“So Mrs. Porter, tell me about your son.”
My father’s long-time pastor needed to prepare the eulogy for his funeral and asked my grandmother for some treasured sentiments and memories to share with our family and loved ones. My grandmother had it pretty easy too. My dad left behind quite a legacy in his 47 years with us. He graduated from one of the best high schools in Baltimore City and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Johns Hopkins University. He started a band along with his brother that played together for 30 years. He had three kids and three grandkids. We traveled for decades as a family visiting places like Mexico, Niagara Falls, and Hawaii. And when my father wasn’t participating in adult sport leagues, he was helping out as a team dad with my brother’s basketball leagues.
My grandmother was not short on material to be proud of when it came to my dad. She took a deep breath and said, “My son was a good boy. He wasn’t never arrested and wasn’t never on drugs.”
I sat there trying to process what kind of angry black woman my grandmother deserved to see from me. Before I could decide, my sister burst into tears, jumped from her seat, and ran into the kitchen. I followed her as well as a few other family members. We all knew what happened. My grandmother had just used this platform as an opportunity to take a dig at my mom’s family - one of my uncle’s was incarcerated and one was battling a drug addiction. But believe it or not, that was the mildest of the inappropriate shit she did during that excruciating week of planning my father’s funeral.
While my father’s siblings tried to diffuse the situation and brush it off as nothing, my father’s children were completely aware of where we stood in this family. My grandmother as well as most of them had officially freed themselves from the bondage that was us. The only reason we were even a thought during this time was because we were beneficiaries on the life insurance policy that was going to pay for this funeral. And when it was all said and done, they were done with us.
No regrets though. I never walked around crying because my family didn’t love me. In fact, I owned the idea that it was me that cut them off. I could have called them too, but I didn’t. It left me with a bit of dignity to feel like I had done that much for myself through so much pain, but of course no one else could see it that way.
From family to friends to associates, “But that’s your grandmother!” I didn’t care. I didn’t feel like I had a grandmother, and clearly she was fine without having me as a granddaughter. “But that’s your grandmother!” It was like an echo. It was like everyone was given the same script to read from.
“But that’s your grandmother!”
I get it. Where’s the loyalty? If I can cut off my grandmother, what kind of love could I possibly have for someone else? Do I even know what love is or what it’s supposed to look like? Do I understand loyalty and commitment? What is my relationship like with my own kids if my love is so fickle? Am I that fair-weather friend that nobody can really trust?
I felt the same way about all those people insisting that I should talk to my grandmother simply because she’s my grandmother. Do they know what loyalty is? Do they know what love looks like? Are they implying that I don’t deserve better than the shitty grandmother that has no compassionate to give nor teach me?
The truth was that I didn’t know what love was or what it looked like, but I wasn’t going to learn it from her either.
I remember visiting my old boyfriend’s aunts with him. They would ask him had he checked on his mother. No matter the answer, he was chastised for not being more attentive to his mom. “You need to be there for her. That’s your only mom. You only get one. You can’t neglect her.” I was very confused in the beginning. He talked to his mom every day on the phone and we would visit her about once a week. He seemed to have a good relationship with her. Was I missing something?
It wasn’t until later that I realized his mom had some extreme codependency issues and he had become the fall guy. If they could keep him feeling guilty and obligated, it wouldn’t be their problem.
He struggled with this because his mom battled drug addiction most of his life and even put him out of the house when he was 12-years-old. He spent so many years of his life, even as an adult, searching for a place that felt like home and a family that could give him that unconditional love he yearned for. So after being on his own for decades, to be told that his mother could abandon her only son but he was not allowed to do that same created an untamable demon that made love, intimacy, and connection damn near impossible.
“But that’s your mother!”
To all you people with nice mother’s and functional families, I say congratulations! I’m happy that you have a healthy, not perfect, relationship with your family. It’s amazing to experience love and compassion and to have a place to turn for a helping hand or a listening ear. It brings comfort to have a family that can come together in good times but can also weather any storm that comes your way. Family disputes are settled with same love and empathy that connects you. It’s absolutely beautiful.
For the rest of us…
Yes, that is your mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, auntie, cousin, uncle, or whomever you need to insert in that spot. They are blood, and even if they aren’t, they have been there since the beginning. They are like family. They've seen the best of the best and been there for the worst of the worst.
And they are toxic.
They can’t teach you shit but how to attract more toxicity. They will trample your self-esteem and enjoy it. They will watch you fail and revel in it. They will sabotage you and beam over the victory. It’s ok to set boundaries. It’s ok to walk away. It’s ok to find peace. It’s ok to be ok.
And on my own journey to being ok, I often refer back to the mantra that got me here.
“My grandmother doesn’t love me. You think I give a fuck about how you feel?”
“I’ve been on her waiting list for months! How did you get in with her?”
When my therapist took me on as a client, she told me that she had a six-month waiting list. It’s not that I didn’t believe her. I just wondered who can wait six months for something like trauma therapy. However, she agreed to take me on as a client and I graciously accepted.
So how did I get an almost instant appointment with the highly sought-after CEO and trauma therapist, Dr. Kim? Well, it was a struggle!
When I first left Baltimore I knew I wanted to continue with therapy, but I had some other pressing issues to address first. After about three months I was ready to tackle my mental health. I called a few local counseling centers and asked for what I needed – a therapist who specialized in trauma that could see me on either Tuesday or Thursday from 9:30am to 10:30am. Most didn’t even call me back, but this one not only called me back, they said they had someone for me!
My new therapist was a white male in his early 20’s interning for the facility. Most people would’ve thought I was crazy for even agreeing to something like that. I was a 40-year old black woman with a child his age. I was seeking help with PTSD from child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence. What could this kid have to offer me on this journey?
The answer to that is...nothing! In fact, I started feeling more burned out during our four months together. I was tired and cranky from morning til night. I had insomnia. I would have dizzy spells throughout the day. I stopped sending weekly emails to my supporters, recording podcast episodes, and blogging. I even shut down my social media accounts. I would snap at my twins for the smallest infractions. I even gained 25 pounds in just three months. I felt even more disconnected than I did when I started.
Of course, I contemplated not going back week after week, but I really wanted to keep trying. Maybe there was a breakthrough coming. But alas, I accepted that it just wasn’t worth the effort. I needed to find a new therapist. Then, came the breakup.
I did express my concerns to him, and he asked for another opportunity to help. I agreed and we had our session as scheduled that day. When I left, I felt even more sure that he could not help me. I called a few therapists and even some support group coordinators in an effort to find an alternative to therapy during that week before our final appointment. Then, I went back to address him face to face and let him know I was ending my treatment. We shook hands and said our goodbyes.
I was scared shitless!!
I was actually in worse shape than when I started therapy. Not only was my PTSD still an issue, I was now burned out and feeling dejected. None of the other therapist were able to accommodate my schedule. If this was the only therapist in this small town that could take me, what was I going to do?
Just then, my prayers were answered! I found a company that had mobile therapists that come to the client's home for appointments and they took my insurance. I scheduled an appointment during the twins’ usual nap time and was ready!
By the second appointment, the therapist insisted on meeting the twins, told me that one of them appears to have autism, but not to worry, her company has some great resources for kiddos like her.
I was pissed beyond measure!
At this point I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t given up on therapy as a modality for my healing, I just didn’t know where to turn. The very next day I received a call and voice mail message from a number I didn’t recognize. When I checked the voice mail it was the owner of the therapy place where I was seeing the intern. She wanted to talk to me about my experience with him.
I called her back for what I thought would be a very uncomfortable conversation, but she was very down-to-earth and kind, yet straight-forward. She was even from Baltimore as well! She offered a truly authentic apology for my experience with him. She also told me about her waiting list and her upcoming month-long trip out of the country but offered to see me during that same day and time if I was still looking for counseling services when she returned.
She has been absolutely phenomenal! And to think, had I not been willing to endure the struggle of telling my most shameful life details to some college kid, I would have been on a six-month waiting list too. Or worse, I could have been still sifting through shitty therapist.
How did I get in with her? Through the struggle! I wasn’t willing to accept the waiting list. The struggle is dirty and messy sometimes, but it could be the quickest way to what we need.
We often try to skip the struggle for a multitude of reasons. Most of them are pretty good! We don’t want heartache or disappointment. We don’t want to waste our time or any other resource. Shit, we just don’t want to struggle. All valid arguments, but the struggle is often the preparation. The journey isn’t easy nor is it gentle. The journey to greatness is full of bullshit and chaos. Parts of it can be relatively decent, but most of it is hard. It’s the struggle. Gear up, takes notes, and get messy. It’s worth it.
Yes, in that struggle I did land a pretty good therapist, but I also practiced standing up and advocating for myself. I practiced persistence and resilience. These are all things that get lost when you become a victim of abuse. I was able to practice some pretty important skills that aid in my healing and recovery while still getting what I needed in the end.
Don’t skip the struggle.
After spending a year in grief counseling, I started to see that my life needed a major overhaul. Yes, my boyfriend died making me the single mom of our infant twins, but I was still grieving my loss of innocence from decades of abuse. I decided to turn my pain into a new purpose and to share this journey with others that may need some motivation.