Family of Choice and Other Acts of Rebellion

Posted: May 5, 2015 in Blog
Tags: , , , ,

“Ohana means family. Family means nobody is left behind or forgotten.”

Simultaneous truths can be difficult to grasp, especially since we are engineered from the time we are tiny people to buy into binary systems on lots of topics. If we believe Point A, then we must not believe Point B. What happens at those times when Point A and Point B are both true for us?

I’ve wondered many times about my own experience of “family” since starting to write Urban Tidepool. It being a subjective experience, there’s no way to know how it compares to other people’s experiences of “family”, of having family and being with family. I wonder how other people attach or not, commit or not, process that movement from the outer social circle of acquaintance to the inner circle of being considered family of choice.  I assume people do that differently than I do, at least the processing part.

On a broader scale, I’ve wondered about and dabbled in researching how orphans experience family later in life. In the mental health field, we now have the ACE test that encourages clinicians to consider the later-in-life physical health implications of childhood trauma.  Most of the information that I’ve found so far on the later-in-life effects of growing up without parents focus on kids in orphanages in third world countries—certainly a respectable topic that warrants research but nothing that fits what I’m looking for.

Oddly, the comment that stands out the most for me is from a Disney movie. Well, for folks who have met me and actually watched Disney movies with me, it probably isn’t odd or any big surprise.  The comment above, from Lilo and Stitch, comes from a bittersweet scene in which Lilo clutches a photo of her deceased parents and makes that statement to Stitch in her efforts to attach to him and to have him attach to her, suggesting that she is recalling something that one of her parents used to say. We all have our own understanding and varying levels of tolerance around what family should do and be. For Lilo, it included a four-armed alien “dog” who bit his own tail and rolled himself around the room like a tire when he was upset. Hey. Who am I to judge?

Creating a family where there is little or– for some folks–nothing left of one’s biological family becomes a declaration of life. While I can’t say that my experience of “family” is like or unlike anyone else’s, it is safe to say that most of us are healthier beings if we have a sense of attachment and connection. It keeps us from biting our own tails and rolling around the room like a tire. No. Don’t ask me how I know that.  That’s a topic for another day. Or another book.

My sister-in-law once observed to me, “Most people are lucky if they go through life and make one really good friend. You’re surrounded by them.”

Damn right.

The curious part of that fact is that I don’t typically seek these people out. I have noticed time after time that the people who come to play the most important roles in my life are not people I’ve gone looking for, and in some cases, I have actively resisted meeting or getting to know them.  A partner? Not on your life! A mentor? No way! A best friend? None for me, thanks! A PRIEST? Get real! A coach?  Oh hell no! The universe has such a great sense of humor! It is seemingly unfamiliar with the trust issues that many orphans carry into adulthood and drops people on to our paths to mess with the tidy, compartmentalized set-up of our lives.

Or as a friend commented to me a while ago, “You don’t have an issue with trust. You bought the whole damn subscription.”

Again. Damn right. That happens. Ya learn to work with it.

So back to the simultaneous truths I was talking about before we meandered down Memory Lane…

Creating a family of choice as an adult is a celebratory act. We survived. Whatever it was that separated us from our bio family—death, divorce, mental illness, addiction, family reaction to our coming out, we survived it. And we came out the other side still whole enough to want to make some connections with people we care about, and still whole enough to want to be cared about. They are enormous steps for people who have purchased that subscription to the Journal of a Universal Lack of Trust to acknowledge the wound left by loss, to resign ourselves to the knowledge that nothing and no one can ever heal that wound and it’s just something we are all gonna live with for the rest of our days, to admit that we are changed by those experiences and– dammit all—despite all of that, we still want to be and appreciate being connected to other people.

It’s never an easy feat.  On my more cynical days, I ponder why anyone in their right mind would continue to pursue important relationships with people when important relationships with people are exactly the difficulty in the first place. How do we balance such cynicism, punch through the unwillingness to trust and experience closeness AND risk that loss over and over again? Granted, the later losses look different, and probably feel different as adult coping skills and cognitive development kicks in…but the risk remains. Why open yourself up for it?

Because, dammit. This is what we’re here for. It’s what makes us gloriously human.

“Ohana means family. Family means nobody is left behind or forgotten.”

So I don’t know if I experience this like other people.  Family, of origin and of choice, is both the greatest gift and the greatest challenge to face.  The connections I celebrate with my family of choice bring joy and warmth and acceptance to my life. The connection I share with my sister, my remaining sibling, allows me a sense of history. I do have a past. I was a child—or at least a very short adult. She holds some of those memories in a way that no one else on the planet will ever be able to do. It’s a beautiful thing. And simultaneous truths…the disruption of those connections summons a grief that can feel endless. The pain is exquisite and peerless, echoing previous losses as is the nature of grief, and the only way out is through. I am not embarrassed to say anymore that such grief can and has taken me off my feet.  That’s the risk each time and it’s part of the lighthouse I elected to move back from the eroding shoreline (https://urbantidepool.com/2014/11/15/moving-a-lighthouse/).

Point A.  Family is about exuberance and joy.

Point B. Family is about risking profound loss.

Simultaneous truths. Every day, I commit to making space for both of those concepts and seek the balance between the two, while not biting my own tail and rolling around like a tire. No. Sorry, there’s no photo of THAT.

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