…his siblings and others of his community fly at him, peck at him, torment him. They mean to chase him away. And the ugly duckling is heartbroken really, to be rejected by his own. It is a terrible thing especially since he really did nothing to warrant it other than look different and act a little different . ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I had an adoptive cousin who was (is) 11 days younger than me. When I was a kid, whenever we visited them or them us, this cousin and his sister were just not very nice to me. His sister was stick thin as was most of my adoptive mother’s family. I am not of the same biological family so I actually had hips and a chest (some tended to be stick like).
I remember one summer day when I was 10 years old. I was just very uncomfortable with these people especially when I visited for the summer and spent the whole damn time at the beach. I was a street kid, used to playing street games in the Bronx and wandering the streets of the city. I wasn’t made for the beach and showed up in the country, pale and uncomfortable in beach clothes. The girls my age were tanned and always thinner. It wasn’t comfortable and I didn’t feel welcome or that I fit in. No one in my family turned themselves inside out to make me feel comfortable either.
I remember this summer day I went to the dreaded beach trying to have a good time despite the fact that I hated the country and the beach and my cousins and all the snotty friends of my cousins.
So I went to this beach trying to make the most of it. I went in the water by myself and swam out to this rock. and I was paddling around out there by myself. Not having a wonderful time but it was a hot day and the water was cool and I was enjoying myself well enough. I was by myself minding my own business and my cousin swam out to where I was and just started talking to me.
At some point I grew tired and pushed myself up on the rock. My cousin looked at me and said, “God Susie, you are so fat.” And I was crushed. CRUSHED.
On the way home in the car I was, once again, sitting in the back seat minding my own business and we passed a place that said “Body shop” and his brother, about 4 years older than me, said “Oh that’s where we’re going to send Susie.”
I could write here dozens and dozens of slights and injustices at the hands of these people but I stopped speaking to them long ago. And it stopped hurting long ago.
I wrote on here ( Click here to read: On Being The Black Sheep ) that even into my 30s I was trying to please them, to get them to “like” me. A boyfriend pointed out to me that a) he thought they were insane and b) I didn’t like THEM very much. That is when I took myself out of the dance. That is when I realized, I needed to get out and stay out.
After my adoptive mother died, I had no reason to see these people again. Sensing my distance they suddenly sent me invitations to things that I did not want to attend. I was done. I had taken the last thing I was ever going to take.
So I went on, on my own, going back to school, getting healthy, creating a life and as Dr. Estes says in her book Women Who Run With Wolves, finding my own pack. The people who love me and cherish and support me. Some family members, my children, members of my biological family who love me (cousins and brothers that I did not know growing up but I know now) and friends that I have come to call family.
My best friend has a similar life story and we “get” each other. It is possible to find members of your own pack when your “family” treats you like, well not like a family is supposed to treat you. I had had it with my adoptive siblings, my adoptive cousins and all the people who decided to un-adopt me whenever I did something they didn’t like or to treat me badly a lot of times when I was doing nothing. It’s just not how family should treat each other and I had to go out and learn this from books and therapists and support groups because I never knew that all of this was just oh so very sick.
Even though I did my anger work on all this a long time ago I have recently realized that they treated someone who felt like an outsider like this. They knew I was not biologically related. They knew I was a foster child until I was 8 and yet, they still treated me like this. They never quite allowed me to fit in. Only recently did I think about how outrageous and how unacceptable and cruel that really is. Just a group of not very nice people.
But I have gone on and grown and changed and have a very successful life. And I love my life and I love my departure from the clan. Like the Ugly Duckling, I have found my own kind. I have found others who are like me and who like me.
Like Dr. Estes says,
“ While exile is not a thing to desire for the fun of it, there is an unexpected gain from it; the gifts of exile are many. It takes out weakness by the pounding. It removes whininess, enables acute insight, heightens intuition, grants the power of keen observation and perspective that the ‘insider’ can never achieve.”
It definitely removed the whininess and enabled me to develop keen observation and perspective. Yes, the gifts of exile are many. You either sink or swim. And I stopped splashing around in the water and learned to swim. REALLY swim. And I stopped inviting commentary on me from people who have no business giving it.
A long time ago a therapist told me that I should be grateful I never felt as if I belonged to a family I came to see as dysfunctional as all get out. And over the years I’ve come to be grateful for that.
As for my cousin, he has piled up a bit of a rap sheet that includes dui’s, possession of substances and crank phone calls. Crank phone calls? IN YOUR FORTIES????
Are you kidding me? Okay, I felt a little mean when I did it but I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I heard that.
I even laughed again a few hours later when I thought of it again.
Sorry for being mean, but for me, it all puts it in perspective now.