Holidays and dysfunctional families. It seems to me that every family has some level of dysfunction, but only a few are truly toxic or unhealthy. It impossible to have so many different beings, different ages, different personalities in one room without some conflict or clashing.
I am still working on enforcing my newly found boundaries and each holiday brings an onslaught of new decisions as I keep myself safe and also expand into the uncomfortable to keep growing.
I had a strained, but not terrible time at my inlaws for Easter. I had some honest conversations with them, which was nice, being able to be me there. I spoke of my AF’s poor health and did not have to feign much sadness over it. I only spoke of it because they asked about him. But some of the other conversations could have been from “Mean Girls'” with all the back stabbing and two-facedness going on. My FIL thinks my SIL kids are overweight, ridicule them and blame SIL completely. They offer all kinds of ways to fix the problem – but not to her face. Then they attack her for making the family late to this gathering because she always has to go overboard with her baking. MIL said she doesn’t need anything fancy, just wants the grandkids to get together. She made her feel guilty for having to hold ‘dinner’ past 12:30. No time was ever given to us, no time is EVER given to us, but whoever is last is late and made to feel guilty. As soon as SIL re-enters the room, the topic is changed. I chose to stay silent for that one. (I did ask SIL later about the fancy breads she baked, they were all done the day before, and she was not the reason they came later, but that’s an entirely different story. I asked her why she worked so hard – did she enjoy it or did she feel she ahd to go overboard to be ‘supermom’ or get inlaws approval? She said she truly enjoys baking and feels happiest in the kitchen and the only time she allows herself to get creative is for holidays.)
I can’t argue every out of line comment. I’d wear out in less than an hour. Besides I needed strength to battle the next ones.
Next they asked about my brother, who has been in the divorce process for over a year now. His wife left him and the kids and is living with her boyfriend. They speak of her like a less than human whore. What she did was heartbreaking, but she does not deserve their judgment, they didn’t live with my brother or grow up in her shoes. MIL said something like, “well your brother better hurry and make that divorce final or she may decide she is bored with the boyfriend and want to come back home.” Then FIL said “can she go stay with her parents?” I said “no, she is happy with the boyfriend, and she would never go live with her parents, because she hasn’t forgiven her dad, and her parents are divorced, he was an angry drunk that used to beat her and her sister, and her mom is a messed up piece of work. I remember the bruises in high school, and she basically lived at my mom’s house all during high school”
Thinking that was the end of it, until FIL said, “Well you know some women like that. ”
The whole room was silenced and open mouthed.
“What do you mean?” I said. He said, “Some women get off on being dominated, some men too, and they do crap to get themselves beaten.”
I said, “you obviously don’t know what you are talking about, and should go read 50 shades to see how domination works. Her dad would drink and beat anything that came in the room, and then would hunt them down and beat them if they didn’t come in the room. He was mean and scary and hurt his entire family. No one wanted it or made it happen, he was out of control. None of those girls deserved what happened, it was not their fault.”
FIL said, whatever, MIL told him to shut up, he sounded like an idiot. I felt very sad.
What happened in that generation of men? FIL is a good man. He has never hurt his family. And yet he believes that most men hurt women ‘for a good reason’. I was done, I can’t change his mind. No more energy wasted that day, I went off to work on the computer and avoided any more conversations.
Next day I was thinking it would be nice to see my own mother. I hadn’t heard if my family was gathering for Easter, they still keep me out of the invitations at my own request. I don’t want to feel obligated or hurt them when I’m not up to going. Not yet. So I called my mom in the morning and said we were going to a park near her house and would like to stop over for short visit. I told her what time and made sure she had my cell number.
Now it was gorgeous sunny, 70 degree day and we went to a state park with amazing cliffs, ledges, and huge stony outcroppings. I had not been there since I was a child on a school field trip. I could not believe as we pulled in that I remembered the path I took with my friends almost 30 years ago. It was such an amazing feeling reliving a HAPPY childhood memory. And even better seeing my kids having just as much fun being mountain goats, exploring mini-caves, crevices, and climbing the rocky path as I did. I was thrilled to discover I had enough strength in my weak leg to do some easier climbing along with them. I couldn’t keep up, but they would go ahead, find a great scenic spot to rest and wait for me. It was pure joy. Exhausting – yes for sure, we were all sweating tired and hungry at the end of it.
So we eat our picnic lunch, and head to my mom’s house. We get there and my brother that lives with her says she is not home, that everyone is having Easter dinner at my other brother’s house. So decision time. Do I go over there?
No one had called me. I later found out she had emailed me this information, even though she knew I was going to be out all day, not at home checking emails. I thought maybe I could do it and we started driving towards my bother’s house. As we got closer, the panic grew. I started shaking, and picturing the room and the lock on the door that used to hold in my AF. He’s only been gone a month or so. I did not want to gather in that house, see the marks on the wall where his scooter scratched everything, see the missing door lock, see any sign that he used to live there. I decided it was too soon and we headed home, knowing it would be impossible to make an escape with the kids with us. If they saw the cousins on the trampoline, how could we leave?
So I got home to another series of emails from my mom. Sigh. Old habits, she had to lash out a bit because she was hurt that I did not visit her.
First email: Sorry I missed you. (That’s all it said)
Next email: If you let me know you were there I would have driven to meet you alone.
Next email: We had a nice dinner at your brother’s, salmon and chicken on the grill. the kids all played on the trampoline and swingset. I got to see all of my other kids and grandkids at least.
Next email: Here’s a photo of my cousin’s Easter gathering, all of her kids came to see her.
I did not respond to any of those emails. They were meant to hurt me and cause guilt. I am the only child that did not come to see her. I’m keeping her grandkids from her. Even her cousins get to see all the grandkids. Yes I get the point. I felt a prick of pain, but I only allowed the point of the sword to touch me, I did not allow it to plunge too deeply, because I know better.
I think I need to start with lower pressure, non-holiday visits. It is just too triggering and difficult still. But I hate keeping my kids away from the cousins. One day, it will happen. I am not rushing this one.
I asked Hubby why my brother with schizophrenia is not given guilt trips for staying home. Hubby said, “He avoids all social situations, and for you it appears you are only excluding them, so it hurts them.”
OH! That made sense. I am functional in every other social area now, I only avoid my mom and brothers, and their houses. I feel afraid of them. Too much I can’t control. Too many triggers and memories still floating around. I do love them though, and I appreciate that they don’t hate me, and mostly support my decision to avoid them. They want me healthy, but they also want me to join in the family fun. And maybe these events are not scary anymore, without AF in attendance. I don’t know.
All I know is I’m all good, I think I made the right decision this time, and will take the next step when I feel prepared for it.