Grief, perspective, and compassion

Recently during a conversation about my being poly, I was asked what it was like and how I dealt with being discriminated against by society and/or my family of origin. Any time the mention of my family of origin comes up the first thing I sense in my body is a nauseated churning in my belly, a growing tightness and heaviness in my chest, a rush of thoughts pounding against a gate in my mind I have in place to hold them all back so I can function on a daily basis and manage myself and my behavior in a way that is in alignment with my integrity. Discrimination by society? Given the geographic area and more specific circles in which my world takes place, it’s something that’s inconvenient but deal-able. My family of origin is a whole other ball of wax.

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but to refresh your memories, I was raised in a conservative, Christian family. I adopted my parents’ values and beliefs, held to them, and didn’t question them for a long time. From my parents’ point of view, I was in many ways I imagine, the perfect child for them – a mini version of themselves. One thing I don’t think my parents counted on was that I listened to them and not only the direct lessons they taught me, but the indirect ones as well. So when I would come to them with my problems as a young adolescent and they refused to solve them for me or give me advice other than to talk with me and help me figure it out for myself, I don’t think they realized that they were teaching me some of the most valuable lessons ever: to think for myself, to trust my own wisdom and knowing, and to make decisions for myself. And I don’t think they anticipated my taking that experience of their behavior and applying those lessons everywhere in my world.

I didn’t handle coming out to my parents (any of the three times I did it – Pagan, bi, poly) well. I hadn’t ever really asserted myself to them in terms of any striking differences between myself and them previously, and I think I decided overcompensating and being more forceful was necessary to assure they wouldn’t persuade me out of it. Consequently, I wasn’t concerned for their perspective or their feelings any of the three times. I’d like to say that I improved each time I came out to them, but that wouldn’t be accurate. From the very first time of coming out (as Pagan), our relationship became very strained. That was in 2004. Seven years, a significant number of arguments and tears, and a great deal of silence have passed. Currently, we do not talk about my spirituality, we do not talk about my chosen and forever family, we do not talk about my sexuality, we do not all get together for holidays and birthdays and such. Neither my parents nor my sister or any other extended family members have ever met any of my forever family members, and the likelihood of my parents or sister ever meeting them is slim to none.

So when this question was posed to me and I briefly explained that we did not get along I then allowed that gate in my mind to ease open a little. And when the initial anxiety had come and settled, what remained was a weighty and cold heartache and grief that I have not allowed myself to sit with for a very long time, if ever. I let myself for a moment or two feel the tip of that grief, that loss. A wash of dual images flooded my inner vision in which my parents were on one side absent and on the mirror side present. I envisioned my eventual handfasting to my Beloved and her husband, I saw myself pregnant and giving birth to a child, I saw family holiday gatherings and summer vacations, I saw my parents talking and playing with our girls, I saw anniversary celebrations, birthdays, graduations, etc. And the pain in my heart at both sets of those images – especially the ones which showed my parents happily interacting with the girls (oh, I cannot fully describe in words how much those ones hurt – it’s as if my heart is being crushed in a vice) – and the strength of the loss of what may never be was enough to make me catch my breath and my voice as I was continuing to talk while these images were flooding my mind.

I asked myself internally, then, how I managed that. The response I heard was that I sit with it a little bit here and there, and I simply breathe. And eventually, I put that pain into perspective more and more, and I use it to grow beyond myself, in terms of where I am now. I look at my parents and my interactions with them over the past seven years. I have spent the vast majority of those years being angry with them but knowing I need to let go of that. Now, as I sit with this pain, the idea and act of letting go actually seems possible, and I am starting to feel the beginnings of compassion.