It is so good to be home
Part of me says I shouldn’t feel this way, but being around family is really draining. I don’t mean my family of choice—my SO and our children—I mean my family of birth…siblings, cousins, in-laws, parents—the one’s we don’t choose.
This kind of family has a tendency to take each other for granted. And while blood may be thicker than water, this only rarely translates to understanding. None of my family members knows me anywhere near as well as my friends do. Generally, I avoid being around them much, and this follows the principle of cutting people out who suck the life out of you [written about here], but sometimes we don’t have much choice. Weddings and other reunions for example.
For the past week, my only succour has been sleep and the brief moments I have been able to sneak out and get on video calls with my wife and kids—together and separately. But now I am home, and boy what a relief.
One of the most “interesting” by-products of being around family was how it drained away not just my emotional energy, but also all of the things I do for self-care and personal growth: I stopped exercising, I stopped writing, I stopped taking care of what I ate, and I drank. It was awful, and I am glad it’s over and things can go back to normal. But it interests me—note to self—watch out for emotional stress! The moment we most need self-care is the moment that our ability to give it to ourselves is most under threat.
I wrote previously about my brother whose atheism is so virulent that he became deeply aggressive towards me in relation to faith. [Written about here]. And also how the trigger for that conversation—learning to forgive our father for his negative role in our lives [written about here] finally produced some growth in him. But I discovered over the past few days that not only is my brother not able to live and let live, he is an active missionary for atheism. I had always thought only hard-core believers proselytised, but here was a live example.
One evening, we got to talking over dinner. My father noted his atheism. I asked him about that, as when we were growing up, he called himself “agnostic”. I asked him about his journey from agnosticism to atheism. He said, “I was always an atheist, but I didn’t want to influence your own beliefs, and wanted you to find your own way.” Not bad. Way to go, Dad.
His wife made the mistake of saying she believed. This brother was also at the table, and the next thing you know, he had launched into a monologue that had him shaking with supressed rage. Raised voice, expletives, and a self-professed belief that he knew more about theism and faith than “anyone in the family, so credit where credit’s due,” blah, blah, blah. About 15 minutes into it the rest of us were looking at each other. It was about that time that I concluded that my brother is quite possibly mentally ill.
The rest of the evening was ruined. Every topic that we switched to encountered his rage. He redirected most of it towards our father. Thankfully my father brushed it all off, and there was still some semblance of bonhomie. But the nastiness hung in the air, and all over the house, and over the next days, my brother kept feeding it, and bringing it out. Indeed, a deep-seated resentment of him towards me was evident, and came out in nearly every sentence he uttered. Low-grade warfare. That’s what it felt like.
My folks noted one evening that I never seem to get ruffled. I don’t shout, raise my voice, get too out of sorts…but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel. All I could think of was how badly I wanted to get out of there, but how hurtful it would have been to just leave. But why didn’t I? Because it would have hurt the wrong people. But also, by remaining calm, gentle, reasonable, reasoned, and articulate, I not only show my brother by example, but also succeed in driving him up the wall. It’s like a zit…he’s either going to pop and heal, or he will fester openly for all to see. I should feel sorry for him. Maybe. But I also think he’s been an adult for a long time but is still not functioning like one. Who has time for that?
I’m just glad to be home.