We’ve all heard it before. You get into an argument with someone in your bloodline, and someone else helpfully says, “Well, you can’t pick your family.” There are so many variations of this statement, including but not limited to:
“She’s your mom.”
“You can’t say no to your grandmother.”
“He’s the only dad you’ve got.”
“If you could choose your family, life sure would be easier!”
Well, I happen to think you can choose your family. I’ve believed that for a long, long time. My best friends from high school are my sisters, and my best friend from college is my brother. I’d do anything for them. I like to believe they’d do the same for me. We are family, even if we don’t share an ounce of the same DNA. I’d say I would take a bullet for them, but I’d at least like to know why they are being shot in the first place. Then I’d definitely consider it.
I never really put much thought into cultivating my chosen family until this year, when I started having problems in my extended family. Frankly, I was being treated badly and I was expected to take it. I was supposed to smile and pretend everything was OK, because family is apparently the most important thing in the world … even when you’re being treated as if your emotions don’t matter. Even when you’re being treated as if your emotions are a burden, as if you are a burden.
Now, I don’t remember reading about accepting abuse in the family handbook. In fact, I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to do that. It took me a while to realize this, because I was stuck deep in the FOG — Fear, Obligation and Guilt. I feared I’d be alone if I stood up for myself, and I felt obligated to play my part at family functions despite the trauma caused by someone I loved. I thought they loved me, too. That was certainly the most painful part, realizing everything I believed had been a dream. I had lived in a dream world for years. Blissful ignorance isn’t so blissful once you understand what it is.
Still, I was patient. I tried to talk it through. I tried to fix everything, even though I wasn’t the one who broke it. It took way too long for me to realize you can’t fix a broken person. You can only focus on your response and hope that’s good enough. Unfortunately, many broken people believe they’re doing just fine. They’re not going to fix themselves if they think they’ve done everything right, so they’re certainly not going to try to treat you any better.
Cyclical abuse rarely changes, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. It’s so easy to feel like the world is caving in when your family hurts and abandons you. For some time now, I’ve been feeling that particular kind of hopelessness. I’ve wallowed and cried. I’ve written in journals about how I feel left behind. I’ve penned angst poetry that will never see a public platform. I’ve tried to cope in so many ways, knowing there’s truly only one thing left to do.
I have to remove myself from the situation. That’s so tough, because I love my family. I thought I meant something to them, but the facts say something else. There comes a time when all of us have to look at the facts, no matter how painful it is. It’s time.
I’m writing this to encourage those of you who have been in a similar situation. There’s nothing more difficult than realizing you need to separate yourself from people who are hurting you … especially when you love them, and especially when they’re your family. Standing up for yourself is important. There’s no shame in asking to be treated with respect, but you’ve got to be prepared for the response.
No matter what happens, I’m sure I have many other family members who do respect me. Even better, I have several friends who have become my family. They are the family I chose.
And if I had to do it all over, I’d choose them again and again.
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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com