The last year has been a very strange time for me. Long-time readers of this site know this, but my life hasn’t always been stable or good. I had multiple traumas as a young person and struggled through a long, hard-fought recovery that wasn’t at all glamorous.
I’ve had many periods of low-contact or non-contact with members of my family over the years. At this point, I’ve experienced basically every phase and form of estrangement (it’s actually a broader spectrum than most people realize, family estrangement), as I have figured out ways to navigate my role in what is a high-functioning dysfunctional family.
It’s still evolving. The last year has been particularly strange as my father passed away last spring (he was my hero, the parent I was closer to). Every single dynamic within the family has shifted a bit. None of us know what we’re doing of course. And since we’re a bunch of New Englanders (I currently live in Texas but grew up in Maine), we’re not great at talking about our feelings.
Anyway, I’ve figured myself out. I know how I work. I do still have rough patches — especially when times are tough, and this past year has been tough for pretty much everyone I know, myself included. But I know how to keep myself going and make sure I don’t get emotionally unhealthy to a point where I’m going to spiral.
Something new has emerged on top of that — I’m starting to be viewed by my other family members as a wise person. (Oh no.) And I’ve transitioned from being a family embarrassment to them looking to me more for emotional support. I set boundaries around it, but it’s still overwhelming. I’ve managed to heal myself (more or less). But I don’t see myself as someone who can save others. And over the years, I’ve realized that people need to primarily save themselves, and the most I can do is help them out along the way.
Grieving my father has taken up most of my energy this past year. (At times I forgot the pandemic was going on because I just wanted to stay inside my home and cry anyway, which is the same activity in pandemic and non-pandemic times.)
I gained some weight from emotional eating, like basically everyone else I know, and then somewhere in there went on a strict eating plan and started moving a bit again and got rid of it and a bit more. To be honest, my heart wasn’t in it. I would have been just as content to sit and eat incredible amounts of Chinese takeout for breakfast every day. I was quite checked out and depressed and didn’t give a crap about my body. I mostly went on a diet and exercise program because my partner was very insistent he wanted to and I got tired of hearing him be upset about his weight gain. But it worked anyway. I came up with a good plan and followed it. And now I’m back to where I was when I first moved to Texas. And what’s left are what I consider to be my standard “vanity pounds.”
Going Through the Motions Still Pedals the Bike
The heart sometimes tricks us into thinking that it needs to be involved in big changes. But it’s not strictly true. Sometimes you can just sneak up on a big change while your heart is elsewhere (for example, grieving or working on writing) by just performing the actions that’ll get you there and sleepwalking through it. Going through the motions still pedals the bike.
It’s gotten me through some tough times. I can’t always summon up the proper emotion to keep going. I can’t always feel brave. But I can usually take brave actions. Or whatever action it is that I recognize I should take.
In fact, the biggest changes I ever experienced happened not because I was hyperfocused on a goal — but when I made small incremental changes in the background and they eventually added up.