In many ways, I still feel like I just got back from my trip to Michigan. After all, since I moved away almost five years ago, being back from a week’s visit only six weeks ago doesn’t seem like long in comparison.
You might think that with the sentimentality of the holidays, I’ve been missing home. But nope, it’s actually quite the opposite.
Believe it or not, I’m still processing the trip back home. And what I’ve come to feel even more strongly with every passing week since I left is that Michigan is not my home anymore. It’s a place that I’m from and the state itself has some beautiful places, but I can’t ever live in my hometown again.
Honestly, I’m not even sure if I could live in the state again. Not because the state itself is so awful, but because seeing my family on a regular basis is that bad for me. I know that if I lived there and I was just a couple hours away, I’d still be expected to visit on every holiday. (I know I’d have the option not to, but I don’t have good boundaries yet.)
The fact that I can’t see my family regularly and still be okay is a problem. After all, I’ve forgiven my parents. They are good people overall, just imperfect, like most people are. They don’t mean to hurt people. They would take me in if I were temporarily homeless, and sometimes not having that option here is a little scary.
So if they’re good people overall, why can’t I live by them and see them regularly? Why does it mess me up so much and cause me to regress in many ways when I’m around them?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I’ve started to recognize my negative patterns that I learned from them. Seeing them again both causes me to lapse back into old behaviors I’ve worked hard to change, while also seeing theirs objectively makes me frustrated by them.
Maybe someday I’ll be at a point where the negative patterns I unlearned are more securely defeated and I’ll be able to see them without lapsing back into bad old habits. But I’m not there yet.
And I also realize that there’s a possibility that someday my kids could come to the same realization about me, that they love me and forgive me for my mistakes but have to limit time with me for their own good.
Hurt people, hurt people. I see that that’s what damaged me. Nobody is to blame and I am responsible for my own healing process. What my healing process needs at this point is limited contact with the source of those unhealthy learned behaviors. It’s hard to explain but there’s little bitterness involved. It’s not a lack of forgiveness. Instead, it’s having to put myself first. I can’t rescue them and I can’t change them; I love them for who they are. But that doesn’t mean that I am obligated to be around them more often than is healthy for me.
Similarly, I’ve been working to get better and I know I’ve made some improvements with my kids over the way my parents were with me, or that their parents were with them. But I don’t fool myself into thinking my kids will have nothing to recover from. They may be able to have contact with me and still work on healing themselves, though they may also need time and distance.
We all have this idea of the super-close family that loves to spend lots of time together all throughout their lives. The holidays make the ideal Hallmark-movie family seem more important. But in many ways, that’s sometimes an unrealistic fantasy. Not every family is healthy enough for that to be a good influence at every point in time.
If you recognize unhealthy patterns you’ve learned in your family of origin and you’re affected by anything from narcissism to alcoholism to gifts with strings attached, sometimes you have to step away to get better. It doesn’t mean you’re stepping away forever, though it might.
Ultimately, what matters most is that you value your own healing. That you don’t allow guilt and obligations to make you do things that are bad for you. It may feel selfish, but it’s actually not; you have to take care of yourself. And you have to be prepared that other people may have to do the same to you.
After all, you can’t get well in the same environment that made you sick. Whether the damage was intentional or not doesn’t matter. You have to love yourself enough to get healthy. And you have to love others enough to respect them if they tell you they need a break from you so they can get healthy, too. You can’t break generational chains by guilting everyone into doing the same unhealthy things over and over.