Holiday season is here. Break out the turkeys, casseroles, Christmas carols, gifts, and family. We all picture the cozy family gatherings viewed through a frozen, candlelit window pane amidst snow softly falling. We don’t ever imagine the actual train wreck it is for many of us. The reality is, for those among us in recovery, those among us who are LGBT, those of us who are desperately trying to establish our own truths about our identities as adults, that family ends up being a place where we don’t belong. Aunt Edith is going to whisper (loudly) all the latest gossip about cousin Ned’s latest stint in rehab so that everyone within a 50 mile radius can hear it. Another relative is going to ask gay cousin Jim what happened to his last “friend”. Granny is going to get pissed because the rolls are burning and no one can be bothered with helping. And God knows that someone is going to bring up politics.
My approach was always to laugh it all off. It’s an interesting approach considering that *I’m* the gay, recovering alcoholic in my own family. I’ve turned Aunt Edith’s comments into humor. I’ve distracted the conversation away from the pain of a recent breakup with a joke. I’ve responded to Granny’s ire with a suggestion of happy pills for everyone. What I’ve learned is that my humor keeps me popular in my family. I’m able to stay safe within the role assigned to me early on. I’ve also learned that my soul dies a little more when I cover up my authenticity with humor.
I’m sure that I’ve never fit into the role in which I was assigned within my family. I tried hard for a very long time. I did the next indicated, expected thing throughout my youth and young adulthood. I made good grades in school, did my assigned chores at home, went to college, pledged a sorority, dated guys, graduated, got a job, bought a house, got married, started a family.
I discovered that around age 26, I didn’t drink like others around me. I drank to fill a hole inside me, and alcohol worked. Until it didn’t. When I got sober, I remember a family member saying to me “Don’t mention that you’re sober around these people we’re going to meet.” As if it was something that was shameful. I was conflicted because my heart and soul felt clear and right, but my family didn’t know what authenticity looked like on me. Later, at around age 40, I suffered an economic setback when the housing bubble burst. It left me broke, unhealthy, divorced, and confused. I didn’t know who I was without everything I’d built to that point. I literally went to AA meetings for 3 years crying and trying to stay sober and parent my daughter single handedly. I felt embarrassed to tell my family that I had failed at life. It ended up not really mattering because no one asked. I found support, love, and nurturing in my sober recovery group when my family was absent. Later, at around age 44, I discovered why past relationships felt confusing to me when I learned that I was gay. Interestingly enough, the people I was most afraid to tell were my family. It took a year and a half for me to come out to the three people in my family to which I felt closest. There are a few who love me without reason. There are some who still feel the need to tell me they disagree with my lifestyle. There are some who are just more comfortable when we don’t discuss it. Even after that, expressing and living my personal values from a political viewpoint has further alienated loved ones from me. I’ve accepted that I’m not for everyone. The difference for me is that I don’t pretend to be something I’m not anymore. I am flawed, honest, real, strong, loved, human, and authentic. I am proud of who I am today, and I have nothing to hide. I have a 100% survival rate from the pain I’ve suffered, and I’m a better person for it.
Since then, I look back over the last 50 years of my life, and I compare the person I was as a child to the woman I am now. I hold up a magnifying glass to myself daily and I inspect myself carefully for the nuggets of truth about me that feel right and clear. I pay attention to my intuition and I choose to live in my truth today. My history of not choosing that path has proven that my heart and soul depends upon my own authenticity. I don’t cover my pain with humor, and I speak up, even to family, when something is done or said that contradicts my personal “clear and right”.
The fallout of speaking up for one’s own authenticity is that sometimes it distances one from family. In all fairness, they simply don’t know how to respond when the space where I used to fit is now empty and a new person stands before them. Some of them still see my heart as they’ve seen it all along. Some walked away. I walked away from some who intentionally choose not to see me. I didn’t realize, in some cases, that the last time I spent with some of them was, indeed, the last time I would spend with them.
Today, every day means something to me. Every person to which I give my time is important to me. I choose to give my time and attention to those who want to give their time and attention to me. I choose to live as authentically as I know how to be in this moment, holidays and every day.
I am most assuredly non-traditional. There is no snow falling softly outside my window. There are no unloving, hurtful comments at my holiday celebrations. We did not have turkey and stuffing at our family holiday gathering. My daughter, at age 18, has learned to be bold in expressing her own authenticity, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. Holidays feel clear and right. Happy Holidays from my family to yours.