Two whole week. That was my plan.
It ended up being three weeks. Couple months back I decided to disconnect from family for my mental health. It was one of the hardest thing to do and to get out of. I wrote to my family to not contact me in any way for two weeks. My sanity was slipping off the edge because I kept being intentionally and unintentionally made as if I was being inconsistent in my performance as a daughter and as an older sister.
It was just not on them but also on myself. I have standards that I uphold myself to as a daughter and an older sister. Whenever I fail to meet those even though I really do not have the means to, that makes me feel worthless and not deserving to live. When I am unable to get my sister a boba tea because I am trying to save money or to show them what they already have and make do with it like water, I feel akin to a failure and that skewers me internally. I see the adults in me. Just as the adults failed to provide for me when I needed them the most, I am failing to provide for them. When I have to make them choose between their wants and needs, focus on practicality and longevity, it hurts me. Because I wish I can just provide and provide, not have to take away from them. That small joy they could have gotten if we had adhered to their wants would have been enough for me but I know in the long run and in the real world, it will not always be like that.
Growing up, I felt I was always fighting for their love and recognition. When I finally got it, it was not for myself but it was because of what I brought to the table. As a 14 year old, I had to be the adult in place of alcoholic parents, a disabled older sister, and my 4 little ones who saw, heard, smelt, and felt far too much for their tender age. There was the matter of feeding them. With the little money I earned from interning at the Marshall Islands Journal to skipping meals so they could have more, especially during school days as they, energetic little beings, will be flying all over their school campus. Trying desperately not to yell at them to quiet down as drunk men prowl the neighborhood at night for jolly and beer because the parents were out again. We were alone at the house and if these drunk men heard us and discovered we were alone, what would they do to us? How was I suppose to fight against big drunk men with my scrawny body to protect my kids? How much longer would I have to show a strong front to these kids who needed stability when I was a lone quivering leaf inside?
Later those nights or in the wee hours of the morning, drunk beyond comprehension, the parents arrive. Only to launch into a full blown arguments with stuff flying around. Again marching the kids to the girls room, I locked them in and go outside to make sure the parents did not harm each other. Often playing as their counselor as they sat me in the middle of their alcohol reeking breath and sweaty body that hasn’t been washed.
“Selina who is right? Tell that person.”
“Selina you cannot choose side. You have to know I am right.”
I would calmly listen to both sides. And my answer, “If you both do not trust each other, then why are you both together?”
And I would sit and listen till they both got to bed. Then I would go check on the kids, tell them to sleep and once everybody took on the familiar deep breathes of someone gone to the world of Morpheus, exhaustion crumbles my walls as I start crying.
The kids were safe. No drunk men attacked us. Mom’s drunk partner did not knock on the girl’s door as I stayed alone inside begging me to open the door. The parents were asleep. God allowed me respite.
The truth is, for so long my family has been toxic to my mental and emotional health. As with toxic things or beings, it is advised that you let go of them in order to live. Yet I cannot. I have abandonment issues and I cannot let them go. I built my entire life around my family to cater to their needs, wants, an alternative. So much so I have next to no sense what it means to live for myself. Yet I excel at living for them and living for others. If they are taken away or they decide I am no longer wanted or needed, you take my life away. I simply have no more purpose or need to live.
Because the pain of being left behind is as fresh as ever, I do not want to subject those I love with that same pain. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Would I recommend living the way I have lived? No I would not. Why would I subject you to all of this? It is however what I know and venturing into the unknown is a strength I am currently exhausted off.
We all might not want to admit it, but family can be downright toxic. It is the hard fact but the truth. I often hear from the adults that nomatter what, they are still family and you must learn to forgive and forget. Because blood is thicker than water they would always say. Because they were the one who gave birth to you and gave you identity. They are the reason you are still alive. Years of tradition calls for you to forego toxicity in favor of a unison front.
And my response is a resounding NO. Nomatter if they are family, boundaries still needs to be drawn. Respect and communication must be established. Toxic and problematic behaviors must be called out no matter if they are your elders or family members.