Tonight, sifting through my old belongings in my childhood home I came across an old teddy bear that I used to carry with me everywhere I went. A tiny, barely stuffed scrap of fabric with a rattle in her belly, I remember I use to squeeze her into my barbie’s bathing suit and take her swimming with me in my neighbor’s pool. Holding her again, I was transported back to the feeling of being a little girl, needing the companionship of something constant, and always loving.
For me and so many others, being home for the holidays is bittersweet. My hometown is the most beautiful place on earth and when I am away I constantly long for the local restaurants, my little dog, and more than anything the proximity to the sea. I feel the absence of it acutely, like a dull pain in my chest, an irresistible pull to the place that was my home for so long.
Traveling home for the holidays can be very emotionally charged for us queer folk. Although I am grateful to be able to return to my family and my home, when I am here I feel I can only be part of myself. I have to reign myself in to keep conversations civil and for my life to be comprehensible to some of the important people in my life. I also have to do it to protect myself from the experience of having the life I have built with intention be rejected by those I love.
When I first started therapy I told my therapist that I had a charmed childhood. She was very skeptical of that, and she was right to be. I hadn’t been able to understand or accept the many ways my emotions and my body were being put down for being “too much.” I didn’t understand how harmful it was as a young girl to be told that my body was too large, that the food I ate was unacceptable, that the feelings I had were overreactions. I thought my depression didn’t have a root, and rather struck indiscriminately. I didn’t realize my thought patterns went so far back that I couldn’t tell you when they began. I blamed myself for so much and I held a lot of shame. It has been my first instinct for so long, and it has taken a lot of time and hard work with a therapist to figure out where those patterns came from and how I can change them. It takes so much energy to be able to look at the dynamics in my home and believe that they are not my fault.
If you are reading this and you are a child of a tumultuous home, I want you to know that it is not your fault. You don’t have to apologize for the ways you have chosen to survive. You can love your family and also know that you have been hurt by them in ways that will take a long time to heal. Your healing can mean that you choose when and how you interact with them.
Many of us queer folk know what it means to build a chosen family out of necessity. These are the people who see and love us fully. They have no obligation to be a part of our lives, but they choose to because they value who we are, and because we have done the work to cultivate those relationships. They can help us unlearn all the lies we believe about ourselves and our lovability. They actively help us disrupt our old patterns, and create new, more honest and compassionate ones. When we feel alone they remind us, maybe with texts or letters or long walks, that we have valuable and long-lasting connections, that will always carry us through our grief. It’s important to take a moment to realize that we made these connections happen.
My family began with this tiny bear many years ago, an ally through everything, a witness to my anger and my sadness and my joy. It has since grown into many beautiful, loving relationships, that buoy me daily, and remind me that I am loved, and more importantly: that I deserve to be loved. I am forever grateful for it.
Happy Holidays, and I wish you so much love in 2016.