The Dark Night of the Soul comes from a poem written by Saint John of the Cross, a 16th-centure Spanish poet. It refers to the journey into Hades where you enter a realm of darkness, where you learn humility and where you re-emerge blinking into the light, a different person, wondering why the hell your life suddenly descended into chaos, hard times and inner darkness.
Both I and my husband experienced this hell on wheels when we lived up Mt French and it is not something I ever, ever want to through again. I remember just after we’d staggered into a lighter part of our lives – when we sold our Mt French home and moved down into the centre of Boonah – reading an article by a woman talking blithely about dark nights of the soul, how wonderful they were and hey, bring on the next one. And I remember thinking clearly at the time that she had no idea what a real dark night of the soul is because, once you’ve gone through one, you don’t ever want to return to that dark time of your life where tempestuous swirls tear your life apart and you feel you’re in a whirlpool of sadness, pain and despair from which there is no escape.
The purpose for me, however, is that spiritual demands are at work on you. It’s a bit like being in a spin dryer where all the dross gets tossed out and you are cleansed and on a different path as well as transformed into a different person – one more aligned with your soul purpose once you’ve lost the layers grafted on you by parents and society as you move through life.
What could go wrong in our home in Boonah went wrong. Prior to moving into our new home and while we were still staying in a motel, I ended up with a really painful toothache. I needed a root canal filling which took a bit of a chunk out of our savings. But after we moved in, things really started going downhill.
No power – no water
I first found out that there are drawbacks to living on a somewhat remote property with tanks and no town water on the morning I was due to pop down into Boonah to sign the final contract of sale. I turned on the tap. No water. Our furniture and boxes from Perth had arrived on the Wednesday and we’d done some solid unpacking so we were dirty, dusty and unkempt. And I couldn’t have a wash or shower. I ended up dipping a piece of tissue into half a glass of water on the bedside table and using that to try to restore some semblance of normality and not look like the Wild Woman of Borneo when I went into the solicitor’s office.
So that was our first experience living outside a city. When the power goes off, the pump that gets the water into your home doesn’t work and you don’t have water coming out of the taps which, as city slickers, we were used to. Bryan had to climb on the top of the really big tank, take the top off and fish out a bucket of water. What we also found out was that when the local power supply company was going to do maintenance work and shut off power supply, it didn’t let you know the power was going to go off. You had to buy the local paper to find out. And, of course, we hadn’t even had time to find out that a local newspaper existed, let alone read it.
Bryan got the property fenced within the week (more money out of our savings) and finished off that work while I was driving to pick up our mutts from kennels north of Brisbane, as I mentioned in a previous post. Rosie, our Jack Russell, made herself at home straight away, but if you take cats to a new home, you need to keep them indoors. Our three cats were curious and sniffed around, but then I noticed that Mr Smudge, who was around nine years old and neutered, was trying to urinate but couldn’t. More drama.
I phoned the vet – this was a Saturday afternoon so out of hours and, of course, more expensive – and he told me to get Mr Smudge to the surgery urgently as he likely had a blocked urinary duct which, of course, was an emergency. The rest of the afternoon was spent with me helping the very kind vet sedate the cat, pull his penis out and unblock it. Ever tried it? Difficult, I can assure you! More money out of the coffers but at least our dear, kind old cat survived.
Bryan couldn’t find work so we ended up on unemployment benefits. When he did finally get casual work, the drought broke, the main road out was flooded, he couldn’t get to work so his pay as a casual worker plummeted. We decided to fill the smaller water tank and it broke at the bottom just as all the water had been delivered by the tanker and poured in. We lost all the water and I think we felt real despair as we watching the water promptly pour out again – more money wasted plus we lost our back-up tank and had no money to replace it.
Getting Daisy, our oldest cat, treated for paralysis ticks took another bite out of our savings and, as we were then on unemployment benefits and on the breadline, our savings went down relentlessly. Sadly, although Daisy survived, she was a bit more frail and a few months later, late one evening, we found her dead under one of our bushes. Whether it was the result of the ticks or she got bitten by a snake, we don’t know. She looked very peaceful and we buried her in our garden the next day.
The Father from Hell
Finally my father arrived from Perth. When we were thinking of moving to Queensland, I asked him if he’d like to move too as I didn’t want to leave him alone after my mother died in 1987. He agreed eagerly and his household effects travelled with ours from Western Australia to Queensland. But he took ages to decide to move to the Eastern States and dithered and dithered. He eventually got around to taking the plunge, flew over and we met him at Brisbane Airport. But I was to find out that Dad had become a “gunnadoo” – always going to do this or do that and nothing ever got done in the end.
Our arrangement had been that we would buy a block big enough for him to build a home and he would pay a proportionate amount towards the cost of the block. When Dad did arrive, he hadn’t sold his house which wasn’t surprising, it was in a good state inside but when people saw the swimming pool – filled with water plants, huge goldfish and filthy dirty – the buyers took off like long dogs. And, of course, he had no money to pay for a new home or towards the cost of our block.
The decision we made to choose to live together until Dad’s property in WA sold was one of the most stupid I have ever taken. Both Bryan and my father were used to being top dog, and my father not only didn’t take kindly to not being in charge in our home, he was also hitting the booze hard most of the day.
I knew that my father had had an alcohol problem prior to my mother’s death in 1987 and it got worse once he was on his own. I never went down to Rockingham to see him in the afternoon as he would be drunk. I had thought things might have improved by the time he came to Queensland but that was wishful thinking. I learned to dread his words: “Sun’s over the yard arm, time for a whiskey” which would be about 11 in the morning. And when my father drank, he was an aggressive, bullying drunk. Evenings were a nightmare and the arguments got worse and worse.
We had agreed with Dad that he’d contribute a share to the cost of the block and then build his own, smaller house on the block. But when, eventually, he sold his house he made it clear that he intended to dole out his money in small amounts, as and when he chose, to control us. Dad had always tried, and sometimes succeeded, to control people with money. He wanted us – his daughter and son-in-law – to dance to his tune and he took pleasure in trying to pull the strings. I can say now that I should have realised this, but I never thought he would do the dirty on us so cynically and deliberately.
One evening we ended up having a monster row when my father started threatening Bryan. Luckily, my husband was able to keep his cool and walk away from the difficult situation. A couple of days’ later my father moved out and left us pretty much destitute. I told him this and I can still see the malicious look of glee on his face which confirmed that he knew this full well and didn’t give a tinker’s cuss.
And do you know what? I was silly enough to keep trying to make my relationship with him work. What a bloody idiot! So here are a couple of life lessons: 1) don’t mix your money with that of relatives, it can create enormous headaches. Since then I’ve heard horror stories of relatives falling out over money so you never know, you may need to read this blog just for the one lesson of keeping your money and your relatives’ money completely separate.
My second piece of advice is that, if you recognise the sort of situation in which we found ourselves in your own circumstances, take care of yourself first. Alcoholics don’t change their spots, you can’t get them to clean up their act unless they choose to, and you need to look after yourself and let alcoholics make or break their lives all on their own.
When we moved to Queensland, we sent our Rover car over by transporter which was a lot cheaper than buying a new car after moving interstate (but in another sign of the bad luck hovering over us, the transporter broke down on the middle of the Nullarbor Plain!). However, repairs for Rover cars, as they’re British, were expensive to maintain (we’d been able to use a Rover-trained mechanic in Perth), so we decided to buy a second car and ended up with a Ford station wagon, in bright lemon yellow. And yes, the car turned to be a lemon. It started off well but, with our luck in Queensland, it went downhill fast. It needed major repairs which further depleted what were becoming very meagre savings.
On 2nd July 1996 I fell and broke my leg and ankle, as I mentioned in an earlier post. I was hardly mobile, couldn’t cook, relied on Meals on Wheels at lunchtime, and Bryan – as well as driving 45 minutes to and from work in Ipswich – also had to cook in the evening. I was also not recovering well. When I’d been admitted to hospital I’d had a raging temperature and was on intravenous antibiotics as I’d splintered the bone in my leg. Back at home, I had no energy, and I lost a lot of weight, very fast. I had packed in the booze (a story for another day!) and also had a good old dose of ‘flu within a few days of getting out of hospitals.
I’d take ages to shuffle from the sofa to the kitchen, get there soaked in sweat, take ten or so minutes to recover, make breakfast, then repeat the process back to the sofa. I’d fall into a deep sleep in the afternoons, and just felt exhausted all the time. I got a nursing friend to check out my sugar levels and they were fine. But in the month after I came home I lost a stone in weight (14 lbs, 6.3kgs). I did have the pleasure of stepping on the scales prior to the removal of my cast and then hop on after returning from hospital with a skinny, emaciated right leg to find I’d lost 6lbs instantaneously which I thought was pretty nifty!
My husband was very impatient with me as he had always been healthy and really had a hard time handling illness of any kind. He was exhausted from driving to and fro from work and then having to cook, I was just generally exhausted, we were having arguments, and tensions between us were quite bad. I didn’t want to return to the hospital for any further antibiotic treatment as information was beginning to circulate about the dangers of antibiotic overuse and subsequent resistance. So in the end I was so tired and exhausted I went to Yvonne, my herbalist friend, and got treatment from her and her herbalist co-worker.
Interestingly, the night after I started treatment, I had a dream where I was walking up a hill, reached the peak, then started on the downhill walk. Along the way I saw a cottage with the lights on in the window. I looked through and saw two women there who beckoned me in and fed me as I sat at the table. I mentioned this to Yvonne and she was dead pleased, saying it was a sign I was on the mend. She was right too. It was a slow process but I gradually began to regain my strength although I wasn’t fully mobile again until about a year later. However, I’ve never really returned to being the full quid since I had that fall, and I’ve read that quite often something traumatic like that as you get older can affect your subsequent health.
I had returned to fairly good health by December 1996 when one day I walked out of our home one day to drive into Boonah and saw Bryan sitting in the carport looking grey, exhausted and absolutely dreadful. Yes, folks, our bad luck continued. He had received several large mosquito bites when working at a nearby town. We didn’t take too much notice at the time, but they heralded the onset of Ross River fever for Bryan.My active husband could hardly move and is thin and wiry at the best of times, but within months of copping this illness he’d gone down to six stone and looked like a skeleton.