“You are an island, Melanie—an island alone!” she yelled at me. Her words were in part, a statement of what she thought was the obvious and as a much larger part, an attempt at shaming me. To inflict shame on me, or guilt me into changing.
From an outsider’s perspective, yes, I may be on an island, alone in my unwillingness. Some may call me stubborn and say my actions will be frighteningly regrettable. Others may say I should be ashamed. Others may understand.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of shame. The weight of shame weighs heavy upon my soul, but it may not be for the reasons you think. The shame comes from the inability to share my circumstances with the world. The shame comes from the limited amount of light that shines into the dark spaces of my life.
Shame comes in the uncomfortable clearing of the throat and shift of stance when asked about our holiday plans. The shame comes when people ask how my family is and I cannot tell them my dark truths. The shame comes from the partial truths, the white lies I tell, and the sometimes-fabricated niceties.
I can’t say I’m estranged.
I can’t say the relationship with my family is very complicated.
I can’t say I’m working on boundaries and keeping myself out of dysfunction.
These are not the things we can say during casual conversation. These are not the words I can share with acquaintances who really aren’t invested in how things are going in my life. These are not things I can share so openly as no one else needs to bear the brunt of my burden.
Besides, who can relate to my situation? Surely, I’m the only one.
So, I keep them inside.
Some may say I’m unwilling, and there is truth to that. I am unwilling to participate in dysfunction. The challenge is that I’m the minority because dysfunction—or status quo—often makes everyone else happy. For many, status quo is predictable and easy. It’s the way we’ve always done things.
Just because it’s the way it’s always been, doesn’t mean it’s right. Challenging the status quo is essentially upending life for the exact people who find comfort in it. You make a lot of enemies when you do that. People end up calling you names.
Part of my unwillingness comes from the years of therapy. Once you’ve had the breakthrough, it’s practically impossible to go along for the ride. The status quo no longer makes sense to you. When you sit in the middle of a completely unhealthy exchange and everyone is going along with it, but you end up sitting there feeling like an alien dropped in from outer space.
I’ve often felt like I was the one with the problem, why can’t I just go along with madness?
Maybe because I’m not a narcissist. Maybe because I prefer honesty over easy. Maybe because my expectations of other people are too high.
Because I’ve been in therapy and can see the madness, I expect others to do the same. Maybe it’s because I don’t know how to reconcile the truth when it’s juxtaposed with other people’s insecurities and deep-seated needs to always be right and in control.
So, I’m an island.
One way to look at it is that islands are isolated and often located out in the middle of nowhere. As people use this against you, this is the perspective they will take. Calling you an island will be a name used to shame you. Being an island is a bad thing.
The truth is, for as long as I went along with things, sitting there smiling and nodding at the words and actions of others, I was an island then, too. As long as I played along, averting my eyes away from the ongoing things that wrecked my soul, I was an island. I was an island of internal strife, but with lots of noise and people surrounding me.
There are other ways to look at being called an island. One, just because someone calls you a name, doesn’t mean that you are that thing. People can call me an island all day long, but that doesn’t mean I am one.
I try not to give credit to the names people call me. Those identifiers do not define me.
But I’m looking at this in another way. In this case, I may be some sort of island. I don’t know that much about islands, but I do know this: Herds of people flock to islands every year because of their beauty, serenity, and peacefulness. Plenty of beautiful, exotic plants and trees grow on islands that aren’t found anywhere else on land. There are so many unique creatures that only live on islands. Islands weather storms; harbor breeding grounds for entire species.
Do you hear what I am saying? People make the choice every day to leave the mainland to visit the islands. They make the choice to go there. There are beauty and serenity that exist on islands that don’t exist in the same way on the mainland. Isolation may actually prove to be a better environment for fertility and the fostering of growth and life than a place filled with lots of people.
I am an island.
Because of family estrangement, my proximity to other people may resemble an island but that doesn’t mean my life isn’t fruitful, serene, and full of faith and beauty. Sometimes it is that exact ring we draw around ourselves, which may physically create an island, that is actually what sets us free to bloom in grow in ways we never could before.
Originally published on Medium