A Thanksgiving reflection: Finding my own family

Back, L-R: Donovan Taylor, Zainab Hussain, Meredith Wohl, Alana Harris  Front: Erin Brown, Megan Dunn

Back, L-R: Donovan Taylor, Zainab Hussain, Meredith Wohl, Alana Harris

Front: Erin Brown, Megan Dunn

Ever wonder what might happen if you hand-picked your family?

For better or for worse, I have spent my entire life chewing on that question.

After a tumultuous 12 years of family turmoil, I was forcibly removed from my home and placed in foster care. When this happened, I was completely broken. Years of abuse coupled with unstable living situations rendered me feeling powerless, useless, and unlovable.

At first, no families had any desire to take me in. I was too old for many to adopt, diabetic, and had unresolved mental health issues.

By the time I had reached my first foster home, I never imagined that I would ever have enough autonomy to pick my own family, let alone feel comfortable in a family environment. I spent my childhood watching my classmates and friends socialize in family dynamics that were completely foreign to me.

But then, in a sudden and serendipitous twist of some combination of luck, love, and good timing, I fell into a stable family dynamic. My foster parents wrapped me in stability, which emboldened me to embrace the gift I had been given to rebuild my formerly immobile life.

They gave me a paramountly crucial second chance at forming a family, a gift that most foster kids never receive.

As I grew to understand a functional family dynamic, I learned how to become a part of a family. As I felt love and acceptance, I learned how to love and accept others. And, most importantly, as my extended family embraced me into their family, I learned how to embrace those around me into my own, carefully crafted extended family.

When I tell my origin story, I'm often met with pity and puppy dog eyes. Frankly, those reactions are complete garbage.

Without this trajectory, I never would have learned to curate a family dynamic with all those who I encounter.

Everyone I meet is family to me, and I love this reality.

When my foster parents adopted me at age 13, I realized my unique opportunity to build a family of friends and community members while I also learned how to become a part of a family with my newly adopted brothers and parents.

I have been so lucky to have fallen into such an accepting, loving, and safe family environment. However, there is not a day that transpires where I do not think about the peril of living in a rejection-filled, unsafe, and abusive situation.

In particular, this holiday season, often filled with family time, revokes those anxieties of not being good enough or not fitting in enough with my family. I am still actively learning how to be a family member, and I am sure I will continue to learn this throughout the course of my life.

But, my family extends far beyond my adopted relatives. I built an intricate web of family with my friends, mentors, and community members.

I have found a family in our beautiful, brilliant Rival team.

If you are feeling left out, unaccepted, or ostracized this holiday season, you have a family with me. You are loved, useful, and valued.

Your identity is valid. Your emotions are valid. Your state of mind is valid. Your life path is valid. Your aesthetic expression is valid.

And, most importantly, you are enough. In fact, you are more than enough. You are amazing.

Remember to love one another this season and hold your family (chosen or otherwise) as tight as you can. Continue to build on the communities in which you take part. Remember that you always have the power to expand upon and craft your own family.

It has never required blood relation to call someone family.

Article by former Managing Editor Meredith Wohl, @meredithwohl

Originally published November 24, 2016