In the Hot Springs: an Introspecitive

Why putting yourself down is never a good plan.

I am a woman of substance and just fine with taking my space. I have raised children without body issues, so I figure I am doing something right.

Yesterday we went to the hot springs. It was glorious. For the first time in a long time, there was no pain. No joint pain, no bone aches, just soothing warmth and mineral bliss. Lovely. I wore my beautiful swim dress, modest with scalloping and embroidery, I swished purple into the pool and lolled. Warm, smiling, floating, lolling. I didn’t even notice if people were staring because….I didn’t. I was warm. I was pain free. I was swishing in my swim dress but more than any of that, I liked being me.

My friend however, spent much of her time complaining about herself. Now, I have other friends who do this, some more intellectually than others, but never have I been faced with a constant barrage of self abuse. Unflattering comments about her self, her body, her swim suit, until I gently pointed it out. “Oh, I know I put myself down a lot.” Indeed, but what really got to me was the not so subtle invitations for me to join in. “Maybe,” my young daughter said much later when we were musing upon it, “Maybe she just wanted you to tell her that she wasn’t so bad.” Not my job, though. I will not join in the self-flagellation and I feel that any acknowledgment validates the abuse. It is a puzzle to me.

I realised long ago that if I was self-critical it simply gave others permission to join in. Why would I do that? It was such a struggle to learn to like and love myself. Self – verbal – abuse does not lend itself to self love. (Ironic, yes? No.) Yet, so many indulge in it. Obesity itself is only one measure of a lack of wellbeing. There are so many forms of self-abuse, so many ways to self-mutilate and humans appear to indulge in them all.

So, what made the difference? What allowed me to curtail the self-abuse? What revelation opened my heart to loving myself? First, I understood that other people do not generally do things to us. They simply live their lives and sometimes there is crappy fallout. Whenever we do not take responsibility for the impact of our actions and behaviours, whenever we blame others for how we feel, we forget that we are not the centre of the universe and that sometimes life just happens. After all, it is not what happens in life but how we respond to it.

How did that help me? Stepping away from egocentricity saved my sanity. If I assumed that someone’s bad mood was the result of their own lives and nothing to do with me, I was free of paranoia. In turn this allowed me to understand that there are times when I need to ask someone how they are doing and if they are alright. Maturity helps and a broadening of your world beyond your own thoughts. Then what? If I allowed that I was a likeable person who showed care for others and was not horribly self-involved, then what was the next step to loving myself?

I pondered this for a long time before the answer occurred to me. I decided. I decided to love myself and then practice it. Here is the key. Whenever we wish to establish a new habit, new behaviours, we need to practice them. I decide to love myself. How do I practice loving myself? Well, it is not self-indulgence. It is not spending all my money on myself and then not having enough to pay my way in the world. It is not always doing only what I want irrespective of others. It is about responsibility because when we take responsibility, we are free. So, I practiced loving myself. I looked after myself, I stopped the negative self-talk, I chose clothing I love to wear, I created an home for myself and my children, I learnt what I could manage and what my limits were.

I decided and then I practiced. What has this to do with a day at the hot springs? Not only did I not join in the negative self talk, I found it foreign, odd and sad. I took my space and did not notice anyone staring critically and smiled at everyone. I walked the entire length of the reflexology creek for the first time and celebrated every little success. I swished in my purple swim dress and explored every pond and pool, steam room and sauna I came across.

In short, I had a wonderful day.

(c) CLHHarper 16 June 2014

Meeting my birth mother: an Introspective

I was 24 when I made contact with my birth mother. The adoption laws had been changed, making it easier to be connected. We wrote for a while, then sent cassette tapes. Yes, this some time ago. Eighteen months later I travelled across Australia to meet her.

I took the bus from Perth. I was 25 when I hopped on a bus to travel across the Nullabor then fly across Bass Strait. Everyone on the bus knew of my journey although I don’t actually remember telling anyone. I was too scared to leave the airport in case I missed my flight so spend 8 hours in the terminal. I showered, had my hair done, ate and read. I wasn’t a worldly person. I was an anxious one.

When I exited the plane, everyone wished me well, again. I did’t remember telling anyone. I walked into the airport and looked about. You know how in stories there is an instant knowing, of eyes meeting across a room? Nope, we walked right passed each other. She was much smaller than I anticipated. I had much bigger hair that she thought possible (it was the ‘80s). But we did meet. Connected? That took time.

There are no words to describe the broken relationship between a mother and a child. In many respects I was still a child then. We have no concepts nor language to re-establish that relationship. I was naive and inexperienced in worldly complications. It was quite a complicated situation. I returned with my mother to her house to meet my siblings.

Siblings. Goodness. If there are no words or concepts for a meeting between lost parent and child then there are even less for siblings who did not grow up together. There were also grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins. I met them all together over one weekend. All of them. They wanted to know where my husband and children were. After all I was 25 and they had all had children given up for adoption, married the girls they got pregnant or married and had “legitimate” children by 25. Sadly, I had none. No husband, no children, anxious, scared and confused, I wasn’t much of a prize.

I was able to fly back after my visit and had one more week of leave before returning to work. I was shell shocked. I felt like I had been blown apart and the pieces of me no longer fit together comfortably. The raw edges of my psyche bumped against everything and bled. I sobbed for the week, trying desperately to sort myself out.

It took another three years for me to understand that I listened to my mother with ears of rejection. Only our determination to be a part of each other’s lives kept us bumping along a sometimes very rocky path. Misunderstandings were us. My relationships with her children were fumbling. I eventually gave up. We get along very well when we meet. When I altered the way in which I listened to my mother, and she to me, things began to change.

We have known each other now for 27 years. We are very alike in temperament and I love her very much. My mother is someone to admire. Once she referred to my doggedness, my determination. I roared laughing and asked her where she thought I got it from?

Then there was the time I met my biological father….but that’s the end of this story.

(c) CLHHarper June 2014

Community Conversations

Community Conversations

While I am a Storyteller, I have been a Community Development Worker for as long or longer. Nothing gives me more excitement or satisfaction than weaving stories of disparate groups together into the stronger fabric of Community. That’s Community with a capital C.

Aboriginal community use Community as a way of describing the interconnectedness and interdependence of people. Non-Aboriginal community use the word to generally describe groups other than their own, often not recognising their own participation in Community. It is an interesting distinction. For me, Community has a capital C. Within Community, that winding of spirit, heart and mind, can be numerous smaller communities. All of them link and require connectedness to survive.

In my region, we have real concerns with food security. It is astonishing to me that in a world that over produces, access to fresh produce is minimised for monopoly of profit. I live in a bush town, surrounded by farming community. Most of the farmers are tied into contracts that do not allow them to offer their produce outside those contracts. That way madness lies.

So, we are starting our own Community Food Project and coming together to look after ourselves. It’s quite clear that that governments simply couldn’t care less, nor do big producers or organisations that seek profit above Community. We will do it for ourselves as must so many others. We are starting our own Community Dining program. This is shared meal once a month where everyone contributes, either their time, money or fresh produce. It is a great opportunity to meet a broad range of people from your local community.

This will be coupled with a food co-op. I am very keen that each buyer contributes an extra dollar to our one and only emergency relief centre (for the whole region!) to increase their capacity to feed the 900 families per week they cater for in this flourishing, farming region. Crazy, isn’t it? The co-op buying group will allow us to access local producers through a food hub.

We are also linking with the local community gardening group and I am particularly looking forward to a bit of Gorilla Gardening (opportunistic gardening in public and private spaces), in fact I might get started on that this weekend. This will be enhanced by the courses offered by the Neighbourhood House, the gardening group and links to local businesses.

Ah, that feels better already and we are only just getting started.

(c) CLHHarper 5 June 2014