On Being One’s True Self with Family

Until next spring, I am living with my parents and my 19-year-old sister, at which time I am planning to fly from the nest.

In recent days, I’ve been running across different articles and quizzes and such that ask the reader if they are truly themselves with the people in their life, and I have to confess that I am not truly myself with certain people in my life.

With my friends, yes, I am.  The family of my own making has been able to accept me as I am with little to no argument or drama since the inception of our friendships, and I’ve been able to return the favor.  We all accept that we don’t think the same or believe the same about everything, and that this is okay.

With my family, however, I find I can’t be entirely my true self.

An example of this is the existence of my “contraband drawer,” a drawer that no one ever gets into because I have told them that it is full, and that it doesn’t contain clothes, that it is my junk drawer, and its location, the bottom drawer, makes it unattractive to passing fancy.

What’s in the contraband drawer?  Not drugs or alcohol or any other controlled or illegal substance.  Not juicy diaries filled with sexual exploits.  The contents of my contraband drawer are things that my family would have conniptions if they knew I had them, things that do not fit in with their religious preferences.

The contraband drawer contains a translation of the Bible that is not the Authorized King James Version (the Authorized KJV is, in their opinion, the only correct translation), a few books on Paganism and Druidry, a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, and my first and only–for now–set of oracle cards.  The books I have on the spiritual aspects of yoga, The Upanishads, the Tao-te Ching, and various other books that are about Buddhist spirituality but sound like self-help titles (like Pema Chodron’s The Places that Scare You) and Don Miguel Ruiz’s books taken from Toltec spirituality are out in the open, because my family is not very aware of yoga as anything other than exercise and as far as Eastern scripture and spirituality and indigenous spirituality go, they are, thankfully, blissfully ignorant.  If they were not, I would need two contraband drawers.

Lately, this has started to chafe.  Essentially, I end up feeling like I have to hide my spiritual journey from my family, because it diverges from theirs.  I have seen how they’ve acted with members of the extended family who have diverged from the accepted family religious norm, specifically, they just keep trying to browbeat them into rejoining the fold, into falling back in line, even when their spirits and consciences dictate differently.  They’re never quite the same around the black sheep afterward.  It causes a lot of familial discord, and I want no part of that drama. 

Oh, they know I’m no perfect little churchgoer, as I don’t often go to church…Pretty much holidays only this year, and only to put on a good show so they save face with the congregation and, again, to avoid conflict.  But, I think, they think that it’s just my introvert tendencies more than anything else keeping me home, or some sort of youthful rebellion, and that I’ll eventually start coming back if they wait me out long enough.

I keep asking myself if it’s worth it, hiding this part of myself just to ward off familial discord.  So far, alas, that answer has been yes.  I love my family.  I don’t want to drive this kind of wedge between us. 

I do want to put some miles between us so that, when I’m not in their homes I don’t have to pretend anymore lest it get back to them that I’m one of those “weirdo New Agers” or “strange spiritual-but-not-religious folks” via their friends and Dad’s coworkers, so that I can see what a Unitarian Universalist service is like, attend a kirtan, and maybe go for morning meditation at a Buddhist temple or Zen center, which possibilities don’t even exist locally where I am.

I’ve always had this curiosity surrounding religious and spiritual experience and belief.  I feel like all the different religions and spiritualities are asking the same questions, and doing a lot of the same practices, just coming up with different particulars.  I’m most interested in these common ties, because, I feel, if so many disparate groups can agree on those things, that reveals the truest picture of the Divine.  I’m extremely hesitant to try to put the Divine in any one box, to narrowly define it. 

I just wish that I could tell my family that, and that they would actually hear me out.

Then, once when I mentioned maybe going lacto-ovo vegetarian, you’d have thought I’d said I was going to starve myself to death.   But, as time has gone on, I feel like that’s the best choice for me for several reasons.  First, I feel that if I couldn’t bring myself to kill and butcher an animal myself, under any circumstances other than imminent starvation, I have no business eating meat. 

BRIEF DIGRESSION:  I have milked a cow and a goat, collected eggs, and made cheese before with 4H when I was little, and without harming the animals, so hardcore veganism is not something I’m considering at this point, though I may do so later.  I do think that laws need to be passed dictating more humane farming practices for livestock farms, as everyone is not going to stop eating meat, just like everyone is not going to be an evangelical Christian, for instance.  There’s no need to torture the animals to death when the job can be done swiftly, greatly reducing the pain experienced, and, I think, meat-eaters, vegans, and everyone in between can agree that this would be progress.  Also, I am not going to try to press my diet on others.  If I want to be able to make dietary choices for myself, I have to allow others to do so as well, and that’s what I intend to do.  Going vegetarian is what my conscience dictates for me, but I’m not going to say that that is what everyone should do.  END DIGRESSION.

Another reason that I have for going vegetarian is that it would greatly reduce the likelihood of me developing some of the health issues that plague my family starting in midlife, namely high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes.   

That said, I am going to stand up to my family on this matter, but, before I do I want to do the relevant research and preparation.  I’m going to go look for a good guidebook on transitioning to a vegetarian diet–suggestions are welcome, so leave them in the comments–and I’m going to look for one or two vegetarian/vegan cookbooks, hopefully with a few recipes that will work with a slow cooker since I work.  I’ve got a few spotted on Amazon that look promising, but a nearby bookstore is celebrating National Bookstore Day on Saturday by offering deep discounts storewide, so I thought I’d take the small list I’ve already amassed and see what they had in stock so I could look at it in person.  

I think, on the matter of my diet, at least, once I have amassed the appropriate research, my family will not protest so much.   The books on vegetarian living and the cookbooks will not have to go into the contraband drawer.

So, the whole point of this post is this: do or have any of you had similar problems being fully yourself with your families, and, if so, how do/did you handle that?

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