I learned some new things about my family yesterday.
Ever watch an indie movie with some strange, weirdly screwed up family at the center of it? That could be my family. Here’s some background. I’m trying to keep it brief but there are a lot of us.
My mom was screwed up from a young age, before she found her way to conservative Christianity. She went from being convinced the world would end in nuclear war to being convinced the world would end because of the apocalyptic events preceding the second coming of Christ. She decided to homeschool her children to preserve their souls from the corrosive effects of The World while waiting for the end of the world.
My dad was screwed up by society’s failure to accept his sexual orientation. He tried hetero marriage for 19 years, had 5 children and unsuccessfully attempted conversion therapy before he finally came to the conclusion that he had to stop denying the fact that he was a gay man, and there was no changing that. He and my mom divorced.
My mom remarried – my stepdad is a gay or bi man that insists God freed him from homosexuality. My mom has a type, apparently. They have two children, my little sister G and my little brother IL.
My dad also found a new partner, an excellent cook, like my mom. My dad has a type, too. His partner turned out to be one of the sweetest and most loving men I’ve ever known, with a lot of grace for our screwed up family, as his was screwed up as well.
My oldest sister L married a man that turned out to be a manipulative, sociopathic liar. They had one child, my niece BR, before separating. Fortunately he was too lazy to put effort into retaliation. Some terrible things happened to my sister after that. She barely made it through, but she managed to put her life back together, and met a very nice man that she eventually married. She wasn’t able to have any more children, even though she wanted them.
I met and married a man I wasn’t in love with because I believed God didn’t want us to pick partners based on things like romantic and sexual attraction. We proceeded to have 4 children together even though I didn’t want children and hated domestic life. I’ve blogged a lot about the various ways in which I’m screwed up so I don’t need to recap it all here.
My sister J met and married a man that came from another homeschooling family with fringe religious beliefs. Turns out his dad was an abusive prick, and instead of choosing to walk a different path, J’s new husband followed in his dad’s footsteps. They had 2 children before divorcing. He’s a spiteful, petty person that has made her life hell in whatever small or large ways he can since then.
My younger sister, R, thinks she came out of the mess unscathed. On paper, it sure looks that way. She was around 10 when our parents divorced and she quickly decided my mom’s religious beliefs were bunk. She joined the military at 18, met and married her husband, and had 2 children with him while inheriting several stepchildren. (Her husband had terrible taste in women and meeting my sister was probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to him.) She went to college as a working mother and graduated summa cum laude. She now works in law enforcement. I wonder what would happen if she were ever forced to stop moving at this pace.
At age 8, several years after my parents divorced, my little brother J had a dream he’d be in Israel fighting in the Apocalypse by age 21. My mom’s friends convinced her the dream was prophetic and she told my little brother as much. After his 21st year came and went without an apocalypse, my little brother became a bitter atheist, escaping the worst effects of the illegal substances he used but having extreme difficulties getting his life moving in a healthy direction. I’ve tried contacting him a couple of times this year and haven’t gotten a response.
My sister G and my brother IL received a very different upbringing than I did. They were also homeschooled, but my mom’s beliefs, while still quite fringe, had softened in many ways. She’d stepped away from authoritarian and isolating parenting practices. (As an example, my mom was mad at my cousin for letting me see The Goonies when I was aged 12, but G and IL were allowed to watch all kinds of movies and television growing up.)
My youngest brother IL seems to be getting primed to fall in with white nationalists, because it turns out my mom was the kind of racist that would never say the n-word, but sympathized with the Confederacy even though she was born in the North. My stepfather has fully engaged with a lot of toxic beliefs about masculinity, and there’s some evidence his parenting combined with my mom’s might well turn my youngest brother into a gun-loving bully, which is something this country already has too much of.
(Of all the screwed up, bleak things in my family, how my little brother IL might turn out is one of the things that scares me the most. I have no influence to wield – I’d moved out of the house before he was born, they moved to another state, and I was too busy dealing with my own shit to have time and energy for developing a close relationship. I can only hope he’s had enough positive influences to offset the toxicity.)
My youngest sister G, on the other hand, seems to have a good head on her shoulders. I haven’t interacted with her much over the years, though, and I don’t know just how much of my mom’s fringe may have rubbed off on G. She’s now in a serious relationship with a young man that my sister J says is nice, but in this family, thinking someone is nice isn’t a good indication of anything. G is smart and wise beyond her years from what I’ve seen so far, though, and I’m hoping with luck she’ll be a future success story.
So, I mentioned learning new things. I’m getting around to it.
The beginning of this year, my dad lost his partner. They’d been together for around 20 years. His partner was only 54 but he had multiple chronic health conditions he’d been dealing with for years and his body finally gave out. My dad was, naturally, devastated. He’s got no access to therapy or support groups in his current location, and instead he turned to online dating. His best friend thinks he’s addicted to it.
My sister J is upset, but honestly, I’m not terribly concerned about it. My dad is 64, almost the age his parents were when they died. Statistically, it’s quite common for someone to pass within a year of losing a long-term partner. If online dating helps him establish connections that help him bridge the year and keep him alive, I think that’s a good thing. Yes, there’s risk in what he’s doing, but from the sound of it, he’s not ignorant of the need to keep an eye out for unsafe people and scammers.
My niece BR is bi. (We’re a very gay family. In addition to my dad being gay, my stepdad being gay or bi, my niece and myself being bi, at least two more of my siblings are also bi, though not out as such.) Her girlfriend of several years turned out to have been an abusive prick. After my niece worked up the courage to leave, she became involved with a bi man and promptly ended up pregnant.
Last week, she and her boyfriend got married in a very small ceremony. They wanted to be legally married before my great-nephew is born. My dad officiated. I wasn’t there. The family knew I was moving this month and apparently everyone assumed I wouldn’t be able to make it, so by the time I finally got the dates involved, it was too late to plan to be there.
BR was worrying to my sister J that she’d get in trouble with CPS for having smoked weed during the beginning of the pregnancy. She didn’t know she was pregnant, and quit as soon as she found out. J is a social worker (not employed by CPS, but deals with a lot of families that have undoubtedly had CPS involved in their lives) and said as long as she didn’t test positive for it now, there shouldn’t be any issues on the CPS side of things. Hopefully my great-nephew escaped any potential harmful effects.
In the course of this conversation it was also revealed that BR had been the source of weed for my dad’s partner, to help with his chronic pain issues, until my dad and his partner moved away from the area. I don’t have moral issues with the use of weed, but it was illegal and I’m glad neither of them got caught.
My sister L, BR’s mom, missed the wedding, too. There’s good evidence she’s dealing with serious health issues and addiction. Her in-laws have had some serious health issues arise in the last few years, which has led to disturbing living conditions and physical deterioration for her FIL, and mental deterioration on the part of her MIL, and most of the emotional labor involved in that mess has fallen on my sister’s shoulders, and she was already stressed from dealing with her own health issues. I like my BIL, but he’s definitely not been handling the situation with his parents well and has let my sister take on far too much stress because of it.
L really needs to receive medical attention, but from the sound of it, she’s refusing. (Unsurprising if she is dealing with addiction, and all the signs point that way.)
My sister J was stressed about all of it, quite naturally, and A and I had to remind her that she’s not their caseworker. She already has a lot of stress on her plate, and several chronic health conditions, and she needs to stay focused on taking care of herself. Put on your oxygen mask before you try to put someone else’s on for them.
Besides – there’s nothing you can do for people unless they have first acknowledged they have a problem, and secondly, desire to change.
In my family, there’s a lot of denial of problems, and little desire to change. I suppose that’s probably true in a lot of families. Common unto man, and all that.
When the conversation concluded because J and I had to go to bed, I was left with a couple of things to process – one, that I was glad I’d been emotionally distancing myself from my family since the election in 2016. (In case it hadn’t been apparent to anyone that’s read here before, I’m on the left politically. 2016 was the year I learned many people believe what they want to believe regardless of facts, and that most of my family falls into that category.)
That was the year I realized they weren’t my people the way I had thought they were my people, that they weren’t even the people I had thought they were, and that they had a lot of toxicity and ugly ideology that is harmful, and that it had harmed me already and would continue to harm me if I let it have space in my life. I had worn lovingly rose-colored glasses around my family for most of my life.
That emotional distance helped me absorb J’s news without having it mess with my own equilibrium, such as it is.
The second thing I realized is that apparently I’m kicking ass and taking names when it comes to handling my own problems. I was concerned sometimes that my therapist’s affirmation of my growth since first visiting her, and the way she commended my coping strategies, might be flattery or indicate a lack of insight on her part. Now I’ve had my own screwed up family hammer home to me that no, I really am doing great (so far).
I acknowledged I had a problem with my mental health, I wanted to change that problem, and I sought professional help for that problem. I didn’t think the problem could go away, I just thought I could find better ways to live with and survive it. And when I found out the problem might be something that could be fixed, and what kind of things I could do to start fixing my problem, I started doing those things. I’ve gravitated towards the least harmful and most positive or even helpful coping methods available to me.
Maybe my therapist’s faith that I have a good future ahead of me is not misplaced, after all.