Thursday, January 18, 2018

Guest Post: When Family Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

Leaving one's family, community, and faith can provoke all kinds of ambivalent feelings, but there are moments of pure clarity also -- especially when well-meaning people make uninformed assumptions, and you have to school them or blow a gasket.

Even if the schooling takes place as an interior dialogue.


When I saw this Facebook post, I asked if I could share it here. The writer agreed and said shared that she is in a better place now. The frustration you'll read about below "has been diminishing every time I speak up."

--Free

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GUEST POST

by Anonymous

Many people say to me, “it must be hard for your family because they can’t see/talk to you.” They say “Oh, it must be hard not to have relationships with your family.”

This is one of the hardest things I deal with now. Some people, when they say this, they are empathizing. Some are vilifying me. I am a monster because I left, I’ve been gone for a good half decade. Who in their right mind could do that sort of thing? Or I must be a ruined pile of a person because I don’t have relationships with my family. Guess what. I’m not a monster. I’m not a ruined pile. 

Ending relationships with family doesn’t happen from a place of function. It comes from a very dysfunctional place. If you have a loving, caring family, you may not understand or even comprehend the logistics of unhealthy relationships. But at the same time, repeating over and over that family is the most important piece of one’s life is damaging, especially if family means dysfunction. So tweak your rule a little bit. Family is the most important part of your life, if your family is healthy.
In not being able to recognize this, you are at the same time denying my experience, my pain. You are triggering me yet again to feel shame and betrayal that I felt when I left. Calling it shame and betrayal is undermining what actually happened. I experienced repeated psychological abuse. My dad spoke a sermon about me. Well, it wasn’t actually me. It was his perception of me. With a warning that the devil was going to get my pinkie, my arm, my whole body because I had a taste of sin. Which was alcohol and a man and breaking into my grandma's house to hang out with said man and liquor. Oh, and french bread and heirloom tomatoes. Devil’s got my pinkie, oh delicious, juicy tomatoes. And I actually didn’t drink the alcohol. I’d never had any before and I didn’t start then. Oh, no. It was later on, and it was Mike’s hard lemonade. I was so terrified that I probably drank half of it in the span of two hours.

My question is? How much would you put up with? With a stranger it’s easy to say no. Family, though. That’s a different field, isn’t it. Family can do anything to you. It’s okay. They’re family.
Would you put up with a sermon from your dad about how the devil is getting in your soul? Would you put up with calling your grandma to ask for money only having her ask you to call back when grandpa is home, so you can talk to him. You do that and when you talk to him on the phone, grandma is in the background telling him what to say. That no, you can’t have money to pay your balance at the university. Why, you ask? Your grandma tells your grandpa to say it’s because you’re living in sin. You’re living with a man, who you’re not married to.

Can you guess why we didn’t get married right away? Because my family was treating me like shit and I was hoping it would get better but it never did. 

Would you put up with a Thanksgiving where your sister-in-law and your mom snarkily talk about how an engagement ring isn’t a ring if it doesn’t have a giant rock? And you’re standing right there, listening to them, and your engagement ring is giant rock-free?
Would you put up with people stopping saying “God’s Peace” to you, which is code for “we are in the same church and everyone else is going to hell.” Like bro code. You could stand in a line with forty other people and a person walks down the line, shaking everyone’s hand and saying God’s Peace. When the person gets to you, they skip you like you didn’t exist and move on. God’s Peace. God’s Peace. God’s Peace. Oh you’re going to hell. Next person.

Would you put up with letters written to you about how sinful you are? Would you put up with your sister-in-law writing messages to your fiance on Facebook about she hates his posts and why does he even say anything?

Would you put up with a friend who once said you were like a sister, walk hurriedly by you within five feet, angrily, and at the same time pretending she didn’t see you? Would you call her later as a lifeline because you’re so alone, and she says let's meet up, but not in my home. Because I might, like, bring drugs or something because I’m going to hell. Anything sinful is up for grabs.

Would you put up with your sister telling you that you need to save your siblings from the church? That by maintaining abusive relationships you can help pull them out too?

What would you do? What would you do when your whole community, your family, your world is torn down from the inside? When all the loving, trusting relationships you ever knew instantly turned to pain?

Would you run or stay?

Many of you might say that you would run. But let me tell you something. Out of all the people that I know left my church, many of them still have these relationships with their family. And they are dysfunctional. My cousin’s dad punched her sister in the back and said that she and her sister were making their mom cry all the time because they didn’t attend church. When we were kids he broke a neighbor kid’s arm. He broke a child’s arm. Never went to jail. My cousin that left the church still maintains her relationship with her dad.

There are stories and stories of sexual abuse too. Molestation. Rampant in families, rampant in the church. If you don’t believe me just ask. If emotional and psychological abuse aren’t enough for you.
This is the tip of the iceberg of my story. But I ask you. Respect me. And don’t say shit like “Oh it must be hard to not have relationships with your family.” You know what’s way, way, way, way harder? Spending 20 or so years being abused.

And letting it happen even longer. Because family.

Saying “it must be hard….” silences me. I cannot find myself when yet again, I am seen in a weird light. I had a fucking hard time, yes. Try to think of these painful moments and realize that they happened to me every day. Every day. A hiss of “I’ll pray for you” in your ear by your great aunt and you’re supposed to act like your day is perfectly fine. Your attempt to empathize isn’t going to fix years of abuse.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

How to Be An Adult

Happy new year, readers. I've been fully-occupied in recent months by creative projects, and hope for more of the same in 2018. I haven't forgotten this site (if anything, movements such as #metoo give renewed hope for reforms) but these pages will continue to be quiet as I work on other interests.

If you are in need of support or inspiration, please join the Extoots Facebook groupOne of the current topics is how to relate to Laestadian friends and relatives after leaving the faith.

This "declaration" by therapist David Richo (How to Be an Adult in RelationshipsThe Five Things We Cannot Change, et al) may help.

He advises preparing for potentially difficult conversations by first having a conversation with yourself, confirming the following:
  • I accept full responsibility for the shape my life has taken.
  • I need never fear my own truth, thoughts, or sexuality.
  • I let people go away or stay and I am still okay.
  • I accept that I may never feel I am receiving – or have received – all the attention I seek.
  • I acknowledge that reality is not obligated to me; it remains unaffected by my wishes or rights.
  • One by one, I drop every expectation of people and things.
  • I reconcile myself to the limits on others’ giving to me and on my giving to them.
  • Until I see another’s behavior with compassion, I have not understood it.
  • I let go of blame, regret, vengeance, and the infantile desire to punish those who hurt or reject me.
  • I am still safe when I cease following the rules my parents (or others) set for me.
  • I cherish my own integrity and do not use it as a yardstick for anyone else’s behavior.
  • I am free to have and entertain any thought. I do not have the right to do whatever I want. I respect the limits of freedom and still act freely.
  • No one can or needs to bail me out. I am not entitled to be taken care of by anyone or anything.
  • I give without demanding appreciation though I may always ask for it.
  • I reject whining and complaining as useless distractions from direct action on or withdrawal from unacceptable situations.
  • I let go of control without losing control.
  • If people knew me as I really am, they would love me for being human like them.
  • I drop poses and let my every word and deed reveal what I am really like.
  • I live by personal standards and at the same time – in self-forgiveness – I make allowances for my occasional lapses.
  • I grant myself a margin of error in my relationships. I release myself from the pain of having to be right or competent all the time.
  • I accept that it is normal to feel that I do not always measure up.
  • I am ultimately adequate to any challenge that comes to me.
  • My self-acceptance is not complacency since in itself it represents an enormous change.
  • I am happy to do what I love and love what is.
  • Wholehearted engagement with my circumstances releases my irrepressible liveliness.
  • I love unconditionally and set sane conditions on my self-giving.