For over seven years, I’ve lived with small dread of accidentally writing the wrong name in an Anne Nahm email. Many of the comments came in last week with my real name written in them. Opening each and every one was like that dream where you fall, flailing armed and screaming to your certain death, only to wake at the very last moment, safe in your own bed. It’s weird to let that longstanding pet terror go.
My excommunicated relative emailed me, unsolicited and unwelcomed, this week. Guess that is probably par for the course in situations like these.
It’s funny, because in the radio silence of not asking for anyone’s approval, I’ve been struggling. A significant part of me wails daily like a colicky infant, terrorized by the sudden incommunicado. Lack of external ‘You’re OK’ quickly becomes ‘You’re Not OK’ in the dark space of unanswered pleas.
I’ve been listening as “Am I OK?” slowly putrefies into “I am a bad kid. I am not OK at all.” My internalized infant doesn’t give a flying fuck in regards to my own insistence that I am (or at least will be) OK. What the hell do I know? Most of me is, after all, clearly a big freaking freak-out baby.
What makes this funny is that this is the week I’d probably be most vulnerable to attack. I mean, I’m miserable and I’m a day away from having to see the rest of my family face-to-face for the first time since the excommunication began.
This email (in my opinion) had a pretty direct aim to make me feel bad. It had some other attempted hooks in it, such as apparently misunderstandings my motivations, the claim I’d hurt 3rd parties, and the threat/promise to permanently delete my email address (*sigh* one can only hope).
Thing was, I am in a place where someone could really rip me to shreds with self-doubt and guilt if they knew anything about me. This letter didn’t hook me at all.
This excommunicated family member may have known me most of my life, but they don’t know anything about who I am, what motivates me, or where my vulnerabilities are. They took a harsh, swinging attempt to injure and manipulate me, but their aim was so far off that the letter was practically a blessing.
It gave that quavering ‘Am I OK?’ question in me something to test itself against. This letter (in my opinion) was all about how I was not OK.
Reading it, all I could do was smile and think, “Well, fuck all that noise. Turns out, I’m totally OK with myself in this.” And that OK has stuck. The wake of silence after, of not having to answer that keening question anymore, is bring-me-to-tears grateful.
Preparing for our upcoming reunion, I did spend time last night in my old habits – gathering up all the reasons I decided on excommunication in my mind, preparing to recite them to family members who might want to know why I had done what I’d done. In particular, I have been worried about the excommunicated member’s spouse, who is not technically excommunicated, but of whom I am obviously somewhat wary.
It’s like going to battle to remember all these points of fact to make a bullet proof argument, to convince someone else that I am appropriate in my decisions. Is exhausting to keep them in my mind, ready to deploy if they should be needed.
Last night I realized that my NOT OK should be as valuable as my OK. So I’m letting go of all those hurts and reasons for the excommunication. I don’t have to keep them cataloged and remembered. All I have to remember is that the excommunicated relative is NOT OK by my standards, and I don’t owe anyone an explanation or a play-by-play reasoning for my decision.
Here’s to hoping I can keep true to that ideal, as I head into this family gathering. Happy Holidays, everybody.
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