Monday, March 26, 2012

The imaginary family

Grief comes in stages and waves.  Everyone goes through it in their own way.  And you can grieve a loss even if the person hasn't died ... or left you.  And it doesn't even have to be a person.  

I once had an imaginary family.  It was one I created - in my childhood - a coping mechanism to escape from the unpleasant realities of growing up in an abusive atmosphere.  I deluded myself into believing that I grew up in a Christian home, that I was fortunate, that my abuser really did love me, that I deserved the beatings and the constant criticism and that really, it was a happy, closely-knit family.  

Like I said...imaginary.  

The first wave of grief happened almost ten years ago.  Details don't matter - it was just my wake-up call to the fact that the family I had created never existed. With that realization - came a short period of denial (not long because the truth was undeniable) ... and then shock.  I went into an emotional tailspin.  I reverted back to the mentality I had when I was fifteen - and what I was then wasn't ... uh, shall we say ... appropriate.  I scared myself with my own behavior.  Afraid I might lose my ministry, I sought counseling - but got one of those "cookie-cutter" people who are more interested in statistics, pressing charges, and following the social worker manual than in listening to what I needed.  I told the counselor in my first session: "I don't want justice.  I want to be free."  I finished my minimum mandatory EAP sessions with that person and left, never to return.

Then the anger hit: white-hot rage. I cut off all ties with my family of origin, couldn't even talk on the phone with them without spitting nails.  For a good eight months I was livid as I started to review memory after memory.  The outrage was incredible.  Fortunately, I discovered the ministry of Joyce Meyer - and was able to work through about half of the rage and come to a place where I was willing to forgive.  At that point I was able to know a little peace.  My life started to make sense again, away from that family, whom I finally saw without the rose-colored glasses of denial.  But not quite enough grace to forgive.  Not yet. 

That was 2004.  In November of 2004 there was a crisis in the extended family that thrust me back into contact with them again.  I reverted within six months to feeling oppressed, criticized, abused all over again.  I gave up hope that it would ever get better.  Somehow, I was holding on to the idea that if I was just good enough, brave enough, honest enough, strong enough - they would see what they had done to me and change.  I was wrong.  

Four years later, on another front, I was ready to ask for help.  And I got it!!  This time, I got an amazing counselor and started to heal from the inside out.  It took about six months to a year in some areas - but there was progress.  I was able to come to a place of forgiveness.  I was even able to feel some compassion for my chief abuser.  Which, by the way, in NO WAY makes the abuse "all right."  Forgiveness isn't like that. (And that in itself was a revelation to me.)

For the first time in my life, I actually experienced acceptance from a whole community of people ... and happiness within me.  And freedom from the burden of holding on to so many of the negative messages I was raised with, lies I believed about myself, mind-sets I was indoctrinated with.  It was HUGE.  I was ... amazed.  It was so freeing, so many lights came on that I felt compelled to write a book about the process.  And I did!  my e-book was published on Smashwords on September 25, 2011. I named this blog after it. 

And I thought - silly me - that my family of origin would be happy for me.  

One person was.  I will give that person that much.  The rest - as I have come to find out because they discussed this behind my back - judged me and condemned me for telling the story of my journey - from December 2008 onward to my entering the world of recovery from the chains of the past. In doing so, I happened to mention once or twice in the book, that I had been abused as a child. This was the bone of contention for my family of origin. When given the chance, they said nothing to my face, so I assumed they were okay with me publishing! But I had forgotten what their natural way of dealing with things was: nicey-nice to my face and venomous behind my back. Some even accused me of lying, of making it all up.  Not directly - to be sure (because that's all part of the dysfunction) - but I did find out about it.  The feeling of being unaccepted, of being (how shall I put it best?) crucified by my own mother and extended family - was almost as unbearable as the first.  The main way to describe this feeling is "betrayal" followed by "frustration (also known as, "If they'd only ____") - and most recently, "profound sadness."

This second major wave of grief hit right after Christmas 2011, during a visit that opened my eyes to truths I didn't want to face - as dedicated to truth as I have been, there were some things I was both shocked and disappointed to learn.  I could call this wave of grief a lot of things but I think I can best sum it up by calling it "The goodbye wave."  

There is something so final about that word. Goodbye.  I read a poster once that said, "The only thing that's harder than letting go is moving on." That was the crossroads I have been facing the last few months.

I really had to finally accept that these people bore no resemblance to my fantasy / imaginary family - that my self-created idyllic group of people never existed and that these people ... the real people who would have ruined my life if God hadn't stepped in and rescued me ... would NEVER change, showed no desire to change, even insisted (and still do) that they did nothing wrong.  I knew that if I stayed around them, they would destroy what little bit of healing I had been able to enjoy, and that it was unhealthy for me to continue to expose myself to their extreme dysfunction.  My recovery from those chains took me too long and it was too hard a journey to have it stolen from me, eroded away foot by foot until there was nothing left.  

I'm still in the middle of that wave, riding it hard through all the stages of grief all over again.  It's difficult.  But I'll live through it ... and with better tools to be able to handle it.  And in the end, I'll be healthier for it.

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