Many years ago, in the early 1970s when I was an organiser for the Australian Union of Students, I had to take a couple of Palestinian students around campuses in Western Australia to talk about the Palestinian position in the Middle East.
In one forum, a young guy yelled out that no-one would want to rape a Palestinian woman in response to a comment about rape. I walked over to him, grabbed him by both ears, yanked his head forward and said: “If you make a similar comment again, I’ll rip your fucking head off”. He shut up. I might point out that I would have had a similar reaction if such a comment had been made about a Jewish woman. I don’t like racism or anti-semitism.
The next day a group of Zionist students cornered me in my office – and I use the term “cornered” as they filled the room and blocked the exit. Their leader told me they were disgusted by my bad language (okay to talk about rape but not swear apparently which says a lot about their attitude to women) which no lady would use. I pointed out to them that I wasn’t a lady which really took the wind out of their sails, much to my surprise. One of them said: “I never though the day would come when I’d hear a woman say she wasn’t a lady” and then they all slunk out of the room.
I’m making this point because yesterday I read a comment of Paul Ryan’s that “women are to be championed and revered”. Really? What a load of old baloney. Women can stand on their own two feet, thank you very much, Paul. We don’t need to be revered. We’re quite capable of being our own champions.
We need to be regarded as equals, supported in our choices, in our dignity, in equal opportunity, in young women not having to fear sexual assault or rape and then find themselves victimised as a slut when the guys who have raped her are considered jocks who’ve got their whole future ahead of them.
Women don’t need such condescending shit from a man who still hasn’t withdrawn his support from Trump. Criticising this serial sex offender and withdrawing an invitation to this disgusting guy isn’t good enough, it’s having two bob each way. But then when you look at Ryan’s record, you find out what a hypocritical slug the man is when he talks of championing and revering women:
Putting women on a pedestal, calling them ladies is, for misogynists like Ryan, a way of controlling and infantalising women, taking away their power and spruiking their need to be dependent on men who will take care of them, as if women were pathetic little creatures unable to survive on their own. “Lady” is a control mechanism to ensure you wear the “right” clothes, don’t cuss, play little, let men think they’re wonderful when you pretend to be dim and powerless, and make you feel guilty if you cross the sacred line between “lady” and “woman”.
So Ryan can take his championship and reverence of women and stick them where the sun don’t shine. Because he’s a hypocrite, a coward too afraid to disown Trump and his sick rape culture, and an enemy of women’s rights and women’s independence. He’s a hypocritical piece of shit who deserves contempt and disdain from all women who have too much pride and self-esteem to be suckered by this moronic, misogynist creep.
When I was in my first year at university, I went out with a student from Nigeria, Debo was his name. He was a nice guy, I enjoyed his company but I was well aware that, when we had a coffee in Bradford, we were looked at askance as a white girl with a black bloke. My mum went off her rocker when she found out I was going out with a Nigerian, but my dad intervened and told me to go out with whom I liked as long as the guy was a nice person. Colour, he said, didn’t come into it and that’s been my mantra ever since. It’s not your colour, creed, sexuality, height, weight or whatever – it’s what’s in your heart that counts.
As it happened, I ditched Debo shortly afterwards, not because of his colour but because he started talking about marriage and that frightened the life out of me. I’d dumped another very nice guy just before I went to university because he too started banging on about marriage which sent me haring in the opposite direction. I regret not telling my Nigerian boyfriend why I dumped him without explanation but I was a naive kid who was a virgin, had no idea about contraception, worried about his invitation back to his flat and likely sex, so I just fled the scene, so to speak.
Knowing myself through astrology now, I realise it’s because I have a lot of Aquarian in me and I don’t like being tied down or doing conventional things. In fact, it took 27 years living with my partner before I finally felt comfortable getting to the altar!
But looking back, it’s made me very glad about the luck of the draw when I was came into this world: I was born white (conventional colour) in England (safe country) and had parents who supported me in my schooling and encouraged me to go to university. I didn’t – and don’t – face discrimination because of my colour, I don’t face persecution because of my religious choices (none, by the way, if you’re interested) and I don’t get hate mail because I’m happily heterosexually married. I don’t get the heck bombed out of my home and country because I – luckily – don’t happen to live in a Middle Eastern country with oil and other resources.
Which is a roundabout way of returning to my previous post about “Make Britain/America Great/Safe Again”. Because the unspoken call behind this phrase is also for far too many “Make Britain/America white again.” Oh, and don’t let’s forget – make it okay for us to wage more Vietnam and Iraq wars so we can live in comfort with the resources we’re ripped out of other countries and turn a blind eye to the carnage we left behind.
It’s the elephant in the room, the racism (and imperialist hankerings) which all too often is the underlying message of those who want their country to go back to times past when men were white men, women were white women, the picket fence ruled supreme, kids behaved and everything was wonderful in a past viewed with rose-coloured glasses. You didn’t have social media so you didn’t have to view the godawful scenes of bombing people overseas, seeing kids shredded, buildings flattened, lives shattered by foreign (US/British & European) invasions and interventions. I am, by the way, referring only to the US, Britain and Europe because I’m focusing on white societies hankering for the past.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a President of the US treated with us much contempt and disrespect as Barack Obama. The Republicans – who use dog-whistling on racism at the drop of a hat – made the decision to undermine Obama at every opportunity. Too many claim they don’t like the current president’s policies when the fundamental problem is racism – a black man is in the White House and we (white people) want our (White) House back.
It was actually brought home to me just how much society has changed – for my mind, for the better – when I was watching the British police series, George Gently. Set in the 1960s, it tackles the discrimination that used to exist against homosexuals, black people, single mothers and other social mores of the time. It’s always excellent but it’s a reminder that things in the past were okay if you were white, but not if you were black, Irish, Jewish, single mother, poor, unemployed and so on.
Same in the US. What is going to make America great again? Lynchings of black people? Separate facilities for black and white people? Jim Crow? Discrimination against Native Americans? Sexual harassment unchecked? No protection for rape victims? Women dying from backyard abortions due to limited abortion services? Date rape? No problems. Domestic violence? Ladies, just grin and bear it. Bashing and trying to smash unions and undermine workers’ collective solidarity? And so on and so on.
In Australia, when women married they had to quit public service jobs. The treatment of Aboriginal people was appalling (not much better now). Single mums were in deep doggy-doo. Domestic violence was a taboo subject and too many women had to grin and bear the abuse. Paedophilia in the Catholic Church (and elsewhere) was swept under the carpet. So yes, it was okay for white men and less so for white women. But definitely not too crash-hot if you were black, Asian, a new migrant, and so on and so on.
Quite frankly I get fed up with the Love the Past Tribes. Society is about change and you can’t go back, nor should we want to go back to a white-washed path. It smacks of fear and cowardice.
Cowering behind the white picket line is playing little.
Get on your feet.
Face the future with courage. Accept that the rest of the world is fed up with the interference of white Western nations. Let’s sort out our own backyards – stop wasting money on wars and armaments, feed the poor, provide decent housing, education and health, pay living wages so people can live with dignity, build good quality infrastructure, stand up for legal rights and respectful treatment of all people but particularly those facing discrimination – black, LGBT people, Jewish people, Asian people, Hispanic people, Islamic people.
Have the guts to open your heart to people who aren’t like you if you’re white and heterosexual – because mixing with people of different colour, race, sexuality or religion enriches your life, widens your horizons and opens you to the power of loving humanity as a whole not just one tiny part which happens to be white.
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.
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.
I wasn’t intending to continue on the theme of domestic violence in my family’s history except something happened which reminded me of how one can be affected not just by physical violence but by verbal pressures. I found myself freezing when someone said something sharply to me (who it was doesn’t matter, more how it affected me), and it reminded me of behavioural patterns from childhood which still affect me from time to time.
So I thought I’d carry on with how a dysfunctional relationship has affected me and how I’ve pretty much worked it out of my system. I’m writing this basically to encourage other women who might come across this blog and who are struggling with a dysfunctional relationship – whether in childhood, in the family right now or in a relationship – to get some understanding that they’re not on the same leaky boat alone.
I want to let them know that they are worth a damned sight more than anyone dragging them down or indulging in violence – whether physical or mental – against them, and to say to anyone who reads this and thinks they’re perhaps over-reacting: if you feel abused in any way, if you feel that someone is putting you down, if someone is bashing you or verbally abusing you, it is okay to acknowledge you may feel worthless and a heap of shit, but it’s also okay to feel angry, to experience hatred because it’s your experience, no-one else’s. No-one has the right to say that you are over-stating things, being sensitive or whatever. You have your feelings, you’re entitled to own your feelings and know they are fine.
The next step is to deal with your circumstances and work on clearing out crappy feelings – because those feelings affect only you, not the person who caused it. I want to tell you that I ran a group once with women who’d been sexually assaulted or suffered domestic violence or been the subject of hurtful behaviour and comments designed to smash their self-confidence. Each and every one of these brave, gutsy women had finally quit a situation that dragged down their spirits. They had regained their self-esteem, their self-confidence and rebuilt their lives. Some of them were in difficult financial circumstances but not one of them would go back to the hell of the past. They saw themselves not as survivors but as victors, because they had regained their spirit and their sense of self.
The quote in the title comes from one of those women. She had been through unimaginable difficulties but never gave up hope. Every time she was down, she told herself: “I am a fine woman”. I have never forgotten that and it’s been my mantra too and I’m pretrty sure it remains a mantra for other women in her group not only for her courage but her honesty in baring her soul to us.
Before we left Australia, we saw a programme on ABC TV which was based on the fact that many women who were the victims of domestic abuse in post-war Sydney got shot of their violent partners with thallium, a rat poison readily available in the corner stores in the city, although not available in other parts of the country.
About 100 deaths were attributed to these poisonings although the figure could have been higher. In most cases the women poisoning their partners were the victims of domestic violence and in those days there was no escape. To leave a marriage meant, for women, poverty and social ostracism. If you were getting beaten up, you had to put up with it and try to survive as best you could. Enter stage left thallium which was tasteless and highly effective at putting in food and knocking off your violent partner.
True not every woman who used the poison was the victim of domestic violence, but very many were and they were desperate.
Nowadays of course there is more knowledge of domestic violence, awareness of women’s refuges and far more support than there used to be. Nevertheless, many women continue to remain in violent relationships and all too often you see the comment: “Why don’t these women just get out of this situation. Just walk out or walk away.”
But it’s easier said than done, as victims will attest. There’s the shame factor of admitting publicly you’ve been bashed. Often there’s the very real fear of being homeless or facing the prospect of poverty. And all too often it’s because women have been brainwashed into thinking they deserve what they’re getting, that they don’t deserve any better and they’re basically a heap of worthless shit who should be happy they’ve got a man in their life, however violent.
If you’re wondering if I’ve been a victim of domestic violence myself, no, I haven’t, thank goodness. But going back to the history of domestic violence in my family and to the domineering attitude of my father, it came as a shock to me in my ‘fifties to realise how much I’d been brainwashed by my father over the years.
He used to say things with so much certainty that as a child I never queried whether his comments were truthful and correct or not. And this attitude continued into adulthood because it was one I’d grown up with and I had no reason not to trust what my father was saying. Also in my adult years I wasn’t around my father very much and, if I was, we used to argue like the clappers because I stood up to Dad when he said things I didn’t agree with or sneered at my views. Looking back now, I realise that my mum was the peacemaker between us and when she died, Dad and I were face to face in our relationship without an intervening presence.
In my ‘fifties I found out that something Dad had asserted was quite untrue and was in actual fact a piece of complete fiction. I found out other untruths and I began to query just what was real in the past and what wasn’t. I really have no idea now if the stories Dad told of his younger years were real or complete fiction. It’s a weird situation as you realise you’ve been so comprehensively brainwashed when you think you’re a perfectly functioning adult!
I also learned that, as well as being a liar, my father was always ready to rip off anyone, regardless of whether they were his friends or not. And he used money to try and control people, including myself. Facing up to who your father really was – and also seeing him when he was down and out as a raging alcoholic is very painful. We all would like the perfect father who loves us and approves of us, but for many of us it’s often it’s pie in the sky, particularly with older generations where fathers were often absent due to work requirements.
I don’t know about women who’ve been the subject of domestic violence, but I do know now that whenever someone speaks sharply or aggressively to me, I still freeze. My mind goes blank, I feel I’m in freefall, and it is really hard to get together the words to respond. Often I’ll simply reply shakily and quite weakly which really pisses me off no end when I look at how I could have replied further down the line. I’m working on this because it’s only with writing about my reaction that I’ve been able to pin the source down to the verbal batterings I used to get from my father.
In my next post I want to look at my relationship with money, because it too has been affected by my reaction to my father’s miserly approach to life and my fear of not being in the least like him. Once you start digging down into your family, its origins and how it affects you, it can seem like opening Pandora’s Box. But clearing out the box is the best way to get clear of shit which has been dragging you down, and standing tall in your own right and with confidence in yourself as “a fine woman”.
“The child is so much a part of the psychological atmosphere of the parents,” Jung writes, “that secret and unsolved problems between them can influence its health profoundly. The participation mystique … causes the child to feel the conflicts of the parents and to suffer from them as if they were its own. It is hardly ever the open conflict or the manifest difficulty that has such a poisonous effect, but almost always parental problems that have been kept hidden or allowed to become unconscious.”
I came across this quote from Jung as I got to the end of the last post on creativity. For me, family relationships are inextricably intertwined with the feelings of self-doubt, isolation and waverings in how I should express myself that have dogged me all my life, even now.
I know people say “Get over it”, but it’s my view that emotional imprints from childhood entwine themselves in your cellular memories. They are sometimes pushed down so far it’s a hell of a shock when the buggers suddenly jump out into the light of day, like the mad uncle at weddings everyone wishes would stay safely locked in the cellar so people don’t have to face the problem head on.
As I mentioned in the last post, I strove to be excellent academically because it seemed the safest way to receive approval from my parents. My father was a control freak and bully. Through my childhood and in my adult life, he always rode roughshod over my views and battered me with words. One of the most hurtful times was when he told me that, if I hadn’t been born, he could have made something of himself. To which I replied, very logically in my view: “Don’t blame me for being here, Dad, I wasn’t there when you and mum decided to screw and make a baby!”
I always had a sense of being on the outside of the family, with my mother focusing on my dad’s needs to keep him happy and me hanging around on the edges looking for the odd drops of approval. This was a poem I wrote after Mum died when I was working through a whole heap of inner pain and confusion which was bubbling up to the surface:
colours my life and
haunts my days like
a grey shroud hovering
into my body,
creeping into my stomach
tight with tension
bloated with hot angry
seething murmering writhing
caught within me like
rats trapped on a treadmill.
Memories emerge of life
on my own
at home, at school, at work:
a wall of silence surrounding
me as I beat against
its confines like a
seeing the light and warmth
of love and contact but doomed
to prison’s hellish walls.
My breath catches – tortured
lungs striving desperately to breathe
but clutched instead by cold terror
as the past rises before me
clamps to my back
and fiendishly melds with my body
like a deformed
chimpanzee squealing triumphantly
“you’re trapped in a
on the outside
It was actually a conversation with my mother when she was on holiday in Australia in 1975 that opened up vistas on the dynamics of my family life. Mum revealed that as a child she had witnessed domestic violence in her family, with my granddad beating my grandmother, and the kids running away when my granddad was in one of his violent moods.
It was a hell of a shock for me because my granddad was a lovely, kind, gentle soul when I knew him as a young kid. I supposed he’d mellowed over the years, I used to spend heaps of time with him when I was staying at my grandparent’s home as a child, and I absolutely adored him. You can’t know the ins and outs of relationships, only the people within them really know the nitty-gritty. I guess through the years he and my grandmother had reached some kind of peace.
But as I began to explore the dynamics of my own family, I began to realise how much the history of domestic violence had influenced past and present events in my parents’ life and my own life.
My parents had applied to emigrate to Australia after the war, had actually received approval and had started making arrangements for their voyage to the other side of the world. But my mother changed her mind at the last moment and we never made it Downunder.
I had often wondered why my mother changed her mind but, as often happens in families, no-one really went into details of why. After Mum had told me about her violent childhood, she said that as a young girl she remembered her mother talking of leaving the children and my granddad and returning to her parent’s home in West Hartlepool. Mum said something to her (I can’t remember what it was), but those words caused my grandmother to change her mind and stay. And so I wondered whether, when it came to crunch time after my parents’ application to emigrate to Australia, my mother stayed in England because she felt guilty about leaving her own mother who had stayed in a difficult marriage for the kids.
This is, of course, speculation. On the other hand, the ghost of domestic violence began to open doorways for me to understand the way in which my family unit operated emotionally. My father was very emotionally withdrawn. He never, ever, in my whole life, gave me a hug or touched me in a loving, caring way. The most I got from him was a peck on the cheek, except for the moment at my mother’s funeral – when my father and I were arm in arm for the first time – and he squeezed me arm as mum’s coffin began to roll away from sight on the way to her cremation after she died of lung cancer.
For the first time in 1975 Mum also referred to my father’s dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. For some reason my paternal grandfather decided to disown my father, we never understood why. But at his funeral, the whole family ignored my father including his mother, and when he came home he demolished a bottle of Scotch in one evening. Later on, when Dad had been stabbed in the back in regard to his business by so-called friends, he started drinking heavily, so much so that my mother had considered leaving him.
As well as this piece of gobsmacking news, on that holiday in 1975 my mother told me my dad would often not talk to her for days or weeks on end to punish her for something which had upset or annoyed him. It was an eye-opener for me as they’d managed to hide it from me. But I began to realise that marrying an emotionally distant man was the safe option for my mother who had seen physical violence as a child.
My aunt, my mother’s younger sister, married a physically abuse and mentally unstable man. I knew when I got older that my aunt’s husband had been jailed for selling contraband meat, but he wasn’t jailed for the selling part of it, he was jailed for attacking the arresting police officer with a rather large meat cleaver. I can remember as a young child that my aunt’s husband became violent when they were staying with us in Ramsgate, where my mother ran a guest house, my father had to intervene and they left early the next day. And as happened in those days, no mention was made again of the outbreak of domestic violence, there was silence as it was buried down in the cellar with all the other murky bits in my family’s dysfunctional relationships.
And my uncle himself, my mother’s brother, was moody and quite violent. He once started beating his eldest son, my cousin, until my father pulled him off fearing he’d kill his son. Again, while on holiday in Australia and staying with my parents in Busselton, down the coast from Perth in Western Australia, my aunt revealed that my uncle, my mother’s brother, had physically abused her in their marriage to the extent that she had also considered quitting the marriage but had decided to stay.
As for me, I hated displays of anger. I was never allowed to be angry as a young kid, there was a kind of taboo even though, because I was so sensitive, I could feel an undercurrent of anger and hidden aggression. But anger scared me which is why I couldn’t handle displays of anger, even though I had anger raging in me.
If I was upset I would withdraw emotionally, distance myself from the world, and brood over whatever had upset me. What drew me out of this, or rather hurtled me out of this, was my husband. In astrological terms, he has an overload of fire signs which means he can shout, stomp around and get any pissed-offness out of his system immediately and then it’s all over. It used to throw me for a loop when he first behaved like this because in our family we did not fire up and show emotion. And it used to get up Bryan’s nose no end that, instead of yelling back, I’d withdraw and, very much in the tradition of my father’s treatment of my mother, I’d stop talking to him. I’d emit silence from every pore of my being!
How have I overcome this? Well, over the years I’ve begun to understand this family pattern and work on releasing it. As I’ve studied astrology, I’ve also begun to understand that when my husband fires up and fires off, it’s his way of dealing with stress and tension. It’s also a far healthier way of dealing with life by getting lousy feelings out of his system than my way of bottling it all up inside of me.
The first time I yelled back at my husband was brilliant. I felt powerful, energised and – best of all – once I’d done my lolly, I felt I’d got my frustrations out of my system. I grinned at Bryan and then, when he said: “Well, how does that feel? Told you you’d feel a lot better!”, started laughing my head off. I’m quite sure that if people could peer in the windows of our apartment and see some of the times when we now go head-to-head, they’d be quite taken aback. Because when we’ve got crap out of our system, we both start laughing at each other and feeling pretty damned good about how we get along. And I guess after thirty-six years of staggering through life together, something must be working okay.