One of the last things that I worked on before I had to leave therapy is getting back in contact with a relative of mine that I hadn’t spoken with for years. You see, back in sixth grade, my great grandmother on my father’s side decided to suddenly get in contact with me, and I spent the next few years visiting her regularly. Only after life got away with me after college did I eventually drift away from her, and subsequently, her from me. I hadn’t heard anything from anyone in the family for years until one year my aunt decided to send me a letter out of the blue. I had every intention of writing to her, but never got around to it. My grandmother had been nagging me about it for years, about how I didn’t even know if my great grandmother was even alive anymore. About how I lost my only connection to my father’s side of the family.
And after years of putting it off, I decided that I might as well look into it. Back in 2016. I know this because my aunt’s address is written in that planner that I mentioned last week. I had every intention of reaching out to her then.
But then my health fell apart and I never got around to it.
Cue the end of 2017, and it’s Christmas day and I’m sitting in a Denny’s with my grandparents because none of their children decided they were worth spending Christmas with. And my grandmother asks me if I’ve bothered to send that letter I always talk about. Telling me that I should just bypass the letter and call her. I told her that I hadn’t, and she gives me that disapproving look that she always has, and I knew I needed to actually act on this sometime soon. I sat and struggled with it for a while, and my therapist told me that I should just send a small, short card to her, and leave my phone number and address and let her make the next move. So I did.
It was one of the last things I got to tell my grandmother. That I had finally moved forward on this.
And at first, it was really amazing. I got to hear from someone that I hadn’t heard from in ages. I was hopeful that we could reconnect, and I was so happy to find that she didn’t hate me for falling off of the face of the planet. A part of me felt silly for waiting as long as I had to finally go through with this. In many ways, I wanted this to be one of those situations where I could report back to everyone that “see, when you put yourself out there, good things happen.” Or to perhaps be able to say that sometimes our fears are inaccurate, that we fear things that aren’t there.
But that’s not the message this post carries. Not even in the slightest.
Shortly after I began talking to her again, the tone in our conversations shifted. She became demeaning towards me. She refused to understand what I was trying to convey to her in certain situations and circumstances. And when she decided that she really wanted to have a meetup including a recently-discovered niece and my absentee father, I really began to feel my hackles raise. I tried to explain to both her and this recently-discovered niece that my father had never been present, that I had virtually no means to contact him, that I felt that he had made it that way on purpose, that our issues were bigger than us needing to “just hash it out and move on.” But they persisted, and they harangued him until he reached out to me through Facebook (which, as a side note, its very telling that he’s been very social and responsive to them, and yet had to be prodded and pushed by them to even give me the time of day.)
Within a matter of minutes, I realized that he hadn’t grown. That he still refused to acknowledge that he played a role in my mental and physical health being as it is, that his absentee-ism has had a rippling and prolific impact on my life. That this made me less than thrilled to act as if everything was swell between us.
And when I decided I no longer wanted to see him ever again, my aunt lowkey lost it. She kept pushing and asking and re-asking if I would reconsider. It became very obvious very quickly that she didn’t believe anything I was telling her about him, to the point that her last message to me literally called my hatred of him a “hatred of convenience.” She believed that I would push my father away until I was frustrated with my mother, and that I’d crawl back to him in times of need, and reject him as soon as I had what I wanted. She called me selfish. She called me petty. How dare I not want to put my needs aside so that she can have this beautiful family reunion.
All of this while dealing with death, moving, and becoming a caretaker. She gave me absolutely no leeway and no quarter. And when she finally sent me the wall of text that called me everything awful under the sun, I decided that I would no longer tolerate her in my life. I never responded, I removed the other relatives that were feeding her information from my social media feeds, and I moved on with my life.
I think that on the surface this story feels very sad or disappointing or unfulfilling, and at first I felt myself slipping into that mindset. We all want it to be like it is in the movies, where we go out on a limb and we walk away more successful or enriched for having attempted something, but often times life isn’t like that. But as I kept working through what I had experienced, I began to feel as if this story isn’t inherently negative, and its for that reason that I wanted to share it with all of you.
I’ve called this experience “walking into the room.” Last year I knew that the room existed, and that inside of the room was a section of my family I knew existed, but had no idea what state they were in. Others wanted me to check inside of this room to see what was going on, and honestly, I was a bit curious, too. I could remember there being really great things inside of the room, and part of me hoped that those great things might still be in there. Eventually I got around to checking inside of the room, only to find that it was filled with junk that I had no interest in. And when I realized that, I felt that slight pang of disappointment as I closed the door and walked away, but at least now I knew what was in it.
In other words, because I finally got off my duff and reconnected with my aunt, I now know what happened with my great grandmother. I know what all I had missed these past six or so years. By extension, I learned that part of the reason I ended up drifting away from them was because my brain was picking up on the subtle abuse that never fully reared its head in the past, but came full-force earlier this year. Because I had opened the door, I got to really learn that sometimes our bodies pick up on those little micro slices way faster than our consciousness does. That some part of me was likely trying to keep me safe.
Sometimes taking the effort to look in the room pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. Even when it doesn’t, there is power in knowing that it’s not a place for you. There is power in knowing that there are certain things we need not waste our energy on.
By looking in the room and realizing that I didn’t want anything inside of it, I found that nothing inside of it held power over me anymore. Because it no longer held power over me, it made it so much easier to walk away from what I no longer needed or wanted that in my life.
And sometimes letting things go will set you free.