You may think that I am crazy by the time you have read this post, but that’s okay. As long as you don’t abuse me, I am finally (after 50 years) getting to a point where what you think of me doesn’t worry me. It doesn’t change me. You’re entitled to your opinion.
Do you believe in the divine? The supernatural even? Maybe you believe in God, or maybe you believe in some other religious or spiritual being. Do you believe that there is more to this earth than you, me and the animals who inhabit it? I do.
I believe that there is something more. I can’t give you a complicated explanation of why I believe there is something more. I just do. I believe there is something more than us, and there is even something more than our lifespan. Please don’t ask me for an explanation. My beliefs come from my experience. I have experienced what simply must have been a force beyond human kind. I will never be the kind of person who can give you a lecture on this. Maybe I’m copping out, I don’t have to have all my theories worked out, for me to be at peace with what I believe. That’s enough for me.
I started on this earth in a Christian environment. My family lived and breathed the Bible and its teachings. It was my father’s calling in life. My views have changed since then, and I know that some of what I believe wouldn’t sit comfortably with those Christians from my upbringing. That’s okay with me too. We don’t all have to agree.
Time to get to the point, though…
A few days ago I had a particularly hard day with my mother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease. We were talking about family and I was ‘introducing to her’ (for want of a better word) photos of family members whom her decaying brain had wiped from her memory. It was tough. I don’t think it was tough on her, but it was definitely tough on me. When I left I knew that there would be many days ahead when we would repeat the process of identifying the photos of family sitting on her window sill. Explaining why their particular photos were even there.
When I left I really wanted to be with those family members we had identified, but there were none close by. More so, the person I most wanted to be with was my father, who died nearly six years ago.
I did the next best thing and went to the cemetery to spend some time ‘with Dad’. Okay, so it wasn’t really Dad but I believe I can go there and talk to Dad. I don’t do it often. Just when I need to focus on remembering him and identifying for myself what advice he might give me.
I believe that where ever Dad is now, he can hear me. What’s more, I believe he can help me, particularly as I care for my mother. Before you start worrying, no I don’t see him but I guess I can remember being with him. Being loved. Being with someone who believed in me, and always importantly, had hope for me.
When I go to the cemetery I regularly take some coffee. I sit on the grass, drink my coffee and talk to Dad. I usually go at a time when the cemetery is pretty much deserted, just the gardeners maybe, somewhere in the distance. It’s peaceful. And after I have removed the odd weeds growing, I focus on talking to Dad.
That day there was no one there when I arrived. I really needed to focus on how Dad might help me if he were still here. I felt like something my mother had said had swept the wind right out of me. I felt lost and desperately sad.
After maybe fifteen minutes, another car pulled up. Two women and a dog got out and headed towards me. In a huge cemetery, they happened to be coming to a gravestone just two down from Dad’s.
The dog (a Jack Russell) immediately came over to me and was jumping over me and eventually sat down right next to me. The two woman were amazed that their dog was so friendly with a complete stranger. I asked the dog’s name. Her name was Hope.
This is where you might think I’m crazy. I believe that dog came to me as a messenger sent by my father. Hope was a reminder for me that there is hope. It was exactly what I needed, and once I realised this I felt an instant feeling of peace. I no longer had to worry about my mother. I could be at peace. And one day, my mother would be at peace. For a number of reasons that day, it was exactly what I needed.
A dog named Hope.
Think I’m crazy if you want to. It doesn’t matter to me. I believe that there is not just one explanation of the divine forces at work on our planet. There is space for us all to have our own beliefs. There is no right or wrong. If you want to laugh at my interpretation of my encounter with Hope (and hope), that is okay. That’s your choice. What matters to me is that it helped me enormously that afternoon to have that encounter. And so often such gifts for me come in the form of animals. I am so lucky.
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
I did say ‘never’. More than once. Actually I said it repeatedly for about 20 years. That’s a long time to say ‘never’ but I was sure of myself. I was sure that I never wanted to do this again. I’d been, got burnt several times, and wasn’t going to go there ever again.
About six months ago I had my first inkling that perhaps I had said ‘never’ with a little too much certainty. But I had never pictured myself in this situation, ever. While I was still saying ‘never’, I was starting to realise that I might have to change my mind sometime in the future.
I can tell you that I hate that! Having been adamant for so long, having been sure that this would never happen, and now because of a number of decisions I had made over recent years, I knew that I should never have said ‘never’. Never say never, Cate!
I have shared in past posts that my mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s a cruel disease. Everyone says that but I had little idea just how cruel it was. I had seen my grandmother’s journey through Alzheimer’s. An uncle’s journey more recently. And one thing that’s sure is that I’m nowhere near the end of this Alzheimer’s journey yet. I know now that contrary to past thinking, it’s a much worse experience for my mother than it will ever be for me.
I remember being told “at least they don’t know what is happening to them”. That was a somewhat comforting thought. Just yesterday someone told me “they’re really already dead” (ouch!). But research has now found that patients do know. It’s just they don’t know what they can do about it. It’s a good reminder to me that no matter how hard this is for me, it is much worse for my mother. That’s enough for me to never say ‘never’.
For all of her life, my mother has gone to church. It has been central to her life as a child and as an adult. She was married to a minister. Now it continues to be a key aspect of her life, although she is more limited in the extent of her church activities. Apart from perhaps when she has been in hospital (rarely) I can’t think of a time when she didn’t go to church on Sunday.
When mum had to give up her driver’s licence and so couldn’t get herself to church, we set up a system where another brother (who went to the same church) would pick her up and take her to church. I would be waiting outside church at the end of the service to take mum home. Many times I have been invited to go to church with her, but I was saying ‘never’… quite firmly. I had absolutely no intention of going. But the system we had set up worked.
For a big chunk of my life, I had gone to church. I had grown up in a minister’s family so church was central to our family activities. As an adult, I had continued to go to church.
Several things happened in my teens and twenties. They dulled my enthusiasm, although I never said anything and I kept up my participation. When I was first diagnosed with a mental illness, in my late 20’s, a number of statements made to me by a few unwise people, left me concluding that church was no longer the place for me. I felt judged, and I felt uncared for. To the extreme perhaps, people who had hurt and abused me were somewhat more important to some church people than I was. My needs for safety and protection were seemingly unimportant. My experience was that church was not the compassionate and accepting place they said it was.
And so I stopped going to church… about 20 years ago.
My thinking has driven me further away from the church. But just sometimes, it’s necessary to put that aside. My mother now needs someone to be with her when she goes to church, otherwise she probably wouldn’t be able to go for much longer.
I made a choice. I would go to church with her until the point where she can no longer go (with me).
Aside from my own beliefs and thoughts, I’m not ready to see mum unable to go to church. It is very important to her, even with her disease. For some reason that I don’t fully understand yet, I’m prepared to help her keep it in her life.
Ok, so I have only been once so far. There is little that has changed in 20 years, except some of the music. It wasn’t somewhere I felt comfortable, but my comfort was not what this exercise was about. I don’t call myself a Christian, and suspect that will continue. I didn’t agree with everything that was said. It is a middle-class church and I wondered where the inclusion of others was.
But I will be there, with her, again this Sunday. And the Sunday after. And for as long as Mum can make it.
This is about being there for my mother. Making sure that something so important to her remains in her life, and setting aside my own thinking, I hope, for her sake, that we can keep doing this. You see, when we can’t keep going, a very large chunk of mum’s life will have been taken away by Alzheimer’s. And that will be tragic.
It’s going to be a hard road for me. But I am willing to do it, not because I love her but simply because I hate to see this disease swallow up someone’s life before it has to.
Thanks for reading
“looking at my reflection, in the window opposite, hollow and translucent, I see a woman disappearing. It would help if I looked like that in real life – if the more the disease advanced, the more ‘see-through’ I became until, eventually, I would be just a wisp of a ghost. How much more convenient it would be, how much easier for everyone, including me, if my body just melted away along with my mind. Then we’d all know where we were, literally and metaphysically.”
Let me tell you a secret. Why? Because as my favourite giraffe (Motivating Giraffe) tells us, “If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we shall find”. It’s true, isn’t it? Generally if we share our secrets with another, more often than not, we find that we are not alone in that secret.
Sharing secrets (although maybe we word it differently) is one of the things that blogging can be about. Well, for me anyway. You might look at it another way, but for today I am going to share a secret with you.
My secret is that I don’t love myself.
I’d like to. Well in some ways, but I have no idea how to love myself and frankly, there is nothing I can see that is worth loving. After all the years of what I will loosely call recovery, I haven’t got this one sorted.
I don’t mean to get anyone down, or even myself, but it’s just the way it is. Books, websites, speakers, recovery programmes, even Facebook memes tell me to love myself but it’s just not that easy.
I have never loved myself. Actually I grew up in an environment that told me to love other people, not myself. As, say a three-year-old, I had little chance of understanding what that was really about but by the time I was 28, and leaving that environment, I was quite certain that if I had learnt one thing well, then it was this: I loved other people but I hated myself.
I was an expert at putting myself last. Actually I had loved other people and not myself so well that it eventually led to my depression and attempting to take my life.
Life has moved on since then. Many hours of very good therapy, hospital and other therapeutic programmes have saved my life. But I still haven’t got it. I still read and hear that I must love myself, but actually… I still don’t.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate myself now, except for the days when BPD and depression really kick in. But I still don’t like myself, let alone love myself. No one has actually sat me down and told me how to let go of the stuff I don’t like and find the stuff I do like. I assume that if I did that then I would have some chance of learning to love myself.
What I learnt as a three-year-old, or four, or five, or six, and so on is pretty well fixed in my mind. While they might have been teaching me about Christianity, what I was learning was how to live my life. Actually nothing to do with Christianity, and I’m not convinced that it was what I was supposed to learn. They might not have meant to teach me to hate myself, but that is exactly what I learnt. It’s just amazing that I got so far (to 28) before I crashed.
So what do I do here? Is this about repeating positive affirmations? Maybe reading the right book (it would be good if I could concentrate)? I just don’t know how to do this because whenever I try ‘loving myself’ I just feel like I am fooling myself.
What I know is that if this was about learning to love someone else, it wouldn’t be so hard. Just being with them would be a good start. But what if I had to learn to love a person I didn’t like? Would that work? You know there are times when I simply can’t bear to be with me. Let alone like or love myself.
I’m not so much looking for advice because I suspect I have to work this out for myself. I’m simply sharing my secret because I suspect I’m not alone in this.
There are a lot of mostly rhetorical questions here, so while I love comments, please don’t feel like I’m wanting you to share anything you’re not comfortable with.
Recently I had the opportunity to watch the UK television documentary Cure Me, I’m Gay in which a gay doctor (Dr Christian Jessen) subjects himself to a whole range of treatments and therapies designed to cure homesexuality. Wow! I chose to watch it because I find it interesting that some people can see their role as to judge others (who are doing no harm to anyone else). Personally I find it sad, but that’s me. I know many people will disagree with me, and that’s okay too (although it’s not really the point of this post).
Let me be clear that no one has ever seen the need to, or tried to cure my sexuality (that they told me anyway) but they have tried to cure my spirituality. As I watched the Cure Me, I’m Gay programme there were elements of familiarity that sprung up unexpectedly for me. I realised that back when I was first being diagnosed with mental illness, in some ways I was put on a journey of ‘Cure Me, I’m Depressed‘. It was all seeming a little familiar to me when I watched the last ‘treatment‘ that Dr Jessen underwent. That of exorcism of evil spirits and demons.
I should add that at the age of about 15 I witnessed an exorcism of demons from a girlfriend. I wasn’t meant to be there (judged too young to see such things) but circumstances determined that I had no choice. The Christian people praying for this were doing so because they believed a demon was the cause of her chronic suicidal thoughts and self harm. What happened that night was dramatic and downright terrifying for 15 year old me to watch, especially when it was my friend it was being ‘done to‘. It was something I will never forget, and frankly wished right then that I didn’t have to watch. Did it work? Others there told me it did but I had no knowledge on which to base a conclusion. That said, my friend is alive and well today and eventually overcame that part of her life.
The apparent existence of evil spirits and demons in my life was seen by some as the root cause of my depression. I should add that I was also being treated for Anorexia Nervosa and Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but most people (including those who were taking this approach) were either not aware of that or ignored it. I might have been literally skin and bone but mostly this was either ignored or actually praised (many thought and said that I looked great and that my diet and exercise regime must be working really well). I suspect they would have had a field day if they’d known of the other issues.
So the focus was on the depression. As I’ve said before, I was an active Christian at the time and had grown up in a Christian family (although it wasn’t my family that were involved with this search for answers to my decline in mental health). I knew very well that there were many people praying for me, although I had little idea of what most were actually praying for. I appreciated their commitment (mostly) but left them to it. I had no desire to join this prayer effort. At the time I was sure that nothing, including prayer, would save me. I simply knew that for many Christians to be able to tell a person that they are praying for them, absolved them of any other responsibility (is that too harsh?) and also put their mind at ease. They’ve done something to help. They don’t feel quite so helpless.
My (soon-to-be husband) was very anxious to find a spiritual reason for my illness (the cynical me would suggest that he took this approach to get the heat off his role) and arranged for me to see a Catholic (BTW I was not Catholic) priest who was well known in the city where we lived for having a “successful healing ministry”. There were about five people in the room including this priest. Before they prayed I was asked many questions in their attempt to understand the evil forces that were apparently in my life. They were keen to know how I had sinned and how I might have let ‘the Devil‘ into my life. They eventually found no reason why there should be such forces in my life until they started to question me about my family background.
The short story is that my grandfather had been part of the Freemasons during his life (by this stage he had died and actually I don’t think he was a part of this organisation during my lifetime). Some Christian people believe that the Freemasons are some type of secret, evil religion and according to the people I was with that day, they were a completely evil influence.
I was told that it was my grandfather’s fault that I had Depression, and from memory I think they prayed for me that ‘the evil spirits let into my life by my grandfather‘ would be gone. There was so dramatic exorcism this time, maybe because I was sitting thinking ‘how the heck can my grandfather who loved me and would never, ever have done anything to hurt me… cause this?’ My heart was definitely not in what they were doing, and no doubt if I went back and questioned why I wasn’t healed of Depression, it would have been my fault.
I don’t believe for a minute that my grandfather contributed in any way to my mental illness. He would have been devastated to be blamed for my suffering. Furthermore I think it’s sad that they searched until they had something to hang a nail on, but never once asked me anything that might have lead to the real reasons for my mental illness.
While I do believe that there can be a spiritual element to mental illness, I don’t and never did, believe that to be the case for me. At the time I probably couldn’t put words to the reasons for my emerging mental illness, it took years before I could even begin to find words. Now that I have a much better understanding of my illness, I know it was nothing to do with spiritual forces and more importantly nothing to do with my grandfather. They were grasping at straws, and in my mind were doing so dangerously.
Much like the documentary on homosexuality where ‘therapists’ seemed to be grasping a straws too. Homsexuality was apparently caused by sin and/or abuse. It all leaves me sad for those who must carry the weight of those straws.
Postscript While I was an active Christian for more than half my life, I have since removed myself from any organised religion mostly because of my experience as a person with a mental illness trying to be find a place I would fit. I still hold Christian beliefs but they are personal, and I have no desire to push them onto anyone else.
I see my own spirituality as a personal expression of belief and I respect whatever beliefs you may or may not have as your right. All that said, I write about my experiences such as that above, because it has been a major influence in my life and I admit, some of the force behind my illness. It’s not something I want to deny. Nor do I have much desire to get into a criticism of beliefs different to my own. I hope that I have largely avoided that here. It is simply that what I have labelled the ‘Cure Me, I’m Depressed‘ approach to my mental illness did not work for me. That said, if a similar approach has worked for others then I am happy for them.
Nobody ever told me what it meant. It was simply a song with a catchy tune (to a ten year old) that we sat around the Girl Guides’ camp fire singing. It was one of my favourites, but I never stopped to ask what it meant. That was until I looked at a picture that a friend had posted yesterday of a flame burning (not this picture), and something switched on in my head. I got it. I finally got it.
I assumed that it must have something to do with Christianity because we sang it occasionally at Sunday School. I still didn’t know what it meant but assumed it was something to do with the Christian idea of being a light in the world of darkness.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.
What it was meant to mean in Sunday School or at Girl Guides isn’t actually important to me now, because I have been gone astray with songs in such places before. One would think that those places would check out what meaning is being transferred by singing as a child, but some of the biggest misconceptions I have had about myself came from Sunday School songs.
But back to this song. When I saw the picture of a flame I finally occurred to me that I am the light. The light is me. This light of mine is me.
The light is all my thoughts and feelings. My opinions. My likes and dislikes. The characteristics of me. The light is what makes me unique. The light is what makes me who I am… and I should let it shine. I should celebrate my light.
Nobody told me to let me shine. Nobody told me to be proud of who I am. Actually if anything, I was told the opposite. Pride was a sin, I was told. And “pride cometh before a fall“. Again I knew the words but had little idea of the real meaning.
I was taught that being proud was a bad thing, so anything that celebrated who I was had to be bad too. I went so many years believing that this was true. And I extended it in my own head to mean that I was bad. For a ten year old, or younger, it makes sense to follow that line of thought but it is can only end tragically.
Through so many years of pain and heartache, there was no clue in my head that I should let me shine. Maybe I’m a little different from the rest, but I still celebrate who I am. It doesn’t matter whether I’m different or the same. I am me, and I should let me shine.
Maybe for others, they got the meaning of this song as a child. For me though it was just a nice song. I couldn’t think that it might be about letting me shine, because I thought that was a bad thing to do. It might have taken 40 something years, but now that I’m worked it out I’m going to celebrate me.
If I can do it, so can you. Celebrate you!
“For once, you believed in yourself. you believed you were beautiful and so did the rest of the world.”
One of the things I battle with on a daily basis is that I matter, and whether I actually matter to anyone else. Do I love myself enough to say I matter to me? And does anyone else love me enough to say that I matter to them? And will they show it by their actions?
Some of the struggle with this comes from the Christian upbringing I had which constantly told me to put others before myself. Songs I sang in Sunday School taught me that I came last. And I guess that’s where I always put myself. As the youngest child in the family, my name always came last. I’m not saying that my parents put my needs last, but that my brother’s and my parents names always came before mine.
In the school roll my name came near the end because my surname was Reddell, near the end of the alphabet. I can remember wishing my name started with a A, so that I could be at the beginning. But then the Christian upbringing would no doubt have listed that as a sin.
Another thing I was taught was “pride cometh before a fall“. That meant I couldn’t be proud of myself, I couldn’t take pride in my achievements, and actually no one else was ever going to proud of me. It might not be what I was meant to learn from the statement, but it is what my young mind concluded.
My Christian upbringing even served to protect those who stalked me. I was specifically told in relation to them that I should ‘love my neighbour and do good to them that hate you“. What that meant in reality was I was supposed to be nice to them, and my needs for protection didn’t seem matter to anyone. Christian love and compassion was what was called for. When I was a teenager I thought that was just how life was. My needs didn’t matter. Now I am an adult I worry that teenagers might be taught this stuff now days. I hope not.
Since my mental health ever became an issue (it’s interesting that it simply doesn’t matter until diagnosed with a mental illness) people have been telling me that it is okay to put myself first. It’s okay for my needs to matter. At this stage, after many hours of therapy I can tell you that I do matter, but I still find it hard to put it into practise.
At what point do my needs matter more than loving and accepting another person? I still haven’t worked that out. I still am not sure how to put this into practise in everyday situations.
I struggle with it in a number of places in my life, and still there is this little voice in the back of my head that recites ‘Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between’. It’s so ingrained in my head that I don’t know how to say ‘well actually my needs come first’. Even as I type that, I’m thinking “selfish“. I’ve done the textbook learning but I still don’t have it totally in operation in my life. I don’t yet know how to strike the balance between me and the rest of the world.
Last week in What Matters To Me This Christmas Eve I told you about my family starting a family meal before I had arrived. As I sat there that day my thoughts were “I don’t matter to these people“. It seemed to me that I didn’t matter enough for them to think/say “We can’t start yet because Cate’s not here yet“. Now I can see a number of logical reasons for why it might have happened, but it still hurts. Not that they started lunch without me, but that I didn’t matter to them enough for them to think of me.
What makes it more painful is that I look around for people who I matter to, and actually most people have their own lives, their partners and children, and I am just me. I know that I mattered to my father when he was alive, and so it makes his absence is more painful when something like that happens with my family.
The thing that I wonder is ‘who’s going to put me first?’ Will anyone? Or has everyone got greater priorities than me? I promise I’m not having some pity party for which I need huge doses of sympathy. I don’t. But I know that learning to matter to myself is helped when I can know that other people say to me “you matter to me“.
Maybe the psychology of that is all wrong, and I need to be able to just matter to myself. But don’t we all want to matter to other people? And surely knowing that I matter to someone else teaches me about mattering (Is that a word? It is now.) to myself.
I know I matter to some people, and yesterday I spent time with some of those people, purposely because I desperately needed to feel I matter to someone. I knew with them, I would feel that, and I did. It was in complete contrast to the lunch I nearly missed last week, simply because I knew without at doubt that I mattered to them and that my needs were important.
PS. I need to say this isn’t at all a criticism of Christianity. It’s not. All it is, is my experience.
“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”
― Marilyn Monroe
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”
Eighteen years ago, this is what I attempted to do. It was my wedding day. You know the one that every little girl apparently dreams of? And every woman remembers back to?
I never really had dreams of what my wedding would be like, and as for remembering back to? Well actually I can’t remember a thing of it. I was so doped to my eyeballs with medication, just to get me through the day, that I remember nothing. All that I have is images in my head, created from photos and a video that was recorded of the day.
The wedding had already been postponed once, when my psychiatrist told me he’d commit me to compulsory psychiatric hospitalisation if I didn’t postpone. That was about the only thing that would have worked, and it did… until I shifted and got a new psychiatrist.
As regular readers may remember I don’t ever put photos of myself on the internet, because of some very real personal security issues from my past (and not because I am trying to hide anything from you). But I’ve made an exception, partly because 18 years on, this isn’t how I look anymore. I might yet remove the photo from here in a few weeks time, but in the meantime I hope that people will respect my need for this photo not to go any further.
The photo is me and my Dad arriving at the wedding. I look happy enough, don’t I? But moments before the photo was taken, and before my Dad got out of the car, I said to him “please don’t make me go in there.”
I don’t actually remember saying it, but it was loud and clear the day my new husband and I sat down for the first time (several weeks later) to watch the video that a friend had made. Woops!
Dad heard it, but he thought I was joking and I guess that’s a problem sometimes when you’re someone who has a tendency to do ‘silly’. He also didn’t know that I’d said a similar thing to one of my brothers a few night’s earlier. My brother hadn’t known how to respond either. He could see how clearly upset I was but put it down to my mental health at the time. I should say though, that while Dad and my brother heard me say this, I don’t in anyway think they should have done something other than listen, as they did. It was my responsibility to opt out of the wedding. I didn’t.
To cut a long story short the marriage was doomed and ended some years later. It was very painful, but I’ve come to the realisation that it happened, it’s a part of my life, and that’s okay.
What brought me to that conclusion was when my mother was eager to throw out the photos she had of my wedding. We had rescued them, along with many other family photos, from her home that was destroyed by the earthquakes last year. She said to me, “you should have left these ones there, I’ll just put them in the rubbish.” My mother has never been a sentimental person, so her reaction to the photos didn’t really surprise me. But it did make me think.
Yes, my ex-husband and I should never have got married in the first place. I believe that was the first mistake. Actually I seriously doubt I was well enough, and in enough of my right mind, to be signing any sort of legal document. I was very sick with depression, anorexia and PTSD (the PTSD was a lot to do with why I didn’t listen to my feelings).
At the time we married, I firmly believed that marriage was a ‘until death do us part’ commitment. So I took that to heart when I realised it wasn’t going to work, and tried repeatedly to kill myself. I seriously believed that was better than divorce. Thankfully with some help of a very wise therapist who is now a valued friend, I eventually realised that divorce might not be the ideal, but I needed to do something to remove myself from a situation that was literally killing me.
The marriage was a mistake right from day one, and I’m not going to go into the reasons for that, because I don’t think that is important. What is important though, is what I do with the mistake I made all those years ago. I read a blog recently, where the writer was saying that there are no mistakes in life. I disagree.
The biggest mistake I made was
to not listen to my feelings…
over and over again.
I kept calm and shut up… with the aid of a lot of medication. And I kept doing that throughout the marriage because I gave no value to my own feelings. I simply thought I was wrong. I thought I was a failure of a wife, as a woman, and as a person. I even thought I was a failure as a daughter and sister because my family would be so disappointed in me. It wasn’t until someone taught me that my feelings mattered, that I started to see that what I thought and felt was valid, and not to be ignored.
So yes, I made some mistakes… but at this point I can finally say I have no regrets. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it was very painful for all involved. And yes, there are lasting scars for both me and my ex-husband, but I suspect we are both in much better situations now. I certainly am and while we don’t have contact now I know enough to know that my ex-husband is also now in a much better place.
I also know that I learnt a whole lot from going through all those years. That dreadful journey has contributed to the person that I am today, and I know that has to be a good thing.
I encouraged Mum to keep the photos. I don’t know whether she did, but regardless of the disaster the marriage was, it was a significant part of my life. It happened. While it’s not something I think about much now days, I’m not going to pretend it didn’t happen.
Sometimes we do make mistakes, but actually good can come from those mistakes, and for that reason I have no regrets. I need to add though that it has taken a long time to get to this point. I used to feel physically ill when this date rolled around each year. But this year I’ve discovered that dread and regret is past now.
So believe. It does happen.
“Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today?”
Music has always been a really good way for me to learn. Give me a song, and I’ll learn is quickly, but trying to learn a poem is really difficult for me. It’s always been that way. I can easily remember all the songs I ever learnt. I can sing perfectly the parts I had to learn for school choir, so many years ago that I’m not saying how many. But I don’t remember much of what I learnt in classes at school, or even university for that matter.
So it makes sense that the songs I learnt as a child, had their impact. I still know them word for word. The songs regularly leap to mind and actually when I think about how I learnt how to live my life, it came from songs. That can be good, but it depends what those songs were. And like I spoke of in Happiness Is…, the songs I learnt in Sunday School made the biggest impact on me.
This isn’t a theological discussion of what children learn in Sunday School, but rather an explanation of my personal experience. I’m not saying it was wrong to use such songs. Actually I think music is an excellent tool in such settings. I’m simply saying that for me, they made their mark.
This is one song that perhaps left the biggest mark. It was sung to the Jingle Bells music:
J O Y, J O Y, This must surely mean Jesus first, yourself last and others in between, J O Y, J O Y, This must surely mean, Jesus first, yourself last and others in between.
Note that I didn’t have to go looking for lyrics. I know this one perfectly so many years later. Whether or not this is my, or your, interpretation of what joy might be is not what message I got from singing this repeatedly. What I got from it is that I always had to put myself last. My needs didn’t count, but that Jesus came first and then other people. Actually this is a message I got repeatedly as a child. I’m not saying it was intentional for me to learn that what I needed didn’t matter, but it is the lesson that fixed itself in my head.
That ‘yourself last’ is what I heard over and over again, right through to well into my adult years. It was what would make me a ‘good Christian’, apparently. And if Christianity wants to believe it, that’s fine, but for me, it was actually very harmful to learn about where I came in the world.
I was last. My needs were last. Actually my needs didn’t matter because it was what other people needed that did matter. It’s an often taught principle in the part of Christianity that I grew up in, to put the needs of others ahead of yourself.
But what if I’m being harmed by my needs coming last? On a number of occasions this idea that my needs didn’t matter, caused me great harm (physically and emotionally) because other people took advantage and it was said that what they wanted was more important than what was safe for me.
The following is an example of the type of teaching I got, both as a child and adult:
We must aim to put Jesus Christ first in our lives. Matthew 6: 33 says “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you”.
If we want to know the fruit of joy in our lives we must do all we can to have a close growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We must seek to be like Him And to live for His glory in our daily lives. We must put ourselves last. Too often we are taught in these life that we need to blow our own horn .We need to praise ourselves. But God tells us to be humble and not braggers about ourselves.
In humility we are supposed to seek to live gentle lives for the glory of God. In our day to day lives we are to seek to help others. We are to seek to be light in our dark world. The lives of others and their needs ought to be the emphasis of our lives and we need to seek to be extended leaders pouring out ourselves for the glory of God. We are to seek to put others in-between Jesus and ourselves. We are to seek to be magnets that draw others to you our Lord.( 1.)
Let me be clear that my point is not about whether individuals choose to ‘put Jesus first’. To me, that is an entirely individual choice and it’s not what I have the issue with. My issue is that I was taught to always put other people’s needs ahead of my own, and how I interpreted that (as a child and then an adult struggling with serious self-esteem issues) was that what I needed didn’t count. Even my safety didn’t count, and I saw this demonstrated in a number of ways over the years as both child and adult.
I don’t mean to offend anyone’s beliefs but for me this didn’t work, and I don’t even believe that God wanted me to get harmed by what I as taught was my Christian duty. I believe it is important that we practise compassion and be there for other people, but I don’t accept sacrificing my safety and my needs in order to do that. Let me put it this way: by having this teaching, I was harmed and I have spent many years very unwell because of that harm. That meant that I have been unable to be there for other people. Isn’t that crazy? If I had been protected then maybe my journey would have been different, and maybe I would have been able to help more people.
I totally agree with helping others, and much of my life at the moment is devoted to trying to do that. But I can’t do it unless I put my needs first. I have to make sure I am safe, and I have to make sure that my needs are met. If I don’t do that, I can’t adequately be there for others.
In practice what this means for me is realising that I, personally, can’t help some people because it is harmful, or at least triggering, for me. It’s okay for me to leave those people to someone else to help. I have to do this or I never get free from my own past hurts. Maybe one day I can use my experience to help, but for now my physical and emotional safety has to come first.
The lyrics of the song were harmful to me, but then I was taught this message repeatedly in different ways, and so I can’t completely blame the lyrics. I needed to know that I was important. I needed to know that I was safe. I needed to know that I was loved. And I needed to know that my service to others was not to be at the expense of myself.
It has been a long, hard journey to learn this, and actually removing myself from a church environment was necessary for me to ‘get’ that I matter. I’m not saying anyone else needs to do that, nor am I saying that I have given up my Christian beliefs. It’s just that these particular beliefs didn’t work for me. Actually they worked completely against me and I was hurt by them badly. I’m inclined to think that too often religious beliefs like these get warped by people who don’t care about what happens to others, and they simply cause harm.
“Putting yourself first is the highest level of service you can offer in the world. It allows you to serve your partner, family, friends and others with joy and generosity. As long as you put yourself first to keep your love tank on overflow, your heart knows no limits in its ability to love.”
I grew up in a pretty traditional, nuclear family and was fortunate to have both parents, who lived together and loved each other. I was pretty lucky really as I know so many children don’t have that experience. I in no way want to disrespect the wonderful job that sole parents do, but I know that to have a loving relationship in front of me every day had to be a good thing for me in terms of learning about love.
I also grew up in a strongly Christian family as I talked about in Preacher’s Kid. This also influenced what I knew about love and perhaps the strongest influence there was this Bible passage:
1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I wouldn’t normally be quoting the Bible in my blog. I consider myself a Christian but I do not attend church and haven’t for a long time. It’s a personal thing for me, not anything I wish to force onto anyone else. That’s just not me, but the reason I quote it now is that I learnt this so young, and it is so firmly drummed into my mind, that this is my first thought of what love is. I know it’s a Christian perspective, and that’s not always acceptable to some people but it is actually some pretty sound ideals. Maybe I don’t accept all of it, maybe not all of it is relevant, but it is what I think of when I think about what love is.
This is, of course, all fine and dandy in a perfect world, and I’d like to think I can work towards this idea. But it’s not a perfect world and the real difficulty for me is the what love isn’t. While I am grateful to have had this learning to create my own version of love, what love isn’t has tripped me up far too many times. Let me explain.
My parents were good, but they weren’t emotionally demonstrative people. I saw very few displays of affection, and all that I really observed was the odd peck on the cheek. I knew in my head that they loved each other but as a child, it wasn’t something I could see or comprehend. Also, emotions were rarely talked about in the family. Feelings were a completely foreign word to me until well into my twenties, because we never talked, or were asked how we felt. How we might feel just wasn’t an issue. There wasn’t much conversation about relationships or growing up either and when I got my first boyfriend at fourteen, I was in for more than a few surprises.
Aside from those surprises this relationship turned for me into a perfect explanation of what love isn’t. I was excited to have my first boyfriend but was soon overwhelmed and feeling trapped. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was losing grasp of who I was, and I was being somehow swallowed up by this person.
I made my escape after about nine months. It took that long because I had been taught to be nice, and I somehow thought being nice meant accepting something that wasn’t me. I can remember vividly that after we split I was running down the road with my best girlfriend shouting “I’m free”. It was the most amazing feeling (it was a feeling but I didn’t recognise it as such at the time). I just knew I was relieved to be free. To be perfectly honest I don’t remember a lot of the content of the relationship. It was a long time ago and much has happened since. I only knew I felt trapped… and that would repeat itself throughout my life in the years ahead. Constantly trapped, always feeling like I couldn’t breathe in the relationships I later went into.
Unfortunately, life still wasn’t perfect and the boyfriend I just thought I was free from became obsessed. I wrote about that in Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me. Suddenly he literally couldn’t live without me, and tried to kill himself (stating loudly that the reason for this was that he couldn’t have me). When that didn’t work he persisted, and eventually gave me a loaded gun and asked me to kill him for the same reason (that’s where my objection to firearms comes from). I was followed constantly and it was a regular for me to see him just waiting for me… anywhere and everywhere. He was completely obsessed.
It occurs to me as I write this that, as I was 14, so I have a 14 year old nephew; one of my favourite people along with his younger brother and sister. The idea of something this traumatic and damaging happening to him at 14 appalls me. I would move heaven and earth to do all I could to protect him from such harm and make sure he was okay. But no one did it for me, and leaves me feeling rather tearful for that 14 year old girl (me) who was pretty much alone.
I described above what my family dynamics were and that is pretty much why no one really knew the extent of what was happening to me, and no one stepped in to help me. I just assumed this was normal post-relationship behaviour. As a Christian I had been taught to be nice to people, feel sorry for them if they’re struggling, and to forgive them if they hurt me. The problem with that was… what about me? Who was looking after me? Actually no one was. I now just had this completely screwed up idea of what love was, let alone having any idea of a healthy relationship.
The stalking continued actively for years, and while it stopped when I left the city some 14 years later (in my last ditch effort to get away) I know it would still be an issue for him today, if he knew where I was. My first experience of love (or a 14 year old’s version of love) was a long running nightmare and I learnt quickly to expect that with every future relationship. Even when I married, one of the reasons I did was that I feared my future husband would do the same. If I didn’t agree to marry him, he would haunt me for the rest of my days. That wasn’t because he did anything to make me think that but I just thought that’s what men did.
I got two lessons in what love isn’t. Actually more, but I won’t go into that now. Firstly love was a trap. Secondly, my needs didn’t count. The people who said they loved me were more interested in Christian compassion for others (the perpetrator) than in protecting me.
It’s really not surprising that I opted to be alone eventually, if that was my understanding of love. It was a safe thing to do. To be alone was the best way to protect myself, and you know, in that respect it worked. It was probably the best course of action at the time. Nobody could hurt me, because I didn’t give them a chance.
But alone has drawbacks. Not only can no one hurt me but I can’t experience loving someone, I know I can do the ‘alone’ thing if that’s how life works out, but do I want to? Actually I think I’d like a chance to change my understanding and experience of love. That has to be the healthier option and the more enjoyable one. To put away what love isn’t, and find my own version of what love is. It’s a chance to live again, without the fear. This is all pretty weird for me right now. I’m just becoming a bit more open to life (and love) than I was, and that has to be a good thing.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Recently I posted Child-free Emotions and earlier, I’m Not Having A Baby about my choice to not have children. Following my posts, someone who has become a very dear friend discussed with me her reactions to my posts, and I invited her to share those here as a guest post. While our circumstances have been very different, a lot of the feelings she describes echo those I have had on my journey too. Here are her words…
It seems that being single and/or being childless automatically puts you in the category of having “something wrong” with you. In other words, “You must be out of your mind!!” is what people are really thinking. What they also think and sometimes are insensitive enough to say is, “That’s not normal!!” My question to you is, who are you to define what “normal” is for me? Have you ever considered there are “legitimate” reasons why I am single or why I am childless? Or do you just judge me and label me without having a clue to what has happened in my life? For those who consider it their duty to see single people and women without children as not being “normal,” here’s something for you to consider:
I grew up in a time when the “normal” thing for young girls to expect was to grow up, meet someone in either high school or college, fall in love with him, get married, have children and live happily-ever-after. You could have a job before you got married, but once you had that ring on your finger your job was to be a wife and mother. Maybe, if your husband allowed you to, once the children were in school or had left home, you might be able to have a job. Please note that it was a job, not a career. Your career, even when your children were grown and on their own, was still to be a wife and mother . . . or now a grandmother. The only exceptions seemed to be if you’d been “foolish enough” to have chosen a “lazy, good-for-nothing” husband which meant you had to work in order to keep a roof over your heads and food on the table. In which case, it was your fault for choosing the wrong man to begin with!! These “normal” things a young girl was expected to do never took into account the following scenarios:
What if you grow up in a home where your parents despised each other and you thought this was typical of married people? What if you found out this was not typical and not the what you wanted to use as a role model for your own marriage? What if all of your sisters marriages are not ones you want to use as a role model either because one sister, determined not to be dominated by a man like her father, “hen-pecked” her husband and he allowed her to do so; because another sister used sex to get a husband so she wouldn’t have to move where the family was moving and then used sex for the rest of her life to control and manipulate every man she met in order to get what she wanted to out of life; because another sister chose a man just like her father, only angrier, louder, meaner, more demanding, more verbally abusive and who played mind games with everyone he met since he thought he was so much more clever than anyone else? What if the church denomination you grew up in never made allowances for human behavior so that you were told everything was “fine” in everyone else’s home until the day one member of the family finally has the nerve to walk down the aisle for “confession” and every member of the congregation discovers to their horror that one spouse has committed adultery, one child is on drugs, one child is pregnant and unmarried and the couple is filing for divorce? What if, in this denomination, these were all horrible sins and the family members were now torn apart because they were too ashamed to seek help from their “brothers and sisters” because they knew they’d be condemned, as a child you see these once loving and loved people being condemned and shunned — or worse, “disfellowshipped,” which is the Protestant form of “excommunication”?
What if you still believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, that you would one day “meet the right fellow, fall in love, have children and live happily-ever-after” because you’re still naive enough to believe that it could happen . . . until the day one of your sisters brings home a “man” she’s fallen in love with and he starts putting his hands on you when you’re an adolescent? What if you naively believe that since he’s about to become your “big brother” that he’s just showing “natural affection”? What if this touching increases as the years go on until one day this man, being a position of power and authority in your life as he’s taken on the trustworthy role as father-figure since he’s married to the sister you trust the most who has taken on the trustworthy role as mother-figure in your life, convinces your sister to join him in laying a trap for you — a trap you don’t see because you trust these people, especially your sister, with your life? What if that trap is what he wanted from the first time he saw you when you were twelve years old: to have sex with you? What if your sister leads you to his bed? What if he never stops touching you, bothering you, flirting with you, “loving” you or simply letting you alone for the next two decades?
What if you escaped this situation as soon as you were old enough to get out on your own and began meeting men that you were still considering as “marriageable material”? What if you still didn’t know what truly loving someone and being loved by someone meant? What if you discovered that the men you met saw a beauty and a value in you that you never believed you possessed because you’d been told all your life how ugly, fat, stupid clumsy and how much of a bother you were? What if you allowed yourself to believe it for just a bit because you so desperately wanted it to be true? What if things were going along smoothly until he began talking about marriage? What if you began to panic inside because he might find out the bad thing that had happened that had been all your fault and he’d hate you for it? What if you knew that there was no way the marriage would last because even if you were able to manipulate and control everything so that he never found out your horrible secret, you still didn’t know what a good marriage looked like, you had no idea how to make a marriage work and the thought of having children, even though you’d been a great babysitter and were a good aunt to many nephews and nieces, scared you to death for reasons you didn’t understand at the time? What if that panic and fear made you run away? What if you met another man and the same thing happened, only this time you didn’t have to run away because he was transferred overseas, so now you were safe? What if you met another man, one whom you now realized you truly loved but were still terrified he’d discover your secret and blame you and hate you since it was all your fault? What if this man had the same bad characteristics as the bad characteristics of your father and you knew you’d never be able to stand up in “a house of God” and make vows before God, family and friends to do all kinds of things “until death do you part” when you knew you’d want to leave him long before death entered the picture and you didn’t want to end up divorced with a couple of children to raise on your own?
What if you had a miscarriage? What if you later discovered you had several mental and emotional illnesses? What if you’d gone ahead and married that man despite all the red-flag warnings? What if you’d been able to carry a baby to full term, but had a breakdown going through postpartum depression? Would that postpartum depression have caused a breakdown? Would that postpartum depression and/or subsequent breakdown cause you to harm your own innocent baby and/or yourself? Would your new husband, not understanding what was going on, stand by you? Would he seek help for you? Would he stay by your side? Would he divorce you because you’re “crazy”? Would he now hate you for being “crazy” and for putting his child in danger? Would he now discover the secret and despise you on top of everything else? Would he have you committed? Would you have to go to jail and then to prison for acts committed when you were “out of your mind”, because you’d never consider doing such things if you were in your “right mind”?
Now that you’ve considered these things, I hope you’ve really had a chance to think about each question, taking your time to wonder what you would do in each of these scenarios. I don’t have to wonder what I would have done because I’ve experienced every single one of these things, and many more, except that I never carried a baby to full term and I never went through with the marriage. Because of the secret shame and loathing I carried around inside of me for what two people did to me, having cold-bloodedly and pre-meditatively planned to do to me, one of those people being the one person I trusted the most in this world, my sister, I never thought I deserved a family of my own. I thought I wasn’t worthy. I was terrified someone would find out how bad I was, how despicable I was, how dirty I was, since I was led to believe that what happened and continued to happen was all my fault, and I was terrified that if the one man I truly loved ever found out about my secret and forgave me for being such a bad person, he’d go after my brother-in-law and kill him or be killed by him.
Once I discovered I had several mental and emotional illnesses, I wondered if the breakdown I had, which came about because I’d kept the secret inside me for so long it was slowly killing me and it had to come out, would have occurred earlier if I’d gone through with what the man I loved wanted and married him. I know we would have had children, if I’d been able to carry one full-term, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would have had postpartum depression. Having heard many stories on the news of women who kill their children during this state of mind, I cannot help but wonder if the mental and emotional illnesses that made the chemicals in my brain unbalanced would have made me join their ranks. If I had survived the inevitable postpartum depression, I would have passed on my inherited mental and emotional illnesses and I would have, as my parents did to me, hurt my children verbally and emotionally — but I pray not physically — because whereas I might have had better parenting skills, having learned from my parents what not to do, I still might not have had enough skills to have known the best way to raise my children.
I still never gave up on the idea of marriage, until I had a breakdown and this illness-I-never-knew-I-had got out of control. In order, subconsciously, to protect myself from ever being sexually abused again, and because the secret had to come out, I began gaining weight in the years preceding the breakdown. Since then, I have gained an enormous amount of weight and have kept it on, except for a short time in my life. When I lost a good deal of weight I began to feel good about myself. I began to feel prettier. Men began to notice me again. I slowly began to panic. Then I began to eat, both for comfort and as a means of stuffing my feelings down . . . and as a safety measure. The layers of fat on my body are really layers of walls that I have built between the real me inside this body and the scary things that men will down to pretty, thin women — especially my brother-in-law who to this day still looks at me with that “knowing” look!! Apparently no matter how fat I am, he’ll still think of me as that vulnerable young girl he wants to have in his bed.
I could never write these things on my own blog because family members who don’t know the truth would be meaninglessly made to suffer if I were to reveal my secret. My dear, kind and generous friend, Cate, has allowed me to take up space on her blog to let my voice be heard. My name is Kathy and I have been the victim of mental, emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual and sexual abuse. Due to this violence against my person and due to the genes I inherited, I now live with many mental and emotional illnesses, the two main ones being bipolar disorder and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) I’ve spent the last nineteen years of my life with these illnesses barely under control by medication. I’ve done the best I can with doctors, counselors and my God and Lord, Jesus, the Christ, to overcome my past and to place the responsibility for wrongs done to me onto those who did those wrongs and off of me, an innocent child and young woman. I am still a work in progress, because once a child is harmed the scars are on that soul forever. God, in His wisdom, love, grace and mercy has been teaching me and is continuing to teach me how to live with these things and how to live past these things. I am 55 years old. I am a survivor!! Therefore those of you who know me on WordPress know me as survivor55.