignored, talked down-to, patronized, and condescended by at least 3 of them in the span of 2 hours after not having seen any of them in more than 2 years. I will spare the details of what and how, because this is already getting longer than I'd intended, but they really hurt me. It might make some sense if there was a backstory -some drama that still lingers that they can't get over. But there's not. There was never a family falling out. There has never been harsh words exchanged. Hell, I've only ever seen them at holidays -even when we lived in the same city. But it is very clear that something about me really bothers them. Is it because I'm heavily tattooed? Is it because I lean towards Buddhism and Unitarianism and am not Christian? Is it because I don't adhere to their conservative roots? Who knows.
The thing is, I've known all this about them for years. Hoping for anything different this visit was incredibly naive, yet it stung the most. I suppose part of me thought that as a 36 year old woman, wife, and mother, they'd finally show interest. I'm no longer that clumsy wild tomboy. I'm no longer that sexually wild teenager. But it's as if they 're fixated on someone that no longer exists. They still see little me, all mess and unfitting.
I can only guess as to know what it is. I don't care about status quo and this bothers them. I don't care about fitting in or looking a certain part and this bothers them. I don't care about putting up false pretenses so as not to be judged and this bothers them. I am authentically me and deep and real and honest and this bothers them. Ironically, and despite their appearances as affluent contributing members of society, they're all dishonest, superficial, unintelligent souls. There's no authentic substance in a single one of them. I know this. So why the hell would it bother me that they can't see me? I'm annoyed with myself that I've let it bother me, but it has. Deeply. I can only rationalize it on the longings of a family that I've always craved, but never owned. And they're tinged with those feelings of being invisible and unwanted that still haunt me, apparently more than I thought they did. The feeling as if I don't matter is probably one of the worst I've experienced, and, as mentioned above, has been the catalyst for many bad predicaments I landed myself in.
I spent a large portion of my childhood smack dab in the center of that lonely cesspool. I've done a lot of self-therapy and self-actualization to pull through that and aknowledge that I am someone -better than a hell of a lot people in fact (ego shmego..lol). I know my husband and children and friends love and value me. Most importantly, I value myself. But the fact that my family still has the power -that I've allowed them to keep that power- to reduce me to feeling like nothing speaks volumes, I suppose, about my damaged soul.
I decided to write in an effort to purge and move on. I no longer want to allow them that power. Although I'll likely never confront them (because it's pointless to confront people I no longer want in my life), I needed it to be said (er' written):
I am beautiful and kind. I am intelligent and spiritual. I am giving and honest. I am open-minded and fun. I laugh every day and yes, I truly stop to smell the roses. I enjoy dancing and bad jokes and cocktail hour. I adore my children and show them every single day of their lives. I value the words of Emerson, Buddha, and even Marx. I do not fit into your tiny ideals and, god knows, I wouldn't want to! I seek growth on a daily basis. I have not yet reached my potential and it keeps me striving towards a better version of myself. Who I am matters to me and to those in my life. I.AM. NOT. INVISIBLE.
Who you are disgusts me. You value nothing other than the image you produce and the secrets you keep. Your soul lacks genuine happiness and you are riddled with things that make me sad for you. Your inability to seek meaning beyond your own blinders has meant you've been deprived of so much beauty -namely in me and my babies. You won't see me as I reach my potential and you damn sure won't see them as they reach theirs. Although I realize you won't miss what you've never known, I feel sorry for you that you were this close to someone who could have shown you so much. Cliche though it may be, it truly is your loss.
I'm stripping each of you of the power to control any aspect of how I feel. My worth is not in your control. I will no longer tolerate your presence in my life. In fact, you are not my family -you are merely the rotten termite infested oak from which one tiny seedling fell and blossomed into something so much stronger and magnificent -not out of your shadows, but in the guiding beams of hope, determination, and authentic love.
ps. so go f*** yourselves!!!
(come on, you know I had to! )