I made the painful decision to cut ties with most of my family. It was a tough place to find myself when I realized the same people I share bloodlines and cherished memories with are also toxic triggers. We’re taught from a young age that family will always have your back and their love is unconditional. In fact, there is also a stigma associated with people who cut ties with their family, like there must be something wrong with us or we must be ungrateful brats.
My mom was one of six and my dad was the oldest of seven. This means I have more aunts, uncles, and cousins than I can count. I have four half-siblings on my mom’s side with over a dozen nieces and nephews. Growing up, my family was everything to me. We got together all the time and fun always ensued.
However, things changed following mom’s death. I was only 19, while my siblings were much older than me with families of their own at that point. A nasty estate battle and ideological differences ripped our close-knit family apart. The memories of big Christmas gatherings, Halloween Olympics, and family vacations to the Dells were all tarnished by the hurt and isolation I felt.
I’ll spare the details here, but you can read all about them in my book. (shameless plug!) I distanced myself from my siblings and eventually my extended family to avoid the pain. I went years without seeing them, turning to my friends and husband for comfort and love.
Following years of “social distancing” from the family, I allowed them back into my life several years ago in advance of my wedding. I thought maybe time had healed old wounds and perhaps we were all in a better place in our life. I hoped for change and at first, it seemed to be the case. I thought maybe I could salvage some sort of relationship with them after all.
However, a series of events soon proved this would not be the case. Only now in recovery am I beginning to realize how much my toxic relationship with my own relatives contributed to my eating disorder and anxiety. Their treatment of me for years destroyed my feeling of self-worth and left me broken. It’s true what they say, it’s easier to forgive than it is to forget. I can forgive them for the way things unfolded after mom’s death but I can never forget.
I’ll still get looks from people when I mention the situation with my family. For years, I felt like I needed to justify myself and my decision to pull away from my siblings. However, now I realize that sometimes a relationship is toxic even if we do still love that person and cherish the good times we had with them. There is nothing wrong with doing what is best for my mental health and recovery, so I should not be ashamed of it.
Since going public with my battle, I’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again. An individual battling with mental illness and/or eating disorder will continually subject themselves to toxic family relationships simply because they are “family”. Through seeing the hurt and pain it causes that person, I’ve been able to see the hurt and pain my family inflicts on me.
It’s okay to love your family yet no longer talk. I still love and miss my family, but I loved and missed me more. When it comes to mental health, I’m realizing it's okay to be selfish at times.