So I survived Thanksgiving with my family, and am actually feeling quite good about the time spent and experience I had, although I was admittedly only with family for just under 24 hours, when usually I stay at least two days. Nobody said anything directly terrible to or about me, and I was able to ignore or deflect comments with which I fundamentally disagree without being too bothered by the comments or by my ignoring them. I don’t think anything significant has changed about the Thanksgiving experience, but a year and a third of fat acceptance has built up my resilience. But–I don’t know that that’s a good thing.
Being able to withstand fat hate so that I can be in the company of people who perpetuate it is not my goal as I pursue the path of fat acceptance; nor is it my goal that my family gets to spend more time with me because I’ve overcome the hate they’ve sent my way and am willing to ignore it. I have many feelings about my relationship with my family, and I’d like to just sort them out here a little bit:
1. I am grateful for the stability and reliability of my family as I was growing up. Financial stability made many things possible for me and allowed my life to be unaffected by all the problems that can come up when money is lacking. I am grateful for the stability of my parents’ marriage; although I don’t know that they were the best example of a happy marriage, they certainly were an example of a loyal one, and this again allowed my life to be free of certain problems. My parents are both extremely conscientious and reliable, and many aspects of my childhood were well-managed.
2. Because I was oppressed by my family’s fat prejudice, they will always be oppressors to me. Even though many of them have not directed their prejudice towards me specifically in years and I may wish to forgive them, the victim/oppressor relationship will always be there. I’m putting this in what is possibly harsh language because I think it is actually accurate and want to convince myself that it’s OK that I can’t just get over this. Despite nothing terrible actually happening at THIS Thanksgiving, I’ve had some bad experiences in the past, and I spent the train ride to this one thinking up things I could say if people said certain things to me. This was completely involuntary; I never put “think up responses to possible attacks” on my to-do list, but my brain obviously feels that attacks are always a possibility with family, and it decided to prepare. Even if some of my family members are different people now who would not attack me, nothing could convince me that I can rely on that, and nothing can make them NOT the people who oppressed me in the past. There’s too much bad history. It’s kind of unfortunate, but I can’t make it untrue. This leads to the next feeling…
3. I feel guilty that I can’t forgive the family and be the daughter/granddaughter/niece that they want me to be. Every time I see my family, almost every person gives me a guilt trip about how long it’s been since they saw me and how short a time I’m staying. Then they thank me profusely for coming, as if I’m some huge martyr. I have no idea how to respond to any of this, but if I could be honest, this is what I would say: To me, four months is not such a long time between seeing family. A 24 hour visit is the exactly right amount of time for this trip because (a) I’m an introvert who lives alone, so even if family events didn’t stress me out I might only want a day of socializing, (b) I’m a busy grad student who needs to work over this weekend, and still being with family would be distracting and (c) in order to take care of myself I need some time to rest, and rest for me is being at home, alone. So I managed to plan this weekend to have quality family time, rest time, and work time, and I consider that a success, not something to be questioned. And as for the thanks–I’m not a martyr; I wouldn’t be visiting with family if I was only driven by guilt. Despite all the complications, I have varying degrees of affection for all of the people involved, they’re part of my life’s story that I don’t entirely reject, and seeing them every now and then is something that I want. I just feel that I should get to determine the terms of my visits and then have my decisions respected.
4. I do have real love for some members of my family, and good memories.
5. Self-doubt. I have two brothers, and the one who is 10 years younger than me appears to have very different feelings towards the family. I recognize that this is likely because 10 years of everyone’s time makes a big difference, and because he has a much more extroverted, naturally resilient personality than I have. Yet it still makes me question my memories of my childhood. Another thing that made me question my memories was when I related a painful memory to my mother (one in which she’d been verbally abusive to me), and she didn’t remember the incident. I know that this is probably because it wasn’t a big deal to her and it was a HUGE deal to me, but still, it makes me doubt myself. I wonder “were things really as bad as I remember?”. But they were–other people within the family just have a different perspective.
So I juggle all of these feelings (plus more), and no single one wins out–they’re always all there. I wonder why it seems so simple for some other people to either accept and love and participate in their families, or reject them.