COCKROACH IN SCALES
The other morning
There was a cockroach,
A big black shiny one,
trapped in the face of
As it waved its feelers back
at my looming face
trying to see if I was
(but never just right),
I thought it made a lot
For I’m a lousy housewife:
dusting, sweeping, what a waste of
And I’m a hopeless dieter,
fat and thin by turns.
So the cockroach in my scales
reflected both failures
What a way to start the day!
Over the years my weight has fluctuated wildly from slim to fat, so much so that I’ve felt like a human accordion at times, going in and out at the speed of light. I can’t say I’ve been conscious of whether I’ve been slim or fat because, regardless of my size, I was never aware of gaining or losing weight (apart from buying different dress sizes!).
I know many of my weight issues have been emotional, but also I’ve done a lot of reading about diets, weight, BMI, etc., because when I was young the hysteria around obesity and low-fat diets just didn’t exist. I do know that my weight has exercised the minds of far more people than it has mine. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve heard people say: “But you don’t eat a lot” and realised they’ve been scrutinising what I eat which gets right up my nose. It’s no-one’s business but mine what I eat, keep your nose out of my plate! As I said in my previous post, I’m also aware that when I walk into a doctor’s surgery their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol and then look somewhat taken aback by results well in the healthy range.
I was also, decades ago, stupid enough to agree to go to a fat farm to lose weight when it was suggested by the organisation I worked for,and I really regret it. I lost 14 lbs in one week, with a mainly fruit juice diet, but of course, when I got back to the real world, the weight boomeranged back and then some. And it started me on a bit of a habit of fasting, then eating, and so on, which really has stuffed my body’s metabolism. I should have had the guts to tell them to poke their fat farm where the sun don’t shine, and that’s precisely what I would do today.
The day after I started working on this post – about weight and my mother’s death – I woke with excruciating sciatic pain in my hip and leg. It took until the next evening to realise that this was my physical response to approaching these subjects – matters of life and death which obviously have a great emotional and physical impact on me.
As soon as I twigged why the pain had exploded in my hip, it abated considerably. But I have been doing all sorts of odd jobs since then to avoid getting on with this post. So I have finally glued myself to my seat and here goes!
I weighed myself the night before I had the cast removed when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996 and then when I got home – 6lbs disappeared overnight, yeay! In the six weeks I’d been immobile, unbelievably I’d lost 14lbs, much to my surprise. It was as if the shock of the fall galvanised my body into detoxing all of its own accord.
From these comments and the intro you’ll probably guess that I have had some challenges with weight. And I’d probably be a weird woman if I hadn’t, given the obsession with thinness and fatness in today’s Western society.
In my childhood I was what you then called “chubby” but no-one banged on about weight and obesity as they do nowadays. In those days it was accepted that kids could be chubby but they’d lose this puppy fat once they hit puberty and started growing into adulthood.
The first time I became aware of perhaps being a bit weighty was when I stayed with my German penfriend in 1965. She was absolutely gorgeous and had a terrific, slim figure. Beside her I felt large and clumsy and I remember we each weighed ourselves but, as it was in kilograms, I had no idea what it meant. I do know that she and her mother exclaimed at my weight. When my cousin and his male friend visited us while they were in holiday in Germany, they only had eyes for my pen-friend and I felt fat, awkward and lonely. For the first time I became self-conscious about my figure.
I do know now that I ate because it was comfort food in a family where I felt on the outer. I closely associated food with being loved by my parents, particularly if my mum and I shared special food which Dad didn’t like, and we’d have this when he was doing overtime – mushrooms on toast (mushrooms were a luxury when I was a kid) and soft cod’s roe on toast (another luxury). I can also look back now and see that carrying extra weight was protective for me. My father was a bully, a control freak and he used to browbeat me if I voiced my own opinions. We’d go at it hammer and tongs until my mother would intervene to try to calm things down as she hated the discord.
At University I guess I remained somewhat podgy in my first year. I was in student accommodation and I used to drink a very hot cup of black coffee prior to meals in the refectory. The idea was to dampen my appetite but it wasn’t particularly successful, particularly if they dished up Queen of Puddings for dessert. It was my favourite and I’d eat my own portion as well as the portions of anyone who didn’t want their serving! I guess I really wasn’t overly bothered about my weight, just felt a sense of dissatisfaction which I never really pinned down.
The first time I really lost weight and became very slim was when I was working abroad during my third year at University. I was living in Stuttgart and started work at 7.30. We had a break around 8.30 and I’d get a roll with cold meat for breakfast. At lunchtime, we had a subsidised meal in the staff canteen but as very little of the food appealed to me, I had very small lunches. And in the evening, when I cooked for myself, I also didn’t eat much as it’s not much fun eating on your own.
I was, however, very happy at work as I made friends with a lovely Hungarian lady, Frau Kiss, a Hungarian refugee who’d settled in Stuttgart. She helped me in lots of little ways which made life more pleasant. Eventually I also met some really nice girls in the women’s hostel where I was living. When I first arrived in Stuttgart I lived in my own unit on the ground floor and it was quite lonely. Then I was moved to the basement area where I shared a room with a Finnish lass. She was a real raver and was always out in the evenings so I started leaving the light on in the small sink area in our room. She was quite taken aback at this as apparently the previous German girl had left the room pitch black and then complained when Marjia-Liisa made a noise trying to get ready for bed in the dark. But my little act of helpfulness broke the ice between us and from then on we got on like a house on fire.
Then a couple of English girls arrived from universities in the UK, they got stuck in the basement area like me, so we all got together. We were finally joined by Barbara, a German girl, who had a great sense of humour and adventure. And we certainly got up to all sorts of adventures between us, quite innocent now when I look back. But we were always laughing and having a good time together.
We went to the Christkindlmarkt in Stuttgart which was wonderful although bitterly cold. We visited the cinema at the American base nearby where we parked Barbara’s car and found it dwarfed by the huge American yank-tanks lined up in front of the cinema. We drove to Ulm to climb the steeple of the Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world with 768 steps. It’s often called Ulm Cathedral but is actually a Minster as it has never been the seat of a bishop. We climbed up to the top where we found beautiful views over Ulm and the surrounding countryside, climbed down okay but when we got outside, our legs were like jelly and we ended up flopping on the floor laughing our heads off. I stayed at Barbara’s parent’s house one weekend, her folks were incredibly hospitable, and we also visited Rothenburg-ob-der-Taube which is a wonderful, medieval town.
We girls had boozy sessions in our rooms, confident we’d hidden all signs of the mayhem until we’d get home and realise our rooms smelled like pub bars, an empty wine glass or two stood on the mantelpiece and the sour-faced women running the hostel would greet us with icy faces!
One night Barbara introduced us to Schnapps, I think it might have been Goldwasser, which we English girls imbibed with gusto. She told us to skol it down it which we did and all promptly got drunk as skunks as none of us drank much at all. We were staggering everywhere, and I remember waking up with an appalling hangover. Barbara thought it was hilarious as we British girls sat there, head in hands, moaning, until she frogmarched us one by one to the restroom and stuck us in a cold shower!
I didn’t realise that, in this new lifestyle in Germany, I’d lost so much weight until I returned home for the Christmas holidays. My parents both commented on how much slimmer I was, and so did my boyfriend, but I didn’t see it in myself at all. I do know that when I returned to university in the fourth year, after my third year abroad, many people commented on the remarkable change in my appearance although, once again, I hadn’t realised how much weight I’d lost, it just sort of happened.
Much the same sort of weight loss happened when I worked on a kibbutz in Israel in March 1972, prior to travelling to Australia. I did physical work on my feet all the time, and the weight dropped off. I do know that unless I’m really active, it’s hard for me to lose weight, even more so now I have mobility challenges.
I realised much later down the track that my time overseas in my third year at university was really the first time I was away from anyone’s influence. I was pretty much on my own, and I lost weight because I didn’t need it to protect myself from my father’s bullying ways and the fact that I extended that to being subconsciously fearful of any relationships I had with the opposite sex. I loved being independent both at university and in Germany and France where I also spent six months.
Because I have so many air signs, nine in astrology, I have always been in my head and thinking, thinking, thinking. My conversations start: “I think…..” or “I’ve been thinking…..” (and generally my husband looks nervous because he says this usually means hammers and nails somewhere in the house), or I say, if people do rash things: “Why don’t people THINK”. Occasionally I look down and remember I’ve got a body attached to my head and say in surprise: “Oh, hello, body, still hanging around are you, thanks very much, I appreciate it.”
I started getting some idea of why I used food as a substitute for love and weight as protection when I saw a psychologist after Mum died. The thinner my mother got as the cancer spread, the fatter I got as if in some way I could protect myself, I think, on two fronts: from the fear of death myself if I got fat and from the grief I was experiencing as Mum came closer and closer to death. Seeing the psychologist after mum died, to get help from the loneliness and grief I felt, also opened a can of worms – mum no longer stood between me and my father as the peace-maker, we had to face each other, and our relationship got rocky to say the least!
FAT HATRED, THIN WORSHIP
This week I saw that the National Health Service in the UK is to offer gastric bypass surgery to obese patients. I also saw a headline in one newspaper which read: “Drop the staple gun, Doc, and Tell Fatty to grow some willpower”. The article contained such comments as:”I have also found fat people funny”; “it is something they have imposed on themselves through a combination of gannetry, indolence and stupidity”; and “sometimes I even go to places where I know there will be lots of fat people and sit on a bench watching them clumping around, sweating and gasping, and snigger to myself.”
As you can see, it’s okay to be bigoted about weighty people because somehow, being not thin, we have ceased to be human beings and can be ridiculed, insulted, discriminated against and then be told to have surgery which can be life-threatening and possibly lead to our deaths. Doubtless if weighty people died during gastric bypass surgery the fat haters would be gleeful to have less fat people to pollute their perfect lives.
The reason why I feel infuriated by the headlines is because I have been reading a couple of books and other material which actually show that “obesity” and the much-vaunted BMI are a recent creation and a nice little money earner for the medicos and diet industry based on shonky health research. At the same time, the low-fat, high carbohydrate diet extolled to Western nations like the UK, US and Australia over the past few decades also has feet of clay, a big con trick by the food industry to protect their profits despite research showing that people following what they believe are healthy diets are actually endangering their own health.
BLAME THE VICTIM
But hey, let’s blame the victim, then you don’t have to look at the food giants, the pharmaceutical industry and the diet industry who have all colluded to squash research showing the health dangers of a high carbohydrate, high-sugar diet to protect their god-almighty profits.
And let’s not mention that people also eat for emotional reasons such as stress, long working hours, job insecurity, low wages, unemployment, social interaction, homelessness and so on, because then you have to look at the social reasons for over-eating and lack of exercise because people are knackered by the end of the day trying to cope with the pressures of life in Western society today.
This has tied in with the fact I wanted to follow up my posts on women’s liberation with some material about diets and thinness stifling women’s creativity and power, and also how eating can be emotional, as I witnessed when I got as fat as butter when my Mum was dying of lung cancer.
So what I’m intending in my next few posts are:
1) Feminism, women and weight;
2) My own weight battle;
3) Dealing with my mother’s death from lung cancer & my own (fat) emotional response;
4) The giant con trick perpetrated on Western society by the dietary, medical, pharmaceutical and food industries to protect their profits regardless of the ill-health of people following what they believe are health diets.
I have no doubt that questioning the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet and the all-powerful BMI is tackling sacred cows, but I really hate being conned and both of these are con tricks, not exposed by the industries involved, but brought out into the light of day by individuals doing independent research and publishing their findings.
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.
The Dark Night of the Soul comes from a poem written by Saint John of the Cross, a 16th-centure Spanish poet. It refers to the journey into Hades where you enter a realm of darkness, where you learn humility and where you re-emerge blinking into the light, a different person, wondering why the hell your life suddenly descended into chaos, hard times and inner darkness.
Both I and my husband experienced this hell on wheels when we lived up Mt French and it is not something I ever, ever want to through again. I remember just after we’d staggered into a lighter part of our lives – when we sold our Mt French home and moved down into the centre of Boonah – reading an article by a woman talking blithely about dark nights of the soul, how wonderful they were and hey, bring on the next one. And I remember thinking clearly at the time that she had no idea what a real dark night of the soul is because, once you’ve gone through one, you don’t ever want to return to that dark time of your life where tempestuous swirls tear your life apart and you feel you’re in a whirlpool of sadness, pain and despair from which there is no escape.
The purpose for me, however, is that spiritual demands are at work on you. It’s a bit like being in a spin dryer where all the dross gets tossed out and you are cleansed and on a different path as well as transformed into a different person – one more aligned with your soul purpose once you’ve lost the layers grafted on you by parents and society as you move through life.
What could go wrong in our home in Boonah went wrong. Prior to moving into our new home and while we were still staying in a motel, I ended up with a really painful toothache. I needed a root canal filling which took a bit of a chunk out of our savings. But after we moved in, things really started going downhill.
No power – no water
I first found out that there are drawbacks to living on a somewhat remote property with tanks and no town water on the morning I was due to pop down into Boonah to sign the final contract of sale. I turned on the tap. No water. Our furniture and boxes from Perth had arrived on the Wednesday and we’d done some solid unpacking so we were dirty, dusty and unkempt. And I couldn’t have a wash or shower. I ended up dipping a piece of tissue into half a glass of water on the bedside table and using that to try to restore some semblance of normality and not look like the Wild Woman of Borneo when I went into the solicitor’s office.
So that was our first experience living outside a city. When the power goes off, the pump that gets the water into your home doesn’t work and you don’t have water coming out of the taps which, as city slickers, we were used to. Bryan had to climb on the top of the really big tank, take the top off and fish out a bucket of water. What we also found out was that when the local power supply company was going to do maintenance work and shut off power supply, it didn’t let you know the power was going to go off. You had to buy the local paper to find out. And, of course, we hadn’t even had time to find out that a local newspaper existed, let alone read it.
Bryan got the property fenced within the week (more money out of our savings) and finished off that work while I was driving to pick up our mutts from kennels north of Brisbane, as I mentioned in a previous post. Rosie, our Jack Russell, made herself at home straight away, but if you take cats to a new home, you need to keep them indoors. Our three cats were curious and sniffed around, but then I noticed that Mr Smudge, who was around nine years old and neutered, was trying to urinate but couldn’t. More drama.
I phoned the vet – this was a Saturday afternoon so out of hours and, of course, more expensive – and he told me to get Mr Smudge to the surgery urgently as he likely had a blocked urinary duct which, of course, was an emergency. The rest of the afternoon was spent with me helping the very kind vet sedate the cat, pull his penis out and unblock it. Ever tried it? Difficult, I can assure you! More money out of the coffers but at least our dear, kind old cat survived.
Bryan couldn’t find work so we ended up on unemployment benefits. When he did finally get casual work, the drought broke, the main road out was flooded, he couldn’t get to work so his pay as a casual worker plummeted. We decided to fill the smaller water tank and it broke at the bottom just as all the water had been delivered by the tanker and poured in. We lost all the water and I think we felt real despair as we watching the water promptly pour out again – more money wasted plus we lost our back-up tank and had no money to replace it.
Getting Daisy, our oldest cat, treated for paralysis ticks took another bite out of our savings and, as we were then on unemployment benefits and on the breadline, our savings went down relentlessly. Sadly, although Daisy survived, she was a bit more frail and a few months later, late one evening, we found her dead under one of our bushes. Whether it was the result of the ticks or she got bitten by a snake, we don’t know. She looked very peaceful and we buried her in our garden the next day.
The Father from Hell
Finally my father arrived from Perth. When we were thinking of moving to Queensland, I asked him if he’d like to move too as I didn’t want to leave him alone after my mother died in 1987. He agreed eagerly and his household effects travelled with ours from Western Australia to Queensland. But he took ages to decide to move to the Eastern States and dithered and dithered. He eventually got around to taking the plunge, flew over and we met him at Brisbane Airport. But I was to find out that Dad had become a “gunnadoo” – always going to do this or do that and nothing ever got done in the end.
Our arrangement had been that we would buy a block big enough for him to build a home and he would pay a proportionate amount towards the cost of the block. When Dad did arrive, he hadn’t sold his house which wasn’t surprising, it was in a good state inside but when people saw the swimming pool – filled with water plants, huge goldfish and filthy dirty – the buyers took off like long dogs. And, of course, he had no money to pay for a new home or towards the cost of our block.
The decision we made to choose to live together until Dad’s property in WA sold was one of the most stupid I have ever taken. Both Bryan and my father were used to being top dog, and my father not only didn’t take kindly to not being in charge in our home, he was also hitting the booze hard most of the day.
I knew that my father had had an alcohol problem prior to my mother’s death in 1987 and it got worse once he was on his own. I never went down to Rockingham to see him in the afternoon as he would be drunk. I had thought things might have improved by the time he came to Queensland but that was wishful thinking. I learned to dread his words: “Sun’s over the yard arm, time for a whiskey” which would be about 11 in the morning. And when my father drank, he was an aggressive, bullying drunk. Evenings were a nightmare and the arguments got worse and worse.
We had agreed with Dad that he’d contribute a share to the cost of the block and then build his own, smaller house on the block. But when, eventually, he sold his house he made it clear that he intended to dole out his money in small amounts, as and when he chose, to control us. Dad had always tried, and sometimes succeeded, to control people with money. He wanted us – his daughter and son-in-law – to dance to his tune and he took pleasure in trying to pull the strings. I can say now that I should have realised this, but I never thought he would do the dirty on us so cynically and deliberately.
One evening we ended up having a monster row when my father started threatening Bryan. Luckily, my husband was able to keep his cool and walk away from the difficult situation. A couple of days’ later my father moved out and left us pretty much destitute. I told him this and I can still see the malicious look of glee on his face which confirmed that he knew this full well and didn’t give a tinker’s cuss.
And do you know what? I was silly enough to keep trying to make my relationship with him work. What a bloody idiot! So here are a couple of life lessons: 1) don’t mix your money with that of relatives, it can create enormous headaches. Since then I’ve heard horror stories of relatives falling out over money so you never know, you may need to read this blog just for the one lesson of keeping your money and your relatives’ money completely separate.
My second piece of advice is that, if you recognise the sort of situation in which we found ourselves in your own circumstances, take care of yourself first. Alcoholics don’t change their spots, you can’t get them to clean up their act unless they choose to, and you need to look after yourself and let alcoholics make or break their lives all on their own.
When we moved to Queensland, we sent our Rover car over by transporter which was a lot cheaper than buying a new car after moving interstate (but in another sign of the bad luck hovering over us, the transporter broke down on the middle of the Nullarbor Plain!). However, repairs for Rover cars, as they’re British, were expensive to maintain (we’d been able to use a Rover-trained mechanic in Perth), so we decided to buy a second car and ended up with a Ford station wagon, in bright lemon yellow. And yes, the car turned to be a lemon. It started off well but, with our luck in Queensland, it went downhill fast. It needed major repairs which further depleted what were becoming very meagre savings.
On 2nd July 1996 I fell and broke my leg and ankle, as I mentioned in an earlier post. I was hardly mobile, couldn’t cook, relied on Meals on Wheels at lunchtime, and Bryan – as well as driving 45 minutes to and from work in Ipswich – also had to cook in the evening. I was also not recovering well. When I’d been admitted to hospital I’d had a raging temperature and was on intravenous antibiotics as I’d splintered the bone in my leg. Back at home, I had no energy, and I lost a lot of weight, very fast. I had packed in the booze (a story for another day!) and also had a good old dose of ‘flu within a few days of getting out of hospitals.
I’d take ages to shuffle from the sofa to the kitchen, get there soaked in sweat, take ten or so minutes to recover, make breakfast, then repeat the process back to the sofa. I’d fall into a deep sleep in the afternoons, and just felt exhausted all the time. I got a nursing friend to check out my sugar levels and they were fine. But in the month after I came home I lost a stone in weight (14 lbs, 6.3kgs). I did have the pleasure of stepping on the scales prior to the removal of my cast and then hop on after returning from hospital with a skinny, emaciated right leg to find I’d lost 6lbs instantaneously which I thought was pretty nifty!
My husband was very impatient with me as he had always been healthy and really had a hard time handling illness of any kind. He was exhausted from driving to and fro from work and then having to cook, I was just generally exhausted, we were having arguments, and tensions between us were quite bad. I didn’t want to return to the hospital for any further antibiotic treatment as information was beginning to circulate about the dangers of antibiotic overuse and subsequent resistance. So in the end I was so tired and exhausted I went to Yvonne, my herbalist friend, and got treatment from her and her herbalist co-worker.
Interestingly, the night after I started treatment, I had a dream where I was walking up a hill, reached the peak, then started on the downhill walk. Along the way I saw a cottage with the lights on in the window. I looked through and saw two women there who beckoned me in and fed me as I sat at the table. I mentioned this to Yvonne and she was dead pleased, saying it was a sign I was on the mend. She was right too. It was a slow process but I gradually began to regain my strength although I wasn’t fully mobile again until about a year later. However, I’ve never really returned to being the full quid since I had that fall, and I’ve read that quite often something traumatic like that as you get older can affect your subsequent health.
I had returned to fairly good health by December 1996 when one day I walked out of our home one day to drive into Boonah and saw Bryan sitting in the carport looking grey, exhausted and absolutely dreadful. Yes, folks, our bad luck continued. He had received several large mosquito bites when working at a nearby town. We didn’t take too much notice at the time, but they heralded the onset of Ross River fever for Bryan.My active husband could hardly move and is thin and wiry at the best of times, but within months of copping this illness he’d gone down to six stone and looked like a skeleton.
In 1994 we decided to move – after 20-odd years in Western Australia – from Fremantle to Queensland, on the other side of the Australian continent.
What can I say? It seemed a good idea at the time.
But I think if we’d known what we’d go through in the early years, true Dark Nights of the Soul for both of us, we would have nailed our feet to the floor of our house in Fremantle and poured concrete over to boot (sorry about the pun).
Looking back I can see the sands starting to shift in 1993, when the death of my much loved little dog heralded huge changes for me, and in 1994 when my husband’s father died suddenly of a massive heart attack.
Queensland had actually come onto our horizon in early 1993 when Bryan had a holiday on the Gold Coast courtesy of the construction company he worked for as he’d had many years in their employ. I remember he phoned me raving about how beautiful it was, how Mt Tamborine looked wonderful and how odd it was to see the sun setting over land instead of sea, as happened for us in Fremantle.
I, on the other hand, while he was in Queensland, had a nasty fall in our porch which I almost view now as part of the opening stages of our journey to Queensland. It was, looking back, as if it was a wake-up call. I tripped on a brick and fell heavily, broke my glasses and pretty much had concussion for the rest of the weekend. I had appalling headaches after this and it actually led me to cranio-sacral therapy which I’ve used on and off ever since.
A bit later, in July 1993, our little dog Chloe, a part-Llasa Apso, was hit by a bus and killed. She and I were incredibly close. We went everywhere together. That late afternoon I’d returned from shopping with Chloe who was leaning against the back of the passenger seat watching me as she always did. I unpacked the shopping, made a cup of coffee and then heard a knock at the front door. It was our neighbour across the road asking to speak to Bryan. He seemed to give me a sort of compassionate look which puzzled me. So as I heard them go outside, I went to our front window to see what was going on. And saw Chloe lying motionless on the verge on the opposite side of the road. She had run in front of a bus and been killed instantly.
I can remember the overwhelming grief, that I would never see my beloved dog again. I felt as if a piece of my heart had been ripped out. You want to turn the clock back and see someone you’ve lost alive again, but of course, time marches on and it’s relentless, it won’t go back. I tried to make sense of what had happened. But, of course, there is no sense in untimely death. Or, at least, it seemed like that the first day. The following night I had a very clear dream about Chloe. I saw her surrounded in a radiant, beautiful golden light walking away from me. She turned and looked at me for one last time, as if to say a final goodbye, then kept walking. And as she faded away, I heard a voice say: “She came to teach you unconditional love. Her work is over and now it’s time for her to move on.”
When I woke up the next day and remembered the dream, I thought I was becoming unhinged. I had no idea what “unconditional love” meant. But synchronistically I saw in the Sunday newspaper an advertisement for a psychic fair. I had never been to one and had no idea what happened there. But it drew me for some reason, so I ventured out that morning to visit the fair. It all seemed a bit weird to me with tarot readers, aura readers, numerologists, crystal sellers and other such-like stalls.
I took a punt on a lady doing numerology readings, but really didn’t take in much of what she was saying. She asked me what was wrong and I told her about Chloe’s untimely death. She directed me to her friend, a psychic and medium, so I duly trotted over to see what this person could offer. I said I’d just lost my dog and her first words were: “My word, she went out with a bang, didn’t she?”
Her second words left me speechless: “She’s here now”. I looked around rather nervously because I had no idea what happened when a dead dog started hanging around. And then she said those words again: “She came here to teach you unconditional love.” I felt my jaw unhinge when she said that.
I have since then learned that, if you open your psychic senses, you can tune into images which are present in another person’s consciousness. We all have psychic ability but in our logical, scientific society, the idea of psychic ability is treated with scorn. Yet this is an intrinsic part of all of us and when we don’t exercise our psychic senses or deny their existence, we are shutting down a very important part of us.
Psychic work develops when we open to our intuitive, emotional sides and work with our higher energy centres, otherwise known as chakras or energy centres. If you look at the brain, it’s divided into two hemispheres. The left one controls the right side of our bodies, which is our logical, scientific, intellectual side. The right side of our brain controls the left side of our bodies, the intuitive, sensing, feeling side. Anyone can work with their intuitive side but too many discount that information because we are so geared to logic and poo-poo the unseen. Yes, I know it’s a great simplification and if you want to know more, you can do some internet searches and get more in-depth knowledge by doing your own homework.
I digressed a bit there because I just wanted to give you a basic idea of how psychic awareness works and why it would have been quite easy for Julie to pick up from me what happened to Chloe. But then Julie said: “She’s telling me she used to run down the stairs to your bedroom and jump on the bed with you while you read in bed.” I gaped at her as this was the last thing I was thinking of. Then she repeated herself: “You know, she was there to teach you unconditional love, but it was time for her to move on.”
There was that weird word again: “unconditional love”. What on earth was going on? I think by this time I must have looked like a stunned mullet as I was just sitting there gawping at the reader. Luckily for me, Julie persevered. She looked at my hands and told me I’d make a good Reiki healer, particularly working with animals. She also invited me to join her Inner Child workshop which was being held weekly. I got the strong sense that this was a turning point of some sort for me. I didn’t know what, but something was pushing me into exploring this concept. So I decided to attend the workshop.
And thus began my slow, halting path towards a completely new life where I learned about inner child work, healing, Reiki, developing my psychic abilities, becoming an artist, embarking on a teaching path and also doing the odd bit of mediumship work. I will go into more details of this later. This, Chloe’s death, was the gateway to a new life opening up which finally came to fruition in early 1994.
The upheaval for my husband erupted in February 1994 when his father died suddenly of a massive stroke in February of that year and we decided to return to the UK (where we were both born) to visit Bryan’s family. I had lost touch with members of my own family after my mother died.
Prior to our departure for the UK, we considered our circumstances, which were challenging our settled lifestyle. I hated walking out of gate and seeing the place where Chloe’s body had lain. And my husband decided that his working life with the company he worked for was likely coming to an end and so took redundancy before we flew to England.
So we had the inspiration to sell our home, up sticks, move across the country and settle in this far-off State where we knew absolutely nobody. Neither of us is now quite sure why we made that decision. Bryan feels it was because he was in a state of depression after his father’s unexpected death. I wanted to get away from the house because of Chloe’s untimely death, and because my alcohol intake, which had reached considerable proportions, was bothering me too. I had the vague idea of managing to escape the problem if I changed my habitat. Fat chance! A life lesson I’ve learned very well is that, when you move, you take yourself with you and you still end up having to deal with the same problems.
“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.