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.
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.
I’ve had a long break from writing because I’ve been hit with a rather bad dose of sciatic pain which has meant sleepless nights and some discombobulated days as a result. A while back I went to an all-day workshop with quite uncomfortable chairs and the result was that health-wise it really knocked me sideways.
However, in the intervening period I had an experience which I found provided rather a good lesson in coping with fibromyalgia and its effects.
I learned to say no!
Aha! Perhaps that’s one of the big lessons when we get fibromyalgia – learning to tune into our bodies, listen to what all our cells and bits of pieces tucked away under our skin feel like, and acting in harmony with our body rather than trying to run out lives strictly from our heads. And finding the inner strength to say “no” when we need to look after ourselves and not put everyone else first.
Okay, it’s a bit simplistic, I admit, as fibromyalgia is multi-faceted, acts differently in each individual and really is quite hard to pin down in terms of specific healing aspects. It seems to vary from person to person. But I was looking at a blog recently, written by a fibro sufferer, and it was like looking at myself many years ago: angry, furious at my body letting me down, straining against the bit to get active again, still over-doing things, railing against the world, refusing to listen to my body and to its message
I felt exhausted reading the blog and realised how far I’d come in working out how to co-exist with what I now consider a learning tool for my body.
I also created this piece of digital art to illustrate what fibromyalgia feels like: the blackness when you feel despair; the flashes of light which represent the chaos of this health challenge because you never know what it’s going to dish up next; the red which signifies the pain; the green which represents the peace you can sometimes feel with fibro; and the blue to signify the need to tune into your body and communicate with it. Because, as I said in my last post, trying to push through fibro is pretty damned useless, all that will happen is that you’ll be flat on your back and probably worse off than before.
All these things of course I’ve learned over 15-odd years of living with fibromyalgia. Nevertheless, I still get tempted into trying to do more than I can. A while back, I was asked to take part in a mind, body, spirit show in Kyrenia. The idea was to take my computer and printer along, create individual artwork for visitors, and do readings. I quite fancied doing this, but deep down I knew really it’s beyond me physically. Nevertheless, I’ve been pummeling my brain to get the pieces together – to be able to travel to the exhibition and set up, cope with leaving the four dogs alone for a long time in case they make a noise and upset the neighbours, worrying about whether we could handle the financial costs, and whether this was an appropriate step for me.
Truth to tell, as I said above, I knew deep within that I should say no. But I’m a Libran, I hate saying no when people ask me to do something. And if I’m really honest, the good old ego preened itself at being asked to take part and at the idea of going and creating art.
In the end, I decided to do a Tarot reading for myself. The spread was follows:
This reflected the fact that I felt a deep unease about taking part in the exhibition, that there were underlying features I felt were hidden, and I felt some sort of deception but was uncertain what it involved. In the event, I showed the card to my husband – he who scorns the Tarot – who said immediately: “You’re deceiving yourself about your ability to take part”. Ho-ho, spot on!
The next question: What would be the result of taking part? A: Five of Coins
Hmmm, pretty hard to read this one, eh? Difficulties, poverty, and ill-health.
Now the cynical among you may think the Tarot is a heap of old cobblers but – hang on! I repeated this reading three times, shuffling the cards each time, and waddyaknow? the same cards came out every time!
Message received, loud and clear. Don’t take part. Say no. Which I did and it was very hard. It was, however, made all the easier because I had a terrible night with sciatic pain, the day before I had to make a final decision, as if my body was waging guerilla warfare against my taking part in the expo. But having made the decision, I felt like a load had gone from my shoulders, I felt profoundly I’d made the right decision, and my body felt all the lighter and more cheerful for it.
So to wind up, the next day I drew another card: what is the result of my decision not to take part in the exhibition? And the result: The Wheel of Fortune. This is one of the very positive cards in the Tarot pack, and it’s part of the Major Arcana which signifies times of great significance or importance in your life. It means a fortunate turn in circumstances which I think was a great confirmation I’d made the right decision.
I don’t know the ins and outs of people who have fibromyalgia as I do. My own experience has been, however, that I have had to slow down. I cannot take life at top speed as I used to. I have to tune into my body to see what’s going on from day to day.
I appreciate people who kindly offer supportive advice – whether it’s nutritional or to suggest certain therapies. I do know I get fed up with people who make instant diagnoses of fibro, how you can get better and what the underlying causes are. It’s particularly difficult when you get someone into metaphysical analysis of illness who tell you all about your wrong thinking, your crappy attitude and how, if you think the right way, the fibro will disappear overnight.
I happen to know my own body now, I have tried various therapies which have improved my health and helped me cope better. Considering what I was like in Boonah, I am heaps better. But I know my own body, I know what it can and can’t handle, I happen to think illness and disease are very complex and sometimes they’re a mystery which can be frustrating as we live in a scientific society which wants logical answers and cures.
For me, most importantly, you need to decide what brings heart and soul into your life and live your life with passion. Passion doesn’t necessarily mean running around doing lots of things or being hyper-active. It means working out what really makes you happy in life, what creates ease for your body rather than disease, and what really lifts your heart rather than drags you down. And, of course, only you know the answer.
Nor does the answer drop into your hot little hands like manna from heaven. It takes time to work it all out and it’s why I’m really rather grateful to the Fibro Follies because working through all the challenges has finally led me to focus on digital art and the immense creative pleasure it brings my own heart and soul.
I make the above point about lessons taking a long time to learn because back in Boonah, I found it very, very hard not to be running around like a cut snake doing the things I loved: teaching, working with crystals, going to health expos or taking part in markets. And, of course, there was the huge question mark of my father living beside us even though I had no direct contact with him. I did have feedback via the terrific social worker who was helping Dad. But even so, he suckered her like he suckered so many people and it was hard to sit back and stay detached.
Finally we came to the conclusion that our time in Boonah was over. Bryan wanted to be closer to his family and I wanted to get away from Dad’s alcoholic antics. So we decided to return to the UK. I rang Dad’s social worker and told her what we’d decided. She told Dad we were thinking of returning to the UK and his response was: “They’re not going anywhere. They’re waiting for me to die to get my money”. So then she had to tell him we weren’t thinking about it, we had decided.
I think it must have been a hell of a shock for Dad as I’d always, in one way or another, been there for him. So one day I saw him on his verandah and half-waved, whereupon he waved back and obviously wanted some contact. So at Easter 2002, I went up to see him, the door was open but I refused to enter until he specifically invited me in. And when I’d sat down, my father was polite, respectful and obviously pleased to be back in contact.
Nevertheless, I refused to put my life on hold for my father as he was still boozing like the clappers, his house was filthy and he still was leading a chaotic lifestyle. So we put the house up for sale. It took a while but when it did sell, it was as if everything fell into place as the buyers were really pleasant and helpful. We sold for cash all the antique furniture I’d inherited from Dad when Mum died. This paid for the air fares to Perth and then to Manchester, in the north of England where Bryan’s relatives lived.
Leaving my father on his own was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It really broke my heart when we got up early in the morning we left and drove away. I couldn’t look at my dad’s house or our house and, when the jet took off from Brisbane Airport, I just cried my eyes out.
We flew back to Perth with Rosie and to spend time with our friends before leaving Australia for what we thought would be the last time. We kennelled Rosie just before we flew to Manchester as she had a week or so to wait for a flight back to the UK.
And on October 12th,2002, just after the Bali bombings, we walked down the gangway onto our flight to Manchester. As we walked towards the plane, I felt another great surge of grief and guilt that I was leaving my father on his own and saying goodbye to such good friends, and burst into tears. Bryan hugged me and said he’d be wondering when it would hit me. So as we taxied down the runway for our new life in the UK, my last view of Australia was blurred with tears, a hazy view very reminiscent of the view of Australia on the horizon as the cruise ship on which I arrived in this beloved country in 1972 sailed ever closer to Fremantle, the port of Perth in Western Australia.
Back again at long last. I’ve got myself up to date, had a fairly good rest and given some thought to how I want to approach my book as blog. Frankly, I don’t just want to write about my life because I don’t think it’s that important, I’d like to talk about the lessons I’ve learned along the way in the hope it’ll help others.
For example, the interesting thing I noticed when I was dealing with my father’s alcoholism in Boonah was how many people approached me for readings with similar problems. The reality is that, if someone has an addiction problem, there’s nothing you can do until they decide to take action themselves. However, saying that and doing it are two different things when you love people. That’s what happened with my relationship with my father.
In case you’re wondering, I decided to start on this subject with fibromyalgia, because I’ve lived with it for nigh-on fifteen years now and, while I’ve had my little break from writing, I have had heaps of material about fibro drop in my life or come across many people going through the challenges of fibro like myself. It turned up in my life at a time when I was being hyper-active and also trying to cope with my father’s alcoholism. So I thought I’d look at that period in my life and how fibromyalgia had made its presence felt.
The fly in the ointment of our improved life in Boonah, if I can put it like that, was my father’s descent into rampant alcoholism and a chaotic life. He had finally bought a home in a village close to Boonah and we used to visit once or twice a week while Dad dropped in. His personal situation deteriorated as his drinking increased. He would start the day with a shot of brandy/whisky/rum and things would go downhill from there. We would go over to see him in the mornings as he would be reasonably sober, but never in the afternoons as he would be aggressive and very unpleasant.
Dad was manipulating, conniving, sly, aggressive and getting to be as mad as a March hare. So things got even more stressful as Dad’s alcoholism got worse and worse, something I hadn’t believed was possible but, yes, it was. His house was filthy and shambolic, and his life was beginning to generate into chaos. I simply didn’t know how to handle it but felt the need to stay in touch.
Many people asked me why I hung around for my father, and still do, for that matter. Firstly, our family had a history of being cut off from each other. I’d lost touch with my mother’s side of my family after her death. But when we lived in Canterbury my grandfather suddenly decided to disown Dad, and his whole family – mother, sister and other relatives – followed suit. We never quite knew why but I felt like I didn’t want to continue this sort of action. The cutting off pattern need to, well, be cut off!
I also know that Dad had not been treated kindly as a kid. He had been the middle child and the overlooked one. His elder brother, John, was the favourite, and his younger sister, Patricia, was also a favoured child. I remember Dad remarking to me once: “My parents used to say: ‘Here’s John, our eldest son, and here’s Tricia, our daughter. Oh, and this is Richard”. There was a pause, and then he remarked sadly: “No-one should treat their child like that.” Dad was very intelligent, was offered the opportunity to go on to higher education but my grandparents decided they couldn’t afford it. The unspoken knowledge was always that that, had it been the eldest son, there’s no doubt they would have found the ways and means because he was St John, even after his death in World War 11.
I’ll take the time here too to remind people that, when you have kids, they are all gifts into your life. Treating them equally and loving them equally, if you have more than one kid, is the best gift you can give them. Making a child feel that they are considered less by you is no way to treat a child and it’s no wonder that, when kids find themselves in that sort of situation in their family, they can end up quite damaged.
I could feel Dad’s pain and knew he’d been deeply hurt as a child. From the stories of his childhood, when his parents were dirt poor in the Depression, I knew that he had tried desperately to ingratiate himself with his family and it hadn’t worked. He was always the outsider. Mind you, I have to be honest, he was a cantankerous, bitter man and difficult to get on with, so it wasn’t always on the part of his parents. You can learn from childhood challenges and live from the higher aspect of your being, or you can choose to live with the negative. I also stayed in touch and felt the need to be there for my father as he had nursed my mother at home as she was dying of lung cancer. He did a brilliant job to ensure she could die in her own home and not in hospital surroundings. So I figured he had some good karma from that and I owed him some for his care of Mum in her last days.
There was additional stress too as Bryan didn’t really go a bundle on my sudden leap into the metaphysical realms. He’s very logical and down-to-earth, plus he was pining to return to the UK to be closer to his family. I had one very serious bout of bronchitis again, and I know exactly the emotional circumstances which triggered it off although I don’t want to go into details here. But I began to feel desperately tired and lethargic. I never really recovered full health after my accident when I broke my leg and ankle, and having a raging infection when I went into hospital probably didn’t help either.
I know exactly when I realised something was seriously amiss. I walked out of a shopping centre we used to visit close to Ipswich on a very hot day and as I emerged through the doors, I felt enormous pain in my hips and a wave of exhaustion swept over me. I don’t know how I got to the car, I found the only way I could move forward was to swing my hips from side to side to get my legs to move forward too.
I started getting great itchy lumps on my arms in the middle of the night. I began to spend many a long night sitting up with ice on my arms as it was the only thing which seemed to reduce the itching and swelling. At first I tried tea-tree oil and then lavender essential oil but all that happened was that the welt on one arm exploded and started spreading like wildfire up to my shoulder.
I was terrified as I had no idea what was happening. The itchy welts started spreading, on my upper thighs, belly and back. They’d flare up, die down then re-appear elsewhere. The trouble was that the local doctor in a rural community is always busy so that, by the time I could get an appointment, the welts had died down and couldn’t be identified. As well the fatigue got worse and worse. I remember once that I was on the way to a workshop in a rural area on a very hot day and stopped to get petrol. I felt as if someone had opened a valve in my solar plexus so that all the energy had drained out. To get to the office to pay for the petrol was an extreme effort on my part. I managed to drive to the venue, run the workshop but pretty much collapsed of heat exhaustion on the way home. I had to call out ambulance officers who managed to calm me down, rehydrated me and reassure me that my pounding heart was due to palpitations and the heat, not a heart attack.
Eventually I had to stop work. I could hardly get out of bed and was forced to lie on the sofa most of
the day, feeling I had fog in my head so that I couldn’t think straight. I did see one doctor who was an absolute joke and a disgrace to the medical profession as he virtually told me I was lying and that, just by looking at me, that he could tell I could go and get a job if I wanted as a supermarket assistant or in a petrol forecourt. This, mind you, was after my telling him I couldn’t even walk the short distance to the hospital and had had to drive. I finally got a referral to a rheumatologist in Ipswich who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia.
I had never heard of this, and I suppose I was rather laid-back, thinking it was going to pass over quite quickly. I’m a glass half-full type of person and in the same way I thought Bryan’s Ross River virus episode would waft over him and gently fade away. Only it didn’t. And neither did the fibromyalgia for me. As I said earlier, I still have it nearly fifteen years down the track.
At first, I tried to bluff my way through it. I kept going in the belief that, if there’s a brick wall, you smash your way through it. I tried this many times and found that the only thing that happened was that the wall didn’t break and I bounced off it to end flat on my back. Each time I’d be back to square one with absolute exhaustion, fog in my head and feeling seriously depressed as if the end of the world was going to turn up the next day. Eventually I learned that the best thing was not to try to beat my body into submission because it had a mind of its own. I had to slow right down and do only half of what I thought I could do. And if I had good days I had to learn not to go bonkers and run all over the place, but to take things easy and conserve my energy.
I had to give up trying to work as the fibromyalgia was very painful and the big, blotchy, itchy spots used to erupt whenever I got a bit tired. The exhaustion used to leave me back at square one: lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and enveloped in brain fog (one of fibro’s symptoms). I’d get bouts of depression I know call “The Glums” but I learned to accept the old saying: “This too will pass” and know that I’d need to be patient until I’d wake up one day and wonder why I’d felt so down in the dumps.
Coping with Dad in the house next door was hard too. In hospital he’d been Mr Charming, conning people into believing he would take up gardening and go fishing. But from long experience I knew this was “Gunnadoo” and was never done. It was all in Dad’s head as he’d lost whatever get up and go he’d ever had.
While he was in hospital, Bryan had cleaned his house, tidied up the garden area, and packed and moved all his gear into our downstairs area to keep it safe. The house was absolutely filthy: the lamps we thought were amber were in fact clear but they’d been coated in dust and cigarette smoke; the carpet was so dusty and filled with cigarette ash as Dad just flicked his ash on the carpet when he smoked that it too changed from dark brown to a quite pleasant colour underneath; he kitchen floor was coated in thick grease and dirt which Bryan had to clean on his hands and knees for two days.
The same filthy habits continued in the rented house next door. Dad would simply flick his cigarette ash on the floor, the fridge was filled with food going off, and the plants kindly provided by a hospital worker withered and died. The drinking had resumed, the black moods were back, and I was a nervous wreck with high blood pressure and attacks of heart palpitations.
One night we could see that something was going on in Dad’s house as the curtains kept moving, lights going on and off, and bangs and crashes sounding. In the end I went up, got entry through the side door and found Dad in his underpants rolling around on the floor blind drunk. I can tell you, to see the father you used to love and respect in such a degraded state was really, really hard. I was terribly upset and scared he’d hurt himself.
He shouted for us to lift him but we refused as he was too heavy. We called the ambulance service but Dad was crafty, he knew that if he was on the floor they could take him to hospital but if he was upright, they couldn’t touch him. So he pulled himself into a chair by the time they turned up, sat there smoking a cigarette smugly, and refusing to go to bed to put my mind at rest. The ambulance officers were great as I apologised for calling them out but they reassured me that it was fine, it would go on the records and anyway they were already acquainted with him so he had a history of drunken behaviour.
Their prior knowledge of Dad came when they helped remove his from his home when the hospital had taken him there to assess his ability to live independently. I told them they were making a huge mistake but it seemed to me that no-one believes relatives. Dad got to the house, staggered inside, lurched around the empty place and refused to come out. He was there for most of the day, Bryan stayed to keep an eye on him and told me to go home for my health’s sake.
It got to the stage where we were looking at the police arresting him and taking him to a psychiatric institution. We decided to call the ambulance service to see if they could help and they were brilliant. They spent ages with Dad, talking to him and calming him down, and finally convincing him to return to the hospital. I thought, and still do think, that they are miracle workers and angels!
After the rolling around on the floor episode, though, Bryan sat me down and told me I had to look after myself and let Dad live the consequences of his own behaviour. He could con people with his charm, and sound quite normal when he was sober, so that I felt people were looking at me as the Wicked Daughter as I tried to explain what his alcoholic existence was like. Bryan knew how Dad treated me and what the real situation was like with this aggressive, bullying drunk, and it helped me retain my sanity when people seemed to believe Dad’s bullshit.
But I realised Bryan was right, something had snapped the previous night as I’d begged and pleaded with him to go to bed and he’d sat there smoking looking smug and so very pleased with himself. I acknowledged I was getting sick as I tried to maintain a relationship with this dysfunctional man. And so I decided to cut off contact altogether. It was quite weird living next door to my father and not having any contact. On the other hand, it was a huge relief as I started taking care of myself and, as I did so, my blood pressure dropped and my scary palpitation episodes died down too.
In my next post, I’ll be looking at our decision to return to the UK but also dishing up some ideas about fibromyalgia, how I’ve coped and what I’ve learned from this unlovely visitor to my body.
Prior to really tuning into dreams in Boonah, I had two I remember while living in Perth, Western Australia. In the first, on the night before my mother’s funeral, I saw her on a carousel which was gently turning and bathed in golden light. I said to her: “You really are dead, Mum, aren’t you?” And she nodded and the scene went black. In the second dream, one I’ve described already, I saw my little dog, Chloe, the night after she was hit by a bus and killed, walking away away from me in the same golden light. As she turned to look at me, a voice said: “She came to teach you unconditional love. Now her job is done, it’s time for her to move on.” Chloe gave me a compassionate, loving look then turned and kept walking away. Eventually, everything went black again.
The golden light in dreams, I’ve found from experience over the years, means the dream has a spiritual meaning for me. In my mother’s case, not only did I confirm that she was dead, but her death opened the way for me to start looking at childhood stuff, healing in a very fundamental way, and looking at my relationship with my father, as Mum had been the peacemaker between us. In the second dream, Chloe’s death opened me up to the idea of moving from Western Australia, taking a course in Reiki and opening up to my psychic abilities.
When I had the dream about the bull I described in my last post, the kitchen was in golden light, and it opened up my inner wisdom to understand the self-centred motivation behind my father offering us what looked like a good deal on building our house next to him but which was really intended for him to control us. And I can tell you, when I told him we wouldn’t be taking him up on his offer, his face went thunderous and he started swinging his foot and banging the floor, always a sign of dad in a rage. I scarpered for my own safety and well-being.
When I had a continued infection after breaking my leg and ankle, and had a dream of two herbalists in a cottage asking me in, and I had hit the peak of the hill and was on the way down, the two women were in a golden light. It symbolised the herbal healing I received from Yvonne and her herbalist friend which set me on the path to recovery.
Other dreams have been incredibly helpful to me. I had another predictive dream about my father: that he collapsed outside his toilet, was taken to hospital and my mother appeared to tell me she would take care of him and I needed to make my own life. A week or so later, my father, by then a raging alcoholic, had a black-out by the toilet and fell badly. He had to call the ambulance and had a broken rib and fractured vertebrae. I told the hospital staff he was an alcoholic and they kept him on small doses of alcohol to minimise withdrawal symptoms.
Dad ended up in hospital for a long time and wasn’t allowed to go back to his home due to him having suffered several minor strokes and having falls. We stupidly felt sorry for him and got him into a rental beside us where he lasted a very short time before he was back on the booze, took himself off all the medication he’d been taken and re-emerged as malevolent and dysfunctional as ever.
It was then I had another dream where a friend told me about a run-down farmhouse that had burned out in town and slightly uphill. When I found the scene, it was surrounded by emergency workers who were handling the situation and I had to leave it to them. I was puzzled by this and talked it over with another friend who suggested, since it was just after the Twin Towers tragedy that I was worried about a bombing in our town. Well, with the best will in the world I couldn’t image Al-Qaeda or its affiliates bothering to bomb a small town in the hinterland of Queensland, and it just didn’t feel right. As it was, when I got home I looked up at Dad’s house, slightly uphill from ours and beginning to look like a rubbish tip, and realised it was about him. Sure enough, he self-destructed a short while later and the social workers took over. I retired from the lists, stopped contact with Dad due to my own stress and ill-health from his shenanigans, and began to rebuild my own health and well-being.
I also came across in interesting technique in dreams which are unfinished. I had a dream that Bryan was in our old house up Mt French and a huge, black tornado was heading towards him. I tried to phone him but he wasn’t answering and I was frightened for him. I got woken up before the end of the dream but had that horrible, muggy feeling which meant it had some emotional meaning for me which I needed to understand. So I did some stooging around and came across the idea of relaxing, going into a sort of trance, revisiting the dream and asking for an ending. Well, it was quite unexpected. The dream was about me and the huge storm was heading my way. I was again puzzled by this but it was quite true – within a few weeks I was quite sick, no energy, lying on the sofa looking at the ceiling all day, fog in my head, intense pain in my back and hips and…..I found out later down the line that I’d copped fibromyalgia, another of Boonah’s horror stories!
I have had heaps of dreams since then which have helped me enormously, from understanding day-to-day problems to situations of a spiritual nature. I’ve found that if I concentrate on and pay attention to dreams, my inner wisdom or spiritual guidance will happily respond and send me some intriguing postcards from within – some easy to understand, some difficult to work with but rewarding in the end. And if you return to them further down the line, you may well find that there are deeper layers to a dream you might not have realised the first time you worked with it.
In my next post, I’ll explain some ways to work with dreams and also add in some great blogs about dreams and books which I’ve found helpful. If you have any questions, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help with your queries.