I’ve been absent for a while again as I’ve been working through quite a few emotional matters. Apart from my earlier fall and the death of my dog, Ziggy, I also found out recently that a good friend from my early days in Australia had died a while back from cancer. I found out quite by chance and I was really upset as I had such good memories of him, my time in the student political movement and the freedom I felt to be me when I moved to Australia.
I have also been dealing with how I felt after reading a report about Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) and how these affect us physically and emotionally in our adult life. I’ve mentioned this previously and, as I said then, I felt like I’d been punched in the guts the first time I read about this as it explained a whole heap about my weight issues and also other health challenges I’ve faced such as repetitive strain injury, depression and fibromyalgia.
While I’ve written about this in earlier posts, I talked more about circumstances and emotional effects, than the physical effects. To be honest, I don’t think I could have handled this before, it’s something I’ve shoved under the carpet or down in the cellar. But I think it’s important to write about how early childhood experiences have affected me, in the hope it may be of help to others for whom my experiences resonate, particularly because there is such an upsurge in autoimmune diseases as well as fibromyalgia (which still doesn’t seem to have a particular explanation for its existence, despite various stabs at diagnoses).
As I mentioned above, I felt like I was flying when I arrived in Australia. I’d felt pretty much the same sense of freedom when I was at university, no-one was controlling me and I was running my own life pretty competently, and in both instances – particularly when I’d split up with the guy I’d travelled to Australia with – I was extremely slim. I remember when I got the letter from my parents saying they were coming out for a holiday that my first response was: “Oh, god, I can never get away from them.” When I met my mum and dad at Perth Airport, I sat there sneezing like the clappers, with my eyes and nose running like a sieve. I remember a little boy on a seat near more watching in amazement as I went through tissue after tissue. It was all emotional, of course, but I had no idea what was going on at the time.
In early 1976 I broke up with Jack, the guy with whom I’d travelled to Australia, and I was really on my own. I loved it. My weight dropped rapidly and, when I went back to the office where I used to work, no-one recognised me as I’d got so much slimmer. I do have to say that I in a sexually inappropriate way over the next couple of years – I went through men like they were going out of fashion – the best bit being that I could say good-bye and toddle off to my lovely unit all on my own. Again, this is one of the behaviours which can arise from adverse childhood experiences. All I can say is I’m damned lucky that I didn’t contract a sexually transmitted disease, someone in the world of spirit must have been looking out for me!
And then on April 16th, 1977, I went out to meet a friend for a drink and came home with my future husband. My friend had introduced us, sparks flew, we held hands as we went for a meal with mutual friends, and Bryan came home with me, moved in that night and 38 years later we are still together. We did take a while to do the married bit – we finally tied the knot in the UK in 2004 after living there for a couple of years and getting married a few days before we returned to Australia.
Bryan and I were both very independent people, and we certainly didn’t live in each other’s pockets. We both followed progressive politics as he was a union activist, shop steward and safety officer. I continued a rather lunatic student activist lifestyle, even though I say it myself, until my parents emigrated to Australia in early 1978. And my weight piled on again.
Over the years I’ve dealt with the issues I had mainly with my father. After an incident when I was about 5’ish and got a hiding from my father over a very minor issue, now I look back, he would regularly accuse me of being a liar right through childhood or tell me “I’ll put you over my knee and give you a tanning” if he thought I was misbehaving in any way. He was a real control freak. As I wrote previously, until I was around 14 and, when he pulled that trick one last time, I looked him in the eye and told him if he touched me in any way I’d walk out and they’d never see me again. It worked. I’ve repeated it because I think it’s such an important lesson I’ve learned over the years – you have to stand up to a bully or they’ll keep on hammering you if they think they’ve managed to intimidate you.
However, I really hadn’t twigged that the control issues from my childhood and teenage years actually affected my health. I had a couple of events in the early 1980s – I had acute appendicitis and bled badly during the operation, spent a few days on morphine, getting blood transfusions and now have a 13 inch scar on my lower belly. A bit later I was working for a conservation organisation where we used to print an independent environmental magazine. You had to fix a metal plate onto hooks and then wind the plate onto the cylinder. Unfortunately, one day the person the other side switched on the machine as I was putting a plate onto the cylinder, my fingers were caught on the metal hooks and then fed into the machine. I ended up with two broken and badly lacerated fingers, lost the feeling at the ends of my fingers after I’d been stitched up but, luckily, finally got feeling back a few months later.
What really brought me to a grinding halt, however, was getting repetitive strain injury in my right shoulder and left arm in the mid-1980s. I ended up getting invalided out of the workforce in excruciating pain, and told I’d never work on a keyboard again. I’m going to go into the details in my next post, but it occurred to me – on reading about the ACE study – that I’d ended up tied up in knots physically as a result of being a Type A personality, tense, always doing more than I needed to, in order to be the best and get approval – the approval I never got from my father.
More on that in my next post when I’ll look at all the alternative healing methods I adopted in order to manage my health challenges.
I thought I was done and dusted with the Canyons of My Mind series but no, my subconscious had another surprise in store for me – a nightmare!
I’ve only, thankfully, had one other nightmare in my life, when a Dementor (a monstrous being in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling) appeared and, I can assure you, I hope I never see another Dementor in my life!
I dithered about writing about this nightmare as it took a while to work out and also it has a rather unpleasant content – at least, until the end. But it seems to me it’s an example of healing at a very great depth which may be encouraging to others who may experience something similar.
So here goes.
“In the dream I am back in the house where I lived as a kid, Liverpool Lawn in Ramsgate, Kent, south-east England. I go into a room where my father is asleep but he wakes up as I enter and walks threateningly towards me, a real monster. I realise he intends to rape me and I am absolutely terrified. I run out of the house, with him in relentless pursuit and it is pitch-black outside. I then run frantically down the alley way which used to run between Liverpool Lawn and Adelaide Gardens. All these houses had semi-basements and I am absolutely terrified as I run along.
Then I see a light on in one of the basements, run down the steps and burst into the house through the back door. I shut the door and find myself facing a young couple looking somewhat alarmed (as you do, I suppose when someone bursts into your house unexpectedly). I tell them my father is following me and intends to rape me, they say they’ll help but then we all suddenly realise he’s gone around the front of the terraced houses and is outside the front door.
The young man looks outside, says that my father now has a gun, and goes outside to confront him. However, I can’t let the young man be harmed so run out and push past my father. As I run around the centre lawn and arrive at the other side, I come across people at an outside party who, when I tell them my story, advise me to tell the police who have a branch office in one of the houses on the crescent.
I run up to the police post, ring the bell and tell my story when the policeman answers the door. He tells me I’m imagining things and to go home and stop dramatising things. But then I realise I can hear my father and his parents upstairs being warmly received by the police. I am furious and enraged, rather than scared, shout at the policeman for not doing his job, and run upstairs to confront my father and my paternal grandparents.”
When I woke up straight after the dream, I felt so terrified I got up and had a cup of coffee until I’d calmed down enough to return to bed and get back to sleep without worrying about the dream recurring. It’s my belief that, when we have a powerful dream/nightmare which affects us deeply, it’s important to find out what it’s about as the dream/nightmare has significance in your life.
I must say, upfront, that in fairness to my father, I’m pretty sure that he never sexually abused me. I know there are many instances of repressed memories but it was emotional, mental and physical control which characterised my relationship with my father.
If you look at the nightmare, it divides into three: 1) running away 2) seeking refuge 3) finally deciding to stop running, stand up for myself and overcome the fear (if you are trying to analyse a dream, look at how it breaks up. You’ll generally find a new section begins “And then….”).
I also think that the inclusion of my grandparents – with whom I had a distant relationship once my aunt, the favourite, had a daughter and replaced me – is also about ancestral healing, perhaps again because I felt I’d been also on approval with my grandparents and discarded as soon as my cousin was born.
It seems to me, the fear and terror represents what I felt as a child with the episode which I described in an earlier post and which left me believing I was in my family on approval, so to speak, with that approval liable to be removed any time. Of course, this wasn’t the true situation – this was my perspective as a child. It also represents the fact that I’ve been running from these feelings for a lot of my life.
I found the middle bit a bit hard to understand, until I realised that both the young man and woman were aspects of myself – the immature beings which, in my life, have been represented by my desire for approval and to be liked which, quite often, have led to me appeasing others at my own expense, fudging the truth, putting on a friendly face when I felt quite hurt by what people had said.
And finally, standing up to the police, my father and my grandparents is the position I’m in now – one where I’ve cleared out the old fears and childhood insecurity, and asserted my ability to be a powerful force for myself, for my creativity and for my self-confidence and self-esteem.
I should add that, since I completed writing about my childhood and since that nightmare, I am far more laid back, far less driven and far more ready to honour myself as a worthy, loveable human being who approves of and stands up for herself.
If anyone has any additional ideas about my nightmare, please feel free to contribute your thoughts, I’m more than happy to build up a collective understanding of my nightmare/dream as I feel it helps others in understanding their own dreams.
Oh, and just as an afterthought, my eating patterns have stabilised and I’ve started losing weight!
Just to wind up, as I said previously I went through my life thinking that my parents were a couple in themselves, with me on the outside. So imagine my surprise when I had a reading with a medium which turned my ideas topsy-turvy.
Doubtless there will be people who will scoff at the idea of a medium and conversations with people in spirit but, trust me, this incident came out of the blue, with no wishes for any kind of link with my parents.
I had been selling crystals at a new age fair in Victoria and it had been very quiet. A guy approached my stall and started making very accurate comments about my life so, as I was bored witless doing nothing, I trotted over to his stall and said I’d have a reading. I had no preconceived ideas, but just left the whole thing open.
The first thing the medium said was that he wanted no facts or responses from other than “yes” or “no” so that he couldn’t be accused of “reading me cold” which happens with a lot of so-called mediums and Tarot readers (and don’t forget I’m a Tarot reader!). His first comment was that my mum and dad had turned up, which surprised me no end as I hadn’t thought of them at all. His next comment was that they weren’t together, they’d gone separate ways, each to their own spiritual lineage.
Then he said my mum had told me she never loved my father. At first I misunderstood and thought she’d said she’d never loved my grandfather. But no, she said she’d never loved my father, she’d only married him under pressure from her family to get some sort of financial stability. But what she had wanted was to have her own business and be independent.
Now funnily enough, when I had an astrology reading in Boonah, the astrologer had asked me about my mother and whether she was unusual in any way. To be very honest, my relationship with my mother was very much overshadowed by my antagonistic relationship with my father. So I felt rather bewildered, although I knew that she’d been very efficient and happy running the guesthouse when we lived in Ramsgate, and always enjoyed going to work – whether it was in the grocer’s shop or bakery in Sandwich, or in Debenham’s when my parents moved to Canterbury (I was in university by that stage).
Later I obtained a psychological profile of myself from Liz Greene, a renowned astrologer, and was taken aback to read the following about my mother:
“Although your mother might have appeared conventional in her behaviour, and devoted to her family’s needs, she is pictured in your horoscope as a strong and independent spirit, who was perhaps not as able to accept the limitations and compromises of family life as she pretended to be. Thus she suppressed a natural restlessness and a rather explosive temper which sprang from a strong desire to break free and pursue her own goals and dreams without the restrictions of marriage and motherhood.”
The medium continued that my mother told him she had felt hemmed in by marriage and even more trapped when she became pregnant. And this rather validated my feeling that I wasn’t a very welcome addition to the family unit.
Then came another bombshell. The medium said that my parents had considered divorce when I was in my ‘teens. Now this was something which really wasn’t something I thought about at all. But in my ‘teens my parents had suddenly asked me what I’d do if they got a divorce. I thought they were joking, laughed and said I’d bang their heads together. Nothing more was said and it just seemed a rather puzzling anomaly over the years. Then, through the medium, my mother said she’d stayed for me. I remember thinking rather forcefully that she wasn’t going to lumber me with that sort of guilt. And then the medium added that she’d been a bit more truthful and admitted it was for security too.
To say I was a bit shaken was an understatement. All my ideas of a loving couple went right out the window. And then my father came through, saying that he was lonely in the world of spirit, as lonely as he had been in life when all the people he had loved had never loved him. It sounds sad, but I remember thinking that a great deal of Dad’s problems had been entirely self-generated and self-inflicted, so I didn’t feel a whole lot of sympathy. The medium said Dad told him my mum had great bouts of explosive anger which she kept separate from me but directed at Dad. Dad told the medium that he was glad when Mum finally died (of lung cancer) as he thought his life would improve. But nothing had changed except for the worse. Finally the medium said he thought Dad was doing a life review.
I’m quite aware that cynics out there will be rolling their eyes and snorting about mediums and life after death, but the astounding thing for me was that the medium sought no information, provided me with details which confirmed a lot of what he transmitted to me and, in the final analysis, cleared up a lot of things which had puzzled me over the years but which hadn’t really bothered me enough to explore in greater detail. The unexpected information about my parents’ marriage came right out of left field and left me quite shaken and very surprised.
There’s another factor in my feeling on the outside in my mother’s and father’s relationship. Again in astrology, and without going into great boring detail, I have Pluto and Saturn very close together in Leo in the ninth house, which is to do with groups, societies, friends, and so on. These two planets cuddled up actually bring up a lot of hidden fears, suspicions and neuroses for me to do with gatherings of people, relationships, groups and so on. So I would bring these hidden fears into my relationship with my mother and father, particularly after my mother failed to offer me any consolation after the hiding I got from my father when I was young, which I mentioned in an earlier post.
I remember my mother saying once that she didn’t think I was emotional, but in fact I used to hide my emotions because of the dysfunctional relationship with my father. I didn’t allow one chink in my armour as I knew he would sense it and fire a few verbal bullets and arrows at me. In fact, I’m very emotional – I cry at the drop of a hat at sad movies; weep at war memorial ceremonies; mourn over animals affected by cruelty; get weepy at children in refugee camps and other images of cruelty. But I generally keep this to myself.
Actually, to be very honest, I sometimes think I must have seemed like the cuckoo in the nest to my parents. I can’t have been an easy child as I was quite secretive, withdrawn and quiet. I did have a few childhood friends but lost them when I was transferred to a Catholic convent when I was six while my friends stayed in a state school. And at the Convent I never made any good friends, having arrived much later than others in my year. The one girl I thought had been a good friend turned out to be otherwise when her sister told me she used to laugh at me – perhaps confirming again my fears about groups and friends.
What I do cherish, however, was what the medium passed on to me from my mother: “You are my delight and my reason for living.”
And that is finally “it”, the end, of this review of family relationships. I am thankful for the kidney infection which helped release all the stuff bottled up inside me and extend my grateful thanks to the terrific physician author of the blog post which, unknowingly, sparked all this off, Behind the White Coat.
As you know from an earlier post, it was reading about the long-term effects on your brain as a child in the Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) report which sparked off this current run of posts. I felt that the kidney infection I suddenly experienced was a physical way of shifting the shit I’d felt since childhood. I also felt – and still feel – that emotions are not as easy to release as some think.
It’s my view that adverse emotional responses get buried in the body’s emotional memories which the body then draws upon as a defence mechanism and is very reluctant to ditch. Of course, I can’t prove this but if you look at the number of people who have weight problems and who also have dysfunctional childhoods in one way or another, there’s something that goes on in the body which is so far unrecognised.
After all, if weight loss were simply a matter of less calories, more exercise, being overweight would be easy to achieve. But weight has many positive features for people – protection, comfort, solace, and so on. Food has many properties beyond simply filling your belly. It has emotional overtones, comfort qualities, helps squash down grief, anger, feelings of powerlessness and so on. And in a society where spirit and soul are drowned out by consumption, fast lives, constant social media addiction, stress and so on, it’s not surprising so many people are weighty
It’s why I’ve spent time researching my family background to understand where my own weight and alcohol problems come from. Apart from my father’s own alcoholism, I can remember him mentioning that his father had been a drunk, until the time he staggered home along the tram lines and realised, when he was sober, that he was lucky not to have been mown down by a tram. He took “the Pledge” which was a formal promise to stop drinking. Indeed he never took another drop of alcohol.
As for me, apart from the ancestral inheritance of alcoholism, the first time I saw an astrologer, she coughed gently, went a bit pink, and then said: “I hope you’re not offended by my asking this, but do you have drug problems?” I was quite startled, how did she know I had alcohol problems? I know now that the position of Neptune, in the first house and – in my case – is a classic sign for addiction problems of any kind.
Australia was a problem drinker’s delight when I first arrived here. Alcohol was freely available and cheap. Grog was pretty much evident at all social events. And my drinking took off like a rocket. It ricocheted around for quite a few decades until I broke my leg and ankle in Queensland in 1996 and gave it up. I remember talking to an alcohol and drug counsellor when Dad was in hospital who said that she knew I’d give up, but she could see Dad wouldn’t. And sure as eggs, he’d been out of hospital for about five weeks when he went back on the grog.
One of the puzzles in my life was solved when I saw a psychologist about my alcohol problems. He listened and then said something which really surprised me: “I think you lack self-confidence and have very low self-esteem”. Well, I had hidden all that under a veneer of confidence but his words hit home. It was another piece in my life puzzle, realising that my father had continually chipped away at my self-confidence which had led to bouts of depression, alcohol abuse and weight problems.
I decided when I began writing about my life that I would be absolutely honest and not present an airbrushed version of myself. So I haven’t stayed off the grog, but it comes and goes, so to speak, and I’m very careful and judicious if I feel like a drink .It simply doesn’t fill my life the way it used to. I have a highly productive, creative life and I won’t allow alcohol to spoil that in any way. I’ve come to understand my demons, I’ve been through the dark night of the soul when we were living in Queensland, I’ve overcome depression, lack of self-confidence and lost my abiding need for approval, something I never got from my father.
Writing out all my demons this week has helped me dig into depths I hadn’t realised existed and which I can now release since they’re out in the light of day.
I’m a digital artist – holding my art exhibition recently, Heart’n’Art, which was a retrospective of all my art from 1996-2014 (acrylic, mandala, vision board, digital art, shamanic art) gave me a huge lift as I saw all my creativity on the walls in front of me. I’m an abundant writer. I’ve learned to stop criticising myself. I have a wonderful, loving, kind husband. I have marvellous friends. And I have a daughter as my husband’s eldest daughter, Dee, has adopted me as her mum. So I’m also a grandmother and great-grandmother.
I think I’ve done okay!
Added to the heritage of domestic violence was the fact that, most of my life, Dad was a dry drunk who never dealt with his anger and resentment. There was a photo of my dad when I was a kid and he was stuffing around on the beach laughing. I often wondered what turned this laughing young man into the taciturn, grumpy, miserable man he became as he got older.
I never realised when I was young that Dad had an alcohol problem because we only had alcohol in the house at Christmas and everyone drank in moderation. Mum told me, when she was out on holiday in early 1975, that after getting sacked from his own company, Dad started drinking a bottle of whiskey a day, to the point where she was close to leaving him. I suppose things cleared up as they were still together when they came on holiday and remained together until Mum died in 1987.
But when we were living in Queensland Dad told me once that, when he was in the Navy, he heard some Wrens talking about a Petty Office who was a real drunk and realised they were talking about him. He told me it shook him so much he he’d never been drunk since, which was quite ironic as he’d already knocked back a few glasses of whiskey/brandy/rum or whatever he was drinking at the time, and his voice was already slurred in the late morning.
Once my mum died, Dad’s slide into rampant alcoholism accelerated. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I never went to see him in the afternoon as he’d be drunk as a skunk. If I phoned, his voice would be slurred and I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. In Queensland, his life became chaotic. His house was filthy, he’d sit in his chair and smoke, but flicked the ash to the ground so a thick layer of ash lay around on the carpet. How he never set fire to his place is beyond me. His kitchen floor was covered in ingrained grease and dirt. And he became more and more erratic.
Finally he blacked out early one morning, phoned us to tell us he’d called an ambulance and my husband, Bryan, drove to his house to give a helping hand.It turned out Dad had broken a couple of ribs and fractured a couple of vertebrae in his fall. When Dad entered the local hospital I told them Dad was an alcoholic, so they gave him small doses of alcohol each day to minimise withdrawal effects. Unfortunately, he got a chest infection, had to take antibiotics and so couldn’t have alcohol. He got the D.T.’s, kept falling out of bed, told me seriously about the possums that were climbing over a fellow patient’s bed, got violent and eventually was heavily medicated.
I won’t go into any more gory details, but one thing I do want to say. Alcoholics are charmers, don’t believe a word they say, concentrate on your own survival, don’t get dragged down into their dysfunctional lives. My father charmed everyone he met. He was full of promises about what he was going to do when he got out of hospital – fishing, gardening, etc., – and suckered everyone, including his social worker. If Bryan hadn’t been with me, knew the truth of how my father treated me and how he behaved, and supported me through all the chaos, I would have thought I was either going mad or already insane.
No-one believed me when I told him what life was like with my father and at one stage, when I was trying to sort out power of attorney, I was virtually accused of being after his money. He would sober up in hospital, a psychiatrist would see him and pronounce him fit, and out he’d come into mainstream life again to continue his boozing and aggro. Eventually he had several strokes which left him with virtually unintelligible speech and confined to a wheelchair. Luckily for him he was offered a place in a first-class nursing home with his own en-suite. He was able to have a small amount of alcohol each day but eventually got to weak to handle the grog.
We moved to the UK in 2002 for my sanity and my health and because Bryan wanted to be closer to his kids, stayed on the west coast when we returned to Australia in 2004 in order not to become embroiled in Dad’s affairs again, and finally moved to northern New South Wales when he entered a nursing home. When we got to the nursing home for the first time, the nurses told me he was eager to see me. And true to form, Dad was only eager because he wanted me to take him out of the nursing home and take care of him. By that stage, I had got the determination to say no, and to care for myself, something that had, in earlier years, been sadly lacking in me.
I got a phone call at 5am one morning to say that my father was likely dying as he’d had a turn for the worse. We lived about three hours from his nursing home and got there in time to say good-bye. I sat and gave Reiki to dad, finally kissing him on the cheek as I left. In my grief, I left my walking stick behind and Bryan went to get it. He said Dad opened his eyes as he walked in, Bryan said: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her”. And with that Dad closed his eyes and passed away a couple of hours later.
On the way north to Brisbane, we drove through great clouds of butterflies which an Aboriginal friend told me later was a sign of an easy passing. Dad had been terrified of dying but his eventual death was calm, peaceful and full of ease. I was glad for him that he was finally at peace and out of this mortal coil where he’d been so unhappy.
I remember the daughter of a friend shaking off her father when he went to hug her, and it was so hard to stand back and not say to her: “You are so lucky. Your dad loves you, he’s affectionate, he hugs you. Don’t whistle it down the wind”. I have met many, many people with wise, wonderful, kind, loving fathers and I simply want to let them know too how lucky they are. Treasure your father. Sort out any differences, if that’s possible, and remember that life is a lottery – you don’t know when someone is going to die, so make the best of ever loving moment you have with them. Count your blessings.
To those who are in dysfunctional family relationships, I simply say that you are worth more. Love and care for yourself because you have something unique to offer the world. Don’t let the miserable, the selfish, the violent, the jealous, the drug- or alcohol-addicted drag you down. Let them go. These days there is more openness and awareness of family problems. As I mentioned earlier, the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study has raised awareness of how challenges in childhood can have long-term effects. Surround yourself with loving, supportive people, whether friends or advisors or health/mental professionals, and build yourself a new family if you need to with friends of your own choosing.
Remember – shine your light. You are not the Pied Piper of the Universe. Let others work out how to shine their light and don’t let them dim yours.
There are two backdrops to the situation in my home as a child, teenager and adult. The first is the underlying effect of domestic violence in my mother’s family. I adored my maternal grandparents because I knew, when I stayed with them, I was loved unconditionally. I’d spend hours wandering on my own in the big garden, the fields beyond the garden, and the small copse just below the house beside us which was the last along the lane. This was Blackheath where a bit of paradise was tucked away down this lane and I used to step outside the back gate, listen to the wood pigeons cooing and feel absolutely happy in my solitude and among nature.
So it was a heck of a shock when my mum told me, when she was on holiday in Australia in early 1975, that my grandfather used to beat my grandmother when my mum, brother and sister were kids, as he was a sweet old man who spoiled me no end. Mum said the kids used to run when he was in a rage to get away from his violence but my grandmother copped it the worst. I guess they must have made their peace in their middle and old age as they seemed happy together as I was growing up.
My mum did think that my grandmother had intended shooting through to her mother in West Hartlepool, in the north-east of England, but changed her mind when mum said something to her – what it was is lost in the midst of time. But the effects passed down generations. My uncle beat my aunt and he also came close to beating my cousin so hard he could have inflicted serious injury had my father not stopped in. My aunt married a violent man – again there was some sort of violence between my aunt and uncle when they were staying with us, I remember the shouting and yelling, and again my father intervened with my aunt and uncle leaving the next day.
I guess my mother felt safe with my father as he didn’t indulge in physical violence. Instead he resorted to emotional abuse because if Mum crossed him in any way, he wouldn’t talk to her for a couple of weeks, just sent her to Coventry. I never realised this as they were good at keeping up a front at home, but she told me later when they’d emigrated to Australia in 1978 after I’d moved there in 1972.
As for me, Dad was a control freak as far as my whereabouts where concerned. I was kept close to home as a kid with curfews which earned me a big scolding if I came home a bit too late. Luckily Dad had no idea of how far I used to roam and the escapades I used to get up to once I was out of sight of our home. He used to try to steam roller me if I expressed opinions but, luckily for me, I found the courage to argue back. I know it’s made me very stubborn in my opinions, mainly because I felt so threatened by his overbearing behaviour. I’ve never handled bosses well either because anyone telling me what to do instantly puts my back up and I head out to do the opposite!
Dad was, to some extent, a psychic as he used to know what upset me and he’d go for my underbelly with his words. I remember once, after Mum had died, that he told me how she’d worried about my weight. It hurt me no end and I caught a look of malicious glee on Dad’s face as he knew he’d managed to stick the knife in and turn it. He’d praise other people around him knowing it hurt me that he never once had a good word for me. In all our life, he never hugged me or told he me loved me, and never gave me praise or approval. The only photo we ever had together was when he was finally in a nursing home, and the closest contact we had was when we had linked arms at my mother’s funeral and he squeezed my arm as her coffin began to roll behind the screen after the funeral service.
To all intents and purposes my childhood wasn’t that bad. I was born with pigeon toes (Mum said she knew something was wrong when everyone went quiet after I was born) and spent the first 18 months of my life in braces to force my bones to grow more straight. Now I tend to have duck feet with my toes pointing out!
I do know Mum said her milk didn’t come through properly, I screamed with hunger the first two days of my life, the nurses refused to believe my mother when she said I was starving, until finally they decided she was right, I was fed formula milk and stopped screaming. To this day I have an intense fear of starvation – my cupboards and fridge are always full which drives my husband stark, staring mad.
Even at a pretty young age, I was always aware that I had to be well-behaved. I can remember being in a department store once with mum talking to another woman and telling her I never played up because I knew I’d get a slap on the leg. I know even at that age – about 3, I think – I felt deeply resentful at being talked about as if I were invisible.
At this point I need to add that I’ve found out about myself since I studied astrology. I don’t want to go into huge detail because this isn’t an astrology blog, but what I did find out is that I have the planet Neptune in the first house which relates to me as an individual. It is incredibly close to my Ascendant, Libra, which is the constellation popping up over the horizon as I was born and which influences how I express myself with a Libran Sun.
In my e-book, Astro-Crystal-Mandala Healing (which I’ll shortly be re-publishing), I characterise Neptune thus:
General: Transcendence; illusion; inspiration; vision; dreaming; glitz; glamour; smoke and mirrors; enlightenment; submission; humility, ego, addictions – drugs, shopping, etc; mystical experience; subconsciousness; visions; ungroundedness; delusion; faith; trust; hope; hunches; supernatural; occult; creative artistry; idealism; philanthropy; selfishness; hoarding; bondage; freedom.
Body: Addictions; out of body; movement; dance; yoga; purposeful action; shapeshifting; directionless; lack of boundaries; healthy boundaries.
Mind: Inspiration; vision; artistic inspiration; procrastination; hypochondria, schizophrenia; insanity; delusion; wishful thinking; spiritual purpose & focus; emptiness as in Zen meditation; occult.
Emotion: Bliss; depression; euphoria; black mood; disillusionment; happiness; deception; fog.
Heart: Love; openness; embrace of all; fear; surrender to the Divine; sensitivity; resistance; separation; healing; release; sacrifice; identification with humanity as a whole; release of ego.
Spirit: Love; mystery; trust; faith; hope; surrender; submergence.
What it means in practice is that I am quite often off in la-la land, I daydream a lot, and am incredibly sensitive (although I’ve successfully hidden that over the years with brashness, cockiness and a forced self-confidence) and can sense what people are feeling under the surface. I used to go to meetings in Melbourne and come home feeling disoriented, sick and dog-tired because I never realised I was picking up on all the emotions swirling around – anger, fear, aggression, game-playing, and so on. If I do Tarot readings, I can also sense people’s emotions and I pretty much always go with my first impressions of people. If I over-ride uncomfortable feelings, I generally find I was right in the first place.
And what it meant within the family situation was that, sub-consciously, I was picking up on the hidden language and actions of my parents. I was aware of having to behave, to be under pressure to perform at school (at 9 I came fifth in my class instead of first and all hell broke loose, with lectures from parents and nuns at my convent, extra homework and added pressure to come first in the next lot of exams).
I felt like a spare part in the family, that mum and dad were there for each other, and I was not part of that inner relationship. I used to feel loved at birthdays and Christmases when I got presents and, yes, my parents went to a lot of trouble to get me some fantastic presents. It reassured me in December and September each year that all was okay and I had parental approval. Whether I had love, I wasn’t sure. My mum used to complain bitterly about how awful giving birth was and later, when I was a teenager, my father told me (as I mentioned in an earlier post) that he could have made something of himself if I hadn’t been around. But, as I pointed out to him, he and mum were responsible for my conception, not me, and I wasn’t going to take on board that thoroughly rotten comment.
Now I have to say that, for my family, I was very intelligent and fulfilling expectations of a working-class family to do well, particularly after World War 11 when many people had lost dreams and experienced difficult lives. I had the added pressure that my father had been very clever and had been denied the opportunity to go on to higher education due to his family’s poverty. On the other hand, it went without saying that, if Dad’s elder brother, John, the family favourite, had been as bright as my Dad, they would have found the money to fund his higher education.
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
At least, I think that’s the case. Because I was to realise in later life that my father was a liar, a first-class con man and he would rip off his closest friend if he could make money out of him or her.
The irony is that I went through my childhood with the label of “liar” hanging over me, and all over a storm in a teacup. When I was about four-and-a-half years old, I was talking to my friends at the window who asked me to come out to play. I told them I couldn’t but in talking to them through the window, I managed to pull down the lace curtain which used to cover the lower windows in those days.
Looking back, any normal child would have told their parents what had happened and the curtain would have been hung up again. But I was terrified because I’d done something wrong and tried to fix it myself. My father crept up on me, found what I was doing, gave me a hiding and I ran downstairs to our basement kitchen, bawling my eyes out and hiding under the kitchen table. My mother didn’t talk to me or console me in any way which was devastating.
I was so scared at my parents’ reaction that, when they asked who’d pulled the curtain down, I said it was my friend’s older sister, justifying in my child’s mind that the sister had been urging me to come outside and if she hadn’t, I would have not pulled the curtain down. My parents went storming down to my friend’s house to rant on about Jenny (and I expect my friend’s parents though my mum and dad had really over-reacted!), and it was only a week later I confessed that I’d been the culprit.
Now it’s likely that a more sturdy, outgoing child would have shrugged their shoulders over the kerfuffle and got on with their lives without worrying too much. But I was extremely sensitive, a lonely only child, and I bottled it up inside. Added to this, from that day on my father accused me of being a liar at the drop of a hat; threatened to put me over his knee and give me a hiding, again at the drop of a hat; and was extremely strict about where I went, when I went and what time I got home.
Finally, when I was about fourteen, as I mentioned in another post, when Dad threatened me with his usual words: “You’re not too old to put over my knee and give you a hiding” I stared back at him and told him that if he so much as touched me again I’d pack up, move out of the house and my parents would never see me again. He could see I meant it and, as bullies do when you stand up to them, never mentioned giving me a hiding again.
In my next post, I’ll be addressing the history of domestic violence in my mother’s family, and my father’s behaviour as a dry drunk.
A couple of weeks ago, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I ended up with blood in my urine and the sudden onset of a kidney infection.
Prior to this, I’d felt really lethargic, unmotivated, very tired and quite under the weather. Looking at this subsequently and how much better I feel now, I’m quite sure I was subconsciously processing some real crap about my relationship with my father and was getting ready to release it.
But when the kidney infection came out of the blue, at the time it seemed unconnected with my feelings of malaise and just one of those things – except that the day before I read something which seemed like a kick by a mule in my belly.
First I had to deal with the kidney infection which cleared up with antibiotics but then, as I was resting and recovering and still feeling very tired, I began to put two and two together.
I had started off reading a post on the blog Behind the White Coat which seemed interesting as it was about a woman who was trying to lose weight and failing lamentably. I was interested because, as soon as I say to myself I’m going to lose weight, I start gaining rather than losing. I have often felt like a human concertina – I’d lose weight then pile it on again BUT the one thing I did notice was that I was only slim or thin when I was living on my own. If I was living with my parents or in a relationship, the weight piled on again. The first time I really lost a lot of weight was when I was 20-21 and lived in Stuttgart, Germany, for six months as part of my university third year abroad. Everyone noticed when I went home at Christmas how much weight I’d lost and I had many complimentary comments when I returned to university in my final, fourth year.
In the post Behind the White Coat – Quagmire I read about ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and how people abused mentally, emotionally, physically or sexually are affected well into adulthood. The writer, a pretty decent physician (she must be good, I’ve had my fair share of lousy, judgmental practitioners and I don’t praise medicos lightly!) commented: “childhood trauma causes increased levels of stress hormones which in turn permanently change a child’s developing brain.”
Although I’ve written about childhood matters, this post was particularly disturbing for me because what I’ve done is brush lightly over how I was treated by my father throughout the whole of my life until rampant alcoholism and many strokes weakened him to the point where he was no longer able to terrorise me.
“Terrorise” sounds like a bit of an over-statement but I can remember, when I was about 55, my father suddenly shouted at me (he’d been on the booze) and I nearly wet myself. I was shocked by my reaction but after reading all the material on ACE and coming to understand that most of my life I was brainwashed into thinking my father was like the Pope, infallible, I’ve come to recognise that ripping down the myths of a life is hard, very emotional work. And most of the time in the past I’ve under-stated it or glossed over it because I’ve never liked exposing myself emotionally in public.
Another quote which resonated for me was this:
“Children with toxic stress live much of their lives in fight, flight or fright (freeze) mode. They respond to the world as a place of constant danger. With their brains overloaded with stress hormones and unable to function appropriately, they can’t focus on learning. They fall behind in school or fail to develop healthy relationships with peers or create problems with teachers and principals because they are unable to trust adults. Some kids do all three. With despair, guilt and frustration pecking away at their psyches, they often find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work and over-achievement. They don’t regard these coping methods as problems. Consciously or unconsciously, they use them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame.”
I wasn’t abused physically or sexually, but emotionally and mentally. I did okay at school, very well in fact, because I had the subconscious belief that, if I wasn’t successful at school, I’d be tossed out into the street. I lived my childhood on tenterhooks, feeling that I was always kept in the family structure on constant trial, anxious that if I didn’t do my very best I wasn’t acceptable and would be homeless. I was the classic over-achiever, still am (but interestingly since the kidney infection and recovery, I’m far more relaxed and willing to be more laid-back), and I can tell you – if anyone speaks sharply to me, I freeze, my mind goes blank and I stutter – STILL!
I suffered repeated bouts of depression. And I chose food, alcohol, tobacco (for a short time) and inappropriate sex as a result of the toxic stress of my childhood, and while I packed in smoking, and inappropriate sex when I met my husband 37 years ago, food and booze have been ongoing escape hatches to varying degrees.
In my next couple of posts I’m going to do my best to heave out all the crap and get it out of my system because I really don’t need to lug this around with me any more.
And I’m also doing so in the hope that if people read this who have been in my situation and find it helps them, then some good has come out of my writing and my experiences.