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

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