This post is part of a series, to start with the introduction click here.
It feels a little silly to write the last planned post of this series when I stopped adding to it over a year ago! But It still feels incomplete to me, and so here I am.
Relating to non-affirming friends and family when coming out isn’t a race. It’s more like a marathon. It’s exhausting, it takes endurance and persistence. I purposely choose to live a distance away from them because I know how much interaction I can handle. Sometimes I feel guilty for not living closer, so I could be more available for siblings, or so my kids could more easily experience aunts, uncles and grandparents. But I know that the fantasy of family isn’t always like the reality. And judging by the amount of time and heartache I can spend on them even from miles away, I know it wouldn’t be healthy for me to live closer. I have children of my own, I need to focus on being there for them, caring for them.
Since coming out back in 2012, change in relating to our extended families has been constant. As I wrote here, my family came around in time, and Haley’s seemed to have hit a wall in progress. Since writing that, Haley’s sisters and mom have reached out, some apologized, and all expressed their love and tolerance for our family, and made efforts to show that in tangible ways. Meanwhile, interactions from my own parents have become strained again, for a variety of reasons.
The up and down isn’t easy, and I know many people in similar situations who found their best option for their health was to cut off interaction entirely. I’ve been able to manage, by approaching the journey of relating to non-affirming family with that line from this series post 6, “learn to live life as if that change will never happen.” I have to live my life regardless of how they choose to live theirs. No amount of re-wording, sucking up, or listening to them preach is going to change how they choose to behave. Their life is their choice, their behavior is their choice. I am not responsible for that. I am responsible for my own life. I have a wife, kids, job, friends. We have a community.
The guilt projected onto you for rocking the boat by making your own decisions about your own life, can make you feel as if you are responsible for others negative feelings about you, but if your decisions don’t impact their personal freedom and safety, you are not responsible! It may be hard to believe because that guilt and shame laid on you is so so heavy. But it is true. If you have the power to make choices for your own well-being, so do they.
So yes, you learn to set boundaries, and make choices, and live your life. You learn to expect, and even predict their long lists of why you are wrong and bad, and you move on. You learn to live your life, knowing that the change you hope for may never happen.
Sometimes it hurts, and then I doubt again for a second, maybe if I just said the right thing, acted the way they told me to, flattered them a little more, they would like me? And then I remember that I did that, for a long time, and they still didn’t really like me. I remind myself that I have had more personal progress in the last 5 years, then ever before. I realize I haven’t had a suicide plan in a long time. I come home to my wife and kids, and I feel safe and happy, and I know I am OK.
I wrote about discovering that I needed to take care of myself a while back, and in 2012 the aftermath of coming out renewed that knowledge. I had been doing so well managing my depression and anxiety, I was feeling better than I ever had before, and then we came out, and the stress of losing so much, and the sheer weight of negativity from (what felt like) everyone, was too much. It hurt, and I forgot how to self care. So I made the decision to go see a doctor and start depression medication for the first time. And slowly, I was able to remember how to self-care, one step at a time.
I started counseling again. I remembered to get a book from the library. I bought some lavender incense to light when my head and heart was racing from anxiety. I made a cup of tea when I wanted to drown my feelings in alcohol instead. I scribbled my feelings, and drew art in my journal. I tried to remember to put on a comforting lotion when I felt like picking at my skin. I asked for the hug when I needed one. All little steps, little choices, spread out over months. There is no easy fix, no magic solution. There is only the choices we make every single day.
Choices to fight the old lies that you are not good enough, that you don’t deserve love, that you don’t deserve care. If you are running on empty, you have nothing left for anyone else, so put on your own oxygen mask first! It doesn’t have to be big or life-changing, this isn’t a commitment like going to the gym everyday, or making dinner from scratch every night. It is remembering to get a glass of water, one glass of water at a time. Take a shower, one shower at a time. Fight the urge to self harm, one day at a time. And when their are moments or days you can’t manage it, that doesn’t mean that it is pointless to even try, that you’ve failed, that you aren’t worth the investment. It just means you get to try again the next moment. It’s OK to ask for help.
Don’t give up. Remember, the fantasy isn’t always like the reality.