Today I realized in a fairly clear way just why this whole thing with my family has had such a profound effect on me.
And basically, it is the fact that this is it. Last call. The end. There really is no hope for anything else. I know that sounds incredibly obvious and stupid. I’ve been saying it over and over. But today, it kind of hit me in a very solid way. I guess we’d probably have to call that “internalizing”.
There are beliefs that we hold very deeply, and I think one of mine has always been that someday, somehow, I’d find “the key” — there would be something I could do or something that would change, to finally get me “in the club”. Of course, for most people, simply being born gets them membership in that family club. For me, I have always known I wasn’t in it. I’ve always been on the outside looking in, at my older siblings’ relatively close relationships with each other, and waiting and hoping for the day when I’d get to have those too.
I think for a long, long time I put it down to being the youngest. They weren’t that interested in me because I was a teenager, and they were 30 or close to it. Because I was in college, and they were long past it. Certainly my sister claims that age is a big factor in our distance. Mind you, she manages to have a close relationship with my youngest brother, and he is only 3 years older than me, but I guess those 3 years are just a teensy bit too much of a gap to bridge. 14 years, no problem. 17 years, HUGE PROBLEM.
In the letter that I wrote to my siblings in 2013, after a year of therapy, I spelled out this belief towards the end.
At rock bottom, I think it has been a mistake to pretend to include me as part of a family that I do not think I have ever really been considered a part of. [My husband] and I are simply not in the club, and I think I never have been, other than to be expected to attend certain family events to complete the set. This distance goes back decades, far beyond our parents’ deaths and The Susan Incident. I can remember in my twenties and thirties, every single year I made resolutions about making regular phone calls and writing more letters, to try to bridge the gap that has simply always been there. The ties we have are not of affection, just genealogy. It was obvious to [my husband] from the first reunions that I am treated oddly, especially by my sister. [She] acts as though the family ends with [brother #4] and treats him as the baby of the family. No one calls or emails us just to say “hi” and see how we are doing. I don’t expect anyone will ever get on a plane for one of my milestone birthdays, as I have done several times for others. In the thirteen years we have lived here, we have had three visits from my family. And two of those were from [brother #2 and his wife], who had additional reasons to make those trips besides seeing us.
But I clung to that belief that if I could just find the right something to change, then finally I would be accepted and loved. Maybe the key was that I needed to be OLDER. Maybe when we were all adults, at the first reunion, in 2006, when I was 37 and my sister was 54 — maybe THEN I could be in the club? This HAS to be it! And of course nothing ever worked before, because it wouldn’t happen until I was old enough!
I hoped that the reunions were going to provide the opportunity for me to finally be an accepted part of this family. I should have known better at the very first one, when I reached out to Joe and Susan beforehand, sending more than one email, with the suggestion that we do the meal planning together, and was ignored. We showed up, only to find that Susan had planned the meals on her own, and deliberately excluded me from my own idea. That wasn’t an accident, and it wasn’t nice. That’s not my idea of a family. Last year I accidentally found out, from [my sister’s] Xmas card letter, that we were deliberately not invited to another get-together, i.e. [my nephew’s] ‘ graduation. That is not my idea of a family either. I will echo [my sister’s] sentiment that it is too bad that things are the way they are. I wish they were different, but try as I have done, they are not. If no one else makes an effort, this is how things will stay. I think for the most part that you all are pretty happy with the status quo: so be it. I am happier not being ignored or yelled at or simply feeling like a second class citizen.
This time, I have finally learned something that at least approximates the truth. I have realized what the real problem is, or at least where it lies, and that it is not in my power to do anything about it.
So much for that belief.
The other thing I realized, with the force of a slap, came in the form of self-talk, in which I said to myself, “Well, they’ve never done a single thing you’ve asked them to do before, so why would you think this would be any different?”
This is another belief, or maybe an expectation, that has been so deeply established that to me it is just a truism.
I can remember at the second or third reunion, when I still believed I had a chance at being in the club, I brought up the fact that it was going to be my 40th birthday in a year or two, and solicited ideas for what we could do as a family to celebrate it.
Not one person showed any enthusiasm about that idea, at all. The only person who even engaged in the conversation was my brother-in-law (who of course does not have all the family baggage about me that everyone else has). And of course, my first milestone birthday passed with little or no notice. I have different, more realistic expectations for the next one.
The conversation that they recorded “at my request” when I was trying to learn more about my earliest years — before I asked them to do it, I talked to my husband about it. I put out the idea that I should make it sound as though the assignment came from someone else, perhaps a therapist. My husband asked why I would do that, and I said, “Because if they think it’s coming from me they’ll never do it.”
He thought about that for a few seconds and then he simply said, “You’re right.”
So, I wrote them all an email that made it sound as though I had a therapist telling me to ask them to do this, and as though I was trying to hide that fact. And guess what — they actually did what I asked. I had to trick them into doing it, but they did. That recorded conversation was a gold mine of information, too.
But I had to lie to achieve it. I had to make it look like I was not the one asking.
So, what made me think that this time would be any different? What made me think that explaining, spelling it all out, asking for justice, asking even just to be heard, was going to work? I guess I was just hopeful that since we’re all adults now, that things would change.
I’ve learned better in the past couple of years. I’ve learned that the problem isn’t me. I’ve learned that patterns of dysfunctional behavior don’t change. And I’ve learned from many sources that self-preservation, going no-contact, is the only solution.
We want closure which is never going to come in a way that we want but we can find closure by No Contact. We want to be heard, want them to know the pain they’ve caused but they are never going to listen and if they do, they don’t hear the words. What we often miss is the beauty of “No Contact.” You are finally saying No More. It is your voice without the words but they hear it loud and clear as if you screamed from the top of your lungs – “Go to the Devil.” No Contact is your pure and sweet rejection. It is empowering. It is your last word. It is your closure. It is one of the most hurtful narcissistic injuries you could inflict. They have finally come to understand you know just who and what they are. They know the tricks do not work anymore. They know you are no longer prey or a pawn in their game. It is your last word.
I had a dream a couple of weeks ago. In it, I was carrying around a wooden box, not heavy in itself as such but I could tell the contents were very heavy. And it seemed like I’d been carrying it for a long time. I finally put it down, and somewhere in there was the suggestion that I was putting it down for the very last time, and that I was challenging, daring my sister to PICK IT UP.
It’s not my box any longer. For a long time I was made to think it was mine, but it isn’t. It belongs to my sister. Maybe someday she’ll open it and figure out how much shit is inside. But I’m not holding my breath.