— TRIGGERS —
The following post contains writing about incest, rape, suicide etc.
Please take a moment, check in with yourself, and do not read any further if you are too vulnerable to proceed. Perhaps you could do something kind for yourself instead 🙂
Post starts below. Be safe. Best wishes all!
Last year I spent a lot of time trying not to die by my own volition. A sort of split had opened up between the body that worked toward my demise, and the heart that wished to stay (where my mind was at the time is uncertain). In a sense, 2014 could be viewed as a waste of a year of my life; I guess it might have been, had that turmoil not eventually transformed into the awakening of my true self.
I was born into a role. I was born into the stocks, really; the encumbered recipient of most of my family’s putrid projections. The missiles stuck, became who I was. The rest of the world saw me in the same light – thereby cementing my self-perception as a kind of monster. I grew to feel literally rotten inside. During my initial pregnancy scan, aged 20, I remember lying on the examination table and crying out in panic that there was ‘no baby’. A look of utter shock shot between the midwife and my partner – followed by a hastily discovered heartbeat. Strong and true, galloping along. I marvelled at how a baby could possibly be alive, in there; amidst the swilling rot of me.
Half a year later I was blessed with a baby girl whom upon arrival was launched onto my bare chest by the midwife. Here was a girl with open eyes, steely blue, staring right into my face. Silent and inquisitive. My prevailing sense was that wisdom had suddenly entered the room in the form of a bubblegum-purple infant. When my daughter was small she occasionally talked about who she was ‘before’; describing both banal and sometimes quite funny details. On a few occasions she informed me that she’d previously been my parent. I somehow felt no reason to disabuse her of the notion. Certain things my daughter did and said cannot be explained by me nor my husband who also bore witness to a few unusual occurrences. Let’s just say that my daughter was, and is, inherently wise – though at age 13 she has outgrown her most inexplicable traits.
Having my daughter didn’t fix me. I hoped that my protective intentions for her, coupled with the force of willpower, would engender healing. For a few years I believed I had healed; even the neglectful and outright abusive relationship with my mother had transformed over time thanks to our new commonality – motherhood. What I didn’t realise was that my mother had not changed personality, merely approach. The abuse continued, and not just against me – my husband was persistently maligned, and as she grew closer to adolescence my daughter also began to experience the cruel focus of her grandmother’s dysfunction.
I turned 33 years old early in 2014. The satirical Pulp lyrics “A man told me to beware of 33. He said; It was not an easy time for me…” floated in and out of my consciousness. Something wasn’t right. I began to break down. Over 7 or 8 months, too many times to recall I stood with a noose around my neck, my disabled and exhausted body quaking, teetering. I half willed my body itself to take the decision out of my hands. What if my legs buckled? Would a sudden swirl of vertigo propel me forward? Would I immediately regret it if I dropped? A couple of times I was able to stop and call my husband to come home. Other times I just chickened out.
As time wore on though, a sense of deep foreboding arose. I had been inching closer and closer to the edge – rehearsing my death, in a sense. I knew that soon I was going to take the last step. I felt really scared at that point. The guilt was immense. To consider leaving a husband and daughter behind – two human beings deeply deserving of love and support: what was I?
The same monster I’d always been.
Change arrived quite suddenly, late in the year. I became very angry at my mother. Furious. Viciously enraged. This ire seemingly came out of nowhere. We sent messages between ipads – an avalanche of vitriol spilled from me. I called her out on all the abuses, from as far back as I could remember. My mother mostly responded from a place of impotent victimhood. At times she tried to stroke my ego – which backfired, as something had cracked inside of me and I no longer felt the need to live in denial. No, I wasn’t a ‘great mother’. I was a terrible mother, and something (though I didn’t know what) was preventing me from being the person I desired to be. This puzzle needed solving.
In the end, it was a momentary slip of my mother’s façade that set me free. On a subconscious level I’d probably been trying to goad her; to coax out the real person underneath and have her step up to talk. I wanted the mother who (when I was a suicidal teenager begging for help) said to me: “I wish euthanasia was legal for people like you”. On October 27th she arrived. It was such a simple thing really. I’d stated that I knew my father used to rape my mother and so how could she not have realised he was psychopathic? The response: “I’ll have you know he never laid a finger on ME!”. There was something of victory about that statement. I remember him raping her, her repeated cries of ‘No.’ and ‘Stop it’ – starting off lighthearted and becoming more and more serious in tone. Flesh hitting flesh as she battled to fight him off before the door was closed and the lock turned. Muffled sounds of unwillingness heard through the door. Does she even remember? Has she ever let herself know what that was?
I’ve long described the mother of my early childhood as a ‘ghost’. She was there but not there. She saw, but did not see. Now I finally understood the reality of my childhood. My mother knew, but didn’t know, that he raped me. That he shook me as an infant. That he locked me up and hit me with his metal meter ruler. That he relished torturing me; psychologically and physically. Mostly, my mother knew that her own childhood had been horrible – and here she was married to a new kind of danger. A man who she admits used to threaten to kill her; someone more hazardous than her mother ever was. Luckily she birthed children. The first, he loved; called his princess. There was a gap of four years and then the last two were born in quick succession. They would become a sacrifice. My younger sister and I were thrown by our mother into the maw of the wolf she’d married. She used us to keep him sated, and away from herself. The plan mostly worked; my mother had been smart, and she was victorious.
On October the 27th last year she finally let slip the truth; what happened to me was a product of her own drive for self preservation. Many fragments of my life experience wove together from that day, making sense at last. My husband had known the sad reality all along – his initial experience of my mother was her spitting the word ‘whore’ in my direction. It’s a hard thing to face up to truth when the truth is that you were never loved by either parent.
I cut contact with my mother and therefore my entire family of origin by association. Within two weeks of doing so my suicidal thoughts dissipated. Since my early teens and beginning with a ‘psychotic break’ that lead to my institutionalisation for just over three months (severe PTSD), my mother had crafted a narrative around me. She carefully managed all contact between myself and other members of the family – telling them one thing, and me another. Manipulations and lies were disguised as martyrly concern. To be honest I knew about her tendency to lie, but she had a way of making me believe that she was on my side. It’s been almost twelve months since I cut contact with my mother. No other family member has tried to contact me within that time, and I don’t expect they ever will. My mother did a great job of isolating me; the most serious threat to her delusional kingdom.
Shortly after ceasing contact with my mother I signed up for a beginner’s mindfulness course. I’m not even sure why the course appealed to me. A couple of weeks prior to it’s start, something terrible happened. It was my daughter’s final music lesson for the year. My husband and I had an errand to run after the lesson and so we both sat in the car waiting to pick up our girl. I distinctly remember the warm breeze wafting through the window. Suddenly the world fell quiet and an urgent sense of dread landed on me. I shifted uncomfortably before saying to my husband “Something isn’t right. Something really isn’t right”. He tried to settle me down, saying that our girl would be coming out to the car any minute. I said to him “I know, but something isn’t right. Seriously; I feel like someone is going to die.”
Due to my disability I wasn’t in any position to run around searching the school buildings for my daughter, and my husband refused to budge. At that moment, I spotted something up on the corrugated roof in front of us. A black wing, the feathers catching and moving in the wind. A dead bird. It’s brethren crowded around it, grabbing mouthfuls of flesh. “There you go” said my husband, “That’s what died. A bird”. Our daughter came running up to the car. I quizzed her, still anxious. Was she ok? How did her final lesson go? Everything was fine she replied, bemused. As we drove away I tried to be satisfied that my daughter was safe, and so the feeling that had gripped me must have been merely an illusion.
Three days after that, we received an email from the music school. My daughter’s beloved teacher of three years had died on the final day of lessons. He’d returned home and committed suicide. We hadn’t known, but his hospitalisation earlier in the year was due to depression, not a medical ailment. He was gone – a gentle, kind, and encouraging man. My heartbroken daughter attended her teacher’s funeral. Growing up, I was denied attendance at funerals. If my mother had still been in my life at the time I would have mindlessly followed this rule and not taken my daughter to say goodbye to her teacher. During the funeral an email sent to Leon by one of his students following his death, was read aloud. It was beautiful – expressing how much his presence had meant to her, and how she only felt like she truly ‘belonged’ once a week; during music lesson. The student finished by saying that she didn’t know where Leon was now, but she promised to work hard and grow up to make him proud. At the end when the name of the student was read out, I was shocked to find that those words had been written by my daughter.
Leon was married and had a child, prior to discovering he was gay. The funeral was an odd mix of very conservative family members who spoke of him one way, and Leon’s best friend who talked a few times during the ceremony as well as playing her violin in his honour; her recollections of Leon were very different from those of his family. Had Leon’s family ever really known who he was? Their memories seemed to be of a young boy – as though the boy had never grown into a man. Leon’s friend returned to speak at one stage and said that Leon had been a strong advocate of mindfulness practice. She briefly led us all in the basic mindfulness technique of following the breath. I closed my eyes and just let myself be, where I was.
After the service I stood with wobbly legs next to my daughter as Leon’s coffin was transferred into the back of the hearse. A slightly ghoulish teacher from the music school had told my husband and I how Leon died; the same way I’d planned to kill myself. I watched as somebody from the family placed a single red rose on the shiny mahogany lid of the coffin before turning away towards the rest of the family, smiling. A good man was inside that wooden box. Somebody far more worthwhile than me. I held my arm around my daughter’s shoulder, squeezing her close. A couple of young women next to us were also wiping tears away silently. I made a vow that I’d sort myself out – and thanked Leon for the unexpected signpost pointing toward mindfulness practice. I would take the upcoming course seriously.
The beginner’s mindfulness course ran every Wednesday evening over four weeks. Our teacher was a pint sized woman with blonde hair and an attentive smile. She was careful to interact with each member of the group, and gave much encouragement – including urging each of us to listen to our own inner wisdom. “Do not blindly follow anyone” she’d say – “try things for yourself, and then decide based on your own lived experience”. This was such a different approach to life than the way I’d been trained since birth. I was now encouraged to be inquisitive; to experiment, and even make mistakes. It’s since become apparent that making my own mistakes is a far more worthwhile endeavour than having somebody else make them for me.
Upon conclusion of the course I started collecting books about mindfulness and have built up a small ‘library of wisdom’. Many of my books contain Buddhist teachings, though the mindfulness course I attended was secular. Toni Bernhard, Pema Chödrön, Sharon Salzberg and Tara Brach are some of my new teachers. These generous, openly flawed, fully human women are helping me to grow up. I feel as though my hand has been taken… the hand that had been thrust out in desperate need of guidance since I was a child. It’s long overdue, but I am learning certain life skills right from the beginning.
Now that I am slightly further along in my studies of mindfulness (though still just a babe) there is one particular form of practice I find myself drawn to. It is a practice so transformative of every facet of life that if I only follow this one meditation until the day I die, I believe it will have been entirely worthwhile. The Metta (or lovingkindness) meditation I engage in involves sending a series of good wishes to myself, someone I feel very positively about, someone I feel slightly less positive about, somebody with whom I have a neutral acquaintance, and then somebody with whom I experience conflict. Following that, I send metta to my neighbours, and then everybody in the world – including ‘greedy’ people, politicians I don’t agree with, and unrepentant mass murderers. I like to make myself aware of that last part as I’m sending the wishes globally – in order to make sure I am not taking the easy way out and only sending metta to those I naturally feel sympathetic towards. In fact it could be argued that sending metta to those whom one feels aversion toward, is the most nourishing part of the practice.
Fairly early on since beginning to meditate regularly, I noticed that I didn’t hate myself anymore. An appreciation of the connection between (and inate equality of) all living things has been fostered within me – and now hating myself seems about as silly and futile as hating the tree in my garden. I occasionally slip back into the habit of self-recrimination that battered me for decades, but the cruel words I aim at myself no longer ring true. They are impossible to believe anymore – and sometimes I smile at these now homeless echoes from my past. I don’t hate myself; nor do I hate anybody else. I’ll continue protecting myself from family members who would do me harm though – I love and respect myself enough for this now.
Mindfulness practice is transforming how I relate with myself and the world. It is proving to be an inside-out job. I used to regularly act with cruelty and intolerance towards my husband and daughter. Since I’ve stopped being incessantly cruel and intolerant towards myself, I am a much more pleasant person to be around (both my husband and daughter have said as much themselves). Showing compassion is not a difficult chore, either – mindfulness practice has given me the tools to see more perspectives, and the freedom to respond to life instead of merely reacting from a primitive place in my emotional development. I’m far more likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt now. Sometimes, my chosen response is to not respond – but instead work an issue through internally before letting go of my need to control, or my need to be ‘right’.
Based on my own lived experience, I know that this is the path for me now.
May you live in safety and health
May you have understanding
May you experience ease of being
May you be happy