I’ll be refraining from using names in this post to protect the identity of people. I’ll either use generalized terms or nicknames.
Many adults out there didn’t have the best childhood, family support, or suffered traumas at the hands of their caretakers. Whatever the reason for the strain, these people often suffer to get through the holidays, particularly Thanksgiving, when they lack a healthy, functional family connection. I know that I’ll see others talking about how wonderful their family is and get immensely jealous/angry that I don’t have that. Society often tells us we are morally obligated to our family simply because of genetics. Emotional, physical, sexual abuse is to be forgiven and never spoken of again. To be frank, this way of thinking is a wildly destructive construct meant to maintain the status quo. For folks like me, it is often a choice between no relationship at all or a deeply toxic relationship.
But, one thing I’ve learned in therapy, support group, and workbooks is to redefine what family is. My mental health journey challenged me to think of what traits define a family in my mind.
- Reciprocal effort
- Unconditional love
Instead of turning to my blood relatives for this, I’ve had to look towards other people to display those traits. (Keep in mind that no one person can or should be expected to fulfill every one of your needs.)
Over the past 10 years, I’ve surrounded myself with some of the best people I’ve ever met.
My genetic sisters are fantastic people that I’ve chosen to keep in my life. They have been through many of the same traumas, but they haven’t let it harden themselves to friendship and love. My spouse is somebody I can depend on for attention, care, and love. I do the same for him. We provide each other with mutual respect and make decisions with each other in mind. My, for all intents and purposes, unbiological sister (a ride-or-die Hufflepuff) cared enough to find me mental health help even when she knew I’d be livid. In turn, I’ve encouraged her to talk to me when her anxiety is spiraling and all she wants to do is withdraw from people. We love each other so much. We talk to each other nearly every day despite being across the country. Another best friend is someone I can turn to when I have great things happen, horrible moments, or when we just want a good laugh. We send each other funny memes and jokes just for a pick-me-up. A third best friend, the closest person that lives near me, tells me all the time to stop apologizing to her because she didn’t sign on to just being my friend when I’m in a good mood. She’s made it very clear that she is in my life for as long as I want her there, no matter whether times are easy or hard. There are also other friends who I can go weeks without talking to me and then we pick up like we never stopped talking. (I love you, puppy!) Adult friendships are weird in that way, but I am so glad they are in my life.
When I finally managed to redefine family, I slowly learned to trust others again. I became more accepting of the possibility that people really did care about me. I realized that I am a person deserving of love. And now that some blood family is attempting to mend relationships, I feel steady enough knowing that if this doesn’t work I still have people who will have my back.
This Thanksgiving, that is what I am thankful for. I love my chosen family. I cherish the folks that choose me every single day just like I do them. I adore that they remind me of my value, and I’m hopeful that I do the same thing for them. For once, I realize that I don’t have to be sad on Thanksgiving because I do have a family. And, they are the best family I could ask for.