Monday, 21 August 2017

A Story to Tell

I have been away again a long time & I am sad about that.
I have tried to write many times this year, but my stories were too odd, too strained & one time, all that I had written, just up & disappeared.
So I have waited, hoping that some sweetness would eventually arrive.
But it hasn't.
I look up & find that it is already August. This year has unfolded in the most unexpected & peculiar ways. I have had no control over events & for the 29th year in a row, no choice what-so-ever about the impact of the family chaos & dysfunction we have found ourselves embroiled in, yet again.
But it has come to me today, quite clearly, that it is time to tell our story.
The tale of almost four decades of love & struggle.
Whether anyone else understands, is offended or judges me for doing so, no longer matters.

But first of all, let me tell you what derailed everything.
Right at the beginning of the year- Rob had some unexpected contact from his elder brother Roy. Unexpected because...the last time he wrote to Rob, 12 years ago, he had a great deal to say (without ever having talked to his brother, I might add) which included:
"I may have backslidden somewhat, but I can assure you that I have more Christian values in my big toe than you have in your entire body, in fact, your entire family. I am ashamed to call you “My Brother” and in fact, the creature that you have become is no longer my brother. The real Rob, the brother that I loved, the young boy in the picture below, is Dead. I will get a china urn and fill it with ashes from my next camp fire, and I will put your name on a plaque to be hung around the neck of the urn, to remind me of the brother who was. This urn will take its place next to the urn and box containing the ashes of our dog “Silo”...

His previous email, 5 years prior to this, also expressed his enormous angst & deep disgust that he held towards his brother & he told him that he would leave it 10 years & then maybe check in again after that & see if there was any change (also written without actually seeing Rob in person or having a conversation with him).

Needless to say, there was no response required to such announcements.
But here Roy was, contacting Rob after all these years & announcing that he forgave him (well kind of- with conditions), having recently re-dedicated his "life to The Lord" (for the third time) & with some pretty sharp-pointy-stick prompting from his best friends-  he had arrived on the email doorstep. Then with a little straight talk & grace on Rob's part, a civil conversation was begun, a Pacific cruise taken by Roy (with his mother) & a Church conference attended in Auckland. Whilst sitting through the weekend, Roy began to complain of a sore back. Eventually, with his mother's insistent prompting, he agreed to head to the hospital to have himself checked out, where-upon he was instantly admitted, soon suffered a massive cerebral seizure & at that point was rendered unconscious; only to die 3 days later. He did have a history of recurring melanoma so it wasn't entirely a surprise, but none-the-less abrupt & unexpected, especially if you haven't "seen" him for well over 17 years.
Having created some significant buffering for ourselves over the last decade, from family dynamics, we were unprepared for the impact that abrupt loss brings & found ourselves navigating some bumpy weather- plenty of unpredictable & unexpected emotions & some very peculiar situations thrown in to the mix. When Rob made his way back to his family home to be with his mother & younger brother & to say goodbye to Roy, he suddenly found that there was no room at the inn- as a strange woman (that he'd never heard of in his life before) was sleeping in his old bedroom. She announced that she was his brother's "adopted" daughter (with 6 children of her own) & set about organising everything & every-body as if she'd, in fact, been a part of the family all along. So, within the whirling dervish of chaos that this death has wrought, we find ourselves uncomfortably facing the past, the present, the unresolved, the things we never knew, the things we will now never know & the bare-faced truth about a disordered family that was set on a path of self-disintegration many years ago.  
I read here today- "We are all storytellers...engaged in an act of creation of the composition of our lives. Yet unlike most stories we’ve heard, our lives don’t follow a predefined arc. Our identities and experiences are constantly shifting, and storytelling is how we make sense of it. By taking the disparate pieces of our lives and placing them together into a narrative, we create a unified whole that allows us to understand our lives as coherent and coherence, psychologists say, is a key source of meaning."
I am not certain that in writing our narrative there will come a coherence, but I do know that it has come the time to tell the story of "The Marriage"- this union, that has a life & a tale all of it's own. I have shared so much loveliness & beauty in the last 7 years & that is all still true & certain, but sometimes there is more- so much more & in that place of other-life there is a cutting, a loneliness & a despair, a malaise & a chaos that persists.
Here I sit- aged 56, yet I don't feel any age at all. What I do feel, is that inside of me, still lives a wee girl, a ghost of a girl- called Katie.
She is sweet, shy, innocent & so very, very sad. Trauma changes the souls & brains of little children. It is never their fault, nor can they fix themselves. Children are not made of elastic like everybody says. That is a convenient fabrication. We are fragile & malleable & precious & we deserve to be loved & protected- always. My Nan would always say of the hard things (like her children getting pregnant out of wedlock)- "It's just one of those things that shouldn't have happened", in her deep gruff voice. Those words never helped. And it did happen & I was entrusted to a mother that cried the whole week of her own honeymoon in despair, & there-after had one foot out the door either emotionally or practically most days. She was sad & depressed & desperate & trapped (mostly in herself) the whole 6 years that I knew her. The last time I saw her as a child, she was almost dead & it wasn't until this year, age 56, that I realised that I had always carried the burden of guilt that if my mother wanted to leave so badly, it was my fault. I knew she was very sick & I didn't grieve for her & I didn't blame her when she left.
 The next two years (rather peculiarly) were the happiest years of my childhood- the two years that my father was waiting on his divorce before my "new mother" could be installed. There was a calmness & a gentleness about that time that was never to be repeated.  My father caught me watching television through the crack in my bedroom door one evening, but instead of growling he invited me out to watch the Avengers with him & that became the pattern that was both kind & comforting to me, at that time. I also recall seeing someone making a cake on television- a fruitcake, I thought perhaps that I could make one too. I stored the recipe in my head (all of age 7/8) & then asked Dad & his flatmate Geoff whether I added the eggs in to the mix with their shells on or off-as the instructions were to add 3 "whole" eggs. They said they weren't sure & not wanting to do it wrong, I added 3 eggs- shell & all! They happily ate my rock cake, spitting out the bits of shell as they went, while I concluded that I should probably take the shells off next time.
But that's the thing about dysfunction, it doesn't come along waving banners & telling you that it has arrived. There is no family barometer sitting on the wall so you can figure out how you're doing & whether you've tipped in to crazy, odd or toxic. Narcissistic personality disorder didn't even have a name back then & hitting, kicking & screaming abuse at your "adopted" step-children wasn't even against the law. It's an interesting thought to ponder that perhaps trauma survivors have (or end up with) symptoms instead of memories.
By the time I turned 16, things were so bad that I would cry all the way to school & all the way home again. That household was all ice-cold withdrawals, punishing silences for weeks on end, torrid strip downs with the white water word hose, that left me in emotional sobbing tatters of worthlessness time after time; no fairness, nor borders, no respect, only egg shells, broken glass & contempt. Not once did I see a difference of opinion worked out with skill or even basic decency. And my opinion- was never asked for, nor sort- except when my father needed a confidante, a captive shoulder to lean on when his marriage hit the wall, yet again.
I knew I just had to get out of there, but I also had almost no self confidence or sense of personal worth & no idea about how I would live life out in the world on my own. I left early the following year & headed to Wellington to start my School Dental Nurse training. My father then made an uncharacteristic intervention in my life, toward the end of that first year & organised for me to go with a Youth for Christ group that were heading to Samoa to build a house. It was the late 1970's & there were a lot of pentecostal christian happenings going on. The actual "team" volunteered from all around New Zealand & first got together at the Baptist church in Miramar Wellington, to plan the house building & ministry in November 1978. I walked across the city from the Dental Nurses' hostel,  up the stairs & "saw' Rob for the very first time. That moment, both our lives changed forever. Our romance was improbable & according to all & sundry, entirely ill advised. But we soon recognised that we had been given something unique & precious & that was all that mattered.
Early the following year I turned 18 & I found myself taking an overnight, 13 hour train journey to Auckland, to meet Rob's family. His mother took a vehement (but covert) disliking to me from the moment that she met me. That first evening she insisted that we all go to the movies together, which would have been ok if I'd been invited, but it was all decided around me- we would be going to a double billing screening of two science-fiction movies. I abhor science fiction & I said so & that I would rather just stay home while they all went out together & I was very polite. However, I was pressed ganged & silenced & off we all went. I had nightmares for a very long time after that. The next morning I woke to find that I had been bitten on my eyelid by a mosquito while I slept & my eye was so swollen I couldn't see a thing out of it. But I had fallen in love with a man, not a family & I didn't think much more of it on my return to Wellington.
It was in this period that Rob moved to a flat in Auckland over in the Eastern Bays & he discovered that my estranged mother was living " just around the corner". We made arrangements to visit her together- a flat & unremarkable event. On my return to Wellington I received a letter stating that my mother never wanted to see me again, although she was "there" should I ever really need her. So that was the end of that! 
Fortunately when I graduated Rob came to be with me, as my parents shot through without even asking if I needed a hand (since I didn't have a car, nor my license) to get the 6 hours to Manaia- a 3 pub, 800 people town in South Taranaki, where I had been sent to. However, I soon received a letter from my father (not checking to see how I was doing & sending his love) but instead, damning me to hell for "shacking up" with Rob who had bothered to look after me & get me to my destination safely. Rob eventually left his job in Auckland with Telecom to come & be with me & got a job in the laundry & later as an orderly in Ward One, at the local hospital. We married in December 1980 when my parents could "fit us in" but instead of feeling treasured & beautiful on my wedding day, I couldn't even bear to look at my father after the hounding he'd given me the night before for "not pulling my weight" & helping out enough in the day leading up to my wedding.
Rob & I soon fell in love with a wee run down house in Hawera with a large over-grown garden that friends from church were renting & managed to purchase it for $14,000! We lived a simple life & "grew up" in those nine years living together in Hawera. Anna was born in 1983 & I felt strong & confident as we started a-fresh, creating a family of our own with wholesome values of love, nourishing food & make-do-and-mend. I joined La Leche League, fully, happily breast-fed & made lots of lovely friends through the AOG church we were attending.
And then Matthew was born...& there was yelling.
This poor little boy arrived in to this world & he hated it- everything about it.
And everyone said- "It's got to be the mother's fault".
After months of being on call day & night & with very little respite, I was exhausted & starting to see the first signs of depression set in. At church I was instructed to breastfeed in the toilets only if I was going to insist on nursing my baby past 9 months. I was soon labelled rebellious for not submitting to the authority of the Pastor's wife! Things deteriorated from there & we soon realised that it was time to leave Taranaki.
Rob wanted to remain in hospital work & had applied three times to do the one year enrolled nursing course while we were still living in Taranaki & each time had been rejected. He bravely enrolled in a night class & upped his English skills by passing school C & then later UE English. By the time we moved I was pregnant with David. Once we arrived here in Hawke's Bay, Rob was soon accepted to the full three year nursing course at EIT. We had imagined that being in Hastings would be a good thing as my step mother had been kind & helpful when our first two children were born, however, this was not to be, as she & my father had fresh ambitions & headed off to America for a 6 week holiday over the time that David was born. We were clearly inconvenient & worse than annoying & found ourselves utterly rejected & unceremoniously dumped- all of us. David was still a new-born when my father decided to stand for Parliament- having not even visited the new baby, I suddenly found myself being castigated for not getting out there & door knocking in support & was emphatically told, that if I did indeed want to know him as my father, I would have to get involved (fully) with whatever he was doing. Having not had a single whole night sleep in Matthew's first three years of life, now looking after a new baby & all the changes that our move had wrought, this landslide of rejection was just all too much for me & by the time that David was 18 months old, my health completely collapsed & I was to lose my entire prime adult life to ill health & emotional trauma from that point.
When David was 4 we found a nice little church where we liked the people & the people liked us, but tragically, what we did not realise, was that we had arrived at a time in the church history where the whole thing was about to collapse & we ended up being caught in the rubble & the consequences, some years down the line.
My father continued to get married a lot & my brother's first two marriages failed as well. The endless turmoil & instability; the endings & losses & heartaches caused us all a great deal of distress as a family. 
Peg Streep talks about the five things that the unloved daughter feels in childhood over here. 
She says that these are common feelings experienced by the daughter's of unloving mothers & are all part of the emotional legacy:

1) That she is unlovable.
2) That she is isolated & alone.
3) That it's her fault.
4) That she might be crazy.
5) Deeply fearful & insecure.

But, what I have come to find, is that these feelings are also commonly experienced by anyone who has been exposed to (or been part of) a disordered or faulty family. So although the traumatic events that I experienced as a young child & the subsequent loss of my mother & the divorce of my parents deeply effected me alone, the patterns of disorder only grew deeper & more complex as the years went by, culminating most intensely in the decade where Rob was working as a registered nurse in the Children's ward, our children were navigating adolescence, my health remained severely challenged, there were peculiar dysfunctions in the churches we attended & every part of the various family affiliations escalated in to unfettered chaos. It was during this time that chaos & deep distress became part of the fabric of our own family & then weird & awful things started happening that could not be explained. 
It was as if a dragon was stirring. Our world became a scary, turbulent & unsafe place to be.
Reactions to life & me, began to arise in Rob that hadn't been present before & I knew we had to address them if any of us were to survive. Katie (the wee innocent one) was utterly terrified & confused & became increasingly distraught. Catherine determined to unearth the truth & find a way to safety for us all, but it was to take many, many years.
Rob was born to English parents who had both fled England & randomly arrived in Kenya in the late 1940's. Once there, they met, married & had two sons four years apart. The little family & Nangy (grandmother) left Nairobi at the time of the Mau Mau up-risings & took passage by boat to arrive in New Zealand with all their worldly possessions in 1963. After a time in a caravan park & rented housing, they built a house in West Auckland & had another son 10 years after Rob was born. Rob's elder brother didn't stay with the family long & soon shot off to sea at the age of 16. He eventually met a woman who was a working ship girl at that time & married her & made a home in Australia with her & her troubled son. The tragedy of her life remains too much for me to bare even now- although we were never friends. Her German father died of a fatal heart attack at the age of 54, her mother soon after, walked in to a river & drowned herself. At 22 her only son died of a drug & alcohol overdose & all through this time she received one tragic personal health diagnosis after another. She didn't reach 60 before bowel cancer ended her life too. So when Rob's brother died so suddenly at the age of 64 earlier this year, that just added to the deeply tragic story.
The younger brother was born "not quite right" & never managed very well at school. He was pretty amiable & was enterprising enough, but took the brunt of his father's unceasing cantankerous angst- whose health had also collapsed & was becoming increasingly drawn in to a fascination with the might & power of the Third Reich. A great deal of hate, anger & rage swirled around the family home. When Rob was 17 both he & his mother "got saved" which was to divide the family rather effectively. Rob joined a Church & a christian band & became very close to his mother,  his father gathered an ever increasing array of Nazi memorabilia which he stored in the roof (attic) of the house. The younger brother married young, had three children, attended church with his mother while also using, growing & selling cannabis over a 20 year period. Not long after this point, his marriage failed. Everyone around him was traumatised by the break up of the family, yet his mother continued to protect & defend her precious, faultless, impeachable son.
In the early 2000's it suddenly surfaced that there was much more going on in the broader family dynamic than met the eye. We woke up to realise that an attic full of Nazi stuff was not necessarily a healthy thing, especially in light of all the hatred & chaos that had become part of the family interface & we attempted to initiate a conversation with Rob's parents about the situation. Our attempts to communicate were stone-walled & we were labelled trouble makers. It didn't take long for me to be made the official family scapegoat & I was ostracised at every turn.  Just recently my (ex) sister-in-law shared with me that our mother-in-law had "trained them all to hate us" over many years- & they did! It was at this juncture that a pattern settled in to our lives where every birthday was sabotaged, every holiday ruined- as Rob would return to work only to find that in his absence a complaint had been made about him & he now had to face disciplinary action. He became the target of an intense bullying campaign by the charge nurse & was eventually forced out of the hospital (even though he won the subsequent mediation process). At this point I had to scoop up my broken husband, quite literally out of the gutter & try & put him back together after a complete nervous break down.
But I run a head of myself. The year that we realised the destruction that Rob's father's obsession with Hitler had wrought in all our lives & we tried to bring it to light & talk about it our daughter ended up in a near fatal accident & her car was written off, Matthew was admitted to hospital with suspected meningitis but it turned out to be HSP, his cousin almost died from a meningococcal infection, David broke his leg, Rob was facing continual unsubstantiated complaints at work & I was utterly terrified. And there was more- from here on every time that Rob's mother would write a letter or send something by post we would know, because all hell would break loose in our household &/or awful things would start happening again & then....lo & behold a letter would arrive. It got to be so bad that one day I refused to take the letter inside until Rob got home- so meantime, I pegged it up in tree. Eventually we pleaded with his mother to please stop sending things as we were so scared & distressed, but she refused to listen or even discuss it & it was at this point that her campaign to get rid of me started in earnest & she began to feed all of our correspondence to Rob's older brother & when she had riled him up enough she set him on us like a dog.
Somewhere in all this Felicia's heart started giving her trouble & she eventually underwent a quadruple heart by-pass. That means everything- everything was so blocked up, her heart simply could not function without immediate surgical intervention! Tragically there is soooo such more to this story but I will just summarise the last bits- Rob's father died as he had lived- badly & painfully after much time in hospital & many surgeries; with a colostomy bag & little dignity. He passed away 9 years ago & it was only after weeks of searching, that his wife found his will (that Rob had organised for him) scrunched up in the bottom of an old cardboard box. We thought that we might find peace, after he was gone & things did shift in some ways, but there was more to come, that we did not know about. 
As a christian of 40 years standing, Rob's mother has always had her little mantras like "God never fails"  & "Trust in the Lord with all your heart & lean not unto your own understanding" & "always look at the beautiful person inside" (although that one never applied to me). But it wasn't until Rob's brother died in March & he was back in full contact with her & the ghastliness started up all over again- itchy rash, seriously sprained ankle, painful teeth, awful feelings, outbursts & jittery stuff that we realised (as I had always known) that some human beings are capable of asserting their will & antagonism on you even from a distance & it can cause great harm. I think secretly she must have been to Hogwort school- truly! 
Gentle dialogue was tried once more, but the door of the heart is still firmly, obstinately shut. However, Rob is now fully awake. After all these years, his mother can no longer wreak havoc in our marriage or through our lives & we are gathering up the poor dear souls that we are & starting over again with the healing & recovery process.
I love Jeff Brown's writing. He shared this just the other day-   
"So many people get judged when they refuse to put their pain away. They get judged for showing it, for speaking it, for insisting on sharing their memories of abuse with those they know. I am not talking about those who overwhelm strangers with their stuff- I am talking about legitimate sharings with those they are connected with in daily life, including those who abused them. All too often, they are fed one repressive message or another: Don't look back,” “What's done is done,” “Don't be a victim,” “Your feelings are an illusion,” “Be strong. What is ironic about this is that those who insist on embodying and expressing their feelings are actually the brave ones- unwilling and unable to live a false life. Their stuff is breaking through their defences because they are tired of carrying the weight of buried truths. They want a healthier and more authentic life. Those who seek to shame their revealing are actually less courageous- turning to repressive mantras in an effort to bypass their own unresolved feelings and memories. If they can shut others down, they can remain shut down themselves. But shut down doesn't take us anywhere good. If we don't deal with our stuff, it deals with us. Speak UP!"
So have I have spoken up...because it is exactly the right time to do that. I have become a disruptive truth teller in the process because it is also time to challenge the old paradigms of dysfunction in our families & communities. It is time that things changed & those of us who have been trapped in trauma came out of the darkness & found belonging & love & light.
It is our time to live- really live & to heal, from so much abuse & pain & the effects of other people's chaos.
A friend told me the other day about Rudolph Steiner's teachings; of how he believed there to be twelve senses.
The first of which is life- the sense of life.
That seems like a very good place to begin our healing....

4 comments:

  1. Dear Catherine, you are so strong and insightful. Your story reveals the sensitive and loving soul that survives. I've missed you. Thank you for sharing. You are so articulate, an excellent writer. Keep writing.

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  2. Your story is just more evidence of what an amazing person you are. that you choose to do good & encourage others in spite of the hard things you've lived through....& are still living through....encourages all of us to do the same. We have to speak out & share because that's what gives each other hope when our own is weak. Much love!

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  3. It is good to have you back Catherine xx Please promise to have absolutely no contact with any of these negative and destructive people in your lives. Don't feel any guilt, you have to make choices that will benefit you and Rob and turn your back on those destructive forces. Its all up to you and I know you can do it. Good luck x

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  4. Gosh that's some life you had! and your husband too. I can identify with some of the things in your childhood, the long silences (days on end) not knowing if it was a 'good day' or a 'bad day' depending on someone elses' mood/state of mind is very much treading on egg shells, I have been very good at being 'invisible' through my childood and relied on long stays at my grannies where I was often sent and forgotton about! I have put all my issues away and locked the key, I don't want to drag it out and analyse it myself but I can understand that you needed to. I just wanted to say, re the Nazi thing: it is thought Hitler was a satanist, he certainly had an interest in the occult and many believe (including me) that his mission was to conquer europe in order to obtain various occult artifacts that he needed to gain power in the occult world. Your FIL hoarding stuff in their attic and having such hostile behaviour towards you and hatred for you would quite possibly have known, been influenced by and even shared those beliefs. I am glad you no longer have that evil influence in your life. You have huge reserves of strength and I hope you realise what a beautiful person you are. Betty x

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So lovely of you to leave a comment. Thank you!! ♥

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