It was just after midnight, and my phone was buzzing incessantly on my nightstand. I tried rolling over and going back to sleep, but it just kept vibrating. Thinking it must have been an emergency, I finally picked it up.
The screen flashed with several text messages from my sister…
“Mom saw your blog on Facebook.”
“How could you do this to us?”
“I hope it’s worth it…”
That night kicked off a shitstorm of family drama that was decades in the making.
I should have used a pen name
When I first started writing, I didn’t understand the very legitimate reasons for using a pen name. I convinced myself that it was a betrayal of all of the work I had done to get to this point.
After spending so many years living under my parent’s thumb, held hostage by a mother diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder — my writing finally made me feel free.
For two months, I proudly wrote under my full legal name.
I was so damn liberating. Even though my work was mostly garbage and very few people read it, hitting publish felt incredible. I connected with others who were also healing from toxic or narcissistic parents and had finally found a corner of the universe where my mom couldn’t reach me.
I was naive to think it would last.
Of all the people in the world to find my writing, my mom happened upon it in a support group for adult children of narcissists. A group member had posted one of my blog posts, and it had received enough attention for my mom to catch my name while scrolling.
She gave me an ultimatum
Stop writing or lose my family.
She had gotten everyone on board with her threat, and even my extended family knew not to cross her. My sweet dad, who had always been my best friend, agreed with her.
I was tarnishing their reputation, his reputation. He asked me to think about what their friends at the club and our community would think of our family if they saw my writing.
When I told him that writing was therapeutic for me and the people I found were amazingly supportive, he suggested he could just pay for whatever therapy I needed — as long as I didn’t write.
He didn’t get it. I had never felt better. I wasn’t the one who needed therapy. They all did.
Watching my family’s reaction revealed a truth I avoided for over 30 years.
They don’t want to know the real me because the real me was never really worthy of their love and belonging.
I wish I could tell you that I kept writing under my legal name. That I found all the courage in the world and openly thrived as the most authentic version of myself. That I really gave them hell and dished on all of our crazy family secrets without the anonymity that a pen-named provided, but I didn’t.
Instead, I stopped speaking to my family and quit writing for nearly a year.
I had three kids at home, and they were just old enough to understand what was going on and start asking questions about my family. I didn’t want to destroy their relationship with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
I didn’t want to lose my family, even though they seemed okay with losing me.
My mom’s voice in my head told me I was just on a path towards humiliating myself and my children anyway.
People-pleasing is a difficult habit to break
As a life-long people pleaser, I’ve had a lot of practice locking away the real me to make life more comfortable for everyone else. It’s the choice that comes most naturally, I self-sacrifice for the greater good and avoid any potential conflict.
At some point in life, all of us people-pleasers are faced with a decision. Get healthy and set boundaries or continue the death spiral.
Instead of going all the way, I managed to find some sort of compromise.
After nearly 18 months of no contact with my family, I started writing again. This time, under a pen name. Was it because of them? Partially. It was also because of my own children and several other personal reasons.
I want to embrace all of my truth so damn bad, but this was all I could give — for now at least. Mentally, I knew I couldn’t go through another massive blow-up with my family.
I don’t know if I would survive it.
While I’m still not ready to let my family back in, I’m hopeful that maybe our relationship can be repaired someday. If they’re willing to do the work too.
For now, my time and love are reserved for those who understand that as we share stories about who we really are, including all of our imperfections, we invite greater understanding and deeper connections into our lives.
People in your life might want you to stay small, hide, and keep your story inside. Find a way to let it out, even if you have to compromise a little along the way to eventually develop the strength to get there.