The magnifying glass

As I get ready to return home to my family tomorrow, I realize that I may have stayed just a day or two too long.

I had lots of very emotionally special and healing moments, just as I had hoped for. I made a lot of peace.

But I’ve also reached the point where I had a couple more encounters that really challenged me and made me think I may have stayed a bit too long. Of course, when you reach a certain point, you see what people are really like. People are usually on their best behavior at first.

And sometimes you see how easy it is to fall into old behavior patterns, too. Especially in families, we all have roles that we commonly play, and it takes a lot of conscious intention to break free of those habits. It’s so easy to slip back into the well-worn grooves of those roles.

There were a few judgmental comments from my sister to me and quite a few occasions when my mom kinda overreacted to stuff (even simple stuff like me laughing too loud), which felt tense.

I slipped back into gossiping with my mom about just about everybody in the extended family, some of which seemed pretty mean-spirited and is a behavior I’ve made a concerted effort to curtail in myself.

What I’ve realized in all this is that these sonewhat negative interactions reveal the parts of myself that I still have to heal. There are parts of me that I thought were all fixed and I’ve realized that some things are definitely not.

I need to not react and get my feelings hurt when people are showing off what they have (things I will most likely never be able to afford) or when they subtly put me down for having less. I know that says more about them than it does about me.

I need to continue working on building up my self-esteem so that snarky comments bounce off me more easily. I honestly don’t think they’re usually intended as rude, but sometimes I’m too sensitive to things when I shouldn’t be.

I need to heal the little kid inside me who always felt scared and insecure because I felt like I never knew what would cause an overreaction. I realize that at times, I have had some similar tendencies as a parent and wife. I have worked to overcome many or even most, but have not eliminated them all yet.

I feel bad for my dad, seeing that he tries so hard to fly under the radar and not upset my mom. I see that many of his actions are criticized, things that shouldn’t matter at all. And I know that, especially at earlier times in my marriage, I behaved similarly toward my husband.

So none of the slightly sour moments over the past couple days negate the really great parts of the trip. I am still very grateful that I got to do this and that I made peace with so many people and things. It’s still overwhelmingly positive overall.

But at the same time, it also reminds me that it’s not my home anymore. There is something about having the 1300-mile distance between us that allows me to work on myself without as many outside influences. I can see that if I were back here full-time, I could easily slip back into the more depressed and bleak person I used to be. I would almost definitely regress.

It’s not something to apologize for that I have to figure out my shit from a distance. I’m much healthier, mentally and emotionally, when I’m not in the same town as my family of origin. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad people or that I am or even that it will always be this way. But for now, it has to be this way.

So I’m returning home with some mended fences and some real victories. In coming back to my hometown, it really became clearer how much better I had gotten emotionally in the past couple years. I don’t want to lose that.

And most importantly, it also shows me what I still have to work on. I need to maintain my regular habits of trying to avoid gossiping about everyone I know. I need to continue my usual habits of trying to eat better, because the difference between my usual diet and the way other people eat here is profound.

I need to stop taking things so personally. That’s tough because sometimes I am indeed being judged and it’s not all in my head. But my reaction to that is within my control, and what people think of me doesn’t matter (even if they’re people I care about very much.)

I do choose to believe the best intentions about everyone, whether that’s being a Pollyanna or not. Sometimes people do just suck. But I also know that a lot of people are unaware of how they come across to others. I know that because sometimes I was on the misunderstood side. I was kind of a jerk at times and it wasn’t ever intentional to hurt others. I just didn’t know what to do differently.

Now that I am aware of how my behaviors and interactions affect other people, I’m trying to get a lot better. And I naively think everyone else is on their own journeys of self-improvement, too, and they may not be ready to work on it yet.

So I’m going home feeling happy and feeling like I live in the place where I’m supposed to be right now. This Michigan chapter is definitely closed, at least for the foreseeable future.

If I stayed just long enough to negate any potential desire I might have had to move back to my hometown, that’s ultimately a good thing. It’s not “just a place”, even if I’m no longer irrationally angry at it. But it’s not the place where I am at my healthiest. And most importantly of all, I’ve realized which things I still need to fix. Resolving all your issues with your family and your past doesn’t necessarily happen immediately.

I have to keep working on myself, to become calmer and more loving. I want to become more accepting and open and minimize judgment (though of course it’s impossible to completely stop judging others.) But that also includes judgment toward myself. I can and must continue to work on doing better, because I have seen my future outcome if I don’t work on anything.

I’ve learned a lot more about other members of my family while here, people who remained bitter and judgmental until the day they died. And though people loved them, the legacy they leave is one tempered by hurt feelings and bad memories.

That’s not who and what I want to be, so it’s time to double down on efforts to get better.

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