Talking about family ties

The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”-Proverb

I don’t remember exactly when I was told my mother was adopted. Probably early on when I started to realize that we didn’t look like my Mother’s family. But it’s how I grew up. It was a fact for our family kind of like how the sky is blue and the world is round. It didn’t really matter to me. But it did cause me to have a rather different view of families than many of the people I went to school with and even now with many of the people I’ve met along the way. To me I had several families. I had the family with my Mom, Dad and brother, the family that was my Mom’s side, the family that was my Dad’s side and my Mother’s biological family. So I just kind of accepted that family comes in strange ways.

(Myself, my cousin Carin, my Nana, Sommer and my cousin Shana in 2012)

My brother and I were raised in Upstate New York with the families being spread out between New Jersey, Florida and at one time California. We didn’t see the family in Jersey as often as we all would have liked but we all knew of each other and when MySpace and Facebook became household names we all had accounts and friended each other with the promise we would be better than our parents had been. So we talk on different messengers and try to keep each other as updated as possible. But we’ve always been family, even though we didn’t see each other and didn’t grow up with each other.

(Above is my brother, my Grandmother and myself in 2008)

On the other hand when I moved to Florida I created my own family. These were not blood but they were the ones I chose. I had started to think of people as family before this but this was the first time that I realized it was happening. I met the Florida group over the 11 months that I was on the internship and as time went on they became the family I chose. We spent holidays together and birthdays and random days in between. These girls were my sisters and I wouldn’t change a thing.

(Thanksgiving 2013 with several of my Ohana)

Since I’ve been back I’ve attended family reunions for my Step-Mother’s family and one thing got brought up that stuck with me. A member of the family proclaimed that these people weren’t family because they didn’t grow up with them. And that kind of threw me. These people were blood to that person. But they weren’t considered their family. And I get it. I do. I understand where they came from with this comment. But it still made me think. These comments were a surprise to me. It made me wonder what my place was in this family. Did I matter? I thought of these people as family. I mean our parents have been together 11 years. There will reach a day where they’ve been together most of our lives. But at what point would I be considered family?

(Myself, my brother AP and my Father in 2014)

(Mom, AP and I)

Comments have been made for most of my time with them how I wasn’t one of my Step-Mother’s children but I thought of her as one of my parents. She’s done a lot for me but I wasn’t sure how to explain that. I’ve never been one to believe that you can only have so many family members. To me the love and care that I feel for those I deem family isn’t finite, it’s infinite so I can have as many members of the family that I choose. Not that I just adopt everyone, I’m selective in who I spend my time with and I’m selective in who I adopt into the group. My Florida crew or my Ohana as I’ve referred to them as joke about my intuition. It’s the Marissa test. If I decide that there is something off they aren’t brought in to the group. Fair? Maybe not but after some of the very memorable events we’ve had because no one (including myself) listened to my intuition we tend to be a little more careful.

(Louis, O, Little Guy, myself and S earlier this year for Mother's Day)

Either way I still see them as family. I don’t refer to them as steps anymore unless I’m trying to explain the different family dynamics that I have. As far as I’m concerned these people are family and I protect my family. Even if I’m not considered part of their family I’m including them in mine. And at the end of the day isn’t family what you make it?

(Mom and Grandpa in Florida)

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Growing up with an alcoholic

You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves

Alcoholics and addicts destroy families. Whether the person is addicted to drugs, alcohol, or sex, their actions are indirectly affecting all of the people around them, especially when these people have children to be raising, jobs to be upholding, spouses to be pleasing, friends to be comforting, or grandparents to be making proud.

Through personal experiences of having alcoholics and addicts in my family, I have been forced to develop a lot of feelings towards this topic. I often circle back to thinking that “if they just loved me they would stop” or “if they really cared about me they would get help.” Although my dad constantly reminds me that I must “separate the person from the disease,” I constantly struggle with this concept, and feel that others must struggle with it, too. It is crazy for me to think that someone would throw away their family, friends, job, and even their life just to get high or drunk.

The drugs and alcohol turns these people into something they’re not; someone no one wants to be around. They lack empathy, they’re egocentric, and often manipulate the situation into blaming their disease and actions on others. We are here to let you know that WE ARE NOT here as your punching bags.

If I could tell them anything it would be that we are tired. We are tired. We are tired of making up lies to protect ourselves and our families. We are tired of searching for you at every bar just to try and take you home. We are tired of being terrified when you do not come home for days on end. We are tired of having to grow up too fast. We are tired of all of the stress and worry that no child, spouse, or friends should have to carry. We are tired of your lies and excuses. We are tired of finding bottles that you have hidden throughout the house. We are tired of having to explain to our friends why you are acting weird. We are tired of having to be the parent. We are tired of seeing your name in the paper with yet another DUI. We are tired of you not showing up to important events like birthdays and graduations. We are tired of trying to hide your keys so you cannot drive under the influence. We are tired of finding you passed out and being forced to carry you to your bed. We are tired of cleaning your clothes and sheets because you cannot find your way to the bathroom. We are tired of not feeling loved. We are tired of feeling forgotten and unworthy.

As I grow up, I shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not you are coming home or making it to my graduation. I shouldn’t have to beg for your love and attention.

Addictions can either make or break a family. In most cases it breaks the family, but I am extremely grateful that my experience has allowed me to become that much closer to my siblings and parent. We have been able to lean on each other, talk to each other about everything, and constantly support each other through every hardship. Unfortunately, many kids do not have this support from their other family members, which makes it that much harder on the people struggling to understand their loved ones’ addictions.

Sometimes in our life, for our own sanity, we must cut ties with people who only add negativity to our lives. If people choose not to be around for the important times in your life, then maybe they are not worthy of being in it at all. It gets tiring to always be forced to be the bigger person. We want a relationship with our spouse, children, parents, friends, but we need to remember these relationships are a two way street and the love and effort needs to be reciprocated.

Growing up around alcoholics has taught me a lot of things that I would not have learned without them. And for that I am grateful. We do not mind supporting your recovery and visiting you in the hospital and rehab centers. We do mind when you constantly hurt us, yourself, and which makes us sit there and watch you slowly kill yourself with drugs and alcohol.

For those whose loved ones are addicted to drugs or alcohol: my dad always stresses to me that it is important to forgive them and remember that these people care for you. I, personally am still working on this forgiveness, but I know everyone works on the process at different paces. I hope that one day you can forgive your loved ones for their actions, but sometimes it’s okay to not be ready and to give yourself space from the people you believe are harming your emotional well being. Please know you couldn’t have caused it anymore than you could’ve stopped it.

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An Open Letter To My Best Friend Studying Abroad

Have fun, be safe.

To my friends traveling abroad,

For starters, I miss you. Not only do we go to different schools during the semester but now we are even further than ever. While long distance sucks, I am so happy that you of all people get to travel the world. You deserve it.

Our friendship is so strong that being oceans away would never affect us. I love when you send me Snapchats of cool monuments or art museums you go to. I also think it's hilarious that I all I send you are ugly Snapchats of me doing normal, American things. It's awesome that I can see the world as you journey through it, even if I am extremely jealous the entire time you are away.

I hope you have the time of your life overseas. I know your workload is light, and your wallet may be lighter, but do experience everything you can while you're abroad. I know it's hard to think about how much you're spending abroad and how little you're going to have when you come back. But like they say "when in Rome," it's 100% okay to treat yourself.

Be open to every opportunity and experience while you're studying abroad. Travel to other countries, try new foods and make new friends... that's what studying abroad is all about! Let your spirit be free (as you always do) and really enjoy your time abroad. Have some fun over there so when you come back you have good stories to tell... I'm going to be really upset if you don't have funny stories to tell.

With all the fun that comes with being abroad, please promise me you will be safe. If you do anything stupid just make sure it doesn't make national news. Seriously though, keep your eyes peeled and always travel with a group. You mean so much to me, and I would literally be so mad at you if you accidentally got lost abroad and never returned.

Although I miss you, I know you're going to make amazing memories while you're away. I can't wait for the first time we hang out again to tell each other every little bit about the time we've spent away from each other. It's going to be awhile from now, but when you get back it's going to be like nothing has ever changed.

Eat some good food, make some new friends, and have the time of your life. I can't wait for the day we get to travel to all these places together... when we have real jobs and can actually afford to travel abroad.

Bon voyage!

-Your best friend.

Cover Image Credit: Benjamin Voros

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