My sad self : reflections on trauma, Persephone and journeying in the Underworld

Persephone2

My sad self is not the whole of me, though at times it is so strongly present.  There is a side of me that is very dark and heavy and sad, that has lived in a dark and heavy places of isolation, separation and grief and known great loss and pain, awakening at 17 when an accident nearly took me out and stole from me that last semester of my final year at school.  Talking with my therapist a few days ago I spoke of how it felt like at that age a tear appeared in the fabric of the earthly reality and a dark hand reached up to grab me and take me down into the Underworld.  That was just the initial event of many traumatic experiences that unfolded spanning the years from age 17 to 31 when I finally got sober and arrested my active addiction in 1993.

The light returned for a time, then, when I met my ex husband.  We had some happy years of normality as we built a life together but in time the darkness of my unresolved past claimed me.  As I look back I wish I could have made other choices.  I wish I could have remained tethered in the daylight world and gone on to share a life with my husband but it all got torn apart around this time of year and so my sad regretful self is very, very strong some days.   I find myself captured by thoughts of what could have been were we able to build a new life in Cambridge.  I know its useless to regret the past in that regretting solves nothing.

Maybe too, as my therapist says, my ex husband wasn’t a proper life partner for me, maybe it was all ‘meant to be’.  That kind of shift of perspective can make my heart less heavy as I realise that I can be grateful for the time we did have together but also recognise there was a deeper layer to me than could ever truly find a home in that relationship.  And that I had an inner destiny calling me within that had not only a personal but a collective purpose.

As I shared in an earlier post Mercury, planet ruling perception, mind, communication and journeys turned backwards for a glance on Sunday, the 11th and it is not quite on my Pluto/Persephone in the first house, but nearly!  So I am looking back at all the changes and endings that led to now and this new beginning.

I read a very insightful chapter in a book on the Goddesses in Everywoman many years ago and in the chapter on the Persephone woman I found myself.  The Persephone woman’s life journey takes her to the Underworld either through emotional abandonment, depression, abuse, trauma or addiction.  There she lives out the dark side, perhaps sharing a strong connection to the ancestors.  I have Pluto Moon and in her book on that subject, astrologer Judy Hall tells the stories of several Plutonian Moon people, John Lennon was one.  He wasn’t a woman but the early abandonment of his mother left him with wounds.  The other family profiled in that book with a strong Pluto/Persephone signature was the Bronte family.   Several of the Brontes died young and there was mother loss that dogged them all, most especially the younger brother.  The dark heart of Pluto Moon is present in several of the sister Bronte’s books which touch on obsessive love and mental suffering and trauma experienced in and through relationships (Moon) with the traumatised (Pluto).

For myself I feel the heavy blackness at times.  Kat and I were going over the years of my life that led to my oldest sister’s first suicide attempt in 1982, yesterday.  It was such a hard year in my life anyway in other ways.  Following my accident and an aborted attempt to embark on studies up North I returned home to live in hopes of finishing my teaching degree. Instead Dad forced me to go to secretarial college.  As Kat said to me yesterday : “That just wasn’t you”.  I told her that it was as boring as hell and that we had type in triplicate with two carbon papers only being allowed two mistakes a page.  No tippex and no computer autocorrect.  That year my drug taking and alcoholism really escalated.

In later years one smart arse said to me “why didn’t you tell your Dad to stick it up his jumper!”.  That wasn’t done and in any case I didn’t have means to support myself on the back of my accident.   Anyway it was that year my sister’s husband returned her home to us with a one way ticket and one blue tracksuit with a beaten up old case for what she believed was a two week holiday.  He just disappeared and there was no return ticket.  Her four boys were with him.  Suicide attempt in that dark front room at the start of the  hallway, dark, dark emptiness descends like a shroud, laying all joy to waste!   A few years later my father’s illness grew and he was taken, leaving us alone.

Early on I learned relationships were dangerous. Life was unsafe.  Today when I woke up I just lay there and repeated to myself over and over again.   “You are safe, you are loved.”  Trauma repeat on any waking up and coming to consciousness tells me otherwise!  It tells me without words but with body symptoms “you are about to die, or be killed! Or something is about to be stolen.” (As it always is, I guess, as life goes on!)

Death is really rearing its head in therapy lately and coming up a lot (Mercury on Pluto in the first house makes sense!).  In the absence of outside forces collecting to cut me down or kill me I can then internalise the killer within in the form of a nasty anti life critic mean saboteur grim reaper who cuts all life, all joy, all promise, all hope, all faith off.   That is when I find myself once again deep in Hades/Underworld or the inner place of shades with a traumatised Erishkegal crying over and over and over again “Woe to me, woe to my insides. All is black, all is helpless, all is fucked death is stronger than life.  I cannot make it!” (Black side of black/white thinking?)

And yet another part of me knows that this is also not the entire reality of the life that I can have and live to embrace.  There is also happiness that is there when I choose to say to that Underworld place : “No! I have done enough time here now!  Now please, will you let me reach for life, for light, for love, for promise, for joy, for hope?  Please don’t kill me off any more.  Please today let me live free and dance through the fields with Jasper.”

Today I beginning to feel that I can actually make a choice but you know moments before writing this and articulating all of this I felt that I was sucked back so far down in the darkness again and literally could not move  This feeling followed a conversation with my Mum after which I absorbed all her sadness and tiredness.  I came off the phone crying because yesterday a put a schism between us due to my abandonment wound arking up.  She didn’t respond with empathy and then I think on some level that just made us both sad.  Today she sounded so very, very tired and then I thought of how at times I almost feel my psychic energy body is reading or mirroring hers which would be another manifestation of strong Pluto Moon, a very strong psychic connection not only with my mother but with the mother line.

Lucky for me I can use perception, my mind and astrological signatures and archetypes to make sense of this ‘stuff’.   When it has its hooks in me though its a different story,  I am sucked on by the psychic/soup/fog of which I am not fully conscious.

I started this blog to speak about my sad self and to explain how that is not the entirety of me.  I have a happy self too, one that can live in the present moment and positive life energy.  I just have to become aware when the darker, heavier, sadder side is gaining hold, feeling my way into it, connecting with it, but not allowing it to fully possess me is a skill I am finally learning.   I want to be able to be and express from both sides for Persephone never lived the entire time in the Underworld. In spring she returned to upside world again with gifts to give and dark knowledge she earned having eaten and tasted the fruit of suffering of Hades/Pluto fruit, the pomegranate.  She can give then to those who also voyage or get trapped in the Underworld too.  She can affirm that they are not lying or mixed up about that place, that it is real and does exist and is not just some form of aberration that so called saner souls can say is ‘madness’ or ‘insanity’, rather it is like a scar or birthmark that permanently marks the souls of some of us.

Like Innana (another Persephone woman), the recovering Persephone becomes able to travel down to meet the ailing, grieving, inconsolable, wounded, flawed, disturbed and sorrowing, hungering side of others or of ourselves.  Through empathy and compassion (and self compassion ) she develops the resilience to be deeply present with others or herself, for a while, holding their/our hand and saying “woe is you and woe to your insides”.  She can do this with patience and forebearance just long enough for her  Underworld sister Erishkegal’s suffering to be soothed, mirrored, contained and transformed.  And then Innana finally becomes free, free to return once again, for a time to earth, to light, to spring, to sunshine, to hope, to trust, to love at least until the next descent or call is heard.

How the Light Gets In

32d284c1a2a51b02a81ec2f478d8353d

I was reflecting in my garden, as reflections of the shadows of leaves waving in the breeze, being tossed lazily around fell before me, about how important nature is to me, and about how I see my recovery from addiction and the pain I carried as a way of seeking to come back into step with the natural cycle and order of things.

When I got sober in 1993 it was the beginning of summer here in the southern hemisphere. Winter brought a new relationship into my life, and by spring, we were married.  By early summer I was in so much pain I around my alcohol abuse that I entered the rooms of AA and found sobriety. Now that I look back I know there was something not quite conscious about the speed with which my husband and I committed, and yet our marriage and coming together was all part of the path, of what was meant to happen in my life in order for me to grow.

Ever since that time, spring represents me a coming to birth and light out of a deep heavy fog of darkness. The loneliness that had dogged me ever since my father’s death and all through adolescence really lifted in the light of new love when my husband and I met. The love of my husband gave me enough support to allow me to make the decision to deal with the impact of my binge drinking.   His love gave me a window and insight into the hurting in my heart and the support to heal. For the rest of my life I will be so grateful to him, even though he is not now in my life. In four days we would have been married 21 years.

I do believe that even when relationships end in real life, the relationship that you had and continue to have with that person lives on inside you. People can remain like ghosts, leaving you haunted or, through a process of healing, you find a way eventually to come to peace and transform the relationship. I feel that peace around me in my heart at the moment despite the ending that came in early 2001 when we left England and the promise of a new life there.

Home brought me back to a sense of deep loss and trauma and our relationship only survived another three years. With so much trauma still undealt with and unprocessed over here in Australia with my remaining family; with my sister incapacitated and stuck in an abusive relationship which was ending; with my mother having sustained a major injury; with the burden of the promise I had made to my dying father to take care of my mother weighing heavily on my heart, I could not live in peace without coming home.  But a part of me was rebelling so deeply against this.  It didn’t seem entirely fair.  Exactly how was it my responsibility? And yet, on some level I thought it was.  The astrologically attuned may understand if they saw all the conjunctions to the South Node in my seventh house of relationships, while the North Node in Leo roars out alone in the first house.

I now see that although I gave myself such a hard time for leaving what was unfolding in the UK for me during 2001, it was necessary for me to come home to deal with the past.  I chose to remain somewhat removed from home and yet got stuck in a place so associated to the past and trauma. It was the house my father built in the final years of his life, those difficult years of trauma, 1979 – 1985.

These days I know the impact of unresolved trauma, of feelings we have no permission or avenue to process can and do often keep us in a freeze state : an inner purgatory or liminal space with is like a cocoon or alembic, a receptacle in which death processes are going on that are not accessible to thought but live like echoes or intimations buried deep. The entire body psyche is bound and regurgitating on an unconscious level, that which was too huge to process and which is needing to be worked through.

Giving a name to our traumatic imprints, finding words is essential to find the freedom, to loosen the tenacious grip that unconscious trauma can leave on the soul. We unravel from it and uncoil, slowly in the presence of acceptance, understanding and love which are difficult for a traumatised person to find amongst even the most familiar to them. In their absence we remain bound and imprisoned until enough failures lead us to no longer abandon ourselves, encourage us to find the love needed inside as well as the courage to make our way through unleashing the necessary feelings.

images (14)

I was chatting to a friend of mine who is sober like me, has been sober and in recovery for over 20 years and she was saying how difficult it is in her family to find understanding and recognition. “I realise” she said to me (echoing my own recent experience, “when I can have my feelings and find help to feel them I move through them. When I don’t get this I stay stuck.”

Later that day I was making my way through Judith Herman’s chapter on safety in her book Trauma and Recovery where I read the following :

The traumatised person is often relieved simply to learn the true name of her condition. By ascertaining her diagnosis, she begins the process of mastery. No longer imprisoned in the wordlessness of the trauma, she soon discovers that she is not alone; others have suffered in similar ways. She discovers further that she is not crazy; the traumatic syndromes are a normal human response to extreme circumstances. And she discovers finally, that she is not doomed to suffer this condition indefinitely; she can expect to recover as others have recovered.”

Such recognition, understanding and healing is only possible when we can feel and give a name, true name to what we have experienced. We may have to live the realisation over and over to come to acceptance in a long and drawn out process of healing, but once we can understand and express our complex feelings we are closer to acceptance and freedom.

Judith Herman notes that people with the complex disorder of post traumatic stress (those who have been impacted severely or by several traumas stacked on each other, or those whose PTSD has been worsened by a lack of empathy around them) often feel they have lost themselves.

“The question of what is wrong with them has often become hopelessly muddled and ridden with moral judgement. A conceptual framework that relates the person’s problems with identity and relationships to the trauma history provides a useful framework for formation of a therapeutic alliance.(which) recognises the harmful nature of the abuse (or trauma) and provides an explanation of… persistent difficulties.”

It seems to me that in giving our traumas words we are recognising the truth of their impact too, recognising this truth may necessitate a period of suffering and or mourning.  That profound period and stage of healing takes the time it takes to work through.  Once negotiated it can and does lead us to re-integration and once we choose it, re-engagement with life.

Tied up with healing may be experiences where we replay unresolved traumas or issues by what is known as repetition compulsion. Before the traumas or losses we have been through can be named we may need to re-experience then in differing guises.  Anniversaries can bring new traumas or events that echo earlier ones.

It has been recognised that unresolved trauma does tend to magnetise to it other traumas which are attempts of the trauma to make itself known (see Peter Levine’s work : Taming the Tiger). I certainly experienced this in my own life. The end of my relationship with my husband brought up not only all the unfelt grief and unnamed trauma of my father’s death and eldest sisters’ illness and breakdown to the surface, but pain of three other major relationships ending.

In the absence of support and recognition as well as the down right hostility of my family and friends to the deeper layers of trauma and grief I was literally driven away, scapegoated and set up to repeat not only those traumas but the very profound trauma of my earlier accident of 1979.   These repeats occurred following the end of my marriage as I had made the choice to return to the scene of earlier “crimes” because their true impact remained unconscious and unprocessed.

The pain of my relationship ending, led me to repeat old traumas over a period of six years. It led me into a relationship in which I would be abandoned in nearly exactly the same way as I was in the month following my father’s death 26 years later. This pattern was not conscious as it was unfolding, only as I worked through the pain, did the repetition elements reveal themselves and in so doing helped me to heal and make sense of how the compulsion to repeat had replayed in my own life.

On an astrological note the true integration of all of that pain took an entire Saturn cycle to play out.  In the last two years, Saturn’s transit through Scorpio has crossed over my natal Neptune and returned to the place it occupied when my father died in 1985 and I took flight over to the land of my ancestors.

When I began this blog earlier it was with the idea in mind of how we can fall out of step with natural cycles or of the profound power of natural cycles to play and replay sometimes in a spiral pattern. The point I was hoping to make was that when I found sobriety in 1993, eight years following my father’s cancer diagnosis and death it was to nature and to a tree that I turned for solace and healing. (This makes great sense to me as I read the blog back, humans around me often were not safe and could not be trusted to be true witnesses to my grief as nature can.)  This may seem strange but in 12 step groups we are encouraged to find a sense of higher power or strength in any avenue that is fitting for us. The word God is used but many people have difficulty with God due to the abuse of certain religions.

For me in the summer of 1993 it was to the roots of a huge fig tree in McKell Park in the eastern suburbs of Sydney that I turned for refuge. It absorbed the tears of mine which fell to the ground when following my first AA meeting I had an experience of coming home, of opening up, of letting go and of being held and comforted by unseen forces, of knowing I was in the right place. It was under this tree that I could sit and feel my way into the heart centre that I closed down over all those years, years during which I felt myself to be driven so far from my own body into addiction and painful relationships.  These were all necessary but misguided attempts to run from a pain I was not able yet, to fully feel my way through to the dark centre of, while replaying an unconscious pattern.

autumn-fall-nature-tree-outdoors

As I sit and type this today these words appear on top of a background of reflected green : the shimmering leaves of the beautiful tulip tree which graces my back yard. As spring birds call out in the distance I find myself at home and at peace. Through all of this unfolding nature and the unfolding of cycles, the turning of wheels within wheels, has carried me through.  Nature bids me these days to find rest when I am overtaxed, it lets me know by its slower natural rhythms when I am out of step or overtaxing myself.  When relationships got stripped away or fell apart because and grief and anger I carried seemed to tax every single relationship, apart from the one with myself,  trees and nature like my little dog have waited patiently giving me something deep and soothing that is in the absence of words a lot like love, that reaches a far deeper place than words could.

Not all humans have failed me and god knows I have failed people too, at times. There have been those, particularly in later years, in person in and online who have been willing to listen and to help me name my true experience, just as there have been those who have been so damned uncomfortable with this that they have sidelined me or tried to shut me up.

Was it that in my addiction I fell out of step with the natural cycle? In trauma something gets ripped open or torn apart. The natural cycle is interrupted or shattered for a time and such shattering leaves a legacy of symptoms which speak of dis-order.  There is, on the astrological side, something profoundly Uranian to this, in that often Uranus disrupts the natural order, perhaps to bring to birth something individual that could not come to birth out of that natural, unbroken order.

And yet in the living of a life that has balance I know I have needed to seek for the order within that disorder, to seek for connection even in the midst of disconnection. To make of the torn apart threads a new garment that has an individual beauty and complexity that rests on the disordered skeins being woven into a new pattern.

So perhaps what happened was this, things fell out of order to find a new order. It is said that it is through the cracks that open from these kind of things that light enters what was previously opaque and impenetrable.   Traumatic events can bring about amazing healing and reconnections between people who might never have met or never experienced connection nor come to outgrowths of new understanding.

And so trauma has its place and things do get torn apart, fall apart and break. Perhaps in the end much depends on the perspective we take and the perspective we reach. Often that change in or re-framing of perspective rests on having travelled a little further down the road. I certainly find this to be true.

Sometimes our healing and resolutions demands of us a patience with that which, as yet has not fully come to birth or form. Life itself and our understandings, too are ceaselessly evolving.   It is good that this is true. That we stay open, that we don’t seek to fix things into place too soon. That we expand our minds eye just a little wider and with the benefit of that expanded aperture find a perspective that reveals to us more of wholeness, of truth of life.

Both Dark and Light are with us as we cycle through the ongoing seasons of life and death

autumn-fall-nature-tree-outdoors

We are heading into winter in the Southern Hemisphere at present and my sister died just before the huge tulip tree in my backyard began to shed its leaves.  When I was writing the eulogy I wanted to say at the funeral it occurred to me that is was so appropriate that she, who loved life and nature so deeply was taken in the last month of Autumn when green leaves were turning gold and red.

In death there was so much love as her four sons were reunited with my mother, brother, sister and I after may years of estrangement.  It was poignant and special that we were able to shed and share tears, as well as times of laughter, to  learn more about the dark years where the boys were taken across he ocean by their father, abandoned, forced to fend for themselves (the older two)  and struggled each with their particular destiny in the rich fabric of the woven family fate.

I have learned so much more throughout this time about our family, who we are, how we react.  The pain and longings we carried and at times buried deep (most especially me).  People keep expressing sadness and sorrow at my sister’s loss and yet even hours before her death on some level I could not help but feel feelings of happiness, hope, peace, release.  Of course these are not the only feelings I feel and felt.  My sister loved Neil Diamond and I cried  this afternoon listening to two particularly pertinent tracks. ” I Am I Said”.  And “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”,

The first song speaks to me of my sister’s particular struggle to live as an individual in a family where her fight for expression was not always recognised and in which, as the second child, she often found herself in the shadow of a much more “successful” older brother.  I put that word in inverted commas because despite the fact my sister suffered a cerebral bleed at age 34 and could never fully recovery her physical potency, she was never the less a massively creative and intelligent human being who had so much to offer.  She excelled at craft and cooking, she was beautiful and bright, and strong willed and at times a bit self destructive in her hunger for life and relationship.  I guess you could call ours a family of low emotional nurturance.  It seems to be a theme that has dogged all of us in different ways.  Still my sister fought to be herself, to gain respect as a disabled person, to be seen and recognised despite her disability.

The second song brought the following realisation.  In later years my sisters bulk grew with each month, probably a legacy of the drugs she was on to control her so called bi polar moods.  Sometimes when I took her out on my own pushing her up hill in the wheelchair to which she was bound became a very difficult.  She was my sister but she was heavy and at times I must confess I felt angry at having to push this weight and then be laughed at when the chair began to careen out of control.  I wasn’t responsible for my sister but still, in the absence of other family, especially my father who we lost over 30 years ago a lot of the responsibility did fall to me.  And yet in another way I was willing to bear that heaviness as the price of being in relationship with her.  I could not, would not abandon her as some of the family did.

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

Yesterday, beginning to clean out her room at the care home, I came across a cache of letters written by my mother to my sister over 40 years ago,  My sister was a sun sign Capricorn with a strong placement of Mars conjunct Saturn in Cancer, the amount of hoarding of letters, photos, cards, cuttings was prolific.  My mother was apt to dismiss it as “junk” but despite the enormity of the task we were faced with I didn’t want to rush to throw anything out.  Somehow the role of family archivist has fallen to me.  I have the Saturn Moon conjunction with Mars and that speaks to me of some kind of task or burden with I might take on in the family especially around the maternal genetic line to which my sister had a very strong connection.   I want to find a way to speak about her story and the story of our family so that there is a written history of things that transpired.  My sister longed to tell her story but she lacked the means and support of writing that story.  Sadly I wasn’t enough help to her in that in the time of her living, I too was working on my own story which although interconnected with hers also had other tangents and threads.

I was inspired to this blog to day by reading another around the cycle of seasons,  In reading it the image of my huge backyard tulip tree shedding leaves came to me and the thought that as a leaf on that tree my sister had fallen.. the residue of her life now becoming the compost that would fuel in some deeply unconscious way the flowing and fruiting of subsequent generations. Will her story and life now fall into the dark or can I through this dark phase of the cycle of death and endings use it for a new purpose and shed some light on it.

Her death has been a reminder to me in this autumnal time of how precious the gift of life and relationship is, even at times when I have wanted to run so far away due to the pain of it.  In facing this death I am learning to embrace life, to front up to the challenging and difficult tasks which bear a deeply rich and poignant fruit.   As Sun opposes Saturn it sheds it light on the multi-generational legacy of my Saturn Mars Moon in the sixth and through this craft of weaving and feeling the tangled truth threads sewn throughout my own being I am growing in consciousness and light.  And in the ongoing acceptance that this dark phase is both a precursor and a necessary phase of the process which eventually results in light and growth, I will allow myself to be turned with the turning cycle of the seasons like rich compost in order to bear fruit through this writing of the unfolding journey that is life living its story onward as my sister’s death and realisations around our interconnected lives releases me to new ways of living, expressing and relating.