It is December and the holidays are here, which means I have to pretend to love my family.

While I love my family in unspoken ways, it is the tangible that remains to be seen — hugs, warm smiles, and the secret handshake that father and son share. It is the holiday season that reminds me of my family’s brokenness. And I will be reminded of this brokenness every time we are forced to gather around a turkey, a tree, or that ridiculously shiny ball.

I hate this brokenness. For it is in this brokenness that my SSA came to be.

I was born into an abusive, unstable, and wild family. When times were good, they were so good. But when times were bad, when fists were thrown, bottles broken and weapons pulled, times were really bad.

I grew up in poverty, raised by a parent who had no idea how to parent, in a home that was barely a home, physically or emotionally. But it was all I had.

Still, life was full of exploration: hunting for berries, trotting through corn fields, and keeping an eye out for neighborhood dogs that may eat me alive.

I was somewhere between an ideal childhood and not really having a childhood at all.

It was in that home, on the back streets, where the roads were crumbling, that I grew up. I often feel that I grew up not with parents, but guardians who only adhered to the responsibility of food and shelter.

Anything else would have been an extravagant add-on.

And as I search my memories for the love and joy that can only be found in the eyes of a parent, my search is in vain. Their love was seldom felt, and I see my father’s head bowed in shame because of his effeminate son.

Life was hard. I hated going to school and constantly answering questions about my sexuality. So I began to hide; I couldn’t face others.

Then I would come home to face the same harsh treatment. But, at least I could say that I wasn’t gay — and then puberty hit.

It was there, in that home, on the back streets, where the roads were crumbling, that I grew up.

I lived in the shadow of the son I should have been. And I have been chasing him ever since.

What emotions do the holidays, revisiting family and home, stir in you?

* Photo courtesy of jmsmith000, Creative Commons.

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  • Wow, Bradley! That’s been tough on you. Can see how it has coloured your view of family holiday experiences. Compared to you I’ve had it good and it’s only recently (since I’ve come out of the closet) that things have been somewhat tricky. I came out very late, in the last 4 years really (it’s a process as I’m sure you well know) and being now 67 I’m more looking back than forward. This season was quiet and really just me and my man. I cooked some nice things but nothing too grand and we quietly celebrated by enjoying each other’s company and being without our families. I don’t decorate or have a tree or any of that stuff. I never really went for it much anyway, so nothing new in that. Have listened to some good holiday music on YouTube (that was nice!) Watched lots of movies to drive away boredom and lonliness. My kids are having difficulty adjusting to having a gay dad, so family have sort of kept away, though two of the kids live in other parts of the world anyway so separation would be there even if I weren’t gay. My daughter and I exchanged a small gift or two. I’m learning to move on, and we made a few of our own traditions, my man and I, for the first time. It will be good if we can build on them next year.

  • I too shared a similar childhood, though I did have one sane parent my father, but he was always out to sea on a Naval vessel. I dealt with a very harsh, unhappy and probable BiPolar mother who drank to chase away the demons who haunted her. She was abusive at times, tried to be loving at times but I was afraid of her. So I turned to food to self soothe. When I put on weight and was put down for being “FAT” I would binge and purge, starve, or use laxatives, or all of the above. Holidays for me were mostly HELL. Lots of bickering, swearing, hitting and never any peace. So I can totally relate to your experience. I hated childhood so much that I knew that I should never bring a child into this crazy world. I knew my crazy mom would want to babysit and that just never was going to happen. So what I did was work and eat excessively and isolated myself from everyone except my animals which helped me through most of my horrible times. I thank God for the gifts He gave me in that respect. I loved and understood animals and hated people who abused them. Thank you for sharing your life with us. You have inspired me to write a blog of my own. Yet to see if that will indeed happen. Lots of fear in my head.

    • Push through that fear. Give it a go. If you never try you’ll never know; and if you try and don’t succeed, then try again. God believes in you and is rooting for your success; and I’m believing in you too, even though I don’t know you, but just because you strike me as being a survivor to have had your beginnings and still be around.

    • Writing has been such a cathartic experience for me and undoubtedly many of my other brothers here. Blogging anonymously did wonders for us almost a decade ago on Xanga. Journaling was also a big step for my own journey, as I never privately wrote the deepest darkest elements of my story in my own journals until years after I started the practice. I’d encourage you to start small in whatever way feels ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ and then see where it goes! I pray for redemption and renewal in your 2016 to come. Thanks for sharing some of your journey here!

    • Oh my gosh, this is my story too! Up and down, unpredictable mother who was probably bipolar, verbally and psychologically abusive and emotionally and physically absent. Although she didn’t drink, she smoked like a fiend. I dealt with it all by eating, which started immediately after my sexual abuse ended. I continued to get bigger throughout my whole life and anytime I lost all of the weight, I would gain back more than before. One year I gained 100 lbs. Two years ago I started losing weight again and lost 87 lbs. before I had gastric bypass surgery. Since 6/6/16 I have lost another 54 lbs. I stated at 510 lbs. two years ago. I hope this is the last time I have to lose. If you read this, did you start your blog? I was thinking about starting one just before reading this article. If you did, tell me how to find it. I tried a YouTube channel but it hasn’t taken off and I got discouraged.

  • Bradley, when I read your words, my heart hurt. You’ve been through a lot of challenges, and even though it must have been super difficult and painful to experience, I see in you a man who is strong and resilient! You have been through a lot, but you somehow still managed to turn out to be the incredible person I know you to be. I’m looking forward to hearing more of your story. I cherish your friendship, brother!

    • Noah, thank you for that. When I think about myself,I don’t think incredible. But I felt a sense of pride when I read that.

  • I don’t know what to say Bradley. My heart is sad to read your story and know the emotions that holiday time sparks for you. I do know that our past doesn’t have to dictate our present or our future–but finding our way to the peace can be a life-long journey. Enjoy that journey with others who share your pain, but enjoy your spirit.
    My mom always made holidays special for us–she was always trying to make up for growing up during the great depression when holidays were hard for her family to celebrate. So I have a lot of anticipation with holidays or birthdays in general. This year my wife has been sick a lot and because of that she is emotionally withdrawn–so it has been a lonely holiday for me emotionally. I have focused more on the spiritual connection I have with God and that has brought me joy and given me peace. I hope the same for you.

    • Thanks,yeah. Finding my way to peace,is probably the one thing I long for most. In my internal and external world

      • Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you, Ask and ye shall receive. (Not that I like King Jimmy English very much!) We continue on this journey for inner and outer peace–but we know the One who is faithful and who loves us with an everlasting love. Fall into His arms Bradley and know His peace. You have my prayers.

  • This was beautiful and moving. I’m glad I’m getting to know you more here. Thank you for posting this.
    Unlike you, I had mostly an ideal childhood, I think. I’ve always loved meeting my relatives and spending holidays with everyone. But now I live on the other side of the planet from my parents and family members, so when the American holidays roll around, I tend to feel lonely and disconnected and like nobody understands me or what I’m feeling.

  • Bradley, you are a brave man. You not only survived those years, but you are making an effort to heal. Facing the things that were too difficult when you didn’t have the maturity to handle or understand them is difficult. I know because I had mostly amnesia about the details of my sexual abuse until I was 40, when I remembered them all in a two week span of time. Despite you not having amnesia, I bet you would like to forget. I dealt with my family by moving away when I went to college, and staying at college my Jr. and Senior summer years. I came home to care for my dying grandmother for the summer a year after I was done with school. She pretty much took over for my dad (who should have had me on the weekends) because he is a severe alcoholic. Most of the people on my father’s side of my family are alcoholics (fraternal grandparent’s side). Both my mother and father were abusive, and my grandmother was somewhat abusive verbally. I dealt with holidays by moving across the country and saying I couldn’t ever afford to come home. I would visit every 5 years out of obligation and then get massively triggered and barely be functional when I returned home. I would shut down the whole time I was there and be afraid of even the family that I did like and who cared for me.
    Last year I went home to visit for a month. I was still struggling with severe mental illness from my PTSD and bipolar disorder, and frequently suicidal. Although I was very triggered by being there, underneath it all I was enjoying my stay and setting better boundaries with my dad. Although I contemplated taking my life, it wasn’t because of my family. In 3 weeks I will be traveling home again for 3 weeks to visit and I’m really looking forward to it, despite my dad saying he doesn’t want to see me or talk to me on the phone, possibly forever. I have 3 aunts and two cousins and their families I want to see and it is only a shame I can’t be there for my favorite time of year; Christmas. My fondest memories of my entire childhood were of Christmas and it has been almost two decades since I have been able to enjoy it with them. Yes, pretending is necessary sometimes in order to let them have a better holiday, but I also think it is okay to limit the time as well. If you live in the same town, it is more difficult to avoid them and save face, but it doesn’t have to be as long as everyone else is staying either. I’m glad that you enjoyed this year better than in the past and I hope that continues!
    I have a friend with a similar background, and she goes home often out of a sense of obligation and Christian compassion for her parents. While she loves them, she can’t tolerate them much and they don’t seem to appreciate her coming home much either. It sounds like they appreciate you being there, I hope. I’m glad that I have family that I still talk to and who desperately want to see me as much as possible, be it very few of them. My mother died almost 3 years ago, my dad and step dad have disowned me and I’m an only child, so I don’t have any immediate family left.

    • I found joy in reading that you are looking forward to going home. Despite all that has happened, its nice to be wanted. To be loved. Makes it all more bearable.

  • I can’t say how disheartening your story is to me Bradley. When I read about Elliot’s and your own upbringings, a part of me feels compelled to find some way to make it all better for you. To pick you up and take you away from the pain. I guess that just my protective instincts kicking in. My home life wasn’t especially spectacular, but it sounds pretty neutral compared to your own. I too am glad to hear that this past holiday was more pleasant than those family gatherings experienced in the past. Perhaps time is working to heal these wounds. I’m not sure if the same thing is working on my behalf. Family get-togethers can, not will, stir up confrontation between my brother and I. My brother is rather egotistical wanting to show me that he is better than me because he makes more money and possessions than I do. I’m not materialistic and I would rather have relationships than things. To sum, I would say our estranged relationship stirs in me feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, anger, animosity and isolation. Believe me, there are times I would rather spend some quality time with you and the rest of the guys here than with my immediate family. There’s a lot less emotional baggage.

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