“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” -Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy
I grew up in a family that defined dysfunctional before anyone ever used the word. Unresolved pain in my parents’ lives served as the foundation of their relationship and my childhood was steeped in unspoken terrifying rage or screaming fits that filled every space. I became an early talker, as it was my only recognizable means of defusing situations that could explode at any moment. My siblings each had their own devices, but no one in my family ever had each other. The strain removed all possibility of any intimacy. We all moved around each other, trying not to bump into anyone, knowing early there was no where to bring our needs.
I dedicated my adolescence and early adulthood to filling that void with a family of my own making. I was devoted to my friendships as most people dote on their families and was reminded continuously of how family was prioritized over friendships, and longed all the more for a family of my own. Marrying early, raising children and creating family rituals that defined us became my solace. Growing a family with the singular goals of kindness while teaching and practicing emotional intelligence was my therapy.
Years of practice and learning to love while raising a family had mostly cured me of the unique brand of family insanity that formed me. This was true at least at a distance. Over the years, at family reunions, my children had seen how my original family didn’t bring out the best in me. They have witnessed the wanton cruelty that my family employs as discourse. They have seen me broken by the disrespect and meanness that is my original family’s brand of madness. They have held onto me and reassured me when I saw myself slipping back into old patterns.
Dealing with my original family with thousands of miles between us has provided a pretty good safety valve. Yet still, there are moments, like tonight, when I can be caught off guard and swept into the madness of one or the other, or a miscommunication that I wasn’t even aware of. Suddenly I am in the midst of the yelling and raining abuse. I hold the phone away from my ear, trying not to listen, trying to defuse and then something breaks in me and I am in the rushing stream, losing myself, fighting back.
I know from my chosen life, that a healthy, happy, loving family is a form of heaven on earth. It is the place where we can be at our worst and the people around you remind you of your best. It is safety and respite and peace, even amidst the chaos and mess involved in keeping it all going. Creating a home that is built by the connections of loving family is where I can find the meaning of my life.
Tonight, positivity is forgiveness. It is recognizing the small pieces of me that remain tethered to a painful childhood that still shows up in unexpected ways. It is embracing the broken parts of ourselves, without the shame or suffering that so often accompanies it. Forgiveness is the courageous witness to who I have become and all the tender, fragile pieces that are in the fabric.