How to make a chosen family

Latest favorite Facebook meme: “I’ll be home by Christmas and in therapy by New Years.”

I’ve spent a lot of time recently with folks who feel terrible. They believe themselves obligated to spend time with people they don’t like simply because they’re related. They’ll travel long distances and endure copious amounts of stress and expense, just to get hurt anew in the same old ways.

I ask them to consider who taught them to feel obligated? Then I tell them the undeniable truth – they don’t owe their family of origin excessive loyalty, nor tolerance of abusive behavior.

Love is either unconditional or unhealthy.

Still, the desire for family – to belong – to be part of something bigger than oneself is a basic, instinctual drive in all humans.

Chosen family is the remedy and redemption for people like me.

If you’ve never experienced that, it probably seems unimaginable. I don’t have a set of instructions or a recipe for making one…but I can tell you how I did it.

I allowed my passion to become my purpose. I set out to help people like me get better.  That was well intended but stupid. I hadn’t tended to my own wounds first.

I’ll be honest and say healing is a LOT of work. But maybe you’re like me and you don’t mind working hard.

Except therapy is a whole different kind of working hard. Learning how to let go, how to grieve what never was, and what never should have been. I learned how to practice acceptance of myself.  As I paid more attention to the guy I’d been running from, I I realized how starved I was for connection.

So, I met people worth investing in and I gave of myself. Giving taught me how much I had to offer.

I learned to tolerate reciprocity because those I connected to weren’t willing to only receive. Reciprocity fosters intimacy, which we equally want and fear. Intimacy = In to me, see.

I gave myself unabashedly to who and what I love. It changed me, enriched me, and ultimately, I became the person I’d always needed.

I’m trying not to say to you that I followed a dream because maybe you’re afraid to have one or to follow yours.

I’m trying not to say to you that God gave me a family because maybe you’re like me and you’re f@cked up about God. I just chose to believe there is something far greater than me and that it cares about me, which was tough because I couldn’t have said the same about myself at the time.

Today I get to spend time with a lot of people I love. Almost none of them are traditional family members. They’re so much more than that. They’re people who choose to be my family. I’m grateful beyond words.

What I have was born of desperation, which is beautiful, because that means anyone can have it.

Stop worrying about your worth or self-esteem. You’re not a fair judge of yourself anyway. Stop distracting yourself from yourself. Invest in service to others. Make connections. Live more fully.

The biggest thing standing between you and a better life is you. Kindred spirits will show you how to get out of your own way.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim is the cofounder of Sobernow.com an online addiction recovery program that is affordable and provides complete anonymity