Christmas has now passed and being with family in my home country, has made me quite reflective about families in general, and mine in particular. I read yesterday morning – Christmas Day – that the sacred book of the Zohar, used by students of Kabbalah and orthodox factions of the Jewish faith alike, actually says something along the lines of “Who needs enemies when you have family and relatives?” That’s probably a comment and reflection on how dysfunctional biblical families are, but it resonated deeply with me.
I come from a large family. My mother is one of five siblings, each sibling had two children and so I grew up surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins. We all used to live fairly close by to each other, and growing up, the whole family used to get together for everyone’s birthday, Christmas, Easter, and most Sundays. We used to even go on holidays and beach trips together. It was messy, loud, but tons of fun. As everyone grew older, this began to change, as disagreements between grown-ups created irreparable rifts, and family gatherings began to diminish in size. I half-joke about this, but I’ve told my mother that the five siblings will definitely come back together again in their next lives, as there’s no way their souls will resolve their issues in this one. There isn’t a single one of them who currently speaks with the other four. It’s sad, really, but unfortunately, it’s also human.
I’ll admit it, I always had an idyllic and naïve perspective on family, always feeling my family’s many disagreements quite acutely, and always returning home quite excited to see them all. I’m the youngest of 10 cousins, so maybe that’s why. I also ended up being one of the first ones to leave home, at age 17, to go and live in the USA, as part of an academic exchange programme. That was my first, and so far only, Christmas away from my family. In hindsight, calling my family home on Christmas’ Eve and speaking to everyone was quite brutal. I remember hanging up the phone and crying uncontrollably for hours. I vowed to never spend Christmas away from home again. But in the 12 subsequent years of returning home for Christmas, I have noticed this feeling dwindling more and more, as I guess my own notion of family changes.
In the 13 years since leaving home, I have done and been through many experiences, including coming out and changing my first name. These are not small matters. In the beginning, this was a clear break with the past, a fresh start in every possible way. Over time, this “new me” has become “just me”, and the people who have witnessed that process, and been with me through ups and downs, have turned out to be family as I always envisioned it to be. You see, at least for me, the older I got, the more aware I became of others’ expectations of me. Almost as if there were conditions for love and support. Being away from biological family, enhanced my experience of human relationships and dynamics, of true acceptance and belonging. Different people of different cultures will pick up on different signs and behaviours, and being part of a true global family has meant that not many signs have gone unnoticed. I still remember being at some cafeteria in Glasgow, staring into space, when a friend of mine from Japan tells me: “You have so many thoughts running through your mind!” I mean, I’d been doing that for years, and no one had ever noticed that I wasn’t actually staring into empty space, but really travelling through many different thoughts, feelings, situations, etc. A bit of my mask came off right there and then.
And there have been many instances like this over the years. From my Scottish friend, raised in Singapore, showing me complete empathy and no judgement the first time I threw up after drinking too much; to my Spanish-Indian friend who has been my most constant and consistent friend for the past 11 years; from my friend from Hong Kong who shows me the joy of living every time we’re together; to my dearest, dearest flatmate and friend, born in Serbia and raised in Australia, with whom I’ve lived for the past 4 years and with whom I’ve never had a disagreement – we laugh and cry together, we talk about EVERYTHING, and we are absolutely playful and authentic with each other. Alongside these friends, there are many, many others, whom I trust and love with every fiber of my being, and know they feel the same. This was always my vision of what family should be: a group of people who unconditionally support and love each other, have healthy and clear emotional and spiritual boundaries, are able to challenge each other with compassion, and are able to be equally joyful and serious around each other.
For a few years, I thought this was too ambitious, or too idyllic, and that it didn’t exist. I mean, I certainly had no experiences of this in my own family. Why did I think this would be possible? As I changed aspects of my own personality, through spiritual practice and emotional/personal development, I began to meet more and more kindred spirits like the ones I described above. Around 10 years ago, they would come into my life very subtly and very few far and between. As my growth and consciousness expanded, as I reduced chaos in my life, and as I woke up to different realities around me, the more of these wonderful people kept appearing. And lo and behold, I have found my own family and it’s exactly as my vision always pointed me towards. Through this kindred spirit family, I have been healing the core wounds acquired through my biological family. Sometimes it’s hard work, sometimes it feels hopeless, but most times, it feels inspiring, freeing, and above all, loving.
I suspect this experience may be similar to many other people’s experiences around the globe, particularly queer folk, who often grow up in families which don’t accept, understand, or even care for, them. A chosen family is often more powerful, because they represent the healing in relationships, self, and spirit which we all seek. In Kabbalah, we learn that the soul actually chooses the family in which it will be born in a specific lifetime, in order to resolve whatever karma it has from previous lives and overcome this correction. And so, actually, biological families are often the most complex relationships we will ever have, because they represent most aspects of what our souls are here to correct or work through. Talk about baggage!! Biological families are here to show us the way, but their role is not necessarily about being on the actual journey.
This is for the family that comes with me on the actual journey. I love you dearly.
Ryan Campinho Valadas
HCPC registered Dramatherapist