This year has been one like no other.
What feel like should be once-in-a-decade historical events seem to come and go each day, and with two months left in the year, it would appear that 2020 is not done with the surprises yet.
With the ongoing pandemic, increasingly divisive politics that ebb ever closer to violence with each passing day, and the current election cycle that seems poised to go on without end, it goes without saying that people are stressed.
With the holidays coming up, and the pandemic still raging, the ever-increasing anxiety that this world is facing might not be alleviated anytime soon.
Considering that this month’s theme here at LYF is choice, I have decided to tackle the meaning of family, the role that choice plays in defining family, and how our family affects our journey toward self-love.
Sometimes the journey begins with an ending.
I once had someone tell me, after I had a pretty severe fight with my father, that blood is thicker than water. Nothing else matters, she said, you have to forgive him.
And, for the sake of the family, I did. I wasn’t happy about it, then or now.
Years have passed, and there have been many arguments with my father since, usually triggered by gaslighting on his part. One question continually comes to mind, time and time again since being told that I had to forgive the man who calls himself my father.
Did I, though? Did I have to go on with an abusive familial relationship because of blood ties?
The “blood is thicker than water” quote I was spun on that day kept coming back to me, gnawing away at my brain like a dog with a bone. In line with my usual response to most things, I did some reading.
There is a quote that has been circulating on the internet for some time now, and while it is frequently attributed to the wrong sources, I still find it to be prevalent in this situation: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
This new quote inverts the meaning of the original “blood is thicker than water” and I like it more because it allows for a deeper conversation about what family actually means.
When I hear this quote, I imagine soldiers gearing up for a great battle, one in which the bond of their brotherhood (or covenant) makes them closer than the families that they were born to.
In essence, the family you make can sometimes be more important than those related by blood.
Your definition of family belongs to you.
Blood, as it turns out, is not always thicker than water. Defining terms like family can be tricky, especially in the ever-changing landscape of 2020.
While ties should not be severed over superficial differences, it is important to remember that you do not owe yourself to anyone. A blood relation to someone does not always have to mean they are family.
Self-love and growth can be stunted by toxic relationships, and sometimes these relationships can be difficult to recognize as toxic; this is especially true when dealing with relatives.
In my own experience, gaslighting was often used as a method of suppression of thought. I was made to feel as if I was going insane by those that would call themselves “family.”
This is why it is important to remember, above all else, you are worthy of love, even if it doesn’t come from those it should.
Your definition of family belongs to you and no one else. Whether your family consists of the people you were born to, the community you are in, the friends you have made on your journey, or some combination of every part of your life, it is important that you stay true to those who stay true to you.
Don’t let others dictate your place in the world.
One of the most important things I would come to realize on my journey to healthier self-love is that I am the ruler of my own fate.
Just as only I could make the decisions I would have to make to survive, you will inevitably have to evaluate your life in the same way: audit the choices you have made, and the relationships you have now.
Are these healthy relationships? If not, does the relationship have the capacity to become healthy? And if it doesn’t, what does this mean for the relationship?
Going it alone, for a time.
The hardest days of the year before I really began my journey were almost always around the holidays.
For as much as I still enjoyed the theme and the idea of the holidays, I wasn’t really able to connect with it all. I could feel my heart warm at songs like Winter Wonderland, yet I would simultaneously feel an emptiness inside when golden-voiced crooners like Sinatra and Dean Martin would sing of love, of family, and of Christmas.
Thanksgiving could be even worse somehow. I could remember the Thanksgivings of my childhood, before my grandfather passed away. I cherished the memories of the past, but was struggling to reclaim that happiness for my future.
So what is one to do?
As I recommended in a previous post, completing a self-audit is usually the first (and most important) step to resolving issues of the self, and this is the same when dealing with toxicity of family.
Remember to breathe. Find your personal safe space. Then ask yourself:
Who is my family?
Who are my friends?
Who is in my community?
Your family is all around you, and it is okay to reach out. This was the first shock of my journey.
After my grandfather passed away, I genuinely felt more alone than at any other point in my life. Yet this is when the people around me surprised me the most.
After the fight with my father, I didn’t engage too much with the holidays, yet suddenly friends were there in a way I had not imagined possible.
I was not as alone as I had originally thought, and more importantly, when discussing everything that had happened with close friends, I came to realize one extremely important thing:
I didn’t have to forgive him.
When writing for LYF, I often find myself thinking about when my journey to self-love began, and while I will always cite the journey through Red Rock Canyon as the focal point, another date comes to mind.
February 26th is an odd date for me. For many years I knew it as the day my childhood hero Johnny Cash was born, yet for the last four years it has also been the anniversary of my grandfather’s death.
I was working on my first novel when my grandfather first became seriously ill. I began scrambling to find the ending of a novel that was never completed. He had expressed interest in my work in a way that no one else ever had, and I wanted to impress him.
Yet the work never seemed good enough. I kept writing, rewriting, and writing it over again, yet ends never seemed to meet. I found myself at what felt like a crossroads between mediocrity and eternity.
By the time I finally had something that resembled a complete manuscript, my grandfather had been dead for nearly four months.
While my grandfather did not live to see the fruits of that particular labor, I hope he caught a glimpse of the man I would become, the man he raised me to be. In the years since his passing, two things have become self-evident; my grandfather was my real father and family is what you make it.
No number of screaming matches with my biological father could change that.
It is now 4am on November 4th and I am writing what will be the fifth (and hopefully final) draft of this post.
Johnny Cash is playing There You Go softly on the stereo, and before me sits a copy of the fourth volume of an epic fantasy series I have been reading on and off for a year now, called Wheel of Time. A popular saying among the characters of this fantasy world is “the wheel weaves as the wheel wills.”
Fans argue on internet message boards about the various meanings of the phrase, but I have always interpreted it as this: what is meant to be will be.
Even in the early hours of dawn, on what may become an incredibly dark day, I cannot help but smile when I think about the family that has grown around me. This family includes my friends, my coworkers, LYF, and the community that has grown in my life since beginning my journey after my Grandfather’s passing.
He raised me from the time I was born, yet I think something that has always bothered me is that I never had the chance to know what my grandfather would have thought of the person I eventually became. My grandfather is who I would have gone to for advice after the situation with my father finally exploded. Yet the more I thought about it, the more I could swear I was hearing his advice echo over time, and I was relieved.
My grandfather cannot see me now, but I can imagine that if he could, he would be smiling too, as I am now.
That is self-growth, of family lost, and family found.
That is self-love, not for what has been lost, but for what has been learned along the way.
About the Author
Originally from New Jersey, Shane moved to Las Vegas to start his college career. He has now entered his last semester at UNLV and will be receiving a Bachelor's Degree in English and Professional Writing. Shane has also obtained an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice (with high honors), and has written several novels, two of which have been published.