I have started to write this time and time again. I wrote part of it in The Faintest Echo – but it’s only a small part.
I try again. The words begin, get all muddled and hard to follow, and I abandon it.
Not this time.
I’m being nudged from the other side to share it, and the nudging just won’t stop until this is written.
There must be someone out there who needs to hear it.
Is it you?
“Sometimes walking away is a fiercely courageous act of self-compassion.”
I said this to a friend at a moment she needed to hear it. And saying it reminded me of so much in my life.
I have walked away many times. The big walk was from my family and the church I was raised in.
It started when I was a teen, but it started so much earlier than that.
Only now, looking back, am I beginning to see glimpses of the root of my dissonance in that community.
Why is it that I didn’t fit in with them?
I take what people say at face value. If you tell me a thing, I believe you. I mean, usually I can pick up on sarcasm and deadpan humour, but if you are speaking in such a way that I need to read between the lines to understand what you are asking me to do, I just won’t get it. I might realize I’m missing something, but I won’t be able to find the thread of it.
But that’s how my family was. Or at least I think they must have been. Because what they said and what they did never seemed to match up. And I found myself in awkward situations where I suppose I should have known the thing would have happened, but it was all a surprise to me.
After years of thinking something was wrong with me, I’ve decided that it’s not that I have a particular stupidity. Instead, I’ve decided that I trust people. I don’t have any reason to trust what people say nearly as much as I do, given how I was raised, but I do. And I’m not about to try to train myself to be different.
Trust feels like the Divine breathing through me.
In all of that unspoken stuff in the family, there was some subset of rules that I never learned.
Contrary as it may appear, I actually like rules. I have such a preference to be in an environment that has some rules that I often make up my own rules. It’s true that I don’t always follow every rule to its letter, but more often than not, I play by the rules.
One of my sources of angst as a child was that I didn’t know what the family rules were. I still don’t. It seems to me that I should perhaps feel a little shocked that when I finally watched the Godfather movies just last year that I thought my family was just like theirs – without the whacking (as far as I know). That’s not how a supportive, nurturing family works, is it?
As a teen I was dismayed by what I saw in the church – or the religion as practiced by my family. Judgment shown in so many ways. The only motivation for doing good was to be seen doing good, and to get into heaven. Isn’t doing good enough? Do we need the incentive of a reward just to be good people?
And my family’s desire to always appear to be better than they were just didn’t work for me. They tried to look more prestigious and more wealthy than they wer. They tried to look functional and close. There was nothing about my family that felt close and functional to me, and I couldn’t pretend it did. But appearance was all that seemed important to them.
In a roundabout way I guess I discovered just how important authenticity is to me.
At the root of it all, it seemed like my family and my church – and especially my mother – expected me to be someone I was not, and I wasn’t capable of doing it.
It took time to realize that I could not change them – that I had no right to expect them to change for me, just as I would not change for them.
Today I describe this as a difference in values.
A dear Facebook friend described my viewpoint as I “don’t identify with my birth family.”
It’s a good enough description for me.
This is the part where it usually gets messy. I think of all the emotions I had in my family, and begin to describe them. Not only does it not feel good to get so close to all that again, it doesn’t read well either.
This time I stop.
I don’t need to tell you that much. You don’t need to tell me, either.
Here’s the thing: if you feel alien with the people you are around, you are not around the right people for you. You are not the problem.
You don’t need to justify your choice to leave them in any way. No need to share horrific stories of abuse, no need to describe feelings of fear or alienation, no need to tell us your particular version of the family that was not a family to you.
You just have to know that this was not your place – that there is another better place for you.
And you need to focus – with all of the intention that your heart can muster – on not carrying bitterness with you.
When the time was right for me, I walked away. I left. There were conversations, there were letters. It wasn’t as quick as I would have liked.
Eventually – thank goodness! – there was quiet.
In my heart I said from the beginning: I hold nothing against them. I can’t change them. May they have a happy life without me. May I have a happy life without them.
I said this a lot. To remind myself of my intention. To keep myself from feeling a grudge against them.
I focused on letting go of whatever they had meant to me.
I’ve been told that what I did was brave, that it must have been hard, choosing a life without a family.
Perhaps it was brave. Fiercely courageous, even!
And yes, it was hard to remember to not be angry, to not hold things against them.
But it was never hard to not have a family.
You can’t miss what you never felt you had.
Many years passed. My life with my husband is rich, loving, interesting.
We are, it turns out, pretty happy.
I reconnected with my mother’s sister. She was the youngest. She witnessed behaviours that would shock most people. She stayed in touch with the family out of respect for her mother – so she said – but she stayed in touch with the family even after my grandmother died.
The stories she told were awful. I have no doubt they were true.
These encounters with Sylvia – these truths she shared with me – served my heart in two deeply touching ways.
At first I felt the relief of knowing that it was not all in my head, not only my perception, that the woman who raised me was beyond difficult.
Others could see that chaos behind the facade.
But I also realized how much bitterness Sylvia lived in. She was not free and happy.She had not walked away.
For me, those different values have been far enough away for so many years that they couldn’t bump into mine anymore. Without that steady barrage, there was plenty of space for happiness to grow.
I really do have a happy life without them and I really do hope they all had a happy life without me.
It turns out that I’m not actually bitter.
Not so for Sylvia.
Without the luxury of distance, she was slammed by those same glaring differences in values again and again. How could she release her bitterness when she was reminded of its necessity so frequently?
I so wanted to help Sylvia release her bitterness.
It didn’t happen. She took it to her grave.
This saddens my heart. Perhaps I could have helped her find that ease if I had learned my skills sooner.
It also motivates me.
I want my experience to help you live a life without that bitterness.
You can let it go. You can walk away. You can be happy without them.
It’s going to take practice, work, support from your new soul-family, and time. You can do it. You can find your own way.
There are nay-sayers, of course. There are those who are sure I will regret this separation, and some who point at the bible to prove I’m wrong.
How do I answer the commandment to Honour your father and mother?
I can not think of a better way to honour your parents than to be wholly yourself. To be the healthiest, most fully empowered person you can be.
That might mean extricating yourself from the family that did not support you in becoming the full you.
Away from the shadow of that environment, think of the blossoming that will come for you. You are and will be a brilliant flower for the world to love.