I’m a family girl. I grew up surrounded by them and they are an integral piece of me. When I was growing up, I didn’t have very many outside friends. Most of the people I saw and talked to and connected with were related to me. Though I have friends, the closest person to me in the world is actually my first cousin. It was the way I grew up and everything I knew. I loved the feeling of being part of a group, being a member of something bigger. I was always taught that family wasn’t just blood; it was a powerful force that you had to cherish. There was nothing stronger than that bond–and it was our responsibility to make sure nothing ever came between us. Well this past weekend I had the enormous pleasure of seeing some of my family and having dinner with them. And like I said, my family is the center of me. They make me feel grounded, real… normal. They remind me who I am. And whenever I’m out of sorts and feeling like I’m losing control, seeing them always helps me. So I went to my maternal grandmother’s house and other people poured in and we ate dinner and spent some much needed quality time together. It was exactly what I needed, since I’ve been struggling a little and last week wasn’t easy. And as usual, I felt like writing something because I had a conversation with a friend that made me think about my family, my connection with them–and my dependence on them.
Last week was a rough one for me. I have a lot of thinking to do about my health and my current situation. It was weighing pretty heavy on my mind and brought back all of those insecurities that are never very deep below the surface. In conversations with my friends (who are wonderful people who always want to help me get to the heart of my issues), I admitted that my family gives me a confidence that is unmatched in my life. It is the only environment where I am completely and constantly accepted. Acceptance makes you brave. It makes you proud of who you are. It makes you confident. I told my friends that honestly–I am never more confident anywhere than I am with my family. And as hard as I’ve tried, I don’t feel that acceptance anywhere else in my life. So I can’t replicate the confidence I feel when I’m with them. I’ve never been able to. It got me to thinking about safety nets and security blankets, about the things in your life that you run to when you need to be protected, and when the world has beat you to a pulp and you need to recharge. My family is absolutely that for me. Which of course got me to wondering if that was a good or a bad thing.
I used to be a collector of stuffed animals, more specifically–stuffed Winnie The Pooh bears (just walk with me; I have a point, I promise). Anyway, my Poohs were all special and important. They made me feel safe, and… loved. If there was nothing to hold onto at night, at least I had Pooh. Now, I didn’t do that every night. I didn’t need them all the time. A lot of the time I just admired them and felt glad that they were there if I ever did need them. So I kept up the collecting through college. After college I moved to Maryland, where I eventually stopped adding new Pooh bears, but I still had the old ones. I still felt like I needed them. When I bought and moved into my house, I finally had a change of heart. They didn’t seem to fit my new room and this new level I had reached in my life. So I packed them away in my basement. And this past December, I finally donated them. So they’re gone now–but I haven’t missed them. I realized that I was using them as a security blanket. I was wrapping myself with them, hiding when I needed to hide, covering when I felt too exposed. But eventually, I got to a place in my life where I just didn’t need the comfort they provided anymore. So I was able to get rid of that security blanket. But the same can’t be said of my other security blanket and safety net–my family.
I know that they’re not going to be everywhere I am all the time. I also know that there may come a time when I can’t hop in a car and get to them to regain my normalcy. So admitting that they help me realize my optimal level of confidence and that I haven’t been able to replicate that level in other environments is a HUGE deal. I love my family. But I think I’m a little worried that the way I feel about them could be handicapping me. I mean, their acceptance is awesome. But sometimes acceptance can make you complacent. It can make you feel like you don’t have to grow. Like you don’t have any growing to do. I know that those scary moments are what starts the growth sometimes, opening yourself up is what you need to do to find out who you could be. That moment when you feel naked and exposed could be a step to finding out something about yourself that you never knew. My mind acknowledges these things. But sometimes my heart wants to run for cover. And my family is there, to wrap themselves around me and make me feel protected. Build me back up and send me back out there. Or even tell me that it’s okay not to go back out there if I’m not ready.
I don’t want you guys to think that my family fools me. They don’t sugarcoat my life. I had a good talk with my mother about the things going on with me and she gave me completely honest advice and said some things that were scary to even contemplate, but were real possibilities. I don’t use them to pull the wool over my eyes (and they wouldn’t do that anyway). But what they give me is so… awesome, for lack of a better word. It feels good to get that acceptance, that love. It feels good not to be judged. Because believe it or not, some days I feel like even my friends are judging me. And it’s entirely possible that I am bringing some of that on myself–or even projecting my own judgement. But outside of me, I feel judged. I think that I’m so big on certain things–for other people being mature and responsible and doing the right thing–but the problem with having that as a personality trait is that when you make decisions yourself and for your life that skate the line–some people don’t see your reasons. They don’t understand your doubts. And they don’t care about your insecurities. They just want to know why you’re not the Shameka that they’re used to seeing. My family never wonders that. They always seem to get it.
But I have to remind myself that I left South Philly and the ever-so-safe circle of my grandmother’s neighborhood for a reason. Eleven years ago, I knew I needed a new beginning; I knew I needed to grow in another direction. So I said goodbye to my beloved South Philly, and then to PA altogether when I left my mama’s house a few months later. I knew it was the right thing to do. And it turns out I was right. But now, I feel the easy control I had over my life sometimes slipping away and I feel my own ability to keep the monsters at bay fading fast. And I’m lonely and nothing’s killing that ache. And I’m tired and there’s not enough sleep to keep me awake because it’s not just my body. It’s my mind. And when I get to my grandmother’s house and we sit on the couch and watch TV I never want to leave. And every time I’m with my dad and my head is on his shoulder or he’s bragging about me to someone or he’s making me watch Cold Case Files–my safety feels soooo good. And I want it all the time. I’ve even been contemplating going back to Philly when I move at the end of the year. Because I’m dying to feel like… myself again. Or at least a better version of myself than this. And no one makes me feel more like the best version of myself than my family. I’ve been falling and they’ve been catching me. I’m so grateful too. But at the same time, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if I just fell on my ass. If I lived like they weren’t two hours, a half tank of gas and 16 bucks in toll away. What would happen then? Would I spin down even further? Or would I actually triumph greater than I could have imagined? Who knows?
I see people walking through the world with no one and I am infinitely grateful that I don’t have that experience. The net feels nice. It feels like you don’t always have to work everything out right away, or by yourself. And that’s definitely a lesson I need to learn. But there’s a flip side to this coin because some part of me feels like I’ve created an unreasonable expectation of other people in my life, by measuring them by how closely they can replicate the feelings I get from my family. And maybe that’s a little unfair. Maybe my feelings are just a disappointment brought on by my own lofty demands of how people should show their love and acceptance of me. Maybe that’s the problem.
I know this is a rough patch, and once I get through it, I’ll feel a lot better. But I think it’s still great that I can get in my car and lay eyes on my Kahree when I’m not feeling so good. I still think the net is pretty nice.