The journal entry was brief, written in pencil on some long-forgotten piece of scrap paper from the job I held at the time I was engaged in my most intensive grief work. It was three-ring-punched into my old journal binder, without any notation as to the date on which it was written.

It was also deceptively simple, coming as it did after several years of excruciating therapy, reliving traumatic scenes from my shattered childhood and trying to piece together some semblance of an adult identity; several years of struggling to understand why I had been made the scapegoat of my family’s violence and dysfunction all my life, and ultimately being forced to resign myself to the reality that there simply Was. No. Reason.

“Family Dearest,” the entry began, using an adapted form of the title of the tell-all book Mommie Dearest by actress Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter.

“I neither know, nor care particularly,” I continued, “where you intend for this trip you’re on to take you.

“All I know is I’m not going.”

That was all it said.

And with that note — which I wrote only for my own eyes and never shared with any of them — I embarked on an extended period of no contact that was to prove one of the most peaceful and productive, and with some of the most far-reaching benefits, of any period in my lifetime.

I began a successful graduate program of study, funded by a student loan co-signed by a kindhearted employer when my parents refused to co-sign.

That graduate degree led to a long and fulfilling career doing meaningful work I love.

I met and married the man who would become the father of my children.

And for the next couple of decades, I focused on raising the two daughters whose very existence as strong, brave women proves what I have known all along: that love, truth and empathy are essential family values, without which no family can thrive.

Sustained, deliberate cruelty that consistently targets an innocent child most definitely is not a family value.

In the intervening years, I have made some revisions to the original choice to have no contact. There has been some limited contact with all of my original family members for various reasons. But sooner or later one of them, or perhaps all of them, will make some hurtful choice, take some hurtful action or utter some hurtful word, that reminds me once again to keep them all at enough distance to preserve my own safety and peace of mind.

And in all these years, I have never once regretted that initial decision to disengage, and I have never looked back.

OK, dear reader. It’s your turn. When did you fully understand at a deep level that you would need to disengage from dysfunctional family dynamics? Did you put your family members on official notice to that effect, or did you decide that quietly withdrawing would be the safer option? Or … are you perhaps still grappling with the question? Please feel free to write anything that comes to your mind. What thoughts, questions or emotions did this post raise for you?

© 2017, Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

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