When Family Becomes Friend

I spent a large part of my formative years trying to convince myself and, much more easily, the world around me that I didn’t need people. I had a pretty solid armor. I trained myself not to cry (at least not in front of anyone) for a while. I thought being overly emotional made me vulnerable and I would much rather someone think me flippant or arrogant than vulnerable. It was protection. Or so I thought. In retrospect I kind of wonder why I thought I needed protection.

I was insecure, sure. Most teenagers are insecure and we all coped (and sometimes still cope) in different ways. Some cope with humor – if they’re laughing with me, then they’re not laughing at me. Some with self harm – be it cutting or an eating disorder. Some isolate – if they can’t find me, I’ll be okay. Some cope with confidence – mostly feigned confidence in my case.

I didn’t just do it with my peers though. I did it with everyone including my friends and family. I still do it sometimes though I am working to overcome this mindset. It’s the mindset that when someone walks into the room and I’m not in a safe, comfortable place, I immediately try to identify in what way I am superior to them. Always on the defense.

Please feel free to judge. It’s a nasty habit. Especially from someone raised by a loving, supportive family. I mean, yes, there were times that my siblings made my life feel miserable. And there are still moments when I feel like that twelve-year-old girl ostracized because she’d really rather dress up like the Spice Girls than get drunk. And while I have heard terrible stories of bullying in schools, I never felt bullied. I have always been a bit of a chub and though I never considered myself bullied, there are still a few choice interactions that are emblazoned on my memory.

The people I thought I needed least were, of course, the ones that loved me most. My family. I remember heinously vowing that if anyone died while I was studying abroad in Ireland that I would not be returning to the States for the Funeral. Then I cried over most of the Atlantic wondering if there was any way to turn back. Change my mind without losing face. When I went away to college my first semester – and I had said for years that I was leaving that town and never looking back – I cried after my Mom left from Parent Weekend. In the shower, no less, where my friends and roommate wouldn’t see me.

I tried so hard to push them away. To be Miss Independent. I saw them as an anchor weighing me down and I felt like I had to let go to be free. In an effort to sever those ties, I traveled. I love to travel – and for all the right reasons – but part of why I started was the freedom. A chance to shake off my anchor. I have never wanted to be babied more than when I was riding a train from Italy to Austria with tonsillitis. And when I was living in Colombia, I missed my family fiercely.

My Mom used to tell my sisters and I when we would fight that some day we would be best friends. I very much doubted this. I had absolutely nothing in common with them. My friends were my chosen family. Ten years later, most of those same friends have faded into happy memories that I keep up with loosely on Facebook and my sisters are my very best friends. We’re scattered across the country right now, but those ties, that ones I crossed oceans to try to sever, are stronger than ever. I share their pains and their joys. We love most of the same people. We cry and laugh and get angry on behalf of the other.

I don’t know when this happened. This shift in my universe. I do wonder if it happens to everyone. What I know now is that I can go far, far away and those loves of my life – my family – they’ll be supporting me throughout. They will still laugh and cry with me. No matter how close we live, our time together will always feel fleeting. And that living our amazing and independent lives doesn’t pull us apart – it gives us something to talk about.

I’m sorry for that armor that I built. I thought I needed it then. I’m sorry for ever doubting that I needed people. I was so very wrong. I’m sorry for all those people I loved and who loved me that I hurt with my arrogance or my pride or my hateful attitude. But I am happy now and I’m a better person for having known everyone I have ever known (okay, in fairness, there may be an exception or two).

I am a better person for every person I have ever hugged or had a friend crush on. For every person I felt a connection with – even if only for a moment. It might not have been the best me, but it was me and I’m a better person from having learned from it. Thanks for letting me become this person.

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