During the summer of 2002, at the young age of 21, I lost one of the most influential people in my life and at the same time, as my father, Kenneth Thomas, took his last breaths, I was living the last moments with my family. My sisters, my brothers, my mother, my nephews, and my niece, well our relationship’s trajectory from that moment on would be in a constant up and down upheaval. The fissures too monumental to mend; the cracks too deep to fix; the gap was widening minute by minute, day by day, and year by year.
The day my father died, the family I had known – even through heartache, discontent, and trouble – died as well.
10 years ago, heck even two years ago, I would have told anyone that suggested breaking off toxic relationships even if it’s our own blood crazy, asinine, and spiteful.
Blood is thick than water, right?
But sometimes, and I can only tell you what I feel from my experiences, that blood is tainted and clouded with toxins and impurities. And try as we might to sort it out while maintaining our own balance, there’s only one way to truly better ourselves.
From my point of view, I’ve tried numerous times to mend broken fences, hearts, and emotions over the past 10+ years. I’ve tried to connect again with my close family – and even close friends – to no avail. Because even as I write this, I’m crying.
It hurts when Alicia, 9, sees pictures in my photo albums at home and asks about my family. It hurts when she quietly asks, “Why don’t we see your sisters, mom?” I never know how to answer except the generic, “That’s just the way it is sometimes.”
It hurts when I see most of my others siblings maintain relationships with one another and I think in my head “What did I do?”
The martyr syndrome sets in and frankly, I’ve had enough.
I’ve had enough of holding my emotions hostage and waiting for acceptance from people who choose not to be invested in my life. I’ve had enough of putting my heart on the line, just for it to be snagged off of the clothesline and dragged through pungent mud. I’ve had enough of waiting…waiting for that moment when any one of them calls me back…writes me back…texts me back…and validates me as their blood and more importantly as a person.
We all want it, but at what price? For 32 years, I’ve craved the illustrious taste of acceptance while putting myself and MY family on hold.
One of the final straws was when Zachary, now 7, was in PICU at Children’s Hospital in Colorado; He was hospitalized for 6 days and for the first two days was clinging to life. Zachary was hooked up to oxygen, couldn’t eat, use the bathroom, and was in and out of consciousness. For some of that time, he was in a coma-like state, and I was faced with the harsh reality that I may lose my son.
I called. I called. I called. I called.
I Facebooked. I Facebooked. I Facebooked.
And I waited.
A few generic “I’m sorry’s” days later and I didn’t have the energy to even think about my lackadaisical family because a little boy needed me more than I needed my family.
I got down on my knees during that time more than I can count. During that time, I was far from God, but I always knew where to go.
I prayed so many times, I hadn’t showered in days. I had bit my fingernails to their nubs because the doctors were still unclear what Zachary’s recovery – if there were to be one – would look like.
The night of Day 2, heading into Day 3, I remember just holding Zachary’s small hand as he was unconscious and prayed so hard to God. I asked Him to save Zach; it wasn’t Zach’s time to go and just to give him a little more time. I remember I was a wreck of emotions, and I just started praying out loud and asking my dad for help.
I know people would think I’m weird or crazy or whatever, but I saw my dad that night. I saw him over Zach’s hospital bed and it was only for a moment in real-time, but it seemed like it lasted forever. I could see his hands hover over Zach’s cornflower blonde hair and I just shook my head because honestly, I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept, and I thought I was hallucinating.
When I stopped, my dad was gone. However, the next day, Zach’s responsive rate was incredible. He was still incredibley weak, but he was very aware of what was going on and he soon would be breathing without oxygen and began eating.
Looking back, I had self-realization that night:
I didn’t NEED my family, my family that GOD has given me is my husband, my children, and those that are around us locally. I WANTED my family . I WANTED some sort of tether from my past to feel this emotional experience with me. I wanted physicality from my past. I wanted reassurance, but what I didn’t understand then is that I already had it.
This came full circle years later when still making another gesture at reconciliation with my family and friends of yesteryear that I realized parts of the aforementioned were toxic.
Wikipedia definition of toxicity:
is the degree to which a substance can damage an organism. By extension, the word may be metaphorically used to describe toxic effects on larger and more complex groups, such as the family unit or society at large.
My family was freakin’ toxic.
What a great realization to have, huh? Realizing, even begrudgingly, that everything you had known – good, bad, happy, sad – was based on selfishness, hatefulness, malice, and just plain old toxicity.
That’s not to say, that I was innocently unscathed. I had conversations that when I left Angola, Indiana – I moved with my two young children at 21 less than 48 hours after my father was buried more than 1,000 miles away – it was hurtful along with some of the things I had said – remember I have trouble watching my mouth – and my general attitude.
The difference is that I have been honest and owned up to my mistakes. I have been clear and graphically honest about my life, but I can’t say the same has been directed towards me and more IMPORTANTLY, my children. With that being said, pain is subjective.
Things that I felt, my family didn’t feel. Things they felt, I may have never felt.
So, maybe I’m just as toxic, although I like to think – based on my upwards trajectory – I’m not.
I have expectations.
I’m not that toxic passive-aggressive mean girl anymore.
I don’t hold emotional blackmail over anyone’s head.
I don’t imply blame, I accept it.
I never thought I would see the day, where I would say goodbye to parts of my loved ones from my childhood. I never thought I could do it. I never thought I was capable enough, but God has told us to protect our hearts for His glory and in turn we’re protecting ourselves from added mental, emotional, and physical anguish.
I’m too blessed to be stressed by irrelevant circumstances.
And yes, toxic people are irrelevant.
To serve God adequately, I have to be in one accord mentally, emotionally, and physically. My one wish for those toxic relationships – and yes, some are my very own siblings – that they find themselves; that they find that perfect peace, that insatiable love, and have the ability to say goodbye to their own toxic relationships in their life, and even more pivotal, I will have love for you, but I won’t allow you to invade my mind, nor spirit any longer.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. – Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)
Everything comes from our heart, and above everything else, God wants us to be willing to forgive, move forward, love, but love isn’t mutually exclusive to allowing someone to keep our emotions hostage.
I want to thank all of my past toxic relationships because God did place you in my life for a reason.
You were placed to teach me.
You were placed to hurt me.
You were placed in my life for a few shared laughs, smiles, and lots of everything else.
You were placed in my life for discontent.
You were placed in my life for a bevy of reasons that God only knows, but most of all, you were placed as my family and friends that helped mold me and give me those savory and sour experiences as a child and young adult so then I would realize and appreciate the family I have now.
And those healthy relationships.
Thank you for your pernicious toxicity, I couldn’t be the person God is using today without it.
May you examine your own level of toxicity.
Editor’s Note: I have sat on this piece for more than 24 hours and I’m still bawling my eyes out. I always thought that my loved ones from yesteryear would come together, holding hands, and singing a sappy tune. Unfortunately, that never happens as much as we want it, does it? I would never suggest that “cutting ties” is an option for anyone – other than myself – when dealing with family problems because in most instances they can be easily reconciled.
However, in my case and circumstances, it’s past the point of no return not from a lack of trying, but from a point of I CARE enough for my family to end this vicious cycle of malice, selfishness, and anguish.
I nearly chickened out and erased this all.
However, this is far and wide one of the biggest struggles of my life and God is giving me this sense of tranquility. It’s a tough decision, but it’s the right decision. For me.