Sunday 14 December 2014

Those Who Cannot Love Us

It’s Christmas time. Wherever you are in the world — from the snowcapped mountains of Alaska to the sweaty heat of Cape Town — the major religious festivals remind us of those we love and who love us in return.

Raised a Christian, my frame of reference is the Christian religious ceremonies.  Of all those annual festivals, Christmas is the festival that most brings to mind family, and family love.

How blessed I am to have a family that has embraced me with love from the moment my eyes opened and blinked around at this cruel world. So many of that family – my special loved ones — are no longer with us in body, only in spirit. My Dad, my Ouma and Oupa, beloved aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. 

People who loved me so much I took it for granted until I met people who could not love me.

Surrounded by love, I was shocked to realise that my husband’s family could not love me. Don’t get me wrong: like us, they are decent, good people, ordinary people living ordinary lives, and doing what they can to get through life’s challenges as best they can.

I was too different from them. For whatever reason, I was not the woman they wanted their son and brother to marry. Always, relentlessly, I was the scapegoat they blamed for all that went wrong in their relationship with him. Always, relentlessly, their secret opinion of me as “beneath them” lurked within their actions, from those subtle exclusions of me from serious family discussions to telling my husband family secrets he was told not to share with me, his wife. What an impossible situation he was placed in.

For decades, I lived in the shadow of their disapproval for his sake. Because family is important to me, I so wanted my husband, for us, as a couple, to have a relationship - perhaps not perfect, but a relationship - with his family.

As a bridge to peace, I willingly accepted the role of scapegoat in the hopes that they would learn to know me and come to love the “real” me.  I apologised over and over again - verbally and in writing for the mistakes I had made. I secretly dreamed that one day they would turn to me and finally say that I was the best thing that had ever happened to my husband, and that they would stop seeing the day we married as the day they lost a son and brother, but rather see it as the day they gained a daughter and sister.  

Over the years, I sold my soul to become what I thought they wanted me to be to keep the relationship with them working. 

The devil, of course, never plays fair. In selling my soul, like Faust, I became something I’m not, giving my beloved husband’s family – including his large extended family, with some notable exceptions (I love you, too, you know who you are!) — a whip for my back. Who can respect a doormat? Certainly not me. When you try too hard to be what you think others want you to be, the only result is confusion and misunderstandings. For everyone!

The sacrifice of my essential soul for a dream of having a relationship with my husband's family became a wasted effort. Eventually, in 2013, it became a price I could no longer pay for acceptance.

Our second attempt at reconciliation collapsed with a simple act of such disdain, such disrespect, towards me I reached breaking point. Oh, the token "apology" arrived: more a justification of how good they'd been to me, while I (ungrateful wretch that I am) was totally to blame for all that had gone wrong. Too little, too late, too full of still blaming me and so I could no longer fool myself as to the truth of our relationship. 

Tolerance and a superficial acceptance because "you are my brother's wife" is not enough for my soul.  I should be loved in all my large, loud and glorious human frailty.  I should be loved for being me.

When I finally accepted the truth that I would never be loved as I was, I walked away. It hurt. Oh, it hurt so much to face that truth and walk away, but for all our sakes, I cut through years of wearing false masks and brought the truth out into the open. My husband could have a relationship with his family, if he wanted one. I would no longer sell my soul to people who could not love the person I truly am.
How sad to realise that the need to be loved isn’t worth the sacrifice of who you are. Over time, such a relationship becomes toxic, and that poison seeps into everything.  From being a confident, sunny, optimistic and enthusiastic person, I changed.  I suffered more and more from depression. I developed an eating disorder and a "dangerously critical" deficiency in Vitamin D (the “sunshine” vitamin!). I despaired at the “inner knowing” - that sense which is not of the mind but of the heart - that they could not love me. Eventually, I became what they believed me to be: something less than my best.

I lost sight of all the lessons in love I’d learnt growing up in a crazy, mad family like mine. I forgot that passion and inner fire can light up the world and achieve miracles. I forgot that it’s not what we have materially that makes us special, but what we carry inside. I forgot my capacity to dream because, in the shadowed nuances of their belief that my husband could do better than me for a wife, I came to believe only their mendacious image of me and I lived a small, scared life where hope and dreams and miracles weren’t allowed to breathe.

But it’s Christmas time again. A time for family. A time to rejoice! A time of miracles and of the birth of the Christ-consciousness of Love.

I’ve found those parts of me that were lost. My soul is filled with light and laughter and hope. I am reborn in love.

2014 has been a year in which love has once again embraced me: my beloved husband, such an inspiring example of a decent human being; my brave, shining Mom, and her doppelganger, my elder sister, both such powerful, extraordinary women; my sister’s incredible husband and their most marvellous children, my nieces and nephew, and their amazing partners. And Shadow. Let’s not forget the luck and love my precious black cat has brought into my life.

What a wonderful way to end an old year and face a new one.

Yet … I have one corner of darkness in my happiness. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how hard they tried (and they did, I know they tried, for my husband could not be the person he is if his family were not good, decent people too!) my husband’s family cannot —will not — ever love me for who I am.

That wound inside me will never completely heal. How can it? After my husband and my root family, and of all the 7 billion people on this earth, those whom I most wanted to be loved, liked and respected by — my husband’s  family — cannot love me for who and what I am.

Life goes on. The blank canvas of 2015 awaits and, for the first time in two decades, I face the new year with a sense of excitement. So much to do! So little time! Such exciting new paths and adventures to look forward to for both my husband and I!

After all these years, I’ve finally accepted I’ll not be gifted with the miracle of love from my husband’s family. That makes me sad, until I remember that I can’t fly to the sun and back carrying old baggage on my wings. Some miracles just don’t happen, no matter how much we want them to. There are those people in life who, with the best intentions, just cannot love me and so I must finally let them go.

As I move into my future without you, I must bid you farewell - may the peace and blessings of Christmas always be upon you. May you know only peace and joy your whole life through. I have so much love in my life, I wish you the same love as I am blessed with. We will never meet again in this lifetime, but I wish you such love and happiness that your lives and your futures overflow with it.  

Be happy, dear ones, for you are loved … even though you cannot love me.

Om shanti. Om shanti. Om shanti. So much love.