(image: google images)
Time for some neural roadworks.
It made sense back as a child and young adult to focus on the negative only.... because that's where the danger and uncertainty lurked. Lately my awareness has been growing that, when unpleasant emotions arise, I literally cannot remember good times. I'm realising it's because a part of my mind only shows up and pays attention for the pain and misery. The good times happen but that part of my mind feels justified in taking a nap then and so memories don't get made.
But, seeing as things are, in all likelihood, quite safe now, I need to mark out a new neural goat-track that, hopefully, over time, with more and more use, will become a freeway.
So with that in mind, here's a few good things:
1. I'm noticing that, as painful and intense as things can feel in my partnership, we always find our way back to connection and laughter, and grow a little more each time we do. I presumed that's how it is for everyone but lately am not so sure.
2. A while back, things were at their most hopeless for me as I finally lifted the pus-filled scab to heal properly from the wound of childhood sexual assault and was reeling in overwhelming feelings of old powerlessness and despair. Then, out of the blue, someone came into my life who took it upon herself to ring me every Monday evening for a couple of months and ask 'how are you?' And 'how are you really?' She listened to the old awfulness roll out, then she was gone from my life but she quite possibly saved it. I'm very, very grateful for that.
3. I'm blessed with warm, tender connection with my 14yo. I feel her strong affection, her enjoyment of my company, and that is to be treasured. I love the honesty of our relationship and learn so much from her insights when offered. I've lost count of the times we've peed our pants laughing. On new year's eve, she and her long-time friend, a 13 year old boy, suggested we write down some things we want to let go of and other things we want to cultivate in ourselves. We all sat and wrote then we spoke aloud them aloud and burned the former and buried the latter in the garden. It was ordinary and it was magical. I'm acknowledging that it's pretty special to have teenagers in my life who feel fine to say out loud the behaviours they wish to let go of and the ones they want to grow. Getting this goat track going was the resolution I planted.
4. I was asked if I would like to be part of a beautiful new website promoting the creativity of people living with complex ptsd. It means my film, Head for the Hills, and this blog, reaches many more people than it otherwise would have done....and I didn't have to lift a finger to make it happen! (If you're not accessing this blog via the website, the link to it is www.cptsdlight.com)
5. I've recently moved to a sub-tropical, coastal town, in a house with a pool and no longer have landlords or house inspections (although what's going to motivate me to clean now I'm not sure).
When I lay it out like that, it sounds like a damn fine life to me.
Goodbye 2013, roll on 2014. like I said, no more nana-naps when the enjoyable stuff shows up and I'll be trotting out along that goat track.
We are refugees from the police action of the soul.
We have scattered
Some to the mountains of Keep Busy, Don't Stop
Others lie low in fog and swamp.
The uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach
It's where I fled.
I crouch here and pull the strings
That make the shell lurch on.
It's difficult to decipher its needs.
I've made a few tracks for it...
from bed to kitchen to tv to email.
The mind imagines marvels
But how to make the shell-shocked shell comply?
We bunker down in these detention centres
while the home wars rage on.
We yearn for our Dreaming
But those who go back to the Mother Country are surprised.
We still yearn.
Because it's not a place,
It's our soul we have deserted.
We left it bleeding, shivering,
How do we return?
Our neighbours don't know we've gone.
Sometimes we don't know we've gone.
I've kept one trinket close,
a silver thread of hope.
Some could grab nothing
and didn't make it.
I propose a new nation
The Land of Survivors.
We displace no one,
no Middle East Mess.
All we need do, apparently,
is take one tiny step
from left brain to right.
From lonely ego settlement
to connected conscious community.
I've found a map.
I'm setting out right now.
Wish me luck.
And as things collapse in the 'real world'
People would do well to look to us...
We know how to survive tough times.
I wrote this after reading Jill Bolte-Taylor's 'My Stroke of Insight'
I've heard this said many times and am always floored. And I don't want to belittle anyone who believes it. It's true that you get out of bed, get yourself to work and feed yourself and maybe others too...and you are probably not involved in criminal activity. That is no small thing and it is good.
To me, the issue is more that what you turned out ok to fit into is a dysfunctional, hurtful, underdeveloped society.
The interesting question is how much more AMAZING could you have been if you hadn't been physically hurt and shamed as a small human being. What else might you have attempted? How much bigger a life might you be leading? How much healthier would you be? How much more of your teens and twenties would you actually remember....and fondly?!
If you think you turned out ok it's worth at least considering that you may just be unaware of the checks and balances your mind has put in place to protect you from being physically hit and shamed ever again, in other words, just doing its evolutionary job of trying to keep you safe....and, while it might have worked, it's also limited the possibilites for your life.
It's like a lab rat living in a maze but only inhabiting one third of it because whenever it tried the openings to go further, it got zapped. So it makes itself comfortable in its little section with no idea that unimaginable cheeses await it beyond the walls of its mind.
“as the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep,so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily , to appreciate more lovingly , our own.”
― Margaret Mead
Following this definition, I hereby award myself an Accidental Doctorate in Mental Anthropology. I've had the somewhat rare opportunity of standing outside the culture of the Land of Normal and gazing back in from the culture of the Flinders Psychiatric ward. This is my qualification for what follows.
Three things I've learned from this outside perspective:
1. It's not a pretty sight.
2. All 'mental illness' is trauma based.
3. You may think you're not in any way affected by Mental Health Oppression. You are wrong.
EVERYONE is pretending, stuffing, numbing, hiding, distracting, imagining things, hearing things, dissociating, self harming, depressed to a greater or lesser degree.
Ever felt like bawling your eyes out at the cinema but 'couldn't'?
Ever felt you might be laughing too loudly? Were you ever shamed for or distracted from releasing feelings of frustration (otherwise known as tantruming)?
Did you ever get the message loud and clear that you had to stop crying no matter how much it felt like you needed to?
Did you ever get frightened and have it belittled or not noticed by even the person closest to you?
Did you ever get the message that your feelings came second to someone else's?
Were you ever hit by a person more than twice as big as you?
Did you ever get the feeling your thinking didn't count or wasn't very good?
Were you ever bullied at school?
Do you ever feel you are all alone, and not in a good way?
Ever been told you should be 'over' grieving someone's death by now?
These are ALL aspects of mental health oppression. It is clear to me that, for the people who end up in the Land of Psychiatric Wards, the only difference is that, where you might have mild experiences on the continuum, they/we had extremely traumatising, pants-wettingly terrifying experiences way down the other end of that same line. We have all grown up in a traumatising culture. Authoritarian parenting is traumatising. Classism, racism, sexism, ableism, mental health oppression etc are all institutionalised in our culture and we are traumatised by them from the get-go. We are all, to a greater or lesser degree, raised by parents affected by (read:traumatised by) wars. It's not that the severely traumatised are crazy, it's more that everyone is steeped in trauma and oblivious to it.....In my eyes, THAT'S the craziness.
The ones you call 'mentally ill' are simply the canaries in the coalmine, chirping like mad because they can smell the gas.
[this post is specifically addressed to other white people like me. If you are a person of colour, you are of course already aware that I'm racist, you don't need to be taught how to suck eggs. If you still choose to read on, please keep in mind that this is just a springboard to discussion, and therefore, only briefly touches on very big subjects.] Whenever I hear a sentence begin, 'I'm NOT racist BUT....' I know something racist is coming, otherwise there's no need to start a sentence that way. So I'm taking a different approach and proclaiming my racism up front. I'M RACIST.
So how did this come about? I was born a good white baby into a culture where racism is in the wallpaper and the breast milk. It goes unnoticed by most white people as does any oppression by the oppressor group.
It is institutionalised into traditional forms of white authoritarian parenting. All babies generally come into the world feeling pretty good about themselves as humans, unless there's been serious in-utero trauma. But, given that white babies' (the only ones I can speak for) natural healing processes are shut down from the get-go (crying is discouraged by distraction; babies are left alone in rooms to 'cry it out'; shaming is used as a tool to shut down feelings) and the white population's generalised disconnection from each other is modelled, eventually children end up feeling awful about themselves.The ONLY way our society offers for young people to feel good about themselves again is to provide someone for them to feel better than. The vulnerable, hurt, white child, cut off from connection and healing, takes up the belief, inherent in the media they are saturated in, that they, if bad, are at least better than people of colour. This is a crucial step to becoming a full-blown racist. I truly believe that a shift in the culture of parenting in white society will make a serious inroad into racism. People who feel good about themselves in a connected, healthy way, have no vested interest in feeling better than others. And this shift IS happening, if the myriad blogs, websites and facebook pages on gentle parenting are anything to go by.
This kind of authoritarian racism is also perpetuated at the class level. Working class people who were treated so poorly in their country of origin by the owning classes, often went on to feel better about themselves in 'the colonies' by looking down on the indigenous population. I'm aware I'm generalising and there's always exceptions but it was definitely the norm.
Next, if the land white people are living on was taken unlawfully from people of colour and the basic history of this is not acknowledged by each and every family, as well as the government, then this is also the institutionalised racism I'm speaking of. If we white people don't acknowledge the many mass killings; the robberies and lies, the daily meannesses, and the well meaning but belittling 'benevolent attitude' of the church and previous as well as today's 'government services for Aboriginal people', we are perpetuating the racism. I've seen memorials popping up around the country (this is written in Australia) where massacres took place. I've seen them at Evans Head, New South Wales and Port Fairy in Victoria....I've been told stories of others by descendants, one in particular at Angels Beach in Ballina, one at Bacchus Marsh in Victoria and another in Ipswich, Queensland, a few of many...it's a small start. Many white people in this country still refuse to believe they occurred. We need to educate ourselves. The killings have an impact on people to this day which is made worse because the white people they are living with side by side won't even admit they happened. Then there is the even less spoken of or understood 'benign racism', the kind where we as white people act differently around people of colour. Here's one example: I remember getting on a bus one day years ago and sitting next to a person of colour and talking to her. This is really embarrassing to admit but a thought was wafting somewhere in my mind that I was making her day by asking her about her day, thinking 'I bet no one else would think to do this'....projecting my racism onto the other unsuspecting passengers. It's like I half expected the clouds to part, a harmonic chord to be struck and a shaft of light to beam down on me. This relates back to what I was saying regarding authoritarian parenting as I had found a way of feeling good about myself for a while.
And a really annoying thing for people of colour, having been closely listening to them lately, is when we, as white people, ARGUE with them if they say they are experiencing something as racist that we are saying or doing. People, they LIVE it, they breathe racism in and out in our overbearing, bullying cultures every day of their lives that they are interacting with us. Believe me, they know it when they see it. Again, most of us white people don't see it. Accept what you are being told. Don't argue. Learn and move on. Humility is not the same as humiliation. Finally, racism exists within the overall economy. We are only a relatively rich white western world because of an ongoing, continuing-to-this-day history of slavery, racism, and taking what wasn't and isn't ours.
I believe the more we can stand up as white people and admit to our racist heritage at the personal, cultural and economic levels; the sooner we can move forward.
Because right now, no matter how new agey we're all being as white people, we're not going anywhere until we clean this up.
So yes, I'm racist....but...I'm working on it.
And I know I'm not alone, but it's not enough of us either.
* I really recommend these novels: Benang by Kim Scott; My Place by Sally Morgan; Kate Grenville's books, The Secret River, The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornhill; The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and anything by Louise Erdrich, Maya Angelou or James Baldwin.
* It's worth checking out any dvd you can find by Jane Elliott. She gives a teeny-tiny insight into what racism might feel like (nothing like what it must be to live with it day in/day out). Here is a free doco of hers I found online:http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/a-class-divided/
There's a line in a poem by Mary Oliver that goes,
'You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves'.*
You know those awful scenes in films where someone is being absolutely brutal to an animal....one that comes to mind is a man flogging a horse that can't get up. I only mention this scene of horror to clearly illustrate what I have been saying and doing to this body of mine for as long as I can remember. That is how cruel and full on the yelling, berating and abusing has been in my head. I have screamed at it to 'GET UP. JUST FUCKING MOVE' but it's just continues to sit there. I've pulled its fingernails out, slowly, from the bottom up. I've gouged and bitten out chunks of skin. I've drowned it in alcohol. I've not let it sleep when it needed to, not let it eat when it was hungry. You'd think I was trying to make chocolate pate from the amount of the stuff I've shoved down my gullet. I've sat there quietly while it was raped many times. I've steeped it in a foul cocktail of chemicals for hours whilst imagining and reliving horrors....my own and others'.
I'm clear now that none of this was my fault, all trauma-related. I've known that it's not ok to do it either but I haven't been able to stop. Something is definitely changing though. The psychologist I see suggested a while back that, every now and then, when I think of it, I just put my hand over my heart...simple as that. It seemed like a waste of time but I've been doing it.
I had a dentist appointment the other day. They're scary for me at the best of times. But the lines of this poem were swirling around in my head and, before I went in, I found I was saying TO MY BODY, kind words! I was telling it 'I know you've had bad experiences at the dentist and I'm sorry about that. This needs to be done and it won't take long. You will be all right. You're safe.' And I WAS all right. The dentist, who specialises in seeing people with severe trauma, remarked on how different I was this time....even after she accidentally gave me an anaesthetic with adrenalin in it and I had to ride out a 'simulated panic attack' right there in the chair!
I've heard for years about talking kindly to your inner child. It's never worked for me, I can't hitch it on to anything, it pings around like a bullet in a metal bucket (well, that's probably only in cartoons, where most of my knowledge of physics comes from). But, when I got home from the dentist, I started noticing how I talk to my daughter, the kind words I use. And then I started noticing how I talk to my dogs, I greet them kindly and am very warm with them. For the first time in my life, I thought, 'I can talk to the soft animal of MY body like this'. And that's what I've been experimenting with since then. I've also made the commitment to a half hour massage once a week. I stay sitting up and fully clothed and it's head, neck and shoulders. Nothing to trigger me. They're used to me crying every time now and give me tissues up front. I assure them it's ok, it's crying in a good way. There's a spot on my back, between my shoulder blades, that releases tears every time.
Driving home from there today, I was reflecting on our dog, Buffy, whom we brought home from the pound last year. She was very overweight and now she's not. I was thinking how I just loved her from the start, I was never mean or cruel to her because of it, never teased her about it and yet that's how I've been with myself. There was an incident when I was five years old where I was on a stage in front of a crowd and was the only one who didn't receive a prize as my parents didn't realise they were supposed to provide it. My child-mind linked that to being laughingly told I was 'chubby' and the 'sugarplum fairy' and I believed there was a reason I missed out, was not deserving and it was because I was fat. My disgrace was on show for the world to see. It didn't enter my head to discuss this with anyone, ever. Too shameful. Until now.
I'm deciding to be as nice to me as I am to my dog.
So, although I'm not yet at the stage of knowing much about what 'the soft animal of my body loves', I do know that it loves and responds to kindness and I'm going to keep heading in that direction.
* For the whole poem by Mary Oliver, called 'Wild Geese', go here: http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/geese/geese.html
Our Dear Buffy
I hear the seemingly overwhelming, unbearable pain that you're feeling, whether it is actually happening now or if you're re-living something from a long time ago.
I know, I've felt it too and despaired. There are lots of different reasons for it. For me, I've spent many, many, many long moments in my life absolutely believing they were my last, that I was about to be killed in a violent manner, which went unnoticed by anyone around me. It's all re-surfaced recently after the violent death of a woman here in Melbourne. My mind takes me to her last moments because it's familiar territory to me. And because terror is unspoken of, denied, minimised, unwitnessed in our culture, it's very hard to notice at first that I'm back in it.
I'm better at spotting the signs these days....indigestion, nightmares, panic attacks, jumpiness, exhaustion, waking convinced someone is in the house, going harder with my addictions. The lack of societal understanding meant I spent time in a psychiatric ward as a young adult and was legally drugged for years, exponentially increasing the overall terror.
Let's just say the word again. TERROR. It's real. I believe you. Babies and children feel terror. It seems that it's ok to use the word 'trauma' or 'abuse' these days but terror is still off-limits, like it's relegated only to how mainstream corporate owned media define the word, as something 'out there' that other cultures and 'complete wackos' inflict on us. Nope, it's being experienced in many homes right now.
I can offer a little hope. Things are improving for me. I won't sugarcoat it. I still have intensely painful times and some seemingly endlessly miserable times but overall, things are definitely improving, not that I remember that they are in the middle of the hard stuff. But I can go for days now with energy to do what needs to be done, being appreciative, in fact, just being.
I'm holding a little candle out for you, maybe you can just make me out down the long, dark hallway. x
I posted this to Virgin Australia's facebook page in response to the outcry that has caused them to review their policy of not seating unaccompanied minors next to men on their flights. For those who don't know, a fireman filed a complaint recently when asked to move.
I APPLAUD your policy and I respectfully beg you not to change it.
I love men, adore my husband.
Before he met me, and learned how childhood sexual assault affected my life, and, in turn, his life, my partner would have been outraged at this policy and calling for his right to sit where he wanted on a plane, just like this fireman.
From direct experience of what even 'a little touch-up' can do to a child, he has done a complete one eighty in his thinking.
My husband now understands completely that a few men who commit sexual assault on children have made things very difficult for all men.
BUT he's prepared to live with any inconvenience and embarrassment if it means some child, somewhere escapes sexual assault.
So that fireman felt some embarrassment and discomfort and was put out. That is regrettable.
As a person who has lived with the consequences EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE from childhood sexual assault, I can assure you I've experienced WAY MORE discomfort and embarrassment than this man.
When someone does this to you, you feel permanently marked with a dirty, visible stain, because children will tend to believe that THEY have done something wrong, not the adult assaulting them.
This man has a career, I ended up on a disability pension for post traumatic stress as a direct result of childhood sexual assault.
The first time I came across this policy of Virgin Airlines a while back, I was really taken aback. I thought, jeez how unusual that a company is actually taking a child's wellbeing into account. It felt really good and I believed it to be a sign of people waking up to the reality that this stuff DOES go on....
And I can guarantee it has happened on a plane to an unaccompanied minor at least once already.
If this policy is revoked it will show that we as a society are not yet ready to put children's wellbeing ahead of our own feelings.
All I can hope for is that this public outcry serves to educate a few people.
There will be many hearts feeling like they're exploding this week and it's nothing to do with the Olympics. A well-known Australian actor was arrested in London for (alleged) past sexual offenses against children. And for the thousands of people who have experienced this in their lives here in Australia, their hearts will be pounding, traumatic memories will be pushed to the forefront of their minds, the nightmares may start up again, depression may be triggered, addictions, phobias and psychoses ramped up. Many, who have squashed their own memories so far down, won't even make the connection as to what's bothering them this week.
It's a double edged sword. As good as it is to read that someone could be brought to justice for their alleged crimes, it brings up all the old heretofore 'unspeakable dilemnas' again. All the questions, for me, of whether to travel to the state where it mainly occurred and make a retrospective statement at a police station; whether to write to the perpetrators and tell them how their actions have affected the whole of my life and my partner's life; how anything I say would impact the rest of my family, their families; weighing up whether it makes sense to be even taking their feelings into consideration when I've carried such a painful burden all my life silently and alone.
Every time someone is arrested I glean some small helpful statement from a person in power. This is what head of the NSW Sex Crimes Squad Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec told reporters: "sexual assault and indecent assault leave scars on people, regardless of the time frame, to them it happened yesterday. Every day they relive it." I feel hope whenever I see that someone in this kind of position has some understanding of the situation I live with.
Even writing this article is a heart pounding excercise. I've spent my whole life unconsciously trying to cover up the 'dirty stain' and have only in the last couple of years made the decision to start talking about it as a way of prising the scab off this societal boil. And it's tricky. I'm working hard to leave behind the torture but many days in many ways, the intense feelings bubble up. But EVERY time I tell my story, it makes it possible for someone else to tell theirs. Silence and isolation are the killers....it's what the perpetrators depend upon. Mine never even needed to say to me, 'don't tell anyone'....and that indicates a whole family system in trouble. For many people who suicide, I am in no doubt that this was the silent killer....not all, but many.
The great thing about doing this painful recovery work is that it can change things dramatically for the next generation. My then eighteen month old daughter was able to tell my partner when an incident occurred and we were able to deal with it there and then through talking and humour. No drama (apart from my big sob that it had happened). No lifelong consequences.
Happy May Day to all workers everywhere, whether at home or not, paid or not. Our standing up for each other is the only tool we have against injustice in the workplace.
I remember years ago standing with arms linked with other workers in the middle of the night down at the Fremantle Docks as a line of people walked towards us in full riot/combat gear.
And I remember the sadness that other workers, not there, were complaining that members of the Maritime Union of Australia, of whom my partner is one, had it so good....that their hard-won wages and conditions were 'too good' and they needed to be brought down a peg or two.
This was a perfect example to me of how the corporate media keeps most people fooled into not asking for much and squabbling amongst ourselves.
How much more sane to bring every other worker UP a peg or two.