It’s not about us : raising our perspective on emotional neglect and carried trauma

For those of us who had wounded or emotionally unavailable parents it takes a lot of time to realise that the original problem was in our parents, upbringing and conditioning, not us.   Because of the hurt we can experience due to this, it can be hard to think about what the parent may have suffered.  I am not saying that gives the parent the right to be hurtful or abusive, but there is a saying that is used a lot in AA : ‘accepting life on life’s terms’ and when those terms are harsh and cruel and hard and unfair this can be hard to do.   Nevertheless the world is deeply imperfect, flawed and at times wounding.   We can suffer in all kinds of ways as sensitive souls and modern society is not geared towards acknowledging this suffering some of which is perpetrated anyway by the purely survival based evolution and dog eat dog nature of a society evolving out of medieval times.

In modern times it is hard for many of us to realise how our ancestors suffered or how hard their experiences may have been.   In my great great grandfather’s case he lost his mother when he was about 12 and then he didn’t get along with his step mother.  He then struggled to find the right kind of work and support an ever growing family when the bottom fell out of the tin mining industry in which he was involved.  He then made the tough decision to emigrate a long way away from his home in the UK.

Following the sea journey that took three months, he and his wife, my Great Great Grandmother, Eliza Solomon lost two baby girls, one following the sea crossing and one a few years later.  My great grandmother bore the same name as those two lost baby girls, Eliza Jane.  Eventually (and I don`t know all the circumstances) he began to drink enough for his wife to leave him and his daughter (my great grandmother) finally broke contact emmigrating from New Zealand to Victoria Australia.  She married and gave birth to three children, including my grandmother but when war broke out my grandfather left and eventually the marriage ended.

My grandmother ended up marrying to a man who was a victim of war injuries sustained in the First World War and when they had to move to find work in another town all alone with their small daughter, my Mother, they again fell on hard times.  My grandfather died when my Mum was only 7 leaving my Nana and mother alone with no war pension and no income.  My grandmother would leave my mother alone every morning and every evening go to work.  My mother was eventually sent into domestic service where she remained for several months before rebelling and getting a job as an apprentice seamstress with a local tailor.

Eventually my mother met my father when he arrived in Australia to collect B52 bombers with the Dutch East Indies Airforce in 1940 during the Second World War.  They married and struggled to survive, starting a succession of businesses.   At every point my mother and father worked exceptionally hard, too hard really.   To the degree that by the time I came along everything was geared around business, looking good and achieving, rather than emotionally nuturing their children or themselves.   Anyway as readers of my blog know I ended up suffering from addiction problems myself between the ages of 14 and 31 as well as exceptionally low self esteem.

When a succesion of personal and family traumas hit from 1979 to 1985 I was not given the necessary support or guidance as my sister was critically ill and ended up after a serious brain trauma suffering psychotic episodes.  After her husband absconded taking her four boys to New Zealand as well as my sister then sending her back with a one way ticket she tried to take her life and my parents were left not really knowing what to do in the painful aftermath.

For myself I know my parents did the best they could but their attention was diverted and going through such a time of trauma sufferers need support, problem was in my family there was not enough to go around so I ended up taking myself off, as my therapist often says it was like being a person shot out of a cannon with no protection around me at all.

What I have learned in my own 24 years of emotional recovery is that many of us can come from homes that look good to outsiders but are emotionally vacant within.  A therapist I started to see 7 years ago described what I endured once as ‘benign neglect’.  Believe me its hard to suffer from this as in a way if you have been hit or emotionally abandoned or neglected in an obvious way people may at least see visible scars, and give sympathy or support.  However, if the neglect is benign (as in not intended but just a painful outcome of lack of energy and attention geared towards your developmental requirements and needs), in my experience it will not be easily recognised outside of therapy and sufferers tend to blame themselves saying they were the ‘bad’ child.

Indeed when I got involve in AA in 1993 I was led to believe I a sick individual with numerous ‘defects of character’.  Apparently if I prayed to God and admitted them then they would be slowly removed, what was not mentioned was how actually developmental arrests or trauma are actually psychic injuries not defects as such.  Many of us who resort to addictions in the absence of other support often do so because we don’t have any or know anywhere else to turn.   We never learned the skills to relate emotionally to our own insides, or self regulate emotions, we never learned to self nurture, or practice self care and often we blame ourselves or are told that in some way it is our fault. We also suffer ongoing attachment wounds that needs understanding and healing.

Many of us lack boundaries and are scapegoat identified.   We may have experienced a kind of energetic or psychic exile not only in families but in peer groups or at school.

My Mum once said to me after I informed her I was going to AA ‘well you always were a late developer!’  WTF Mum….. how can a teenager who is floundering unrecognised in an emotionally neglectful family develop early or even on time????

In my own life it has taken me the past 18 years mostly outside the rooms of AA meetings to understand the nature of my own traumas as well as the multigenerational traumas extending backwards of which they were a natural outrising.  Along the journey I have had to do a lot of reading, study, investigating, therapy, suffer more traumas and sidelining at 12 step groups as well at times in order to understand that the addiction that manifested in my life as well as my sense of deeper soul alienation actually had nothing to do with me being a ‘defective character’.  This is what society and even some members of 12 step groups have tried to tell me at times, such as when I was dealing with carried trauma and anger issues with my Mum several years back.

I now understand psychic wounds and injuries I carried were the result of far larger forces.  I understand that in fact I was in some way chosen (as many of us currently are) to be a circuit breaker or at least to become more conscious of a multigenerational legacy that has not only personal but also deeply collective ramifications.

We find ourselves at time in life where we would be hard pressed to find a person who is not suffering or touched by trauma and psychic suffering in some way, whether it be serious or more benign surely it is time that we stopped pathologising those who are carrying the impacts of pain and the legacy of emotional abandonment carried and communicated by proxy to them by parents who themselves were subject to all kinds of traumas and abandonments as well.

Our trauma does not just arise as a personal issue, there is always a deeply inter personal or collective interface of some kind.  Trauma does not happen alone (unless as a result of an individual accident), most often it arises in an interpersonal context as a result of inter association, projection, and projective identification.  An identified patient presenting from an emotionally vacant family may be carrying on their back the wounds of a sick system which will only be discovered once the situation they were involve in and grew up within is treated as a whole.

Much as they are carrying wounds, injuries and emptiness that emptiness is not actually saying anything about them, except that their pure soul sought as a baby or in childhood to find a place of visibility and connection that was in fact psychically absent.  All alone they struggle often with self blame, often being shamed and blamed by others or society at large, a society and host of others who lack the capacity to even ask the serious questions or know the truer causes that may so often lay hidden under an appealing exteriour.

The worst thing that can happen in this situation is that we blame ourselves or even anyone else, but we must recognise that certain causes and conditions led to these experiences of soul suffering which stretch back, perhaps a much longer way than we realise.   We must not personalise the suffering because then we become wedded to it, and it all too easily becomes a self fulfilling prophecy which is impossible to escape  And yet, until we can see that what happened was not about who we are but about what happened to us and how we learned to deal or not deal with it we won’t make much progess and we will not in D H Lawrence’s words attain a

realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake which mankind has chosen to sanctify.”

Or realise that in fact it was not a mistake but an evolutionary trajectory which in causing us pain and suffering was working all the time to awaken us and help us heal and evolve in new directions as human beings and a soul collective.

Birth of the warrior


Words of cruelty and shame

Still exist somewhere deep down inside me

Making my body sore

And inflamed

When I lay down to sleep

The only comfort is at times

In distraction

In putting my focus on something

Good True Kind Loving

Nourishing to my Soul

But I also know

How easily triggered I can be

By the harshness and hardness

Of a world out there

Where the tender soulful feminine is betrayed

Or offered up to the tormented wolves to feed

On its soft and tender flesh

And here I am talking not only of this happening to girls and women

But also to our young boys and men

Why does it have to be this way?

I believe it comes from the past

Of a patriachial age now decaying

That taught it was weak to be vulnerable

That in order to survive we had to be strong

And it is true we need that warrior energy

To go to war

With that patriachical force

That would deny the soul its home inside a body

That seeks to impose its heroic lusting will

Over nature

But in the end

Nature will rebel

She will send up her storms and tempests to say

This is ENOUGH

And so must we

We must become

Through our suffering

Wise enough

To live and birth our inner warrior

Who will fight

To reclaim and protect the heart of tenderness and love

In bodies

In souls

In nature

In the lives of

All humanity

On mood swings and accepting the flow of healing in recovery

I found the following meditations very helpful and enlightening when I read them a few years ago.  When we are recovering on an emotional level it is likely that we will experience many ups and downs.  I know I have less of the abyss like days than I had two years ago.  When I have one of these days lately I do feel scared that I am regressing.  I have heard it said that recovery is often three steps forward and two steps back, if we are doing work to process past experiences the feelings we can feel can be scary and intense.  In the long run we need to accept them, so we can feel them understand them and let them pass through without keeping them lodged deep inside.  We abort this healing process when our inner critic judges us when we have them or tells us we should not have them or they should not be happening to us.  We need to let them move through us so we can move to a better place but this process takes a while and uses a lot of our emotional energy.

I hope the following mediations help some readers.

Accepting Mood Swings

Today I will not be down on myself if I seem to swing in my moods through my recovery process.  Mood swings have been scary to me, so I use them as a way to judge (or misjudge) my health.   I force myself to be in a stable good mood and then I feel I`m okay.  As I re-experience old, repressed feelings, it is possible that I will feel deeply disoriented, angry, rageful or depressed and then two hours later almost high.  This is not just because I can’t control my moods – I am opening myself to all that is going on with me. – I am not longer denying parts of myself so that I will fit into a designated constellation of roles.  I am allowing what happening with me to happen to me.

I understand that my moods may swing in this life changing process.

Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live. 


Natural Growth

Today I recognise that my bursts of growth are accompanied by backslides and I accept that as a natural learning pattern.  When children have a learning explosion into talking, walking or whatever, they experience a minor regression.   When I have a learning or growth explosion, I may experience a regression afterward.  New behaviour and awareness stabilise with practice  Today I will not take the regression to mean that growth was not genuine.  I will understand that accompanying a large step forward is a small step backward.  I will allow this to take place,  trusting that my experience of growth will integrate naturally if I allow it to.

Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do.  Where there’s love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.

Ella Fitzgerald

Taken from : Meditations for Forgiving and Moving On, by Tian Dayton

So alone : reflections on awakening along the path of consciousness

Now that I feel I am finally casting off the demon of self blame I am seeing the deeper reality of my life and most particularly of my struggles after getting sober in 1993.   I was waking up, pure and simple, to the consequences of a tortured emotional past that I had buried over years and through my addiction lost the way to.  But with the surrendering of alcohol, I was finally committing to a pathway of descent and uncovery.

It has not been easy and my marriage had to go into the fire at 11 years in.   I know there are many sheddings, ending, losses deaths and surrenders me must undergo and accept as we struggle on the path to becoming more deeply conscious beings.  As we travel along the path it narrows before us as it lead us into a spiritual wilderness, we become the orphan and live out of that archetype as we are trying to birth something so deep our parents could not give us.  So many of us carry unconsciously their unintegrated children deep inside and we have the spiritual and emotional task to make something new of our ancestral legacy.  At least that is how I see the bigger picture and it is the only one that gives my life meaning.  And we have to undergo this journey alone but not necessarily without guides and companions.

I found my own guidance emerging in the final years of my addiction when my soul witness self knew something was terribly wrong with my life and my drinking.  That guidance came from people like Carl Jung, Marion Woodman and John Bradshaw who showed me my addiction was but a symptom and what I suffered was not purely personal but was strongly collective and affects so many others as we struggle under the weight of an unconscious past so spiritually bereft of the healing feminine.

My own parents had it hard.  There was no place of comfort or soothing for their inner children.  Both lives had been devastated by the impacts of World War ,I both lost their fathers as a result, not during it but in the painful aftermath.  That silent history of father absence dogged them both and has repeated its deep echo of abandonment all along our later genetic line.   I see myself as ‘the awakener’ to it all.  It took my older sister out, the pain of all of those hundred of years of trauma gone unconscious and I stood on the sidelines as the witness.   I did not know I was affected by so many larger forces and that my own struggle must, of necessity, be lonely and hard,] as I was trying to open up and break new ground in a family that in so many ways is deaf dumb and blind to deeper realities.

Kat, my therapist was saying yesterday what a lonely path the path of conscious awakening to the deep feminine soul is.  Carl Jung nearly went mad on his way to find it, if you read his autobiography and follow his journey it was just prior to the outbreak of World War One that he broke with Freud then had visions of a bloodbath in Europe and then he developed the concept of the shadow and the collective unconscious.  He could not agree with Freud that all was ruled by sex and death and that the child wanted to seduce the parents.  I am not saying that there are not valid points and great insights in Freud’s ideas and he was bringing them to birth out of Victorian times but Jung went deeper when he realised there are so many larger influences around us as individual souls which we are subject to.

Anyway, as usual I have digressed….back to the sense of being so alone.  If we don’t ‘fit in’ maybe it is because we see deeper, and this is what Kat was saying to me yesterday.  It IS a burden to see this deep but it is also a gift and a result of all we suffer in our path of being and feeling so alone yet knowing at a deeper awareness other truths we don`t fully understand yet that are emerging (if that makes sense?).  Our aloneness is a doorway into recognition of truths others may fear or shun, that they may want to turn a blind eye on and call us ‘mad’ for glimpsing.  And on the path we are not totally alone really as there are others souls who went before lighting the way.  There are also are our fellow travellers who are willing to dive below the surface to do their own deep work who we share with and recognise.  We are all in a process of waking up to what may be being asked of us as humans to recognise at this point our evolution.  Could it be an awakening to the truth of our own feelings, soul and love, to understandings of how thwarted power drives can shape and misshape us?

I do not think we should shun or stigmatise the so called ‘mentally ill’; if we are on the pathway of emotional recovery we have to go a bit mad on the way.  Our addiction or bi polar or BPD or other diagnoses are but symptoms of soul suffering that we are being asked to understand.  We are not our diagnoses and our true selves lay buried somewhere deeper inside.  All of our reactions make sense, most particularly our violent reactions to the emotional violence we are so often subjected to in childhood, which may I say has become more endemic in a technologically oriented industrialised society.  Go study the myth of the Handless Maiden if you want to see a parable or metaphor for what happens to our soul or inner feminine when it is neglected or abandoned in such a  cutlure.  We loose our hands, our access to our inner life and our emotional agency and we only grow those functioning hands back when our deep soul suffering awakens our tears which we, in crying use to wash our tortured souls clear and clean of illusions and within that seemingly powerless place, find and embrace our true soul power.  We are all in a process of awakening.  Let us remember that.

In the depths of our personal and collective dark night we fall down and struggle and awaken alone but we are also connected, nothing of our shared collective human experience is alien or strange, just our dissociation from it and from the larger awareness that we are only as separate as we believe we are at certain points along that path of awakening.  At times we are so deeply alone and yet, paradoxically, it is through that aloneness that we are also connected at deeper levels.   That said the path does narrow as we move further along it and the loneliness we feel at certain times is so acute, but my deeper experience is that as we deepen into the loneliness a great spiritual light so often is felt if we just hold fast and keep opening our hearts to the deep truths we glimpse and face and integreted the painful realities we have known inside.  Through this painful path we finally come to know what love is.   Both feeling and action.

Little seed

Little seed

Little seed

It looks like you are nothing

But you are a powerhouse of energy

All wrapped up inside the coating of containment

Planted in uncertain ground

What is it that you will receive

To help you unlock potentials you hold deep inside?

Will you find the right soil

The necessary nutriments and sunshine?

Will you be gazed upon with eyes of love

Or eyes of disintrest or fear?

Little seed in nature

You never become other than who you are

In potentia

Let us remember we too were once seeds

And even now we can decide

Which seeds to nurture

Which seeds to water

We can trust that in time

And with the right conditions

Our souls too will bloom

Out of what seems like barren ground

Tender shoots will burst forth

And grow

If we can just discover and express

Our authenticity

And even if the essence of our tears

Is what is called for

To make new life blossom

Don’t be afraid to let them flow

This all a part of how we

Heal, nurture and grow

To bloom as the precious beings

That we really are

Deep inside

A gift from the Gods : reflections on love, loss, grief and melancholy

Sometimes, now, I imagine that there was a moment when the gods and goddesses of creation offered us this : the gift of love, provided we accept the fact of knowing we will die.  Would any of us refuse the offer?  Would we choose to live a life without love to remain ignorant of death?  Even in the early moments of my grief, I never hated the bargain.  Even in the midst of the pain of loss, I welcomed the fact that we had twenty five years of learning to be lovers.

Forever taking leave, always on the verge of departing, we wander the world and along the way, at one time or another, meet others and together for a  brief moment arrange things.  We fall in love, marry, raise a family, start work, become knitted to the fabric of a community .  Yet all the while we see with a deeper, third eye, a subtle erosion of all that we have so patiently and lovingly built.  One by one the things we make slip away.   One by one those whom we love pass on.  And always in the dark silence of the night we know.  Always in that dark  hour of solitude we understand that death will take away the ones we love

But where do they go, those whom we have loved and have died?  We soothe our children with stories of heaven, and even as adults we still continue to cherish this place in our heart, eve if we can no longer believe it with our minds.  Something in us needs these tales.  Something in us needs to imagine that love does endure, perhaps even beyond death.  And yet, these stories can cheat us of the deepest demand which love makes upon us : to love what does not last, to love the rose which in its blooming already fades.  To embrace here with love what will pass away, what is in this very moment passing, while still hoping for a love which lasts beyond the grave!  How can we do that? Again I don`t know, I only know that after the shocks of grief and long, slow winter of mourning, I have found myself experiencing the world through different eyes, as if grief had changed the prescription of my vision.  In these moments, I experience all that is around me with melancholic eyes, with those eyes which can see in the midst of what is present in the moment, an absence which already haunts the moment.  Melancholy, I now believe, is the mood which allows us to love in the midst of our continual dying.  It is the mood which nurses the fact that love is born and rests in the cradle of death.  It is the mood which allows us to bear the mystery of love as the fragile home which the homeless soul builds in the human heart.

Robert Romanyshyn : Mourning and Melancholy : The Orphan and the Angel

Experiences of grief and loss do make our souls feel homeless.  That in which we have taken root, or those with whom we shared linkages and connections, even if haunted with shadows of disconnection are gone, suddenly taken.  We can experience grief over the loss of more than just a person, but when the person we have lost or who has died was so centrally important to our lives a vacancy or lacunae is left and into that void we fall.  Some of us are lucky to have those who will stand by as we are swallowed up, others of us may not be so lucky and may have anxious ones swoop in and try to save us.  Others of us may watch loved ones being swallowed up and feel powerless.  (I most certainly know I experienced a lot of that in my own life witnessing the traumas, losses and abandonment of my two sisters and mother.)  How we respond from this powerless place is very important.

I have personally felt that sometimes medication was being used as a way to stop a necessary descent.  I remember listening to a lecture by poet Robert Bly in which he said this: in depression we suffer a loss and refuse the call to descend, in grief we go willingly down.  Perhaps our various reactions and responses to depression, loss and grief or a dark night of the soul are not so clearly demarked, but the point is during these times the unconscious comes calling and its a testament of our love not only for that or who we have lost but also for ourselves how we respond. Bearing in mind such responses are never fully conscious.  Loss and grief do seem to demand of us an opening out after we fallen for a time and an opening of our heart in love, maybe even if for years we collapse or fall into a closed or folded up state.

When our world falls apart

Winter to spring

I am moved to write this post after a heart rending comment I received on another in which I shared some writing from Robert Romanyshyn on grief and reverie.  Grief and loss are universal experiences but so little understood in our modern technologically driven culture which can be so devoid of soul.  One of the issues Robert addresses in his book The Soul In Grief is just this, how do we honour and fully enter a deep process in which all known supports are torn away and we are literally left either falling through space with the feeling of nothing to hold us or as if we being sunk deep in huge chasm which seems as though it will swallow us up.  When these kinds of reality changing and transforming experiences occur to us we can never be prepared.  They demand of us on some level a deep surrendering into experiences which we can experience enormous resistence towards.

Robert speaks in his book about how after the sudden and very painful death of his wife he was like a ghost.  He struggled with all the tormenting questions which accompany the loss of a loved one, had he done something to contribute to his wife’s death, had he not been emotionally present enouh? (amongst other things). In time he found ways to enter the grief by experiencing it deep in his heart and soul rather than trying to make sense of it in his head.  On one level his mind was destroyed as it could not really take him into the deep mourning place and experience his body and soul needed to embody and my experience is that none of us find this easy or even have many overt examples of this process or even affirmation and support with it.  I know how my own mother was hurried out of her grief by my brother.  She never got to sit and cry her eyes or heart out with anyone following the loss of the love of her life.  I was overseas lost in my own vacacny and wandering of the London streets.

Grieving most often goes on in silence and is not spoken of although in recent times more is being done to address and help those who are grieving to find their way. At the same time as I write this I know there is no deeper solution to grief and mourning but the experiencing of it and so much of this is a deeply lonely process but one that can on some level be mysteriously spiritually transformative.  (Although often we do not understand that until we have passed through grief’s long dark tunnel or night,)

To find our way when the path that we were travelling on previously has disappeared or been torn up, well that is another issue entirely.  In Robert’s case he learned to wait, to tune in and to listen in reverie.  In a powerful quote which I had used to head a blog I havent yet published he saids “reverie can hear, because first it has listened”.  In reverie we tune into the deep wordless spaces inside us, those vast expanses which are beyond words.  When the bottom drops out of our world our world also opens up to a vast cosmic emptiness.  In Robert’s case he experienced himself as an orphan as we all do after loss but he also found that in the cosmic emptiness he found his angel too.

I had similar experiences after my own life feel apart after my ex husband left me.  I would be lost and wandering for days.  I dreamed and wrote and then received channelled messages from angelic like beings, as well as doing battle with demonic energies that wanted me dead, trying to convince me that since my husband had left I was worthless.  Those profound expereinces are all recorded in the many journals I wrote in the intense period following his leaving from 2004 – 2007, when I met someone who tried to pull me away from that intense inner world which threatened him with his own abandonment and grief issues from the past.

I look back now after being part way through Robert’s book and think powerfully of how important and pregnant that time was.  My old world was being destroyed so that a new one could emerge in time out of the ashes of grief and my blog and many of the poems I wrote then that I shared here in the blogs early says were a big part of this process.

As I contemplate all today after reading Amy’s message of this some favourite lines of mine from the poet Rilke come to mind:

Oh how dear you will be to me then, Nights

of anguish. Inconsolable sisters,

why did I not kneel more to greet you,

lose myself more in your loosened hair?

We, squanderers of pain.

How we gaze beyond them into duration’s sadness,

to see if they have an end. Though they are nothing but

our winter-suffering foliage, our dark evergreen,

one of the seasons of our inner year – not only

season – : but place, settlement, camp, soil, dwelling.

What Rilke is speaking of in this, his tenth elegy from the Duino elegies is of the transformative power of loss and grief.  Most surely we do no want to have lost what we have lost.  There is a part of us as humans that longs for things to never change.  But what the Buddhists remind us is that suffering and loss and change are intrinsic to life and living, they are the shadow side of much darkness that we dont know how to face because we do not learn in our culture to honour or fully enter them, at least in my experience.

We are so much, particularly in the West, a culture in the midst of what Purlitzer prize winner author Ernest Becker has called The Denial of Death and yet nature and the seasons know what we seem oblivious to and forget, that for spring to come autumn and winter must occur too.   And so our losses and transformations ARE as Rilke and Romanyshyn points out just seasons in a life where all goes fallow and we find ourselves wandering the stony ground or buried down deep in dark and seemingly barren earth. And yet even here and in the midst of much loss new things can and are growing.   They will grow out of our suffering if we kneel and surrender ourselves to them fully rather than resist.

I don’t know how many of my followers also know of Amy Rose’s blog here on WordPress Petal’s Unfolding.  Amy posts stunning photos with gorgeous quotes and it was Amy who just shared with me in a comment how her own losses have inspired her art.  Art or poetry is the stuff that can help us when we are in the midst of grief, change, transformation or loss.  Art can come out of our suffering and our stumbling and our deep humanity which has been piereced open by things we were powerless over happening to us.  We can use them to mine or find soul consolation or expression on our many days and nights of suffering and to find the deeper often agonising beauty in the midst of them.   The glint of moonlight on water, the soft feeling of a summer breeze kissing our cheek or even the numbing chill of winter snow are all reminders of the deep soul that is still alive and beating even in us and in nature even in the midst of the most profound loss and sorrow.  Oh you nights of suffering let us find our courage and ability to kneel to meet you and allow ourselves just for a while to lose ourselves in your loosened hair.

How feeling our grief connects us to compassion and love : grief as an Underworld journey

Grief 10.jpg

One of the saddest most heartbreaking things I have both experienced and witnessed in my own life is how being in pain or suffering pain can lead to disconnection, right at the time we or others most need it.   I shared in a recent post about a friend who I contacted who had lost her Mum a few months ago, she was feeling happy and supported in her pain.  I felt a knife pain all through my heart when I read her reply, that is not what happened when my father died many years ago.  As a result I buried a lot of my pain and acted it out and I have shared about that elsewhere in my blog.   I also think the loss of my father that lay ungrieved led me to doubt his love due to his emotional distance which was more about his own past than about how he felt about me deep down inside.

Today I was overcome with happiness at finding a wonderful book at my local library written by a man who lost his wife and fell into the most profound grief.  Rather than run from his grief he fully surrendered to and embraced it using this deep process of undoing as a doorway to enter into depths of his humanity and soul in a way that would never have been possible before his loss.

In the book he makes the point that it was through experiencing a psychic ‘orphaned’ state that he came to realise that the pain and abandonment of his orphan self could lead him to the angel within who helped him cross the threshold of pain over his loss to an ever deeper and deepening sense of love, connection and compassion with life and the cosmos.   He was able to fully enter both his mourning and grief and through active reverie, paying attention to soul cues, including a book case that collapsed twice in the months following his wife’s death he was able to read these messages and respond, rather than resist.   You would need to read his painfully beautiful memoir to be able to understand the depths of insight and soul he navigated.

For the purposes of this blog I am just going to quote from some of the more eloquent and heartfelt insights he shares in the early part of his book.  I am only midway through the book but really feel it is a book I would love to give to anyone struggling with grief following the death of a loved one.  Grief and love are really one and the same. Once we realise that essential truth we wont be led astray by those who try to have us believe grieving for ‘too long’ is some kind of pathology or aberration, rather than a testament of how deeply loved and cherished our lost or absent loved one is.  Even if the one we lost was not loving to us and we longed for their love, the pain and grief over that still runs very, very deep and if we run from it, there are problems we will face as the denied soul truth tries to get our attention.

The name of the book is The Soul in Grief : Love, Death and Transformation, and it is written by Robert Romanyshyn.   I believe that those who suffer grief are the ones we need to turn to in our own grief as they know more than the ‘experts’ or others who may in their own fear of the feelings of powerlessness watching someone grieve or struggle with grief respond in unproductive ways that further hurt or alienate that person.

Individually and collectively we fear grief and are impatient with it.  Everything in our culture is aimed at hurrying us through the process. In the midst of loss I was encouraged by well meaning and good intentioned friends to get back in the swing of things.  I was told “life goes on”. Staying in the land of grief too long I was, I believe, something of an embarrassment or a threat.  I was a walking ghost, an invisible shade, an empty shell with a broken heart.  I was a companion of death, and to my friends, a too painful reminder of its presence in the midst of life.   Better, then, I was advised, to let the dead bury the dead.  Better to forget the loss.

The soul, however, has its own rituals of grieving, rituals which plunged me into the organic rhythms of nature.  Loss is a season of the soul – its winter – and, like the winter of the world, a moment whose time must have its place.  I could neither hurry nor avoid these rhythms of soul any more than I could hurry or ignore those of the world.  In this landscape (of grief)… there are no map, no markers to plot the course of grief.  I was forced to find my own way.

But there were stories to accompany me along the path, tales told by those who had returned from the land of grief and who had brought with them an account of their travels… they were testimonials that told me, while I had to find my own way through grief, I was not alone. ….

In moments of rest, I felt that my personal grief intersected with a collective one.  On these occasions I lost myself in a kind of reverie.  Time would slip away, and for a while, the boundaries between myself and the world, were erased, easing somewhat the cold feeling of isolation which grief brings.  In reverie, before these warming fires, I could hear those other voices whispering that grief arises, because we have dared to love, that grief is the mark of the power of love, to love even when we know life is loss, to love even thought we knowthose whom we love will one day pass away.

My tales… are a testimony to (this) descent from the early shock of grief into the black holes of mourning and, at times, the unexpected opening into that quiet sadness of melancholy, where I felt a sense of belonging to others, where a new feeling of hope would emerge, only to be swallowed by a darkness even blacker than before.

Grief is a wound which leaves a scar, and that scar is forever etched in the fabric of of the soul… grief lies in the very marrow of our bones… (and) in the deepest recesses of the heart we are all orphans and that orphan in each of us carries our shared, collective sense of human sorrow.

Not all of us in our lives will be put in touch with our inner orphan.  In my own life my inner orphan was a very early experience and once that had collective roots.  Being given a name for this very deep and archetypal of human experiences and a reminder of it in reading Robert’s book I am aware of how knowing that such a psychic or psychological energy informs our life and experience at archetypal levels is helpful in some way.  It provides a context for an experience that is deeply human and spiritual and not only pathological as society would have us believe.

Our inner orphan can lead us to an inner angel, that one who holds the orphan’s hand through deep experiences of physical and emotional abandonment, an inner guide or witness who mysteriously appears in our darkest hours and can hold us as we cry and help us to contain the pain of our orphaned, lost or grief filled state.

In grief, the heart’s song is one of sorrow, a song of lament.  Maybe the Angel is especially receptive to us in our moments of pain and sorrow, in our moments of loss and grief.  Maybe that is why it seems to me that the Angel is the other face of the Orphan…. The Angel waits to escort us into a realm which I can only describe as one of cosmological connectedness, into that place where even in that early moment of grief I felt connected with and held by forces beyond the human realm.

Robert’s experience in his time of grief mirrored my own.  In the dark days of my grieving in Glastonbury I went to the Cathedral and acquired some beautiful angel icons cards which still lie dotted around my home in little nooks and crannies.  At that time of deepest grief it was to those angels that I turned.    Later I found the loving presence in my own heart but it was not always constant.

I do believe that grief when deeply felt and engaged with as a necessary (if unwanted) soul season, does transport us to a different realm or underworld that those who have never grieved or suffered the pain of loss will ever fully understand.  That is why when we are grieving we need to find those companions who understand that place, even if we have to travel there many years alone.   There are those out there who have gone before us and can give us hope that in time we will return, fundamentally changed, deepened and enriched at the level of our soul.

What takes form in the void

“There is, in every event, whether lived or told, always a hole or a gap, often more than one. If we allow ourselves to get caught in it, we find it opening onto a void that, once we have slipped into it, we can never escape.”

Brian Evenson

In the deep void Left by their emotional absence You stepped in Thinking to keep me safe from harm If you are perfect You whispered No one will notice you too much And you will be useful So never again abandoned But this void filler Tells all kinds of lies He keeps you jumping And you find it hard to rest With the all the gauges Set on high alert You dare not sleep In case disaster falls Or surrender Emptiness

But what you do not know Is how In this space Inner emptiness grows Through self abandonment Of the child you once were Who needed loving arms to hold And a place of rest The absence of these cut deep And lead you to make all kinds of poor bargains You will never see Until so much further down the road

Now you weep With realisation of all that you betrayed Or gave away so cheaply But its not too late Though there is weeping still to be done For all those betrayals and lost years These tears are the price Of your birthing and emergence into the light

The truth is you were always precious And so now need to guard that preciousness So to do your work Much of it in silence After silence the real truth telling can no longer be denied (Your soul heard those silent screams and finally responded!)

Tears fall down But with the shedding Some deeper soul realisation is being restored You will never again Be as lonely as you were In those years of unconsciousness The price of consciousness is pain But also some kind of freedom The freedom to see deeper and know Truths others so often deny, fear or run from Or wish you to block or never know The full truth of

You must heart must bear this full weight Hard as it is No one can really live inside a void We all need so much more And the protector who forms inside it So often become jailor And so must over time Be lovingly released


A place within the pain to find a place outside the pain.

I awoke a little while ago to a golden morning.   I had such a fitful night last night.  I never take any medication but last night I took a Panadol hoping it would allow me to rest.  My body has been all over the place since the anniversary of my accident trauma.  I was also not fully aware of how much my nephew’s visit triggered and the aftermath of feeling.  I was up and down last night and had all the spasms and shock releases in my body which feels like it is trying to unwind.  I wind myself up in my mind with worry over my dog and my mother.  Despite the fact my relationship with my Mum is complex now she is aging so much and in pain I am full of care, this conflicts with feelings of frustration I have in longing for freedom from worry, care and trauma and anger I feel over past hurts.  But the truth is way more complex than I can fully express in any blog.  There are times I know she wanted to support me but since she struggles to accept her own emotions and responses (or does so under the cover of silence and protection like a lot of Scorpios) she hasn’t been able to validate me in the ways I wished, nor fully acknowledge her part.

I was watching the movie Thanks for Sharing for the second time on the weekend and I got triggered in the scene where the son of the older man in recovery confronts his Dad with hurt he caused him and his failure to apologise.  The father who was a big guy in recovery circles as well as full of AA platitudes and pearls of wisdom was being hypocrite pure and simple and refusing to face it.  I saw my self and how alone and emotionally devastated not getting the necessary apology leaves us.  It fucks with our heads as we question the truth and fear losing the parent’s love by confronting their defences with their shadow.

I have pretty much come to the point where I know now Mum wont own her own part in ways she abandoned me emotionally.  To do so she would have had to face her own history and lately she has shared that she was also emotionally abandoned, but the sorry for what she unconsciously did is never coming.  Sharing about it with my therapist the other day she said that she feels to my Mum I am the child inside her she had to cover over long ago and whose pain it hurts to face, sadly.  It takes so much courage and vulnerability to truly own where we fail, often due to unconsciousness.  Not getting that acknowledgement from any member of my family has been painful and difficult.  But at least now I know where NOT to look for it.

In a way I am glad I had no contact with my brother on his birthday.  His daughter shared with me a while back how shut down both her parents are.  She doesn’t blame them for her emotional abandonment and it is ongoing.   I think its a big step to really feel our anger over this, as it can be prohibited.  To stay trapped in anger though in time means a failure to accept and grieve a harsh reality that must be faced and grieved.  I feel in time I will be able to have an honest conversation about how I feel about how he is in terms of being as emotionally distant as my own father was.  He never got the help to face his softer needy side and his wife is furiously defended against her own in so many way too, but the truth is I don’t know her well.  She has always kept up a cold hard distance with the female side of my family, especially after my oldest sister’s breakdown and told her children to do the same.  That is another grief.  I know she has reasons to be angry at my Mum and they are valid.  Mum admits she was in the wrong but doesn’t really have empathy for my sister in law who lost her own mother when she was on the brink of adolescence.

Facing our grief and pain is huge work, I now see.  I feel we skirt around it for so long and as I write this that poem of Emily Dickinson comes to mind : there is a pain so utter it swallows substance up and covers the abyss with trance so we step above or around it (those are not the verbatim words but it goes something like that.)  The reason I think so many of us who carry abandonment trauma suffer and are sidelined by others is that they either have no idea of the devastation it causes or are so deeply invested in denying or covering over their own grief and pain that they can feel scared and threatened when we do and so do things to shut us down or shame us.  Then we can be labelled as ‘ill’ and medicated to shut the fuck up.  (Writing that last sentence I am also aware medications in many cases are used to soften the blow while inner work is prepared for but in many cases they are used to hide from it in the absence of inner reparative psychodynamic work and there is anger for my sisters in that sentence which I own fully!).

As I look back I see this ocean of deep grief and pain began to open up for me in 1999 when my ex husband and I were in the UK.  Facing the enormity of it scared me so I ran home to Australia and then hid out.  My husband and mother were trying to get me some help but I was resisting them a fair bit.  I ran back to the UK and then back to Oz and then back again when I was struggling to find a way to trust and move forward.  So in many ways the anger I have at my family not fully understanding is also anger of my inner child at the adult who would not take the right steps to care for her before. My grief and fear was so huge they were terrifying to face.   And so much went into the fire.

It was only the ending of the next relationship which freed me for the inner work and then my older sister died and that was so hard.  We got to reconnect for a short while with her sons and that opened up feeling but also more fear.  It has taken until this late Mercury retrograde transit to see how strong the Uranus rebellion streak has been in me and how deep the Plutonian deluge of ancestral pain that we carry as a family really is.  In many ways I am the shadow bearer for a lot of repressed energy so its no wonder I have struggled so much and been sidelined so many times by others who are ignorant, misunderstanding or misjudging.  And then I judged myself not seeing how big the task was or how well I was trying, until I found this last therapist who has just been so present, so adaptable, so open and so warm and caring, things I have never received much in my life before.  I come from such a constricted family that holds down so deep so much repressed life force and childlike joy and human wanting/needing, all of which I split off for so many years until now!  Was it any wonder I suffered from anxiety.  It was just repressed life force, wild horse energy in my beautiful body stampeding with hooves of wanting and desiring for release against huge forces of internalised repression!

Phew! Sun is literally streaming in on me at the moment and I awoke today and saw the beauty of my home, which has been such a cocoon and which I nearly discarded earlier in the year in quest of a space that was not the real me I am but the me I thought I should be to be better or neater or more in control.

On that subject last night after I got home I listened to the greatest conversation on radio with a student of ethics and philosophy on transcendant experiences.  What was being discussed was how much the rational enlightenment in the 17th century has stolen from us in terms of raising up qualities of self control, rationality as supreme, making us numb and blind on so many levels to nature and inner mystical worlds that our ancestors were more in touch with.  In the wake of this experiences of feeling connected to a greater power or peak experiences of seeing spirit in matter or feeling that vast overwhelming of love, luminosity and connection have become increasingly pathologised by the mainstream.

On the way home just a while before I had one of those experiences when I saw a hedge of the most glorious yellow wattle shining out at the side of the car.  I was overcome with the awareness of how much love there is in nature and of how much of our suffering is man made by the heroic questing ego that seeks power over nature instead of union with it.

When we fail to see the beauty in who we really are as natural beings, when we go deaf dumb and blind to sensitivities and feelings of connection or suffering, we shut down all that is most beautiful, honest, open and true in ourselves and others.  I know how many others there are out there who also suffering and in many ways our suffering in opening our hearts also connect us to each other.  When we resist that suffering or try to make a illness of it we cut ourselves away from love, life and light.

I saw so much light and love in that wattle yesterday.  I only saw it as I went to visit my Mum for an hour and we had a few moments of connection.  I connect to the pain in my Mum that she has had to deny for so many years.  Long ago as a child she was left alone without resources.  I see how she coped to the best she could.  It was NEVER enough for me but it was all she could do.  Facing the harsh reality of that means grieving not only for her but for all of my family.  It means not living in denial as so many of us do but it also involves realising the beauty that remains even amongst what at times seems to the rubble and wreckage that is left and it occurs to me as I read this back that grieving and feeling the pain is a form of transformation and birthing, it is a dying to the old past so a new present can rise up and live with more awareness of how deep losses and original injuries go.

What is most important for me at this stage of the road in my emotional recovery is self love not self denial or rejection.  I don’t like what I had to suffer and I wish it was different. I know I deserved more but maybe there was a deeper lesson or learning in every single thing I have gone through.  Making meaning of it, accepting what is, grieving the losses to realise what is most important, most luminous so I can come awake again and fully embodied in both my longing and my pain as well as my luminosity and joy, well to my mind that is essential work maybe not for everyone but most definitely for me.