A lot of people in my world know my family of origin. There are certain settings that make it nearly impossible to avoid conversations about my parents and siblings. Over the years I have chosen, what I call "The High Road", in these conversations. I listen attentively as I am told in glowing terms what wonderful people they are. I am quick to give credit where credit is due, praising their individual skills in their chosen fields.
It's been an interesting path for me to navigate. When I first began to address the abuse I suffered, I promised my family I would not cut them out of my life. I made that promise because I was more concerned about them than I was about myself. I made it at time when I assumed they would support me fully in my efforts to heal. As time passed it became apparent that they were not going to be a positive force in my healing, so I took a break from them.
I kept it quiet, only letting my closest friends know about the estrangement. When people would ask about my family, I would answer honestly and kindly without mentioning our strained relationship. It was hard. Listening to people tell me of the respect they had for my parents and siblings sometimes left me feeling as if I were living a lie. A lie I had worked hard from which to untangle myself.
I've since learned that it's okay to give them credit. To allow other people to retain their positive memories of my family. It doesn't negate the troubles we've had. The process has helped me learn again the reality that few things in life are black and white. Gray abounds in relationships.
Recently I had one of those conversations that emphasized the juxtaposition this can lead to. I was discussing with an acquaintance some of the details of the abusers. I had just mentioned to her the difficulty of dealing with compliments about people connected to the abusers when another woman came up. She had just been told of my connection with one of my siblings. She began to give me a glowing description of my sibling's strengths and gifts. All the while I was standing there wanting to turn to the acquaintance and say, "See? This is what I'm talking about." But of course I didn't. Instead I affirmed my sibling's gifts and skills and removed myself from the conversation. As I left the gathering I felt the old feelings creeping in through the back of my neck. Had I spoken out of turn? Had I lied? Should I have kept quiet?
It's a tightrope walk at times. Honoring myself while being respectful of the people who've let me down.
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