This piece of digital art was created from a close-up of the patterns on one of my turquoise pendants. It illustrates the power of water, the hidden energy and its importance in sustaining life on this planet.
I created this image as part of standing in solidarity today with those protestors at Standing Rock, Dakota, defending sacred land and clean water from the pollution of an oil pipeline through their wildlands.
I also wore a dress of green and black – green for the lushness of the earth, black for the dirt beneath the sacred land – as well as a larimar pendant (larimar is associated with water energy) and a light green turquoise pendant, again to represent the green of the land.
I also created an energy mandala with a base of a turquoise scarf for water; a green vase (again for water) filled with small stones from river beds and topped with rose petals and heart shapes for the love and support people around the world are sending the Sioux people defending their sacred territory.
In front of the green vase is a rain stick to invoke rain and cleansing of the area; in the centre is a Cave Pearl, formed when calcite drops onto the surface of water in caves and then drops to the bottom of the water as the calcite deposits form an ever heavier ball (these cave pearls are collected by Native Americans under licence). Behind the Cave Pearl is a crystal of chrysocolla, for me the rock of the goddess Aphrodite who rose from the sea south of the island of Cyprus where I live.
The Cave Pearl is standing on a photo of a bison to celebrate and acknowledge the sudden and unexpected arrival of a herd of bison at Standing Rock. On the left corner is a Peruvian turquoise stone with the rune marking Kano, representing opening/new opportunities; on the right-hand corner is a fossilised whale inner ear bone to represent the energies of the seas from time immemorial to time immemorial.
At each side of the cave pearl are rune stones, collected from a magical cove on the north-east coast of Scotland and full of Fae energy. I painted the runes myself and on the left, top to bottom, are: Uruz for strength; Peorth for initiation, the unknown; Algiz for protection. on the right are: Kano, for opening, opportunity; Dagaz for breakthrough, and Teiwaz, warrior.
I also created an additional image for the energy mandala, it felt like it represented the undercurrents of what is happening, and the magic supporting the protestors, even if it isn’t immediately visible.
Halloween is the modern-day, commercial version of the ancient ritual of Samhain. It’s a pagan festival celebrating the end of autumn and the beginning of winter, the dark season.
But it’s also a time of the year when the veil between the living and our ancestors is believed to be thinnest.
So this year, on 30th October, the day before Samhain, I feel drawn to honour the call to join a world-wide vigil – of the living and our ancestral beings – for those at Standing Rock in America who are defending ancestral land from the laying of the Dakota Access Pipeline, being constructed by Dakota Access and Energy Transfer Partners.
These fields in central North Dakota are where the pipeline would cross the longest river in the United States—the Missouri River—putting drinking water at risk for millions of people and desecrating sacred indigenous land.
Appalling state-sanctioned violence has been unleashed against Native Americans seeking to protect their sacred land from the installation of the pipeline, which was was redirected from an area where it was most likely to impact white people and inflicted on Lakota land guaranteed to the Native Americans of that area under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.
The people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation are often called Sioux. They are the members of the Dakota and Lakota Nations.
This violence against Native American protestors and their supporters engaged in peaceful protest is a continuation of the violent suppression of Native Americans since the first white invasion in the 1600s.
It stands in stark contract to kid glove treatment meted out to the armed thugs who carried out an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days and who recently were acquitted at trial, patently because they were white and right-wing reactionaries.
As the commentator Robert Reich put it: “On the same day that a jury acquitted the Bundy brothers and their fellow protesters for taking over federal land in Oregon last January, police in North Dakota today used pepper spray gas and a painful high-pitched siren, and then arrested 117 Native Americans and others for protesting a private oil pipeline across land they say belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe under a 19th-century treaty. In other words, it’s fine to mount an armed insurrection so your cattle can graze for free on federal land, but not if you want to protect your sacred burial ground or your only source of water from a private for-profit oil pipeline company.”
I think what is absolutely brilliant is the arrival of a herd of bison out of nowhere, a message of support from Mother Nature, which reinforces the traditional hold the Lakota have on their land:
On the same day that a jury acquitted the Bundy brothers and their fellow protesters for taking over federal land in Oregon last January, police in North Dakota used pepper spray gas and a painful high-pitched siren, and then arrested 117 Native Americans and others for protesting a private oil pipeline across land they say belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe under a 19th-century treaty. The people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation are often called Sioux. They are the members of the Dakota and Lakota Nations.
I’ve put in links below to add more details on events at Standing Rock, but I hope that the widest possible support is extended planet-wide for Native Americans standing up for their rights, because the violence perpetrated against them is the same violence which is perpetrated against any individuals or groups who stand up to the forces of the Establishment for the rights of the ordinary people.
Those of you who don’t live in the UK might not have heard of Nigel Farage. Lucky you!
Farage was and maybe still is the leader of the UK Independence Party, dedicated to taking Britain back to the good old days, when men were men and women knew their place – barefoot and pregnant.
Nige is Yesterday’s Man – one who wants to turn the tide of history back to when the UK was white, racist, misogynist and homophobic. You know, like “Make America Great” again is a euphemism for a US where women knew their place, white supremacy was the rule, blacks were kept separated or lynched and homosexuals could be persecuted, beaten up or murdered with impunity.
So Little Nige, at present being a complete sycophant to and cheerleader for the serial sex criminal, Donald Trump, has popped up in Trump’s defence, after vulgar comments made by the man in 2005 surfaced publicly, to say:
“Look, this is alpha male boasting. It’s the kind of thing, if we are being honest, that men do. They sit around and have a drink and they talk like this”.
Firstly, I’ve got far more faith in most men that they’re better than Nige’s demeaning idea of what most men are like. But if these are the sort of men that Nige does associate with, it just show him up as a creep of the first water. The crap that Little Nige peddled today says more about him as a throwback to times past when men could pound their chest, women were supposed to gaze adoringly up at their heroes, domestic violence was fine, abortion was illegal, and single women were sent to Coventry if they fell pregnant or they were forced to give their kids up for adoption.
Little Nige is perpetuating the myth of the locker room, boys will be boys, lad culture and all the other euphemisms which boil down to one thing: the idolatry, justification and perpetuation of rape culture. Because “alpha male boasting” isn’t a joke: it’s about rape, sexual assault, the victimisation of women, and the reduction of women to sex objects without any rights in relation to matters of sexual assault and rape.
You can see this when frat rape surfaces in the US, the woman raped is portrayed as a slut while the media and courts worry about the future of these wonderful athletes. It can be seen when a young guy rapes a woman behind dustbins, gets caught in the act, is rich and gets six months in jail even after he’s caught lying about his history of alcohol abuse.In the UK, a woman who was raped by a footballer was vilified and victimised, while the footballer – a jock – was supported and idolised by women, for god’s sake.
And so it goes on – you could list pages of these sorts of assaults where the perpetrator is portrayed as a hero while the women raped ends up getting doubly victimised by being portrayed as the seducer and the scarlet woman.
So I’m afraid when Yesterday’s Man, Nigel Farage, starts downplaying the truly disgusting comments by Donald Trump and continues to support a serial sex offender, he disqualifies himself to be a leader of any political party and to be regarded with any kind of respect. He’s a true Yesterday’s Man: irrelevant and past his use-by date.
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!
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.
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.