Answering What Everyone Feels So Awkward Asking Me About: Emma, Why Are You Estranged From Your Family? (PART 1)

For many years, I flat-out lied when people asked innocent questions like, “And are your family still up in Scotland?” and, “Do you see much of them?” The truth is, I left Edinburgh in 2010 and even before that, had lengthy periods with no contact. Only in the past few years have I gained the confidence to be able to comfortably say, “Oh I’m actually not in touch with them,” with my head held high, shoulders un-hunched. I’ll say this though: responding to that with, “Do you mind if I ask why?” is downright rude. If you’re my friend, and I mean a proper friend, then I’ll happily tell you or rather, you’ll already know. On the other hand, if I’ve just met you and you think that’s appropriate to ask, chances are I’ll form a cautious opinion of you in an instant. Family estrangement situations are complicated, fractious and often split opinion so why on earth would I want to spill all of that to someone I’ve just met? That leads me on to my next point which is that I doubt any of them can be summarised in a sentence as they’re all worthy of a monologue.

I write this, not because I feel as though I owe an explanation to anyone, but in the hope that someone might come across this post and find the confidence to leave, ask questions or give greater support to a relative or friend. It’s messy, dirty, tabboo and a lot of folk shy away from it because family is family, blood is blood and you stand with them regardless, right? Not in my case. Get yourself a cup of tea because you’re about to read a novel. Here comes a whole load of honesty.

I suppose I was destined to have a dysfunctional/non existent family life given that my very first memory is of my sperm donor father beating the life out of my mum in the living room of our 2 bed flat. I witnessed the whole thing and was told many years later that at one point, he picked me up because I was screaming and continued to hit her. Father of the Year award goes to him. This was well before the years of mobile phones so, after he ripped the house phone out the wall, my mum somehow managed to escape and seek help from a telephone box. He was drunk, apologetic and pathetic, so much so that I was left with him after the police had visited and called an ambulance for my mum because they were sure he wasn’t a threat to me. I severely doubt that would happen nowadays. From that point on (probably earlier, I just don’t remember), my mother and I were as thick as thieves. We faced a lot of challenges, they were somewhat endless. She had chronic health conditions, health issues that had developed or worsened as a consequence of domestic abuse, severe depression and obviously the pressure of being a single parent. I had the privilege of growing into a very anxious, shy little girl whose drunk father would show up at the school gates. I cried lots, threw up a hell of a lot through pure stress and remember having severe agoraphobic tendencies from as young as 4. I could write so much more about these parts alone but the point is, we were best buds who somehow got from day to day. Many of my mum’s close friends, my nana and uncle were a great support and provided lots of stability for me. I also had a sort of adopted family through my mum’s best friend. This lady’s mum and dad were my nana and grandad as far as I was concerned and I was always treated as one of the grandchildren. That grandad was the only one I ever knew, made the best cup of tea I’ve ever had in my life, gave me too many sweets and used to be phoned at the pub by my nana to get his arse home for his tea.

Let me be very very clear: my mother was a wonderful mother. She had an insane level of pressure on her financially, worried about our safety because my dad was an abusive, drugged up alcoholic who just never quit his intimidating ways, her physical and mental health were very poor and her child was a nervous, timid little mouse. Yet, I have plenty of positive memories too like going to the zoo, barbecues at her work, arriving early to get a good spot for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival parade and eating Thornton’s toffee ice cream on a day out. There are many, many more I could mention. So where the hell did things go wrong? How did my safety net become the person I fought tooth and nail to avoid?

My mum had two very different people living inside her. One was the life of the party, vibrant, a fighter, warm, welcoming and a great bloody laugh. The other was extremely depressed, often suicidal, goading, self-pitying and had a vicious mouth. Both, both were highly intelligent and I believe that this was the crux of everything getting to where it is now. I do not, in any way, think she was or is a narcissist in case anyone thinks that upon reading. It’s a waaaay overused word and if you actually study what it means, you’ll find you’ve encountered very few of them in your lifetime. What she was though, was no better.

In a sentence, the best way I can summarise with some clarity is like this: she was a person whose personality was made of two parts. The first (we’ll call this personality number 1), her own and the second was created by her depression (personality number 2). The first thing that happened was personality number 2 changed personality number 1 into someone I absolutely did not want to know. I don’t mean it made her meloncholy, hell no. I could have handled the meloncholy as I had as a child. Then, personality number 1 learned how to use personality number 2 to manipulate and work people and situations to her advantage. I hope that makes sense because it’s a very difficult thing to translate onto paper.

Just in case you’re thinking, “What so her mum got sick and she abandoned her? What a dick!” remember that she’d been both physically and mentally ill my whole life. That wasn’t a problem. I was quite the nurse as a child, very instinctive and gentle, and everyone in every shop knew me well as I’d run errands when she couldn’t. Sometimes, I’d have to go and stay with one of her friends or my nana when she self-sectioned or had the choice taken out of her hands. I was well accustomed to having a “sick” parent and it was just part of the package of life. None of it left me traumatised. What caused me to run for the hills was her becoming someone I absolutely didn’t want to know when I was about 15/16. If you’re a mother, you might be thinking that it was down to teen angst or something like that. You’re entitled to your opinion but let me assure you that having since gained some clarity and confirmation from “grown ups” around at the time, I definitely wasn’t imagining things and I definitely had to go.

*End of Part 1*

Emma

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