I often wondered whether I was adopted. It was difficult to believe I could possibly be related to any of my family members. I felt so different. And I was treated very differently too. I didn’t feel welcome and I certainly didn’t feel like I belonged. Not being related to these people made sense. I felt like an outsider so maybe I was an outsider.
I knew I wasn’t adopted and my family was indeed my biological family. But they still never really felt like my “real” family. At especially difficult points in my childhood, I took comfort in the thought that maybe one day my real family would come and get me.
I wasn’t sure what I meant by real family. I was young and didn’t have the vocabulary to explain that what I was craving were love and belonging.
I endured years of abuse at the hands of my family. Every adult relative was cruel to me. And the ones who didn’t actively participate in the abuse were bystanders. Sometimes that hurt more than the actual abuse. In order to survive, I normalized this abuse. It wasn’t a conscious decision. But constantly feeling a sense of injustice at how I was treated, to only be met by gaslighting, took a toll on my mental health. I was left with no choice but to accept what was happening. Perhaps it was inevitable that I would come to view this abuse as normal as I didn’t know any different.
When I hit my twenties, I began to realize just how much I had normalized very abnormal situations. I met a man named David, who would later become my husband. He introduced me to his family, who were so normal I thought they were abnormal. When I visited them with David, they were kind to me. Nobody made fun of my appearance. Fights didn’t break out. No matter how much I anticipated that something bad would happen, it never did.
I didn’t know how to feel about David’s family at first. I liked them and I liked the way they made me feel. But this wasn’t as pleasant as it sounds. It forced me to look at my own family and admit that what happened to me was not normal.
Healthy and happy children don’t spend their childhood wishing they could be rescued by their “real family.” And healthy and happy adults don’t feel a sense of panic when their partner’s family is kind to them.
When David proposed to me, I was terrified of his family’s reaction. They had given me no reason to feel this way, but I had learned from my own family that making decisions about my own life would be met with judgment. His mother was really happy and sent him a message about how she thought I was an intelligent and sensitive person. It really struck me at that moment that I was not used to maternal figures saying nice things about me. Not without conditions or it being retracted at a later date. His mother meant these words. And the rest of his family were happy for us too.
No judgment. No unkindness. Just unconditional acceptance. Was this my real family?
The thing about abuse is that the trauma doesn’t disappear when the abuse has ended. Conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) happen specifically after the traumatic event has passed. PTSD can happen immediately after the trauma, or even years after. I don’t have PTSD, but I am traumatized by what happened to me. Despite the fact the abuse had ended a while ago when I met David’s family, I found that the fact I was no longer experiencing trauma gave me time to think about what had actually happened to me. During the abuse, I was too busy surviving. Now it had stopped, I was beginning to process it.
It took a long time to stop feeling nervous and on edge around David’s family. And with each passing moment, I was learning that this was my “real” family. Without realizing it, they helped me heal from old childhood wounds by giving me what I had been deprived of for so long. They have given me the gifts of kindness, stability, consistency, and unconditional acceptance.
To people who are used to these things, these may not seem like gifts because surely everyone has a right to experience these things. Whilst I do agree with this, the right to experience these things didn’t count for people like me. This means I don’t view these things as things I should have therefore they are nothing special. These simple acts of kindness and compassion are very special to me, and I will always consider them the greatest gifts I have ever received.
Finally, my childhood wish to find my real family came true.
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