Being Part of a Dysfunctional Family
Natalie Jeanne Champagne regularly contributes to mental health and addictions publications and is an advocate for mental health and recovery.She is publishing a memoir in March.You can find out more about Natalie at www.thethirdsunrise.com. She currently lives In British Columbia, Canada. The Third Sunrise is her first book.
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I call my mother. She likes it when I call her. When I was an addict we did not talk for months. She often wondered if I might be dead. I figure I owe her as much as a daily phone call. It makes her smile to know her daughter is safe. My mother is an educated woman. She got her PHD at the age of thirty-five and teaches at the same University. She works in the pediatric intensive care ward full-time and is a sign language interpreter on her nights off. Nights when she is not marking forty-five papers for the social work classes she teaches. Nights when she is not telling me what I should do with my life.
I am twenty-six years old. I have a rather defined idea of what I will do with my life: I will stay clean and take my medication so I remain stable. I work to keep the bipolar disorder at bay. I am publishing a book in March. Somehow, having worked my ass off, I landed an agent and publisher. I worked full-time as well. I got clean at the same time. I think she might look at all of this, my life now, my past, and come to the conclusion that I am doing just fine.
I write for a living. I feelance write for many places. Writing has always been my dream and somehow it has come to fruition (though it is not as easy as I thought when I was twelve years old). I am going back to University to finish my degree and then, with any luck, into journalism.
The point of this blog is not go on about my life endevors, but rather to talk about my mother, my dysfunctional family, and how hard it is to both be part of my family and seperate myself from it.
And so, here I am, doing all of these things that should mean I am, for all intents and purposes, Successful. I have beat down addiction and alcholism, have weathered the storm of eating disorders and depression. I am alive. This still surprises me. I should have died many times. Seizures and overdose. Lovely things that define the territory of depression and addiction.
The phone rings, I hate the phone, I have been known to throw phones and shatter them. I grab it. It is my mother. I answer the phone.
"Hey, Mom!" I must sound happy she has called. I should be happy she has called.
"I was thinking that maybe you should go on disability"
"MOM, why would I go on disability? I am making money. I work. I go to school!" She is always saying this to me, casually, as if it does not shatter my pride and a feeling that I can succeed despite my illness.
"Honey, it's for your safety. There is nothing wrong with disability!"
I want to scream but I know that if I get angry she will hang up. She will tell me I am "mother blaming" (what is this?) and she is only trying to help.
"Mother" I am trying to stay calm even though I want to throw the goddamn phone.
"I am not disabled. I am publishing a goddamn book and I am in school, just like you always wanted." And this is true. Even though I have already completed one degree she would tell me, when I am under deadlines, that if I have some nice letters, PHD like she has, beside my name, my life would be complete. I would not be disabled.
"Calm down Natalie! I'm only trying to help." She is always trying to help. Her help sometimes hurts. It makes me question myself, question the person I have fought hard to become, the woman who is not disabled because she has a mental illness.
I tell her I must go. She is hurting me too much. She hangs up on me. Fine, fair enough. I cry. Maybe she is right. Am I disabled? I function on a high level. I work to stay well. I am not disabled. Why can't she understand this? Why must she hurt me?
My mother has had a rather dreadful past. And so have I. I love my mother but I wonder why she cannot stop to think. She has been telling me that I will "end up on disability" since I was ten years old. I am a grown woman now. I need to protect myself. But I love her.
My family is full of secrets. Secrets we never talk about. Secrets that shatter the notion that our family dynamic is healthy. When I see my therapist my mother calls me, the same day, and asks, "Did you talk about me?" She asks me on a regular basis, " am I a bad mother?" I tell her she is not because she isn't. I love my mother. She gave birth to me. She waited for me to become well.
But it's hard to find the line. To draw a line. To imagine it existing.
I could write a book on my dsyfunctional family, many of us can, but then my mother would read it and tell me I am "mother blaming" again.
Perhaps, if she mentions my "disability" again, I will throw in the towel and start the book.
Connect with me @ www.thethirdsunrise.com