Content Warning: abuse

In the winter, we're inundated with pro-family sentiments, peace on earth, good will to all men, and all that jazz. Now, for most people that might not be obviously uncomfortable or painful. Truth is, most people don't really enjoy spending extended periods of time with their family members, even when they love them, but the idea that holidays are time we must spend with family makes the majority of people grin and bear it.

What happens when your family aren't included in your list of loved ones? How do you navigate a season that tells you your relationships, and thus your life, are wrong?

I'm 23 now, about to turn 24. This holiday season will be the 7th I've spent without my family. Over the years, I've spent Christmas Day with friends, romantic partners, and once, completely alone. And you know what? I'm completely okay with that.

My family situation is complicated, but the only part that is particularly relevant to this is that my father isn't around, and my mother and I don't get on to an extent that being in the same room is akin to torture. I'd genuinely rather be strapped to a chair and forced to watch The Phantom Menace on a loop for an entire week. I don't need that kind of suffering in my life, so I've chosen not to have her in it.

Is it hard not having the person that birthed me and raised me around? Is it hard not being able to hug her and tell her that I love her and hear that I’m loved in return? Of course. Do I sometimes suffer from crippling self-doubt wondering if I’ve made the wrong decision cutting the woman who carried me inside her for 9 months and fed me, clothed me and kept a roof over my head for 16 years, out of my life? Absolutely. Do I wonder what was so wrong with me in the first place that she decided to treat me in ways that destroyed my self-esteem and ability to trust? Definitely. But am I happier like this? Am I safer without her in my life? Truthfully, I really am.

That didn’t happen instantly. There came a breaking point where I seriously considered the merits of a world without me in it, because of some of the things she said to me. And that was when I decided that I needed to get out.

There’s a lot of pro-parent rhetoric deeply ingrained into our society that say that your parents are the people who will be there for you no matter what, but this simply isn’t true. Especially in LGBT+ spaces, the number of people who are estranged from their parents is astoundingly large. We're routinely disowned and abused for who we love and wanting to live as the gender we are.

In my experience, the only person you can truly rely on to be around for as long as you are, is yourself. That’s why I chose me over her, it’s why I chose my happiness over a mutually unfulfilling but societally expected relationship, and will continue to do so every time.

My relationship with my mother was like an infection which was spreading, and the only way to stop it was to cut out all surrounding tissue and cauterize the wound. At first I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest and the gaping, gushing mess left behind would never stop hurting. I felt like that hole in my life would never be healed. I got a lot of hate mail from so-called family in the next few weeks, how could I accuse my mother of such terrible things, saying that she’d never have done anything to hurt me and didn’t deserve me cutting her out of my life. I’d been prepared for the idea of living in a self-imposed familial exile but wasn’t entirely ready for some of the comments I received in the process. But these comments did the absolute opposite of what they’d intended. They steeled me against any temptation to go back, and they stemmed the tide of tears and guilt that threatened to engulf me.

Over the 6 months to a year following my decision to go it alone, I learned a lot about what family means. To quote the eternally relevant Lilo and Stitch, “Ohana means family. And family means that no-one gets left behind, or forgotten.”

A large chunk of the relationships I’ve developed over the last 7 years have been the most loving and unconditionally supportive relationships I’ve had in my life. I’ve gotten even closer to old friends, I’ve formed strong support networks. I’ve built a family, one that actually means something. And over time I’ve traded that weeping hole in my chest and my life for a scar. It’s still a little fresh some days, a bit red around the edges, and it hurts when it’s cold outside but I’d never get rid of it if I could. It’s taught me some very valuable lessons about who you can trust, who will bail you out when the shit hits the fan, and how love is actually expressed.

And that's why I can take any comments from well-meaning strangers regarding my family situation. This is the harder path, but it's certainly the happier one.

And for any newly estranged people looking for a sign? Here it is.

Things get better. Each year gets easier. You can do this.

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Jacqueline Hyde is a disabled Romani activist, writer, and model. They live in Norwich, England with four cats and a long-suffering netflix subscription. You can find them on facebook, twitter and instagram. Please consider supporting them directly, on Patreon.