Sharing Your Diagnosis With Family: A Cautionary Tale, Part 4

This is a multi part story of the insane falling out we had with my husband’s family. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3.

When Dave and I got home we talked for a long time. We were honestly in shock. How could what started out months prior as a request for support and understanding turn out so badly. It seems that at no point did Dave’s siblings consider how he felt, or question why he may be saying any of these things to them. All of his family immediately went on the defensive, then conflated a conflict with one sibling with his request for help then switched to attacking him and I. That evening began with Dave attempting to protect his wife and son, but when we got home we understood that this whole thing had nothing to do with our Autism or me at all. It was all about his family’s dysfunctional dynamic, their avoidant behavior, and an unwillingness to see outside of their world view.

We had earlier received a text from A stating that she wanted to continue the conversation. It was surprising, but welcome. We thanked her but it felt odd as she did not really seem interested in a resolution that night and seemed more interested in angrily defending herself.

After we left G called and texted Dave over and over again. Asking Dave to come back and go for a walk with him to get cigarettes. His wife K also texted Dave, she seemed to be defending her husband, while also admitting he may have been out of line, but it’s not clear what she wanted from Dave.

By now I felt the need to protect my husband from his family. With Dave’s approval I sent a text to the main family thread essentially saying that Dave put a lot of effort the last few weeks into meeting his family where they were when asking for their support and understanding. That he did not feel heard, and was met with disrespect. I encouraged them to do their own work in order to meet their brother where he is. Essentially, we were looking for an actual conversation, not a dogpile.

A’s response was sarcastic, angry and defensive. Saying “nope” & “bye” and that I couldn’t send texts like that and that talking in person was work. Never mind that what happened that night was not a conversation or work. It seemed like an attack because we were out of line, from their perspective. We are not interested in being talked AT in that way. If they want a conversation they certainly weren’t in a state to have one. I let them know that when they are willing to meet Dave where he is, without judgment, that he MAY be willing to talk.

I’ll let C’s response speak for itself:

“Free Dave! Give me my best friend back. I love you David.”

“Horsey Fat Dick!!!”

This is the same person who essentially ignored Dave months prior when he shared that life had been challenging. I hope he gets help for his alcohol issue at some point.

G’s response was to continue to demand Dave come back and talk with him. Seeming to think that because they were brothers that Dave owed it to him. I would argue that because they are brothers that he should have stayed out of his siblings’ conflict, instead of taking sides in a situation he knew next to nothing about.

I did ask K to talk with me when she was able. My goal was not to resolve the conflict between the siblings, but she seemed to think that was the case. My goal in reaching out to her, and honestly at every step, has been to preserve my children’s relationships with their cousins. It is worth noting that she, as the only person willing to really facilitate a healthier conversation that night, also married into this family. I tried to relay that I understood first hand what it meant to not have a relationship with cousins because our parents could not get their crap together. She was unwilling to talk further.

There’s been nothing but crickets from M. The person who started this entire mess. She got what she wanted. Everyone is on her side and we are now the scapegoats for the breakdown in the family. In fact, I would say that she has distanced herself and her children from us even more. Pulling her daughter from her Girl Scout troop when her daughter wanted to stay. She manipulated everyone to make herself out to be the victim. In a completely avoidable situation, that she had every opportunity to try to resolve. Can’t say that I’m surprised though. Pretty standard of an avoidant person.

One of our therapists suggested that Dave’s family, as a whole, were having their own version of a meltdown. I have to say that idea totally fits. Dave has done a lot of growth over the last 18 months and when someone grows as much as he has it’s hard to continue in the role you’ve been put in for so long. Dave doesn’t fit in the box they have for him, so they would rather banish him than hold space for him.

Dave’s brother G did indicate that he wanted to speak while they were still here, but flaked out. Essentially giving a non committal response of potentially talking to Dave later. It’s been months now…

Dave’s sisters have essentially ignored him since that night. He isn’t surprised, but he had hoped for more, especially from A. I am happy to see that M has finally gotten the relationship with her sister that she so craved. It’s just a bit sad that there had to be a death and a huge falling out in order for that to happen.

Dave’s parents are actually trying pretty hard in the ways they know to bridge the rift that has occurred. We definitely feel some disappointment in them, and there is some resentment on Dave’s part. They did separately allow Dave to talk, though I’m not sure they understand how deeply this has affected him. With a lot of work and time they could well be safe people to share our lives with. Though they do have to be willing to move beyond the superficial in order for that to happen.

As for Dave, he tries to just carry on with his life, but I can hear his sadness when he says “it is what it is.” He is so incredibly hurt by their behavior. He feels betrayed and disregarded by his siblings. He feels as if he doesn’t matter to them. He has considered reaching out to them, but they have shown him, by their actions and words, that they currently can’t care about anything beyond themselves. There is nothing that tells him that things would be different if he were to try again. Afterall, he was the only one making any effort in the first place.

My children, and my nieces and nephews, feel like a separate situation. These kids shoudl never see this type of behavior. They should never wonder if what has happened will happen to them. Dave and I are honest with our children, age appropriately, about what has been going on. Even before we said anything, my 6 yr old son was intuitive enough to know that his relationship with his cousins was at risk. “Mommy, will we ever have another cousin pool party?” Imagine answering that question, after a conflict like this, when you were hoping for understanding and support. My daughter actually talks to me about things. She lets me know how she feels and what’s going on in her life. What she has told me of her experience of that evening and her limited interactions with cousins since is quite concerning.

Most of the 11 cousins were in a room talking when all this was going down. “The cousins know that when Uncle C & Uncle G are like this, it’s because of alcohol.” Another cousin told my daughter that they have noticed how their mother, M, treats me and they don’t like it, and that every time they have asked her about what happened they are ignored. These kids shouldn’t have to turn to each other to get honesty. They have more awareness and understanding of things than their parents are giving them credit for. Trust me, as someone with firsthand experience, they will blame us when they become adults. When they realize that they don’t have relationships with their cousins because of the issues their parents weren’t willing to work out, they WILL be resentful and disappointed. I would rather be honest with my kids now and risk their sadness or anger, than to risk their resentment as adults.  Frankly our children aren’t angry with us. They are angry and disappointed in their grandparents and their aunts and uncles.

And myself? Being the last spouse to join a large family is hard enough on its own, but to realize that you have been unfairly judged the entire time, is heartbreaking. I did initially feel some shame and responsibility for the “chaos” as K put it, especially regarding the kids. Thankfully I have seen a niece a few times afterwards and she knows that I love her. I did tell her that we, and Grandma, will facilitate relationships as much as possible. It was not my place to say anything more. As our therapists and a friend have said, I am not to blame here. There has to be some responsibility on all the adults in that space for what happened. Just because someone had too much to drink or was angry doesn’t mean they get a pass. Just because you said the right things or nothing on one occasion, does that mean that your actions, or inactions, absolve you of responsibility. Abusive behavior is still abusive behavior regardless of the state you are in when you commit it. Your justifications will only perpetuate the bad behavior.

Writing and talking about things is how I process and I feel like I am finally coming out of the processing stage. I’ve talked about this ad nauseum with my therapist, and some trusted people. I waited months in the hopes that Dave’s siblings would make any kind of effort. I didn’t want to risk angering them and burning a bridge before it was built. Personally I have no interest in a relationship right now. It’s also came out in all this that there has been some judgment of me and of my relationship with my husband. I don’t have any interest in people who would rather silently judge me than be real with me. If months or years later Dave comes to me and says that he does have an interest in a relationship with any of them, I will cautiously support him. Just like he has supported me when I reconnected with my brother.

SO, to bring this full circle, when sharing your neurodivergence diagnosis with family, you need to be keenly aware of their shortcomings. I have seen so very many people talk about the ways in which their family and friends have let them down, or shunned them, when they shared their life altering diagnosis. It truly is like seeing a unicorn when someone shares that their family became supportive and understanding. We had hoped that for us things would be different. We thought that by seeking advice from professionals and doing so much research that we would be able to bypass the hurt that so many people have experienced. Unfortunately what happened to us is very typical. Ask yourselves, are they really willing to learn about who you are? When you start to unmask will they feel threatened? How supportive can they actually be? Can you trust that they won’t use your diagnosis, your disability, against you? Because these people certainly did just that. Use our story as a lesson.

Be so very cautious, because even those who should be the most supportive can turn on you in an instant.