A chink opened up this morning Between gunmetal gray clouds Shining a ray of sunlight down Upon me Here safe in my little home
I awake slowly Coiling and uncoiling Unravelling
I rise slowly after some hour or so To memories of what you and Mum did give me Dad Over those 3 months in hospital Pinned to the bed You came with food and a little bottle of wine every night I needed a hug though
There was so much unsaid So much that fell through the empty spaces Left by no words
I am freed from that prison after 101 days But less than 3 months later Judy is struck down With a bleed in her head Then psychosis came And so much worry for you
I forget the high seas you were riding How as a man you had to lock it all inside and tell no one much but Mum Your stomach bore the tension but it ate you up And we lost you only a few years later So much loss An ocean to cross
Oh my How close I came to drowning And yet I fell full fathom five and am now slowly resurfacing It has been an ocean storm I have had to learn to breathe through A massive tidal swell that carried and beached me here Long years later
But I feel now with that chink of sun so quickly gone An intimation that very soon I will have Emerged From this dark night Victorious
And yet the grief will always remain Deep in my soul For it occured to me today I was born to be A witness to the tide
When I am not true to myself I lose my way. I feel it more and more lately that empowering sense of being in tune with my own soul note and of how it feels when I step away from that more primal, intuitive in touch side of myself and fall into self abandonment or self rejection.. Many of the conditioning forces of society especially for women turn us away from the more powerful authentic embodied side of us, religion for me was particularly toxic in this regard. Today in therapy Kat and I were exploring the strong forces of repression in my family that put us three girls to death on many levels , we were talking of my father’s remoteness and unwillingness to step in to protect us from Mum, too. In this way my father dying at the age of 23 was even more painful, but Dad was a young kid in flight from his family and terrifying conditions around World War Two. In many ways both of my parents were emotional orphans, young kids on the run and trying so hard to survive and build something new.
For myself, I feel so grateful to have escaped the medication pathway and even the AA pathway saying I have defects of character. If you don’t get to fully blossom as the true you and cannot rely on healthy attachments and then other linkages get torn apart you end up doing all you can to surive and stay afloat and if the original deficits arent acknowledged and some attempt at rebuilding and repair made, healing and change is not possible. Some schisms and wounds stay with us for a long time and we replay them over and over until we develop in sight. It is now recognised that even later in life our brain can make new connections and set down new neural pathways if we can find positive affirming attachments to assist us. Some of us, many of us, however, do have to go into the wilderness alone and some of us find or manage to hold onto shards of our splintered being or hidden truth there. We can also explore what got torn severed, split off, buried and involve in recollecting. Each trauma memory maybe a necessary thread that goes on to be part of the tapestry.
Rilke expresses this beautifully in the following lines of this poem shared with me some years ago by a previous therapist Rae:
She who reconciles the ill matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth –
it is she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration
where the guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it’s you she receives.
You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her
to hold you.
The stretching beyond what limits us requires us to move out of ‘safety’ in the face of what threatens us with misjudgement that is sadly often the obvious response of a world oblivious to the authentic roots of our trauma. This poem also speaks about the healing witness both inside and outside as well as how the true self waits for us to hold all of us, as we increasingly develop that capacity through telling and feeling the organic truth of our trauma trajectory..
A good therapist is invaluable and even as I type this I realise how many struggle without this which is where blogs or books or other tales of survivors in recovery can help us.. Just hearing another’s story, noticing the resonances, being able to say “Ahh .. that rings true for me too”, can help us, it certainly has helped me.
And on the healing pathway God also sends us angels at critical times.. I cannot tell you the number of times an angel of some kind has whispered in my ear or saved my bacon from a near miss or accident, it happened twice last week and it has happened in terms of me finding my way to the right literature, person, group or place AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME too many times now for me to doubt it.
The true self I do believe waits on us.. the most authentic part of us will not be forever foresaken without grave damage befalling us on some level. Jesus said it well in the Gnostic gospels.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth willdestroy you.”
In this quote Jesus challenges the assumption that the Kingdom of Heaven lives in a far off place. These words also speak of it’s closeness to us if we undertake the path of individuation, and resurrection of the true self often attended my mockery and scorn from the unwise:
The Kingdom of God is within you and all around you.
I think a person who loves and respects his true self, must also respect the true self of others and naturally finds his way to the inner kingdom. He no longer exists in a state of inner division. That person will weep for the one who loses the way to it and will never be able to put on a false mask in the face of that.. This is not always easy.. To say to a brother or sister you see them suffering and falling short (even through no fault of their own) but it seems necessary to a vibrant authenticity.. And similarly we must be vigilant in taking out a sword to cut off from anyone who tries to deny us this truth the meaning behind the saying of Jesus that he came to bring a sword.. There is a time to be real and not be nice or ‘civilised’ if that means sugar coating an inner truth that our soul very much depends upon for its survival.
Kat assured me in therapy today after reading everything out my sister’s struggles are not my fault. In 2005 I expressed anger at invalidation and ran to be in a better place but my sister blaming me later for her breakdown was not fair. It was like her saying to me ‘you always were a naughty child’ when I fought for my emotional truth. She assured me nothing I can do can fix my sister but keeping in touch is good as long as I detach from the illusion I can save anyone. Phew. She also said she thought it has been mean of my nephews not to acknowledge or include me. I cried when she said that to me.
We spoke alot about how the family victimises the alive one..they get abused and scorned or shamed and laughed at..dismantled psychologically. But they carry what the shut down dead family needs. Coming alive feels like dying cause of the fear that if we take the risk punishment or annihilation will happen so we turn against our True self too…so so sad but hard to see how this happens especially as a younger one in a family geared around narcissism.
I sat with my head in my hands at Kats earlier while the inner storm went on and said I don’t know how I’ve survived the emotional confusion. I am not ‘bad as they tried to say I am.
All of this is such a relief. Like busting out of a prison created in my own mind. There is more to share but for now I just wanted to post this as I eat my lunch awake and alive surrounded by other humans in the shopping centre..no.longer all alone in the cold dark place where a grey heavy loveless energy hovers over me threatening death.
It seems to me our deepest impulse in terms of the need to be loved underlies so much of our grief.. not only over loving and losing but over never finding that love in the form we needed it when young… We all long to be seen and known, when this doesn’t happen there is a grief that sits under the surface of consciousness and may not be ‘known’ by us for some time.. This ‘hole in the soul’ runs deep and since we first seek that in our family of origin its here where the wounds happen and they need to be addressed in later life if we want to eventually come fully to life in order to live and love as our true selves.
I was thinking a moment ago of the four solutions we resort to that Mark Wolynn talks of when we seek to connect with a parent or source of love in childhood.. one is that we find that source in them and do connect, the second is the parent fails to provide and so we cut off that longing and flow and subvert it.. in another we seek it from a sibling.. this is what I did with my Mum and Dad being unavailable.. it was my older sister who saw me, but she left and then got sick and so that was a double grief for me. Over time I learned to turn within or to substances and in time I lost access to my true feelings over it, it has been these feelings I have had to work with in active sobriety.
I just went and sat down by the lake and finished off a wonderful novel I have been reading but at the end of it my thoughts turned to my sister.. Earlier I read Oscar Cainers daily horoscope for Aquarius that said in an uncertain world its hard to know what to believe or where to turn but that there are five qualities that can sustain us.. : Kindness, Friendship, Generosity, Compassion and Love.. I thought of the nasty inaccurate things my living sister said to me in the year after Jonathan left and how her brutality coming out of emotional ignorance drove me over to the UK where the unprocessed anger and hurt over it lead to a massive head injury.. maybe something about this time that is now erased for her due to all the meds and shock treatment is perculating down inside.. She tried to erase me from the coast house earlier in the year by packing up all of my books and boxes and storing them in the shed.. To her it was probably done out of a desire to help me as I said it was hard to go down there alone to the place I ended up forsaken and abandoned after my husband left. I was so hurt by that back in February but I sucked it up on our trip there.. I just called the removalists and they came to pack it all up. I didn’t have an angry outburst I just cried and cried and cried. I seem to do a lot of crying around my sister when I don’t have anxiety spin outs around her.
Despite all of this I feel for my sister.. lying in bed with the blankets pulled up all around her unable to communicate with visitors… I don’t know what it is going to take to bring her back from the dark side this time.. and despite this I do feel love… but its a confused kind of love.
In the movie 28 Days Sandra Bullock makes friends with her sister who appears to be the more high functioning sibling in the traumatised family.. she recognises that her sister was once a child too in the family system and sought her own role which involved looking down on the ’embarrasing’ active addict who is expressing so much of the family pain…In a similar way my mother always forgave her mother for hitting her as she knew that as an abandoned war widow with no government assistance left to support a young daughter all alone so far from family that her Mum was frustrated.. it was something her best friend’s daughter and I discussed the other day… that generation had to suck it up… and they had to bury so much… trauma and stress just get carried or passed on as epigenetic research by Bruce Lipton and Dr Yehuda demonstrates..
I am a bit off the track writing this right now. It is a processing post… I just thought on the way home of how much, as a young child I longed for my sister’s love but how our family was so geared around externals it was hard to find that… in the end it is something I have had to find for myself as an adult with the help of therapy and my higher power. That said I still grieve for those who left me and could not love me where I was at and this included my ex husband.. He gave me a great gift when he emailed me back in May when he said “I really understand your need for therapy now.” He actively tried to block it along with my Mum but in the end I trusted my path into the dark…
Through it along the way I found the love for myself and even for my wounded family.. how could they give me something they never had, or a sense that I am perfect as I am even with all of my idiosyncrasies? I now see I can only gain that in any authentic way from within and even after years of being almost crippled by a virulent inner critic who was almost demonic at times.. Slowly over time and through much agony I am coming to a deeper understanding of the inner forces that drove me towards addiction and self hatred…I also understand more deeply and have more compassion for the forces that drove that poor inner child of my Mum who had to struggle so hard to be seen and find her own path..
At 14 years of age Mum actively defied a mother who wanted her only to be a domestic servant and found a profession.. She fought to be seen in the fashion industry by top designers.. she was bloody trojan, she just had to be.. I am glad in so many ways for the gifts of strength she bequeathed me as well as the deep deep insecurity… in the end it was for me to make sense of it all and carve my own self out of that inheritance.. today I feel myself becoming stronger while at times more profoundly aware of inner vulnerabilities, fears, weak spots and insecurities…
I am also learning how intimately and intricately longing, grief and love are interconnected along with rage… in the end each of us must work to understand the emotions that drive us as we grapple to find which emotions to express and which are in need of alchemy, each of us has to find ways to contain our wounds and find the healing solution in bearing witness to them for long enough that self love and insight as well as self compassion can arise. Armed with these tools we are less likely to judge others and we become more able to define boundaries as well as see where the impulses to merge or belong create complex challenges for us.
Recently my sister and I were discussing our childhood. Her words were this when talking about my mother : “she was like a tornado”.. to be honest it was hard to relax around my Mum.. I got my foot burned on one caravanning holiday when she left a bucket of boiling water underneath the table I was drawing on while cleaning the floor and I stepped into it and got 3rd degree burns.. now another more attentive child, perhaps not so ‘lost’ in her own world or passion of the moment may have seen it and averted disaster.
I learned in time to try to use substances to calm me down or take the edge off.. my parents used alcohol for this purpose at the end of each working day and we were encouraged to do the same.. for me it ended in addiction and I am happy I got to put alcohol, drugs and cigarettes down in 1993 but I still find looking for comfort in food just comes naturally…
I had a discussion with a friend over the past week in which she said that being told to ‘be calm’ or ‘calm down’ is a sure trigger for becoming less calm….it might be like telling a person with really bad insect bites not to scratch without some other kind of soothing being offered such as balm for the soreness. Balm for the uncalm might be words like “I am sorry its so uncomfortable right now” or “that must have been very distressing” validation, empathy causes the increase of oxytocin and the reduction of cortisol.
I don’t know what would have calmed my mother during one of her frenzies or OCD rampages…its taking me years to know I don’t have to clear up and wash all the dishes immediately I stop eating or cooking.. one of my ways of being seen was to run around after Mum cleaning up after she got home from her job at her dress shop every day around 6 pm. Later in my recovery I had a dream in which the dream young me was all wired up through the shoulder with a wire coat hanger.. What a powerful metaphor for how entwined I was body, mind and psyche with family energy patterns of looking good and over drive…
Calming for me now comes with writing in which I tap into and release the stored vibrational charge of feeling; in writing poetry, in listening to music, it comes in nature (as I share ad infinitum here); with my dog; with calm loving friends who are emotionally present and honest with true open hearts..
Triggers for me are : criticism, the disapproving stare (flared nostrils and hard dark stare often proceeded one of my Mum’s rages.) I can forgive my Mum in a way now as I know she never got lovingly contained or mirrored and she carried so much from the maternal generational legacy of buried built up stress and repressed emotions…that was impossible to contain. I can forgive my Dad for not knowing how to cope with it, and so checking out… and I can understand the deep roots of my anxious avoidant attachment style which at other times can be disordered..
Calm is only coming slowly but it is coming… I am still activated but only by the old triggers and stepping down from them is becoming quicker and easier as learn where my wound and necessary boundaries and self soothing strategies lay.
Wow, my eyes are full of tears right now, good tears.. I just got a beautiful comment on a poem I wrote this week that really spoke to me : ’emerging but carrying the weight of the dark night as a valuable treasure..’ That comment was so affirming and it made me realise how much value there is in the dark night journey as well as in honesty…
Last night as I was lying in bed crying over the past and the emotional black hole in my family and someone who messages me from overseas said to me ‘don’t cry, It’s a waste of time.’ I just said this : ‘actually I find supreme value in tears, to me they speak of an emotional truth”. There is also something that analyst and story teller Clarissa Pinkoles Estes talks about in the myth of The Handless Maiden, in that chapter of her book Women Who Run With the Wolves she says “tears soften the soul and keep away the predator.”
Have you ever noticed that there is something calcified and almost demonic about people who cannot cry deeply nor acknowledge you when you do, or even worse, treat you as if there is something wrong with you for having an emotional reaction or crying?” To me, tears come from the soul, in fact I just opened up a book in which I sometime jot down poems to find these written down from somewhere : ‘tears, the soul’s rain shower!’
I do believe that tears come from the soul and from love as well as the hollow pit of utter emptiness from which the soul cries out trying to make its need for love known in it echoing absence as well as bear testament to an emotional truth.. I wish we would mine our tears more to be honest.. I wish there was a literacy around tears, permission to have them.. To me tears act as a release.. A beautiful follower of mine, Mark always says “I feel so much better after a good cry ; snotty nose!” I am not saying that we should all sit around crying all of the time, and there is a time to look for the blessings in things going wrong, emotional pain and challenges or things getting stolen or lost. There is also time to take ourselves by the hand after we have been feeling sad and find ways to lighten up and bring some fun and joy into our lives but we can also find the gifts present in the darker times…
I think of all of the beautiful songs and poems that come out of sadness, heartbreak and sorrow, I also think of those songs that have the power to uplift us spiritually and speak to our soul in the depths.. Listening to the blues or someone like Eva Cassidy helps me to move through sadder feelings or come to terms with things not working out…there is a time just to let the soul ache and release the heartbreak so that we can use it to move on through and power our next phase of the journey…
I am back in a deep dip at the moment to be honest.. This time of year corresponds with a very painful and dark time for me when I fell pregnant and had to have the baby terminated due to a health issue…it also coincided with a break up and a time of betrayal at the hands of the person I was involved with then.. That said I was also bringing darkness on me by drinking too much and taking drugs and it would only be three years later that the final years of my active drinking and drugging would occur… I still had so many years left to work through my pain… I can never not forget that time on a deeply unconscious bodily level as the air turns heavier and darker with the slow approach of winter…I feel the great darkness of the years 1980 to 2011 when I finally moved home and began the necessary inner psychological work to make it conscious.
I have known great darkness and it will always be a part of me.. but as that reader acknowledged my blog must show that I do carry it now more as a gift than a curse….I can not ever live completely on the light side of life. In astrological terms I am far too Plutonian for that with the planet of the Underworld in my first house of soul identity and connected to my Moon Saturn Mars and Chiron. I got sober in 1993 when that configuration was triggered by a Pluto transit.. Mars is hitting it now and will be for the next few weeks…. so in some way I have to go with Underworld pull when its summons me leaving part of myself above ground as an observer, available to throw my soul a life line should I need it to come back up to the light, daylight world should things get too heavy..
Before this time the Underworld used to claim my soul completely. As a Persephone woman I identify with the dark themes of loss, pain, grief and feelings of being overpowered by stronger more willful souls. Yes I know the Underworld.. I just sometimes don’t feel that comfortable with the pull, especially in a world that sees the Underworld sojourner as a bit of a threat or danger… Robert Hand says of first house Pluto people.. people love you deeply or are scared to death of you, seeing you as a threat….its not an easy energy to carry at times, but if we want to manage in life we have to find some kind of way to carry that energy in a positive way.. encouraging others to not feel so strange or exiled or alone if they do too.
It helps me a bit to articulate these energies when they become strong.. It makes me feel less alone at those times I feel pulled on by things that hurt or remind me of the burden of the past… I will be grateful too, for a therapy call this afternoon… dark things and feelings needs to be given air time and I will always be grateful to those willing to listen and extend an open heart and hand when I go through one of my dark phases.
Hearing that a loved one is perhaps dying is a very big shock. I guess my first real brush with death happened when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1984. I only so young then, I was only 22 but a very young 22, I had just spent a year in my first job at the Research School of Biological Sciences and had moved out of home for the second time to share with some friends who were in the military at the Duntroon college here in Canberra. I was running a bit wild on the weekends but also holding down a second job waitressing to save for my overseas trip with my then partner Jim.
Dad’s diagnosis was a big shock to us and I have shared how it was the one time we connected where Dad expressed his emotions and I really felt his vulnerability. Up till then we had had a lot of healthy disagreement because I didn’t like my Dad was a property developer who was bulldozing old buildings to put up huge modern office blocks with my brother. I was also unconsciously angry he would not support my academic studies and forced me to go to business college.
Dad’s illness was in some ways mercifully short. He was operated on December and came out briefly from hospital on 24 December only to be returned in the early hours of Christmas morning. He died while they performed an emergency tracheoctomy on him to help him breathe in the early hours of Thursday 8 January. I got the call at work to come home.
I never got to say goodbye. I had not been well enough to go to the hospital, I was to be leaving for India in January to meet my partner who left in December and had had shots the day before Dad died. As it was my partner broke it off with me in the middle of the night shortly after Dad died, he told me not to come overseas but Mum forced me to go on with the trip which was horrendous. My brother handled the funeral and I never got to see Dad’s body. I do not remember the funeral at all, only some of the wake and not even a lot of that. Within a month I was alone overseas in the UK and very lost.
Lately I have achieved some kind of peace with Dad’s death. I have a post banked up on what grieving people need and how each death is personal and different according to the relationship we had with the person, Dad was always emotionally remote to me, as is my brother so I have struggled so much in my relationships with men, most of my partners could never validate me emotionally and my last partner caused me untold damage by not even trying to understand my complicated grief issues. That said I would often lash out due to anger I had with my father at not really ‘getting’ me and showing me empathy. I am sure I had to go through all of this pain in life to learn what a loving relationship with a healthy emotionally validating partner is, and harder to believe I do deserve to be treated with more empathy and respect.
Now that my friend, Christine seems to be possibly suffering from cancer the synchronicity of timing is not lost on me. I found my Mum also lost close friends in the final years of her life very close to the anniversary of Dad’s illness, diagnosis and death. In the case of my father it dogged every Christmas celebration and one year my older sister and I found ourselves at logger heads, it was the year Jonathan left me.
Christine’s illness is a reminder to me, too of my own brushes with death. Four of us have been diagnosed with cancer in my family, my father, my brother, my second oldest sister and I. I have not been brave enough to go for my own breast cancer check up yet, it is something I know I must deal with.
I wanted to write this post though to work through how intrinsically death and life can seem to be inter-related. Really bad grief or sadness or loss can steal our life energy for a long time and can be made more complex by earlier, perhaps unresolved griefs. What is clearer to me after all the research and reading I have done on grief as well as my experience of seeing how the failure to deal with, or rather struggle to do so manifested in my family is that we do need support and validation in our grief, in order to move through it an embrace life energy again. That said if the bond to someone is powerful, for example in the case of Johnny Cash and June Carter that I shared about in recent posts the death of one may bring about the death of the other.
Its is our heart energy that is most impacted through loss, death or leavings. I know my own heart and panic symptoms began when Jonathan told me he was leaving me. The month he spent with me before packing up to go ‘home’ to the UK in July 2004 was one of the most painful periods of my life and the following 7 years spent in the wilderness of abandonment involved a brush with death due to a head injury on the first anniversary and a bad fall on the second, but maybe on all those years we were together I was on the run from my own grief and trying my damndest to live. I think of how I struggled with the grief in my body and how little affirmation or recognition I so often got. I think of how grief still gives me ‘spins’ at critical times of the day and especially around the 5 pm critical timeslot which was when I went head over heels over my bicycle following a cranio sacral session to deal with earlier trauma. Maybe I would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie, who knows if I bought the accident on myself as my sister tried to tell me many years ago. It was just so hard to trust a family so often shut down who told me I should not be where I was nor doing it as tough as I was. That said I know its not their fault either. I truly do believe everyone does the very best they can with what they know at the time. Its just sometimes their ‘best’ falls woefully short.
My inner critic gave me a hard time again today for going over and over my trauma again in this blog earlier. It told me I need to be ‘moving on’ and that its boring for my followers. I will let you be the judge of how accurate my critic is, while acknowledging that at times my fear and sensitivity may have kept me more stuck than I needed to be.
That said I am alive and I want to live, I really really do. Life is full of such a profound mix of ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ and in the end its up to us how we handle them and the attitude we take to them as well as the choices we make in the face of it all that makes our life what it is, and so often we are not always consciously choosing. Today I choose as much as I can to embrace life, despite my knowledge of how vulnerable it can be at times to live and face death. But I want this awareness of death to always help me keep my heart open to love and to the opportunities to connect and be fully alive that life constantly presents me with.
As children, denial is often a necessary survival tool because the truth is often too unbearable for us to live with, and we don’t have the power to change our situation.
Nancy Van Dyken
According to Nancy Van Dyken truth may be painful and is why we learn to deny it especially from childhood on, in addition because we are taught in various ways that following the rules, not displeasing others or making them uncomfortable is more important than knowing and expressing who we truly are and how we really feel as well as what we need is more important, we learn to be untruthful and then we suffer pain as a result. But since denying pain does not lead us to growth the more we deny or numb the less we can release ourselves from the prison of impression management or people pleasing.
In addition because our feelings and wants are not intellectual but deeply body centred denying our truth means on some level escaping the body, pushing ourselves beyond natural limits, taking on too much to appear all together or in touch. One of the most important times of change for me in early recovery for addiction lay in taking time off when I had a period and honouring the way I felt, rather than just solidering on. There was a time too when my ex husband I were in the UK and my trauma started to emerge and my therapist recommended I take time off. I had never ever ever done this before and I remember clearly on that morning my ex husband came into the room and raged at me to ‘get the hell out of bed’.
We may be so often forced to deny the truth of what we need in a society that may teach us more about how to appear than how to be, more about how to keep pushing on regardless, rather than surrendering when necessary to let things fall apart in order to come together in a better more real or integrated way. We may through conditioning learn to deny what we observe and feel to be true about other people. We may believe, incorrectly that the truth is too painful to face. We think if we admit it we may die or go crazy, the truth is we will probably have to make changes.
According to Nancy Van Dyken an important first step in healing from the everyday narcissism pf denial is letting go of the habit of lying – first to yourself, then to others. The next lays in speaking your truth assertively in a loving and respectful way. It also lays in not letting others push you past your boundaries. A simple way of saying no to a request is this : “No, that wont work for me” it is not even necessary to give an explanation as to why if you do not want to.
We can also learn not to agree to requests or favours before checking in with your body and inner self about HOW WE REALLY FEEL ABOUT DOING IT. In this case, just ask for a time out. During this time centre in and find what truly feels right for you. Its also important to notice when we are being less than honest with ourselves and others and check in with our body about how it feels if we do find ourselves lying or agreeing to do something we do not want to do.
Bear in mind that speaking your truth will scare some people. People may try to make you feel that doing so makes you unworthy, unlikeable, unlovable, or undesireable but if so and if you accede to such put downs who will suffer in the end? You! Don’t give up. Co-dependency writer Melody Beattie talks of a phenomena of ‘afterburn’ which can happen as we first start to be true to ourselves and our own wishes and needs, especially if others try to guilt, or shame us or use other manipulative tactics to control us, for example someone telling you, you are selfish or destructive in some way when you are really just honouring your true feelings, values or needs.
Learning to come out of denial may not be easy for us, most especially if others have an investment in us continuing to deny truths, but it can be done. We may have to suffer a lot of discomfort along the way as old patterns change, if we have abandonment anxiety it may feel like a death of a kind if others cut us off for being true, honest or real. Never the less we can learn to be there for our scared self and find in time the courage to be honest, open and up front with our true self no longer succumbing to the prison of denial.
Have you ever been scapegoated by family members? Have you ever had the finger pointed at you telling you you are the problem? There is a saying I heard in the 12 step rooms many years back… “when you point the finger at someone you have three fingers pointing back the other way towards you” (yes folks try it right now and you will see it is true.)
Many many years ago led by his unconscious and dream images psychiatrist Carl Jung had a dream that showed a psychic inner structure that he came to call the shadow. This shadow he came to believe contained all the characteristics of us we are not on friendly terms with or that our family or culture was no on friendly terms with (ie. there is both a personal and collective shadow).
Some people have a lot of darker emotions hidden in the shadow, fear, sadness, rage or anger and some others of us have a lot of gold in the shadow and we may have been the ones others in family or culture tried to project darker things upon. There is also a concept in family therapy that talks of the concept of the ‘identified patient’. This is the family member who develops an addiction or breaks down in some way or has to have treatment. This is the family member that struggles in the family to be the whole of themselves and express truths or secrets others would prefer remain hidden (eg. emotional or sexual abuse). This is the family member that may be more likely to be led on the individuation pathway, a path of trying to uncover and rediscover the entirety of the soul in them that got loss or buried.
I am mentioning this today as lately I am seeing this process play out in my older sister’s (now deceased) family. And it is interesting that this is happening very close to the anniversary of her death. As I see it in the alcoholic or traumatised family there is a lot of pain but rather than every member carry their portion of the pain, each struggles in their own way and often they will target someone else in the family and tag or dump them with things. They may even exile the person just as in mythology the scapegoat was sent out into the wilderness with the so called ‘sins’ (or wounds) of the collective heaped upon its back.
Alcoholics are most usually likely to be the ‘family scapegoat’. They may struggle with emotions that were not permitted a place in the family and come to think of it in a feeling wounded culture there are feelings such as anger and sadness which are harder to express and which people are more rigidly defended against. These emotions are often not allowed expression and so they get dumped into a kind of collective psychic waste bin that is then passed on from generation to generation. Pain then accumulates and one person gives expression to it most overtly.
People who struggle with shadow projection may find it hard to ‘get their lives together’ in a culture that venerates this. That is not to say that there are no healthy ways to get our lives on track but mostly they should involve us being able to be real and struggle, to fall down sometimes, to make mistakes, to need help and support and just possibly not do as well on financially or externally on some level as others. Does that necessarily mean such people are actually failures? Does this actually mean such people are not worthy of help? Does this actually mean that such people have less value?
Today in therapy Kat and I were discussing how and why this process of scapegoating and shame dumping in family has been affecting me so bodily over the past few days. I got to therapy today in a lot of physically based emotional pain. I pretty much started crying as soon as I got in the car and the cascade of trauma flashbacks then began taking me back to a trauma (which come to think of it now took place around this same time of year in 1990) when I had to spend hours in casualty after driving myself with severe abdominal pain in the middle of the night. Turned out I was pregnant at the time and that the sac containing the tiny embryo had ruptured. I ended up having to have a termination of pregnancy (my fourth) and it coincided with having to leave the group house I was living in and with my them boyfriend lying to his family and pretending I had had an operation for kidney stones.
After the termination he broke things off with me and I got drunk and ended up at his parent’s place crying and yelling, of course they thought I was demented and out of control and they never found out the truth as he broke things off with me again fairly rapidly (after a brief reunion) and in the aftermath the next 2 years saw some of the lowest points of my addiction spanning the years to December 1993 when I finally got sober.
Well today in the car I was back here in St Vincent’s casualty lying alone for hours and hours as they ran tests. I think too this trauma was triggered over the weekend because calls were not returned by family, Scott was AWOL and my nephew then rang telling me I needed not to give help to my other nephew who is struggling financially in the aftermath of his relationship ending. Being left all alone and waiting and missing a therapy appointment which was delayed due to Easter Monday meant that issue of having to wait all alone was retriggered for me and then the shadow projection onto my lovely nephew triggered how I was treated over the next year by a so called ‘friend’ who kept confronting me about my addiction which was nothing less than self medication in the face of ongoing trauma spanning the years 1979 to 1992.
The truth is addicts often say their addiction saved their life. We use the self medication until it no longer keeps working for us. Recovery then involves a huge and long drawn our journey of unpeeling or unravelling down to the true causes of which addiction was only obscuring or a symptom of.
For me the original trauma is about attachment traumas, wounds and emotional neglect vacancies or ‘black holes”. I now know this without a doubt. After years and years of blaming myself (as most emotional neglect survivors do) today in therapy I finally wept for my true self who so often gets beaten up by a self compassion lacking inner critic who is echoed by the outer critic lately being turned on my nephew. Only another addict in recovery may fully understand that fact unless the person had been trained in empathic attunement. Attachment traumas and wounds so often become gravitational force fields for others, in the well known process of so called ‘repetition compulsion’ what we fail to call up to consciousness will repeat until it is addressed or felt and this must happen IN THE BODY. THE CELLS CONTAIN EVERYTHING.. THE MIND CAN BE USED TO MAKE SENSE OF IT WHEN ATTUNED TO THE BODY. JUDGEMENTS WILL NOT SHOW US THE UNDERLYING PSYCHIC REALITY WHICH MUST BE FACED IN TIME AND DEEPLY FELT IN ORDER TO BE RELEASED AND MADE SENSE OF (BROUGHT OUT OF DISSOCIATION INTO ASSOCIATION OR RE-MEMBERING!)
Scapegoating the sufferer is cruel. It is lacking in both insight and empathy. It concentrates on the ugliness of the symptoms while NOT FULLY SEEING OR UNDERSTANDING THE FEELINGS OF PAIN DISTRESS AND UNWORTHINESS WHICH UNDERLIE IT. Scapegoating serves no other purpose but to bolster up the defended ego and keep in place the ignorance of the Scapegoatees. In traumatised and addicted families or families with multi-generational trauma everyone struggles, but the one who struggles a little more with hidden emotions needs support and encouragement. They need to be brought back out of the cold place of exile and embraced in their full humanity but sadly this will be almost impossible unless the Scapegoatees also face what they are blocking, projecting or defending against or finding it hard to open up to or face. Blaming and targeting others in such a way never really ends well and it blocks connected healing and embracing of the actual trauma that sorely needs recognition.
I have been reading Donald Kalsched’s book on the Inner World of Trauma again today. A lot of it is about what happens to those of us raised in a situation in which personal assertion and aggression or self defence had to be cut off or revert back inside the self. In this situation when the parent won’t allow the child action, assertion, anger or personal boundaries to be defended the energy reverts within to become an inner archetype or figure that Kalsched Elaine Aron and other analysts refer to as the persecutor/protector. Kalsched explains in his book how when this killing voice becomes really extreme it will often organise the person to take their own life. The anger they should have had to confront an abuser or violator will be turned back in upon the self.
It is an issue also addressed at length by Jungian analyst Sylvia Bretton Perrera in her book on the scapegoat complex. I went to see the PreRaphelite exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra last week an there is a painting in that exhibition which shows the scapegoat sent out to the desert. Its only a small painting. The exile that goes on is not just an exile from others, it is a cutting of from our deepest most personal and genuine self.
As kids we need to hear the loving words of parents, we also need their loving gaze but what happens when we get the eyes of terror or disapproval or distain turned upon us in childhood? This used to happen for me all the time growing up. Feeling safe in our home rested upon keeping it all together, not making a mess, getting all the chores done, not making too much noise, being able amuse ourselves and not express any needs much. Is it any wonder I became an alcoholic? As my first Jungian therapist said when I told her of a dream I had in which I was hitting this figure over the head with a bottle, I used alcohol to shut the voice up. Only then could I relax be real, messy, honest and sexual and have ‘fun’ but the so called fun rapidly deescalated into a black out or nightmare which I would wake up from in horror!
Its very very hard to live with an persecutor voice turned upon you day in day out, you don’t have the freedom just to kick back and relax or goof off. You can only feel comfortable after you’ve done what it told you it needed you to do to feel safe, in control, loved and approved of. Luckily these days I can see more quickly when that voice has taken over control within me. I am learning to affirm myself for pure sake of ‘being’ not just ‘doing’ these days. I have to be very aware of what the persecutor says to me not only about myself but about others too. He may be trying to cut off really good things happening in my life. He may try to suck all the joy out of everything. These days I am trying to do my best to just let him yammer on and say thanks for that Mr A but don’t you think you might feel a little better if you just had a little rest!!!
His constant litany of disaster, doom and gloom needs to be arrested. I need a rest from him, he has been taking over things for far too long. I guess in the end my inner persecutor is what is labelled in the rooms of AA and Al Anon ‘the disease’. It thrives on perfectionism and control. It is fundamentally deeply critical and unloving force that functions against what Elaine Aron calls ‘linking’ : making positive connection both within and outside the self with others. It is in the end both anti life and pro death. I think just for now I really have had a gut full of the inner persecutor.