Read time: 4-5 minutes. Potential triggers: trauma, ablism.
Before I met my Fiancé Chris, the concept of “family” was really difficult for me to understand and safely exist inside.
When I said I didn’t have a family, I felt like a fraud.
When I said I did have a family, I also felt like a fraud.
I’ve been like a daughter to so many different people. I have been adopted into more people’s families than I can count. I’ve been invited to so many surrogate Christmas celebrations and family gatherings, while being cocooned inside I felt safe and hidden away from the heartbreaking reality of the present and the deep, bruising pain of the past. I ignored the pity and focused on the party.
I’ve treated more people like “mum” and “dad” more than my own mother and father. I’ve substituted friends for sisters. I’ve been treated far better by my someone else’s family whom I barely knew (and who barely knew me too) than my biological family have treated me my whole life.
The trouble with this, has been that I haven’t always known when it’s healthy or unhealthy.
Learning to trust my gut, keep promises to myself and protect and set boundaries has taken years. Writing and sobriety were the first steps in really getting to know myself and my story. I found out in my early thirties that I was actually Autistic with ADD, and in early 2020 I was diagnosed with a lifelong chronic illness (Fibromyalgia). These are invisible, dynamic disabilities – meaning that one day I appear “fine” and the next day I can struggle to lift my head, get out of bed or speak to anyone.
All of my interactions and relationships with other people before I found out were based on a complete lack of crucial information – a totally different version of me. I’d manufactured a funny party girl persona with an attitude of toxic positivity and passive aggressive gratitude to glaze over the rotting parts.
“I ignored the pity and focused on the party.”
Clearing away the wreckage of my past, I had the courage to assess the path of destruction I was born into. Like a piece of red string tied to my bones, I found that it went back through time spanning generations.
Staying sober and living in recovery each day frees me from that red thread.
Living as a sober autistic person with chronic illness and dynamic disabilities, you learn two things pretty quickly: the amazing compassion of people you barely know, and the disgusting selfishness of some people you thought you knew pretty well.
Learning how to figure out who was “safe” and “unsafe” is one of the most valuable things I’m still learning as an adult.
They say that when it comes to love, “when you know, you know.” That wasn’t always true for me. But when I met Chris in 2020, I knew. Chris is also autistic with ADD and hidden/dynamic disabilities. Someone I used to call a sister back when I was single once said “no offence La, but do you really want to date someone with the same things as you?” And after the initial sting went away I thought to myself “yes, actually I would! They could truly understand me and see that I’m a fully lovable, whole person and so are they. We could take care of each other.”
When I met Chris’s mum and partner (they have chronic illnesses too) we talked freely about how our conditions affected us without feeling bad. We went down to Devon last summer and met Chris’s grandparents – I talked for hours about different birds and walked through their huge garden while naming all the flowers. His nan handed me a birthday card she’d decorated herself, spelling the name “LA” with stars around it. She handed me two flower pots along with “we all heard some of your houseplants died in the heatwave last week!”. Chris’s gramps handed me a bunch of flowers he’d picked from the garden as we said our goodbyes. I cried with happiness as soon as I got in the car.
“There’s never been any questions about my family history and they’ve always respected and supported both our sobriety journeys.”
This year, we met up with Chris’s sister and her partner, and their two wonderful daughters. There’s never been any questions about my own family and they’ve always respected and supported both our sobriety journeys. They’ve all kept in touch and visited regularly, and understood when we haven’t been able to. When we announced our engagement on the 1st January this year, they shouted over speakerphone “welcome to the family!”. We plan to change our second names before the wedding to honour Chris’s grandparents.
Last week our family visited our new studio. We had hot drinks and a long talk about everything that happened in the last year (there was a lot to talk about!). They said how proud they were of us and amazed at everything we’ve fought through. They came to our new home and loved the orchids on our kitchen window. We went for food down by the beach and everybody ordered soft drinks (some are sober, all of them don’t really care about drinking alcohol). Granny admired my engagement ring. I surprised her with a birthday brownie (complete with candle and singing!) and I watched mum collect sea glass on the beach.
“It’s so great to see you both so happy” they all grinned as we said our goodbyes.