All my life, I’ve felt like an orphan. My parents and brother are technically still alive, but have never been real family to me. After enduring years of emotional, psychological, sexual, and spiritual abuse, I made a decision in my early 30’s to go no contact with them. In order to do so, I absorbed much of the blame. I wasn’t strong enough to have “grace” for them. I wasn’t patient enough to put up with them. I wasn’t saintly enough to forgive them of faults they never admitted. It took a while for me to realize how much of a lie all that really was. Looking back, I was the only one who cared enough to put any effort into a relationship. It was entirely one sided, and I was expected to simply bear all of their mess with no expectation of receiving love or understanding in return. Well, fuck that.

As far back as I can remember, I have been looking for a real family.  Family that I could love, and also family that could love me back. I was the kid who made herself at home at her friends’ houses and was never homesick at sleepovers. When I was a teenager, many of my friends had rocky relationships with their parents. It was expected. But then, their relationships got better, and mine didn’t. I got used to the simple fact of not having an older parent figure that I could trust or talk to. It just didn’t exist for me. Milestones came and went. It seemed everyone else got to have a parent they could talk to, who loved them unconditionally, but I had to accept that for me, it didn’t, couldn’t, and wasn’t going to happen.

Because I went no contact, it was projected onto me that I didn’t care about my family. My father went on a smear campaign to make sure everyone within his influence knew how terrible I was. My mother’s self pity and passive-aggressive control tactics reinforced it. And yet, no contact is what made me realize just how much family matters to me. It is because I said no to abuse that I was able to stop the generational evils that infected my bloodline. It is because I went no contact with my abusers that my own children can grow up in a safe, loving, environment. I said no to abuse out of love for my family, not hate for them. I realized that the best way I could honor my abusive parents was to never let them hurt me or my children again.

We can’t choose who we are born to, but we can choose who is real family. I used to think family was defined by who I chose to love. I used to think it was proper to strive to love my birth family without any expectation of love in return. But as life has proven to me over and over again, I am not a saint. More importantly, offering this kind of love to an abuser is only a recipe for more abuse. Even so, whether it is spiritual idealism or a product of growing up in an abusive environment, I am conditioned to love others without much expectation. The key factor for me in finding my real family is whether they can love me back.

Growing up, there was one person in my family whom I looked up to, and felt connected with. She meant the world to me. Even though I saw her maybe no more than a combined total of two or three weeks throughout my childhood, she made a profound and lasting impression on me. We lost touch for many years, for reasons related to the abuse, and just recently got back in touch. As wonderful as it was to have her back in my life, a new fear emerged. Who she was to me in my formative years had become so epic in my mind, that I was afraid I would be let down. I had put her on a pedestal, and I was content to keep my memory of her there for the child in me who so desperately needed a role model. As much as I longed to connect with my childhood hero, I worried. What if she was another person I was destined to love, but couldn’t love me back? I couldn’t bear the loss.

As someone who has acquired a shitload of strength and endurance from carrying the burdens of my family’s dysfunction, it is most uncomfortable for me to admit that I am fragile, vulnerable, and in need of love. I have fought to grow into a place of health in my relationship with myself, my marriage, and with my young children, but to admit that I need love from anyone else is a wound not yet healed. But as wounded as I am, my heart longs for real family.

And then, she loved me back. None of us share the same blood, but the family I created was accepted and loved by the family she created. She had made similar choices, out of love, to say no to abuse. The toxic people we shared in common are long gone, but we have them to credit for bringing us together. Love won. Goodness prevailed. Redemption came. We can reclaim each other and stay safe from harm. Aside from my husband and children, she is the realest family I have. The way she has accepted me into her life makes me weep. I am worthy of family who loves me back.

 

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