A ‘heads-up’ to my friends and readers:
This post is NOT about my art and craft adventures. It’s a not-quite-as-brief-as-intended look at a life which is all about over coming the past and creating a new paradigm. It’s an overview, an autobiographical essay, a tale of loss and redemption, a catalogue of miracles and a paean of praise to those who have walked and who do walk alongside me.
It is a post about a journey not yet completed, a life spent searching for meaning and understanding and, above all else, a reminder to myself that I must never, never give up hope!
‘Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change’:
This year, for the first time in my remembered life, I have not battled with sadness, depression or illness in the month leading up to the anniversary of my birth.
This is a super-awesome victory that has left me feeling quietly joyous and very, very proud of how far I have come.
Today I begin the journey through my 65th year.
While the number says I am growing older, inwardly it is quite different, it varies. I can feel very, very young or in-expressively old or even, some days, completely ageless. Sometimes I feel like I know absolutely nothing at all and other times I experience a vast understanding of life, the universe and everything.
I have learned that I am more than the sum total of my life experiences, more than appearances would have you believe and much, much more than was genetically gifted to me.
If you have read my page ‘Hello!’ you may remember my philosophy about life as a school-room. I have been the slowest of students, remarkably recalcitrant at times about learning my lessons. I have had some excellent teachers however, who have, at great pain to themselves, when it was necessary delivered the required lessons with unstinting ferocity.
I have noticed that there is a pivotal moment in the journey when one arrives at the place where forgiveness is freely given and gratitude takes the place of resentment. This is both progress and true freedom!
‘Traveller! There are no roads; Roads are made by walking’
My life is peppered with fortuitous meetings with people of all kinds at just the right moments. Some became long term companions on the journey, others stayed more briefly but may have pointed out a different track for me to walk before disappearing again. Some made immense impressions on me in one meeting. others influenced me over many years. Some have been partners, companions and friends. Others have challenged me, attacked or berated me – all have been my teachers.
Not all my adventures have had happy endings – in fact many of them appear to have ended fairly disastrously. But after I have taken stock, licked my wounds and straightened myself up again I have stepped, often fearfully – but stepped none-the-less – into the next chapter…..
Every single adventure, every single experience, has offered me an opportunity to take responsibility for myself, my choices, my reactions, my successes and my failures. I have been catapulted from places called Blame and Hopelessness by unseen forces and hands to see that I own a cup that is indeed, more than half full at all times.
I have learned that all of us are shining atoms of eternity and that this is just a place where we learn to love. Really love. ‘Agape’ as the Ancient Greeks called it. The practise of unconditional, impersonal, indelible, enduring love. Love that encompasses forgiveness, understanding and acceptance. Love because that is all that can be done, love because that is what we are in the end made of, and love because that is how we turn this shining blue planet into a shining blue star.
This Is My Story
I was born, a second child, into something that, these days, might be labelled a ‘severely dysfunctional family situation’.
Both parents were deeply damaged souls, emotional cripples who bore five children whom they uniformly and unconditionally resented and detested and whom they damaged verbally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and sexually. Having survived their childhoods, two of the five died of thrombosis, one at the age of 20, the other at age 32. My younger brother coped with the nightmare of his memories with alcohol and drugs. The very youngest child escaped the worst of the abuse due to the simple fact that he was only eighteen months old when the father died suddenly. And, being the youngest he was mostly exempt from the insanity of our mother throughout her widowhood. At age 13 he virtually moved into the home of his future wife and in-laws who taught him that there was another way of living and relating and being.
Then there was me who lived the first forty years of my life with no recall of anything before the night of my fathers death one month before my ninth birthday.
I was gifted with an inquiring mind, and an unwavering belief that there had to be something more. I bought all the abuse of course, what child doesn’t? As children we believe the words our parents say to us. We measure ourselves in the world by the way we are treated. We see the world through their eyes, adopt their beliefs and live to their codes.
Many adults still see the world unquestioningly, through the eyes of their parents. I was gifted the opportunity to become conscious of all my inherited beliefs about the world
As a child I was mostly mute. I lived in constant confusion about the reality of my experiences, the threats of what would happen to me should I talk about ‘what went on behind closed doors’. Nor did I have the vocabulary to describe the pain and confusion of that existence.
From a very young age, possibly before my memories began, I was fully conscious of my mothers differing realities. The abusive, out-of-control one ‘behind closed doors’ and the public one where she was a loving mother with ‘good’ children or – depending on the circumstance – a loving mother struggling to do her best with her ‘awful, ungrateful’ children. I was keenly aware of her mood, her needs, when to absent myself and when it was safe to appear. My intuitive faculties were honed to razor sharp awareness.
This is a gift from my childhood that has lasted throughout my life. I can walk into a room and know exactly what is going on, what is about to happen and even who is well and who is not. I intuitively know what your mood is, what your needs are and even what you think you are keeping hidden from me. I read body language really well, I can feel anger and danger from a hundred yards away and I know if this is a safe place to be or not without knowing that I know it.
To escape, to cope with life, I read. I learnt about the world, about people, about happy families from books. I read voraciously, it was my escape, my happy place, my sanity. I don’t remember learning to read, I was certainly never read to – but there is a memory that came back to me later in my life. It is me, standing in the door of the classroom on my first day at school. And then my mother’s hands pushing me in – I was terrified and didn’t want to go. She pushed me in and shut the door between us, and I stumbled against a bookshelf filled with books and was abruptly mesmerised. All the colours and pictures and words were so beautiful…… I was very young when I read my first Orlando the Marmalade Cat book and it was from that book I have my first memory of understanding what a happy family was. It became a wish, a goal, a decision. I would have a happy family of my own – one day soon. It was a promise I made to myself at the age of seven.
By the time I was twelve I was reading Shakespeare. My favourite aunt, elder sister to my mother by twenty years – the one who knew something was amiss, but who couldn’t prove anything; the one who used to swoop in now and again and take my older sister and myself away for a weekend of safety and warmth and ease – reached to the top shelf of her book case and took down her copy of ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’. She opened the big, heavy, gold-leafed tome that I so often admired at a particular page and, placing it reverently on a table, said “Read it slowly, ask me if you don’t understand anything…” and left me to it.
I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a delirium of joy, The language, the words that I had never heard before and didn’t know how to pronounce and didn’t know the meaning of – the beautiful, juicy, evocative words. The humour, the magical world of faerie and humans and feelings that leapt from the page to my heart sent me hurtling full pelt into another whole realm of existence. I can recall the joy of that first meeting clearly over fifty years later.
From that point on the dictionary, the thesaurus, Readers Digests ‘Word of the Day’, beautiful and meaningful language, all became my friends. Now I began to keep a diary.
I poured my heart out onto the page, I asked my questions, made promises to myself and God – ‘If only’ ‘if only’ ‘if only’………… I kept those diaries for many years – I referred to them as ‘my life in a box’. But somewhere along the journey I felt I no longer needed the box or the life that lived in it and it was all burned.
Around about the same time that William and I met, another event occurred which stays with me.
One of the happier events we experienced as children were the Sunday dinners that took place occasionally when our favourite aunt came to visit. On these days we all pretended we were a ‘normal family’.
One day at the dinner table my aunt asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.
“A teacher” I said.
All hell broke lose as my mother forgot her manners. She threw her fork at me – forcefully – down the length of the table. It clattered against my plate and bounced onto the floor while she screamed that I had always had ideas above my station, I was no-one special and I would bloody well go into a factory like she had had to.
I don’t remember anything else about that day, but I did not speak my dream aloud for another twenty years.
My mother got pregnant and was ashamed. She forced the father of her sixth child into marriage. He retaliated by drinking heavily and continuously and so another issue was introduced into the house. And we children lay in our beds at night, pulling the pillows over our heads and burrowing under the blankets while they screamed and roared and fought.
My younger brother took the brunt of this. It was he who confronted the staggering drunk with a knife in his hand while our mother protected herself with an upturned stool. It was he who checked that the whiskey sodden man lying unconscious at the bottom of the stairs, after our mother had pushed him down them, was still alive. It was he who felt less of a ‘man’ because he could not protect his mother as she demanded he would do. He was eleven years old.
It was my sister and me who learned to protect ourselves from the whiskey sodden man crawling on hands and knees towards our beds in the middle of the night. It was my sister and me who learned to lie the next morning when he asked shame-facedly if he had ‘bothered’ us during the night.
And it was my sister and me who now had to protect ourselves from our mothers spitting hatred and attacks with the leather strap as she screamed at us we were whores and sluts and worse.
While I was still just fourteen years old my mother took me from school and, lying about my age, got me a job in a factory. I delivered my weekly wage packet to her for my ‘bed and board’ and she returned to me my travel money and ten shillings.
The day she dragged me into that factory was a moment of destiny. I remember her hand clutched around my wrist as we moved from the elevator to the stairs that led to the managers office. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, feeding a time card into the clock was a tall, handsome, young man who looked at me absently and smiled gently. I looked back as she pulled me along and thought ‘He looks nice…’
Three years later I married him and we journeyed together for twenty years.
Despite my mothers best efforts, her jealousy and rage – we married. On my wedding day she told me he should be marrying her, as they were closer in age. He was fourteen years older than I was. Still, he married me and then he gifted me a safe place to grow.
He helplessly and wordlessly saw me through the fear and terror and the dreadful rage that would boil up and burst out of me from time to time. Neither of us understood it, it was just something that happened to me.
When he could take no more, something would escape his mouth and I would hear a question or a statement that would penetrate and make me take stock. Once very early into our marriage, frustrated beyond measure, he roared at me “Why do you try to start a fight with me every Friday night?” And in a blinding flash of clarity I knew exactly why and the first step was taken towards consciousness. I was seventeen years old.
I wanted a baby. For my childhood dream of a happy family to come true, I must have a husband and a child. I had the husband, now I must have a child. First, said my husband, we must have a house. He was an Englishman, an immigrant who having arrived in the country virtually penniless, now valued security above anything else. So for two years we both worked two jobs and saved every penny to build our own home.
I was a teenager, working menial jobs up to twelve hours a day. I took correspondence courses at lunch times and evenings and weekends to complete the schooling that had been denied me. I counted pennies, learned to cook and look after a husband who expected his wife to do just that. I rode the waves of anger and depression and tried not to notice the kids of my own age having fun.
At the same time I was constantly developing personal skills. I was learning how to relate to people, learning that it was safe to say what I thought and safe to ask questions. I was learning how the world worked, how other people lived without anger and rage and fear as daily bedfellows. I was watching how people related to each other, their shared smiles, the quick touches, those little moments of intimacy that pass between partners and friends.
I still clearly remember the first time I saw a naturally affectionate greeting between a husband and wife. The wife was sitting in my mothers kitchen sometime after the death of my father. Her husband had come home early and come looking for her. As he entered the kitchen I was steeling myself against the angry words that would be said. He walked straight up to his wife and leaning down kissed her gently on the cheek, patted her shoulder and smiled into her eyes. Then he straightened and greeted my mother. I was frozen in shock. I know my mouth was open! I had never seen such a thing in my life before and did not know what to do with it. Later, I remember, I felt very, very sad.
And now I was seeing it all the time. I got used to that, but it took longer for me to become comfortable giving and receiving affection. This was not aided by the fact that my husband was a reticent Englishman, not given to public displays of affection. For many years to come I would flinch if someone made a sudden or unexpected movement.
Throughout this time I also observed closely how children were treated, how parents spoke to their children and how children looked and behaved when they were loved.
Slowly but surely I was learning, healing, warming and relaxing. But still, I would find myself having to cope with the deep well of depression that would open under my feet at inexplicable times and swallow me up. We both were.
I continued reading too. I read everything the 60’s and then the 70’s had to offer and I discovered the writings of Carlos Casteneda, Lobsang Rampa, Ram Dass and others I can’t recall the names of now. I read the Eastern Mystics and Gurus who were being published. I stumbled past Buddhism, Catharism, Mysticism, Sufi-ism, The Koran, The Mahabharata, the Kabbalah and the Bible… … I even tried reading ‘The Golden Dawn’ but don’t recall finishing it. Somewhere I read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ and a myriad other books out of the New Age movement. I found myself immersed in the emerging ‘New Science’ and fell in love with quantum physics – a love affair that has never ended!
Eventually I got the one thing I really wanted – my baby. I loved being pregnant. All my reading attention now turned to devouring books on baby care and child raising. I knitted baby clothes endlessly. I loved my unborn child with a fierce and overwhelming love. I poured into my womb all the love and kindness that was denied me and my siblings.
Six weeks before the birth of my daughter my sister died, two weeks short of her 21st birthday. Her arteries riddled with blood clots which no amount of Intensive Care medication and attention could dissolve. Years later I asked a wise old doctor what the spiritual meaning behind clotting blood was and he replied “Lack of love.” And I nodded my head in silent acceptance of the truth.
Now I threw myself into motherhood. I had no role model of how to parent properly, just my instincts and my compelling desire to make everything be alright by having the perfect ‘happy family’. Yet still we all dealt with those moments of overwhelming out-of-control rage which were always followed with my tumble into the deep, black well of depression.
I had learnt that it is an awesome responsibility being a parent and raising a child. Despite my own lack of early memories I understood on a visceral level that children remember everything that is said and done to them, no matter how young. I understood that a child needed love and security and someone to have their back. I intuitively knew that children needed rules, values and compassionate discipline and that they needed to know they are loved and wanted and respected.
I knew all this theoretically and now had to practise it with my own precious baby.
It was hard, I made many, many mistakes. Despite my love for my first child and then, twenty months later my second daughter, in those early years I found it very hard. I had no help, no wise grandparent to advise me and I was always second guessing myself, I was always somewhere in my cycle of depression and not coping. I felt a failure at motherhood, the thing I had wanted more than anything else in my life. My mother was right, I was no good for anything!
But then, one day inspiration hit – a gift from heaven, a moment of clarity – and everything became so much easier. When I didn’t know what to do, when my patience was worn thin, I would stop and ask myself ‘What would my mother do now?’ A picture would flash into my mind, a sound, or some words and a deed and I would then do the opposite. It was very helpful!
My girls became my greatest teachers, the best gift of my life. I wanted to have babies so that I could have something of my own to love, yet what I actually received was something I could never have imagined. I received from them so much love and trust and acceptance that I had to finally begin to accept and believe I was worthy of it.
A door had opened and I happily walked through it.
To Be Continued
Thank you for dropping by, please do have a wonderful day 🙂