I've been thinking about the idea of what it means to be a family lately. You see, the narrative of of my family always felt different than the other kids when I was growing up. I remember sitting in Spanish class in sixth or seventh grade and we had to introduce our family members by name to the person behind us. Out loud. For everyone to hear. El apellido de mi madres es Leblanc. El apellido de mi padres es Haydel. El apellido de mi hermana es Emile. Mi apellido es McMillon. I already had a hunch that my classmates probably knew that I came from a poor background and here I was ousting myself that my family relationships were messy, all because we had different last names.
Like all children I thought people were paying far more attention to me than they really were - thank you undergrad developmental psychology for teaching me this was incorrect! It wasn't until I went to therapy in my early 20s that I really began to do some healing and started rewriting my family narrative. Prior to that, I had been operating under a few general beliefs all surrounded by the fact that we were poor, nobody in my extended family talked, my parents were never married, and I saw a lot of death at a young age. These were the beliefs I developed and brought into every new encounter I had with others:
1. Love is conditional.
2. All relationships end poorly, no matter how hard you try.
3. Being a chameleon is the only way to make friends, so I better get good at it.
4. My family secrets make me unrelatable and I'll never find a partner who will accept me.
5. My friends offer more support than my family.
Because I didn't want my past to limit my dreams and future relationships, I sought healing. Luckily, I had put a lot of effort into building solid friendships, so I leaned on them for support as a teenager. Going to college offered me endless resources to help in my personal development and knowledge. And when I was ready, I went to therapy and allowed my counselor to challenge my beliefs and offer me the opportunity to replace them with better ones. She told me I deserved the whole buffet, not just the leftovers and that resonated within me, not just then but now. She also had me read, Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery of Adult Children with Dysfunctional Families by Charles Whitfield, which I recommend for anybody who can relate to the title.
I don't believe or live my life by any of the statements above because I chose to change the narrative of my family story. Healing doesn't mean that these old beliefs don't affect me from time to time, but I'm much more prepared today and allow myself grace, to be flawed without becoming consumed by these thoughts. For instance, my mom has struggled with illness most of my life, and she had an episode a few weeks ago that has reminded me of my old family narrative, but I'd like to share with you my current beliefs based on my new narrative:
1. While some people put conditions on love, this is not the love I value, so I will not put energy into relationships with conditional love. Conditional love says a lot more about the other person than it does myself.
2. Some relationships do have a final chapter and that's okay, but most are fluid, allowing for moments of separation and closeness. Authentic friendships require a joint effort and a relationship that feels forced, unbalanced, or rigid is probably not healthy.
3. Relationships require compromise, but not at the expense of my values. When I put energy into knowing who I am and what my values are, I'll build relationships that are authentic. I'm allowed to say no and state my beliefs and opinions without losing people I care about.
4. My family has secrets, but so does every other family. I choose to not give my family secrets any power over me and I'll do my best to not allow toxic relationship patterns to be passed down through future generations. My boyfriend accepts every piece of me, even the pieces that are tough to share. He also shares his family with me and for that I am grateful.
5. My friends are my family and often times they do provide the most support, but that doesn't mean anything other than I've done a good job at cultivating a great support system. I have members of my family who love and support me unconditionally and I can never allow my old beliefs to ruin these relationships.
My hope is that readers of this blog, especially those who can relate to the pain in some of these sentences, recognize that the narrative you've lived by your whole life isn't the only story you have to tell. Family secrets and trauma do not have to define the path your life takes or the relationships you build. You're deserving and capable of genuine connection, unlimited support, and freedom of personal expression in your life's narrative.