There are many reasons I wish I didn’t have bipolar disorder. There are many reasons I wish I weren’t an addict. None of them compare to the gut-wrenching regret about how these conditions affect my legacy to my daughter.
No matter how hard I tried to minimize the effects back when I was using painkillers, no matter how hard I tried to keep my mental issues from overcoming the good things in our relationship, it all had an impact. Today, there have been many improvements and I’m able to do a lot for her that wasn’t possible before.
However, some things don’t change. This incredible young woman still got issued a breathtakingly imperfect mother, and that’s not going to change. She sees me struggle with the large problems and the trivial ones. She sees me be inconsistent with self-care and the tasks of daily life; she sees me go through times of being weepy or rocking back and forth with anxiety or staring at the wall with a flat affect.
I try, as always, to strike a balance between honesty and appropriateness. I have enough observing ego to know when I’m in an episode, and we are matter-of-fact about them and the truth that they will pass.
I do not make a habit of beating myself up about these things, and I know I am passing on some important good messages to her. She sees me fail–but she always sees me try again. She sees me struggle with the impulses of my addictions–but she always sees me work humbly on my recovery. She sees me be sad–but she always, in an hour or day or week, witnesses me hauling myself up with the sheer power of imagination and metaphor. She sees me be down on myself–but she always sees me come back to a place of love and acceptance.
I’m teaching her that we fail, and the world doesn’t come to an end. I’m teaching her that there’s a way back from the dark places. I’m modeling humility, and perseverance, and the willingness to keep trying. I know this–but, like any parent, I want to be better. As a mother, as an addict in recovery, as a person who lives with mental health issues, I want to be a message of hope strong enough to accompany her through anything. I want her to see me fucking win.
I want to be an ever-present, shining beacon. I’m not.
I am a lighthouse.
I shine, and sometimes go dark, and shine again.
Do you know why lighthouses shine intermittently? It’s to help them stand out from stars, or airplanes, or lights from the shore. They catch the eye because of their changes.
I have no intention of taking this metaphor to the point of concluding that my daughter has a special snowflake of a mother whose light is actually better or more guiding than the steadier ones. I’m simply using this image to comfort myself, because it’s what I do.
Perhaps I can use the image to help me accept the truth more, and give myself permission to shine brightly when I shine. Does the lighthouse apologize for the dark period each time its light returns? What a waste of time and brilliance that would be!