Preparing to spend time with my family is like preparing for war. You have to be ready with all the accoutrements. Gas mask. Helmet. Squashy, padded, lunacy-repelling flak jacket.
Sleeping pills. Alcohol. You know. The necessities.
And there's no substitute for a buffer. Though I occasionally feel guilty for using a friend or loved one as a human shield...
Mostly, what I find I need more in order to spend time with my family is a sense of self.
When around blood relatives for more than a few hours at a time, inevitably, who I am becomes mired in the more powerful muck of who they are and I feel myself being sucked back into an impotent teenage mindset; into the darkness of the middle 1990s when I couldn't imagine myself as anyone outside of the context of the family.
Actually, it doesn't just feel normal. It is normal. It's who they are. And while pressed to the smothering bosom of family, I fear it's who I am.
And this worries me, because what if I'm not just part of the family system in the context of the family? What if I'm like this all the time and I don't even know it? (Because clearly, they don't know it. In their hearts, they're nice, well-meaning people. I'm not so stuck that I can't see that they don't mean to be this way. They don't even notice that other people aren't.)
But what if it's genetic? What if you can't escape biology? (Can you? Can I?)
I estimate that it takes me about half the time I spend in the company of the family to unwind again after each meeting. In other words, a two-hour visit requires one hour of recovery time. So a three-day visit means a day and a half to decompress.
With that in mind, I expect I'll feel okay again sometime tomorrow. See you then.
* Creative commons military signage image by Mattox from Stock Xchng.
* Creative commons paper dolls image by Stephanie Hofschlaeger from Stock Xchng.