"Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten." If family life was only as simple as this popular quote from the Disney movie Lilo & Stitch. Although some people stress the importance of family and the love and bond that surrounds them, my experience has been quite different. As the youngest of six siblings, I know firsthand what it's like to be left behind and forgotten. And, some days it went far beyond that. So, what's it like exactly? For me, it depends on the stage of life.
As a young child, I didn't understand that things weren't great. I idolized my siblings and thought we were all one happy family. I put them on a pedestal and felt extremely lucky to be their little sister. But as I got older, I started to realize that I didn't exactly fit in. The impact of that through my teenage years was pretty damaging.
I would try really hard to be who I thought my brothers and sisters wanted me to be, and when I came up short, I blamed myself.
Realizing you don't fit in with your family is difficult to handle emotionally. But figuring that out as a teenager can be life-changing. For me, it translated into a low self-worth, no self-esteem, and reckless behavior. I yearned for acceptance, so I spent much of my time trying to be someone I wasn't. And it didn't change the situation regardless. I still didn't fit in.
I would try really hard to be who I thought my brothers and sisters wanted me to be, and when I came up short, I blamed myself. I turned to alcohol to self-medicate. There were times when I was suicidal. My siblings had a different mother. There were five of them and one of me, so I always felt left out. Watching their close bond, having it in front of my face every day, made it even more difficult to accept the fact that I never felt like one of them. On days I just wanted to die, I felt I would rather be nothing than half of something. And as the only half-sibling in a family of six kids, it's hard to feel whole.
Entering adulthood with this family dynamic was still difficult, but I soon realized that I had the ability to make my own choices. That was the turning point for me. I was an outsider in my own family, but I surrounded myself with great friends. I started to realize that I was capable of being accepted exactly as I am. I became part of a chosen family — a group of friends that loved and accepted me more than the family I was born into ever did.
Ohana has a whole new meaning for me now. In many ways, I'm thankful that I never felt like I fit in with my family. It gave me a deep appreciation for the love and support of those in my life today. People have a way of surprising you. Sometimes, like with my blood family, those surprises have a negative impact. But then new experiences and new people came into my life. My friends became my family. They opened their hearts to me, accepted me, and showed me a fierce love that I never thought I deserved.
My new family taught me the power of choice. It's hard to be an outsider in the family you're born into, but you don't have to accept that life. You can choose who you spend your time with and who you let in. When my son was born, I didn't want him to experience the same pain I did growing up. And thankfully he won't. But I learned an important lesson: being an outsider in your own family doesn't mean you're worthless. It simply means you haven't found the right tribe. So, keep looking. Your people are out there.