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!
“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.
If I sound a bit over-the-top about discovering a bit of an artist within me in 1996, it’s because I never, ever – right through my life until that mandala workshop I attended in 1996 – saw myself as having a shred of creativity within me.
My primary school in the early ’50s was a Catholic convent with nuns from Ireland, who taught embroidery and knitting. I was woeful at both and bored stiff with what seemed like completely unproductive skills (although I have to admit, I can still do a mean blanket stitch courtesy of Sister Veronica).
BUT I was very intelligent and so I was fast-tracked as the student most likely to pass the 11-plus examination, bring kudos to the school (where most of the girls were in training to be Catholic mums knocking out kids ad infinitum) and get approval from my parents.
I couldn’t have cared less about pats on the head from the nuns because I loathed being at the convent with a quite virulent hatred. I was moved there when I was six so that my father could fulfil his promise to the parish priest, when he married my mother in a Catholic church, that he would bring me up as a Catholic.
I was incredibly lonely as I had nothing in common with the other girls who were imbued with Catholicism. I was a rebel even at that age. I simply couldn’t mindlessly accept the rituals and rigmarole, and recital of catechism seemed utterly pathetic. From an early age I always asked “why?” and it inevitably got me into trouble. I nearly always missed Sunday Mass and when I did attend I got into trouble for having a punch-up with my friend in the front pew of the church or I sniggered at the wrong time and brought immense wrath down on my head. If we had days off for “Saint’s Days”, I used to view it as an opportunity to sleep in rather than rush off to yet another stultifying mass. I really got the evil eye from the nuns when the visiting priest turned up and I forgot the words of the “Our Father”.
But what was vitally important to me was the approval from my parents and it was a goal of mine until I staged my teenage rebellion in Australia in my mid-‘twenties. Late starter, you might say.
An incident happened when I was 4.5 which was quite minor but which my parents blew out of all proportion. I’m not going into the details because it sounds utterly pathetic, but ever after I was labelled a liar, I copped a hiding at the time and then felt the full weight of parental disapproval descend on like the hounds of hell in the ensuing few weeks and if I ever looked like kicking over the traces. My parents’ response triggered huge amounts of shame in me and, looking back, I can realise now that I felt that their love, from that time on, was conditional on my being a very, very good little girl.
So I always behaved. I always excelled academically. I was pretty much always top of the class and thereabouts and the time I came fifth all hell broke loose, with teacher-parent meetings, lectures and extra work. When I was 11 and passed the 11-plus examination, I chose the grammar school close to home and waved a relieved and happy goodbye to Catholic schooling.
The need for academic excellence persisted, however. Over the years from the early incident of my childhood, if my parents ever wanted to get me back into line, I’d be called a liar by my father or threatened with another hiding. The hiding threat stopped when I was 14 and Dad said: “You’re not too old to put across my knee and have a hiding”. I stared at him and then said: “If you so much as touch me, I’ll pack my bags, quit this house and never return”. He knew I meant it and never raised the threat again. Although he continued to love labelling me a liar at the drop of a hat even though, as I’ll explain later, it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black as he was an ace liar and manipulator.
Nevertheless, I stayed on the treadmill of always trying to be the best, mainly coming top or near the top in classes right through to going to university in 1966.
But while I was good academically, I never saw myself as creative. The fact that I could write stories at the drop of a hat was so easy, it didn’t seem like a gift or talent. And in those days, I guess creativity was defined by your artistic, musical or other arty-farty abilities.
This was reinforced when a guy I was going out with while I was at University in Bradford split up with me and later, when we’d got back together, I found a list he’d made of reasons for or against resuming our relationship. One of the “against” factors was my “lack of imagination”. I felt like I’d been sucker punched by this but had too little self-esteem or self-confidence in those days to tell him to get knotted which would have been the appropriate response.
A memo to anyone reading this: if someone doesn’t value you for who you are, don’t take it personally. It’s their problem, not yours. Concentrate on being the best you can be and honour what lights up your heart and soul. DON’T listen to naysayers, DO listen to your own intuition and integrity to sort out what is right for you. DON’T on any account give your power away to others to decide how you feel, it’s not worth it.
Bullies love it if you suck up their negativity, they feed on your fear. Stand up to bullies, as I did with my father, because bullies are at heart gutless and cowards. Picture them in silly clothing or doing stupid stuff, because ridicule is the best weapon. People don’t value you if you are simply a pale shadow of them or you’re trying to fit in by pretending to be what you’re not. Because when you do that, you dishonour yourself and you’ll find yourself getting depressed or spirit-less as you fail to honour the real you.
I suffered various bouts of depression over the years, starting with my first year at University when, for the first time, I mixed with people academically brighter than me. It left me feeling even more uncertain about myself as a valid person. I used to feel exhausted even though I was sleeping very heavily. So I went to see the doctor in the students’ sick bay who diagnosed depression. Tablets helped me recover but I’d still fall into a depressive state again further down the track where my head felt full of fog and I’d be dead tired all the time. Tablets helped but the malaise went deeper.
In the midst of one bout of depression just after we arrived in Australia, I was referred by the doctor I saw to a therapist who was immensely helpful. She managed to fish out how I felt about Dave’s comment. She suggested a Gestalt session, whereby I sat opposite a cushion on a chair and repeated what Dave had said. Then I occupied the cushion and told him how angry and upset I was. She repeated my comments to me. Then she told me to switch to being Dave and say whatever I thought he might say in response to my comments. To my absolute surprise, I heard myself say: “I don’t remember writing that list at all.” The counsellor laughed at my stunned mullet expression. I realised that I’d been hanging on to this comment and the only person it had hurt was myself. I could feel this huge burden of feeling unimaginative shifting off my shoulders and I felt so much lighter when I walked out. Dave commented how much happier I looked too.
It made me realise that when we hang on to negative stuff that other people have said about us, the only person we hurt is ourselves. Years later I saw someone comment in a newspaper: “I hate people who wear white shoes”. I looked down at my white shoes and decided that I was pretty damned good, and to hate people for a particular “crime” such as wearing white shoes was pretty pathetic. We are so quick to say: “I hate people who …… (and here you can put in your favourite prejudice) when in fact they aren’t aware that we hate them, the only person affected by the hate is ourselves, and it’s a complete waste of energy. Life’s too short to spend it in useless energy-wasting activity.
Although the therapist helped me unlock a few doors, it took a long time to pin down the recurring depressive episodes to the lack of confidence and self-esteem I’d felt since childhood. Later down the track I saw a psychologist who suggested I lacked self-confidence. I thought he was mad as a cut snake as I always projected confidence and a picture of myself as an extrovert. But he managed to dig deep and wheedle out of me how I really felt – how I kept up a face of competence, had a smiling face on all the time, never showed anger and basically presented a false front to people. He directed me towards a range of self-esteem books which I found incredibly useful. They helped me see patterns in my behaviour which I hadn’t realised existed.
I also had a really interesting experience when I was at a fair on Mt Tamborine. I saw a lady with a stall advertising healing work and I felt very drawn to her. So I decided to have a session with her. It was like no other healing session I’d had before or since. She took me back in envisioning the situation of my father’s family, and I could see my grandmother standing between my father and his elder brother, John. John had been the favourite son but had been killed in the D-Day landings and henceforth his memory was sanctified by my grandparents. In the vision I saw my grandmother stepping back and my father punching John in the face. And John faded away. It was as if John had been held back by, perhaps, his own regrets but by Dad’s feelings of frustration, anger and – most likely although it’s only a guess – guilt at his feelings. The vision seemed to set both of them free from the ties of the past.
Then this healing lady took me to the age of eighteen, when I was leaving to go to university. She asked me how I felt. I was surprised to say I felt dragged down. Then she asked me how my father felt. My immediate response was jealousy and lack of support. As a teenager, Dad had passed exams to go to technological college but hadn’t been allowed to go. His parents claimed lack of money but everyone knew that if it had been John in Dad’s place, John would have attended college. My father was very bitter about that. I realised as I connected with my feelings at the time of my departure to Bradford University that I’d picked up sub-consciously Dad’s feelings, jealousy and resentment that I had opportunities denied to him.
I have Neptune in the First House in astrology, close to my Ascendant and Sun Sign. They’re all bunched up in Libra. But what it does mean is that I can see into people, I can see below the surface, I can sense people’s feelings. So at some unseen level I’d picked up on what, I guess, was a lack of support from my father, and it dragged me down without my knowing why. I don’t remember all the details of the healing work I did with this lady on Mt Tamborine on this time in my life, but I do know that she cleared out all the lingering feelings from that time and I came out from her session feeling so much lighter and happier.
I – and Cathy who had come with me to that market – gave our names to the lady who said she was just establishing herself in Queensland. Neither of us heard from her again or saw any sight of her. And I wonder whether she was one of the angels who turn up in human form to give a helping hand to us mortals when we need help and we’ve reached the stage where we’ll accept that help. On the other hand, of course, there could be a very simple explanation. She didn’t like Queensland and departed for greener pastures elsewhere!
There were lots of different ways I received help in dealing with depression and releasing it bit by bit over the years. Looking back it rather reminds me of an onion, peeling away the different layers to get rid of the crap bit by bit.
But really the big turnaround in the bouts of depression came when I started painting, working with crystals and teaching women mandala art, crystal healing and a course I developed called “Live Your Dream”. I had come full circle to recognise myself as a very creative being. And in understanding that, I stood tall in my own shoes and never looked back. The last depressive episode I had was in 1996 and that was it. The final hurrah to the Black Dog.