Peeling back the onion: An introspective

When you search deeply enough you get to the star stuff within.

WARNING: this is a personal post. If you are only wanting stories, check out my other posts.

The layers that surround us, that cover up the star dust of our essential selves, distract us into thinking that the layers are what truly matters. I know, there have been many self help books that talk about the business of getting to the core of ourselves, our truth. But what is truth without a little dressing, to make it palatable to the tongue? For this exercise I am going to focus on myself. Peel back the onion layers. I know they are not real. I want to see the shine of the star stuff within.

Over the decades since my childhood, blighted with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pain (because, gosh darn it, why not have it all?), I have spoken with many therapists. Talking therapy doesn’t do much for me, although there has been the occasional counsellor who has been strategic and practical enough to suit me. Energetic healing accompanied by spoken acknowledgement and linking to the source of pain works for me. I find this fascinating as I am generally a logical person and don’t have a lot of time or interest in naval gazing. I feel I ought to find energetic healing inaccessible but the opposite is true.

I am also a creative person. Whether it be stories, my garden, art, craft, solutions to problems or something I really want but have limited budget for, I generally manage to do it. Friends often comment on my creativity or my creative solutions to problems. To me I focus on the problem and look at it from every angle, trial solutions in my imagination, then  inspiration strikes and the answer becomes apparent. A recent example is creating a cinema on my back deck with only $500 to spend. After a few months of thought, research and mental trialling, we have our cinema. It is lovely and for less than my budget. Solved.

I have employed the same strategy for dealing with feelings and behaviours. I have observed that foster children often have autistic-like behaviours due to the trauma of removal or abuse or both. Reflecting, I can see the same struggles in myself. I have at least one brother on the spectrum and I suspect that if I am not ASD then I have thinking processes that mimic autism due to trauma. I stepped into young adult hood completely baffled by people’s behaviour and often needing to shut down to process. I have had to think my way around their behaviour and become skilled at picking up nuances to determine dynamics and meaning. The most useful thing said to teenage me was that other people’s behaviour had to do with their lives, not me. Having grown up with a bi polar father and a clinically depressed mother who suffered from acute social phobia, this was a revelation and a relief.

I can remember panic attacks from quite early on, migraines from the age of six and the beginning of a stomach ulcer by fifteen. I was bulimic through my final year of high school and had severe stomach pain and digestive distress from my mid teens until my forties. I ate to change how I felt and I ate to push feelings down. Due to the digestive distress (I like that phrase), I often violently rejected what I had eaten. I had endometriosis, asthma, arthritis from a young age and early onset menopause, resulting in a radical hysterectomy when I was forty. All that on top of or because of the abuse. I am going to examine one aspect of the abuse that appears to be the driving force of my illnesses, compulsions and devastating low self esteem. I’ll start from the beginning.

My conception was due to teenage hormones. My pregnant teen mother, abandoned by her boyfriend, determined to give me the best chance by giving me up for adoption. At the time of my birth, it was the practice to remove the child immediately from the birth mother so no bonding could occur. My mother screamed the house down until she got to hold me, unwrap me, count my fingers and toes and note that I looked like a baby from her family. Then I was taken away from her (again) and after the requisite time in hospital, placed in the babies’ home. I have a memory from there. This is a visual and sensory memory.  My feet are tiny, I am lying on my back, there is nothing to look at (I can’t even see the light) and I feel ice cold. I think my little heart was broken.

Now the point of this exercise is to identify how I feel about each of these abandonments. I. Feel. Absolute. Fury. I am angry that that callous boy and his family did nothing to support my mother. I am angry that there existed the mentality that some women were not fit to be mothers due to their marital status. I am furious with the practice of removing babies at birth and I am desperately heart broken that that little baby girl ever knew a time when no-one would come.

Then I was adopted. My adoptive parents already had two boys and I think they were pleased enough with me when I was a baby. As a toddler though it appeared that my adopted mother simply could not make time for me. From the age of three I was sent to my god parents’ home for sleepovers. The old man there made my nights a nightmare. I am unsure of what was going on at my home at that time but I do know that it became a scary place to be as well.

How do I feel about that betrayal and desertion, the abdication of parental responsibility and my small child right to safety and protection? I feel a profound sense of loss and grief. The well for this is so deep that it swells up around me, girdles my belly and swells into my throat. I feel a deep seated anger that our parents put themselves before us and I feel an heart broken betrayal that I became a nuisance from the age of three.

My parents were not good people. They appeared to be from the outside but I know others found them strange as they got to know them. It took me years to work my way out of their delusions.

From the age of five, my father would beat me with his strap. I cannot imagine what a five year old could do that deserved such treatment. My mother could hit hard enough to leave hand welts but her favourite technique was sneaky pinch twists with her hard nails. We were often sent away for weekends and somehow pedophiles were found for everyone. I learnt early not to cry or show any reaction. With yelling at home, the strap and other punishments, verbal abuse and sharp slaps, my home was not a fun place to be. School and stories were my solace.

How do I feel about the abuse, scarring (literal as well as figurative), molestation and being constantly sent away and told how much bother I was? I feel deeply sorrowful and betrayed. My parents deserted me and abdicated their responsibility for my safety in every practical, emotional, psychological and spiritual way while maintaining the appearance of being upstanding people. My mother was sure to tell everyone what a storyteller I was. Imagine her horror when I became a professional teller. (Yes, she really did think all my stories would be about her.)

My mother once left my eight year old self in a department store in the city while she dashed off to put money in the parking meter. WHO leaves an eight year old by herself in a busy city store? I managed to get myself cornered and molested by an old man. My mother was furious with me when I told her. Yes, with me. If I had done exactly as she said it wouldn’t have happened. Seriously? My children once tackled me on my over protectiveness but none of the things that happened to me forty years ago have happened to them. They know how fiercely I protect them and how I would leap into battle on their behalf. They know that they are loved and wanted. How did I deserve any less? It infuriates me that the parents I loved and had every right to be protected by failed so terribly. My siblings and I paid the price.

I was seventeen when I found out that my father was not supposed to beat the crap out of me. He was resisting hitting my second brother as he had broken my brother’s collar bone and it was still healing. He took it out on me and I went to school with my legs ripped up. I was mortified. My friends were horrified. They told me about child rights and child welfare and I threatened him with it. There was much yelling but he never hit any one of us again. He had other ways to torture me.

With every rejection, every desertion of duty, every dereliction of love, they failed. They adopted four children. My elderly mother bewails that we are not a close family. No, I do not enlighten her. I sat down with my parents, and my sexual abuse counsellor, at the age of twenty-six to talk it through. My mother said that it was discipline that lifted the skin from my legs and left scars down my arms and if only there was an adult to verify my story of sexual abuse. To my surprise my father apologised for frightening and hurting me. He spoiled that later by asking if I had discovered any more repressed memories. I looked him in the eye and said that I had not as I had never forgotten.

When you reach adulthood and no one has kept you safe, you simply don’t know how to do it for yourself. I went through two rapes, one severe breakdown and numerous panic attacks before I worked it out. Then I married someone who treated me the same way as my parents did. They suffered hyper states, severe chronic depression, severe anxiety, social phobia and had hateful parents. The sicker I got (and I became increasingly ill over the thirteen years we were together), the angrier they became with me. It was bloody endless. It took me six years from when I realised we were no good together until I got out. It took my male energetic healer and counsellor at the time to say to me, you know what to do and when you hurt badly enough you’ll do it. I did. I don’t ever want to go through that again.

How do I feel about this? Intellectually I know they were all doing what they were doing without once thinking of the impact on me. Experientially, I was systematically disintegrated into nothing and no one. I am furious that it happened and I am angry with myself that I allowed it. I knew I was being abused. I couldn’t believe it but I knew. I know the best prediction of the future is the past. I am educated and intelligent. I am logical and creative. Yet. Yet I have a lifetime of suffering abuse. I feel defeated that I am too afraid to try for love again.

My son recently left home. Intellectually, I celebrate his grand adventure but I could feel myself disassociating and sliding into nothingness, triggered by my perception of his abandonment. I could feel myself slipping away and all the signs and symptoms of an episode of depression were signalling furiously. This time I went for energetic healing and we finally got down to my core issue of desertion, which triggers my anxiety, compulsive behaviours, drops my self esteem even lower and then the slow slide, desperate scrabbling, into the abyss of depression. Not this time. He’s gone on his adventure, I’m just starting mine too. I know how much he will think of me and miss me. I will too.

I am turning 51 this year. It is time. I can argue with myself that it was all a long time ago, get over it. I can tell myself that worse things could have happened and do happen over the world to all sorts of people. That does not make it okay and I will not minimalise anyone’s suffering, including my own. For I am still reacting in the old ways. I will take my anger and my fury over all the desertions of delinquent parenting and partnership and hold it up to the star stuff, the light within, to see clearly. This time I will shine.


(C) CLHHarper March 2013

Lauren Higgenbottom: a Jumbly Tale

Lauren Higgenbottom had always been Lauren Higgenbottom despite her efforts to change it. When she moved to Jumbly’s village she became Mrs. Lauren Higgenbottom, never thinking that anyone would notice, just hoping for a change in reputation.

Alas, as many learn the hard way, it doesn’t matter how often you change location, things would always turn out the same if you took yourself there. If you took yourself and did all the same things, you would have exactly the same result. When Lauren moved to Jumbly’s village that is just what she did. She was very disappointed to find that the addition of a title and new ears to hear her resulted in almost exactly the same scenario as in her last village and the one before that and the one before that and so on.

Lauren liked to talk. Lauren liked to talk a lot. Lauren liked to talk about other people, a lot. A lot of Lauren’s talk about other people was critical. Very little of Lauren’s talk about other people was kind. Lauren liked to hear herself talk and to see others listening to her. It made her feel important. If she felt their attention was flagging she would make the story more dramatic and her voice quite a lot louder. This habit got Lauren into trouble on more than one occasion. So difficult to remember all one’s embellishments.

Lauren grew up in a village very similar to Jumbly’s. It was over the mountain range, weeks by horse and cart. Lauren had been the youngest of eight children, which was a lot of mouths to feed. By the time she came along, her mother had lost interest and simply focussed on getting chores done, children fed, clothes wash, work taken in, pennies scraped, food found, garden tended and round again. Lauren’s father worked from before dawn until long after she was abed. In fact, Lauren didn’t know that there was a man who lived in their house until she was four years old. Early one Sunday morning, she went to the lavatory only to find a man asleep in there. She raised a hue and cry in her fright, causing all seven siblings and mother to stumble out of bed and gather around the outhouse. The man woke to find all of them staring in at him. He, in turn, got a fright and due to the endless strain of providing for his large brood, the lack of sleep and food, and being startled awake, had an heart attack on the spot and died. He was a big man and it took quite some effort to remove him from the outhouse, made all the more difficult as the frigid morning air made everything quite urgent.

Lauren’s mother was understandably angry at the loss of income and regretted the cost of a funeral, so the last sight of the father she didn’t even know she had was as the lid shut and the coffin lowered at the graveside. No-one seemed particularly perturbed. There were enough of them working now to make up the income and most of them hadn’t seen him for some time. Now she thought about it, Lauren remembered a ‘father’ being mentioned but really hadn’t put it together as an actual person. More like the fairy tales of gift giving at Christmas time. Never saw that neither.

When Lauren was five she was sent to the village school. A little nonplussed at being thrown in with all the other children, she followed her siblings and soon found out about books. Books, the stories in them and reading were like a shining beacon to Lauren. Whenever she couldn’t be found for any of her interminable chores, they all knew to hunt her at the bottom of the yard where she had draped her dad’s old army coat over a table and kept her library. Her library consisted of every book, flier, newspaper, cutting and postcard she could pilfer. She read every word over and over again. Lauren learnt so much from books. She learnt that people in books did not live like them. They had a bed to themselves (mostly), clean sheets (she wasn’t sure what that meant but suspected it had something to do with the lavatory. Anyway it sounded nice.), more than one set of clothing and food. They actually ate at least three meals a day. Lauren could only wonder what that might be like.

About this time she began to notice that not everyone in the village had as many children as their house. She suspected that some of her siblings may have fallen in with them by mistake. They certainly did not all look alike and especially not like the man in the outhouse. Then she wondered if she had been taken by mistake and if there was another family with all those clean things that were looking out the window every night wondering where on earth she had got to. When she asked her mother, she just laughed, loudly, until she choked. Then her mum pulled her over to the window which was mirror like with the dark night behind and pointed out that all of the children, including Lauren, looked exactly like her. Her mum gave her an affectionate cuff and sent her off to bed.

The idea took hold though and from then on, Lauren would sneak out most nights and she would creep from house to house, peering in at the families inside. Which of them could be hers? Maybe her mum was her mum but maybe the man in the outhouse had not been her father? Maybe if she looked at every face closely enough she would find some resemblance and she could knock on the door and dah! He would welcome her in as his long lost daughter. His family would flock around and exclaim over the state of her, whisk her off for a bath (which she wasn’t sure about), new clothes and food (which she was sure about). The story of the Prodigal Son had been told at Meeting for Worship and Lauren looked at the Elder askance for some time after, wondering.

By the time she was twelve, her mother said she’d had enough schooling and it was time to earn some money for the family. There wasn’t so many of the family left at home and there was a little more of everything because of it. Lauren found work at a bakery. This suited her very well. She was up well before the sun, off to assist the baker. The bakery was warm and filled with delicious smells and the baker gave her breakfast. By the time her tasks were finished and the bakery cleaned, Lauren would have pastries that were misshapen for her lunch and be ready for an afternoon siesta in her hideaway. A rolling library cart came through once a week with books to exchange for a penny and again the following week. Lauren made good use of the library and felt her life just couldn’t get any better.

Then her mum passed away. One night, in her rocker, just worn out with work and children. Lauren decided then and there to never have children. Another graveside burial with her siblings and niblings and Lauren wondered where she would live. Her older brother negotiated with the baker to take her in, in exchange for her services cleaning the shop in the evening. Lauren didn’t mind. She moved her few things and her many books into the little storeroom of the bakery and settled in. She fashioned herself a bed with many covers (that she got horribly tangled in and was mystified by but persisted with), shelves for her books and the floor for her clothes (that’s where they had always lived after all. The books mentioned wardrobes and she had an image of large wooden boxes, so kept her eye out for one.). Lauren was happy.

Lauren stayed happy until about eighteen (she’d lost track somewhere) when she finally blossomed and noticed boys. As she was a well fed girl who had a warm place to sleep and knew about cleanliness (thank goodness one of the books had more explanation of that, although it was a little embarrassing), the boys noticed her too. Lauren hadn’t really bothered with friends, she had her books after all and really didn’t know how to deal with the sudden looks, comments and innuendo. To counter it she would tell the stories of her favourite characters as if they were her own. As time went on she became quite enamoured of these fabrications and would embellish them. To the young men she seemed extraordinarily silly and when she had no idea of what they wanted, they lost interest.

Lauren felt bereft. For the first time in her life people had paid her attention and she wanted it back. She developed the habit of whenever anyone made eye contact with her she would bustle over to share her latest adventure. This resulted in considerable shunning and Lauren retired hurt and confused. She thought she might fare better with girls so began chatting away as she had seen other girls did, sharing her inner most thoughts whenever anyone asked how she was. Girls are more direct than boys and instead of shunning her they began to make fun of her. When they queried her outlandish tales, their prodding resulted in more embellishments and exaggerations. For a couple of years Lauren thought she had quite a few friends who would egg her on in her stories until one particularly racy tale brought it all crashing down around her ears.

The Elders visited the bakery. They spoke with the baker and flicked glances her way from the corners of their eyes. Lauren’s heart thudded. She knew they spoke about her and could not think what she had done. The baker nodded. He liked Lauren and thought her a funny little thing, always in a world of make believe. He’d wondered what would become of her but he never thought she would do this. The Elders and the baker approached her. Lauren, in the middle of sweeping, clutched at her broom. Cornered she dropped her head and apologised for whatever it was she had done wrong. What might that be? they enquired. She had no idea so they enlightened her. Lauren was horrified to discover that the stories she had shared to entertain her friends had been spread as true doings. She was considered to be a young woman of immoral stand and quite likely in the family way. Lauren blushed violently. She had never, never, never, they were just stories. Stories!

Still the damage to her reputation was done and the Elders took her away to minister to her. After several hours of every tale about herself she had ever told been produced as evidence of her misdeeds, Lauren was beyond mortification and could no longer answer. She sat mute while tears flooded down her face. Satisfied of her repentance, the Elders informed her that she would be sent to another village and apprenticed to the Herb woman for five years. Lauren, who had absolutely no interest in plants and gardening, was horrified. She begged to ask her siblings to take her in only to be told they had been consulted and made the suggestion. They wanted the source of their shame as far away as possible.

Lauren was bundled off and did her apprenticeship. She found exactly the same intolerance to her stories there. As soon as someone asked her about herself or how she was, the tales would come tumbling out. In exasperation, the Herbal woman suggested she think about teaching or writing her stories.

Lauren froze in the middle of pounding herbs. Teach and write? Of course! To do that she would have to move far away from all those who knew her so she packed up once again and headed for the coast. She was able to find a post as a governess, teaching to the children of ten families. By this time Lauren knew how to make herself presentable and had altered her speech to an original blend of pronunciations she had gleaned from books. She tried, oh she did try to observe people and act more like they did. The years rolled on with differing levels of success and a trail of governess positions and villages. Through all this travel Lauren kept telling and writing her stories. Her stories she sent off time and time again, hoping for publication.

Finally one of her stories was accepted by a popular magazine and they requested more for their serialised tales. Then they asked her to be their agony aunt correspondent. My goodness, now she could tell her stories and tell people what to do. Lauren put all her observations, her reading, her imagination to work and gained quite a following. Between her teaching pay and her writing earnings, lack of a family and frugal living, Lauren amassed a nice little nest egg and thought about buying her own home.

She was not a young woman anymore and needed to retire from teaching. Her brusque style was still in vogue as agony aunt, so she could still keep writing. Her stories were published in a range of magazines and she had been approached with putting some together into a book. Really Lauren felt quite pleased. She had left her humble beginnings far behind. Only one thing remained the same.

Lauren still did not have any friends. While she had made acute observations of the interactions between her fellow humans and could give appropriate advice to her correspondents, Lauren had simply not mastered personal relationships. She determined that when she found her retirement home she would do everything differently, not drive everyone away with her excessive embellishments but find herself as the village wise woman to whom everyone would come. Lauren was so wrapped up in this fantasy that she began telling it in the village she was about to leave. They had all had enough and pointedly told her so. Lauren was astonished. Once again she had let her imagination run away with her. This time she would focus on others. She was determined.

Lauren moved to Jumbly’s village. She called herself Mrs Higgenbottom, hoping it would give her more importance. She bought the house of Jumbly’s old friend, whose passing he was heartbroken by. She determined that she would not be the old spinster who was this old jumbled up man’s friend. By all reports he couldn’t even talk properly although people spoke with such fondness of his doings and what he had shared with them. It was most odd. She would not be the odd old woman who was his friend.

Lauren moved into the little house that had been Jumbly’s friend, and found it stuffed to the rafters with a lifetime’s collection of living. She bundled it carefully, if not a little forcefully, into a large rear garden facing room and arranged it as a rather squashed but cozy sitting room. Not that she would ever use it. She preferred a more spartan approach and the house was scoured and bare with little warmth or coziness.

Lauren kept her word to herself and made it her business to find out about everyone else’s business. The desire to share the tales hadn’t left her. The compulsion to add embellishments meant that soon Lauren was ensnared in her web of exaggerations and decorations. She saw that people began crossing the street to avoid talking to her. She knew that the Elders would not be far behind. Lauren was in despair. How could so many decades have gone past and the same thing still be happening?

That was when she began to notice Jumbly watching her. Actually it was more that he would watch the house and if she ventured into the front yard, he would smile shyly. She didn’t want to encourage him, so she would turn her head away. Never quite fast enough to miss seeing the sadness on his face, however. Lauren’s distress grew. How would everyone accept her if she was friendly to him? Although she noticed that everyone who went to great pains to avoid her, always, always, stopped and spoke to Jumbly.

Jumbly. She knew all about him. His life, his tragedy and his stories. His stories! What about hers? The tales she could tell these people if only they would listen. If only they knew who she was and that she would know the answers to all her problems. Why, why did they speak with him and not her? There he was again! Standing forlornly across the road. Why she had a good mind to, to.

Lauren’s eyes met Jumbly’s. To her surprise he was a young man. Tall, broad-shouldered, well built, his smile curled into his beard. Neatly dressed and clean as a working man could be, Lauren was finally caught by his eyes. Dark, dark brown. Brimming over with sadness, loss and grief. Something in Lauren recognised a kindred bewilderment with the world. A loss, a sadness and then Jumbly smiled. Lauren caught her breath and smiled in return.

Before she knew what she was doing, she beckoned him over and opened her gate. He rumbled across and jumbled something at her in his deep voice. Lauren nodded, of course, of course, I have kept all her things for you. Come in, come in, I’ll make a cup of tea.

And so began the friendship between the Jumbly Man and old Lauren Higgenbottom.

(c) CLHHarper March 2014

Wherefore art thou, Jumbly Man?

The Jumbly Man. Where did he come from?

I sat down one day to write a blog and fully intended to include a totally different story but The Jumbly Man arrived instead.

I do like him. I like him a lot. He is simple yet so complex, he lives his life yet has suffered great trauma and loss. He blames no-one for their misfortune yet feels justifiable rage on others’ behalf. He cannot articulate yet is understood clearly. He cares with great compassion yet wrong doers will feel the sting of his wrath. He views the world with clarity and purpose yet finds much happiness. His favourite thing is to laugh yet travels often to wash his woes. He is a solitary soul yet robustly enjoys the company of others. He loves passionately yet never holds onto bitterness.

He lets his life speak, as we Quakers say.

Jumbly lives his life simply, without fanfare or needing acknowledgment. He shares his kindnesses and empathy because that is who he is. He listens with humour but is never dismissive. Best of all, his presence heals.

Why? Because in Jumbly there is rest.

I know Jumbly’s whole story, his journey from birth to death but the tales come as they do. There’s one about Mrs Higgenbottom soon to tell then a pivotal tale for Jumbly Man. There are so many stories that weave in and out. They take their time and so must I.

I do love Jumbly. I love his patience and his kindness. I love his sense of the ridiculous. I love his capacity to love. He still has mean thoughts or uncharitable ones as he might say but it doesn’t shade his character.

Is Jumbly me or is he hope? I feel he is himself. The Jumbly Man. Adam Jumbles. If you haven’t read one of his tales you had better get started. There’s a big one coming and you’ll need to be ready.

Until then, in Jumbly time.