Saturday, 5 December 2015

Ten Years of Farewell

                                              Ten Years of Farewell

    The following years billowed with the winds of change for my family. While living and working in London, my parents made the hardest decision of their rural life- to sell their farm which my step-father had purchased in 1969. Though this was equally painful for both, my step-father did not recover from the loss of his favourite horses, the woods he had lovingly cleared, the house which he decorated with his past. Shortly after their move back to the house we had originally moved to, he contracted ALS. My mother basically took over the running of things and quietly celebrated her return to the mountain top. This house was much smaller, more manageable and had a very special place in her heart.

    It was during this time that both she and my step-father thought that it would be nice for her to visit me in London. My step-father, though coping with the beginnings of ALS, felt that he could manage and my mother made sure that he was surrounded by helpers and friends at all times.  We did have a tremendous time in January, 1998, but by the autumn, my step-father's condition was both critical and without hope. Mother suggested I return home in late September and the three of us had two weeks together. My step-father died on the 9th of October, 1998, thus unleashing deep grief within myself and the seismic shifting of my familial underpinnings. Because of her personal issues and ever-present angers with my step-father and his family, my sister did not wish to attend his funeral. Of course, this made the event so much easier for all of us. From what I remember, she remained fairly quiet and was of precious little support to my mother. Mom was both lost and exhausted. She was also afraid of being left on her own. After a couple of weeks of private grieving and spinning in overwhelm, she picked up and travelled to Georgia to stay with a childhood friend. Numb and deeply confused, I returned to England where my life began to unravel in salient ways. I stayed in close touch with my mother throughout. I gathered that my siblings offered her precious little support and consideration in these intervening months. My sister was nursing herself and my brother, because he hadn't been included in my step-father's will and feeling such hurt and resentment from this, rarely corresponded with my mother. I felt somewhat hurt as well, but I understood. I would have loved a book, a small treasure-nothing big or financial. But my step-father had already invested so much time, energy and financial support throughout our lives that nothing more could have been expected. Added to this was the continual draining of his resources to pay for my sister's professional care from the day my parents got married. Of course, I am unable to speak for any of these souls because my step-father's passing brought up such complicated histories and exceedingly painful dynamics. From my point of view, being more forgiving was likely made easier by the fact that I was particularly cherished by my step-father. I was the daughter that he never had, we shared France and much more. He was also present when I was born in Boulogne. My brother and sister had more years and previous experience of living with my father which could not have been easy at all. What I witnessed after my step-father's death was a familiar chaos with nothing to heal each person's wounding .

  What also added salt to our wounds was the presence of Mother's childhood friend- a man whom she had gone out with in her private school days. And it was to this uncomfortable environment that I returned. My brother was slowly re-establishing contact ; my sister concentrating on her life and needs from my mother and myself at very loose and frayed ends. My mother was at a loss with the slow and unpredictable nature of dealing with my step-father's estate let alone her deep-seated sadness and conflict which arose out of her wish to start a less burdened life. I wished to support her as much as I could but her choices sometimes seemed unfathomable to me. Not only did my sister remain unhelpful in the background, but Mother's choice of companion seemed to make matters only more unstable and painful. Of course, there were happy moments between them that I most likely never knew about and this man offered my mother a presence, a point of focus outside herself that she desperately sought. But this friend was a total opposite of my step-father and, worse, resembled my sister in his behaviours, habits and demands on my mother's time and energy. He was a tough-talking eccentric with plenty of life education and experience but with none of the subtlety and intelligence of my step-father. He was also a serious alcoholic and his condition absorbed my mother's attention and concern. He had to have her attention at all times and, if he didn't get it, he would disappear and go on a binge. Very frequently, he verbally abused my mother and treated her badly. Does this sound familiar to you? The echo of experience was so loud for me and I almost despaired. I didn't understand what is was within my mother that caused her to live this way, why she chose a man who simply wound chains around her, why she continued to help my self-centred sister to the exclusion of her own health and happiness....I frequently had the image of my mother being that of a strong black horse being brought down with ropes into the sand of a corral and never being allowed to stand. And there she was to remain.

   In November, 1999, a routine mammogram caught a growth in my right breast and it was decided that I have a surgical biopsy at the local hospital. It was to be a day-long procedure and Mother and I tried to alleviate our mutual anxiety by taking long walks on narrow dirt roads or sitting by our small pond staring at the mountains. My mother's friend would either disappear to the guest cottage to sit and drink or numb himself in front of a loud, disruptive television. The peace of the environment that Mother and I had so become accustomed to was broken and the sensation of change sank ever deeper and heavier in our hearts though my mother insisted on being this man's carer and companion. The night before my biopsy, Mother's friend disappeared with our dog. Once again, my mother was caught between the unhealthy needs and behaviour of a loved one and the attention she wished to give to other family members. Around 8h30 pm, the phone rang and it was the local police. Mother's friend had been arrested after totalling his car in a drunken stupor. Within an hour, a local officer accompanied this man to our door stating that he would have to make an appearance at the police station on the day of my biopsy. Well, my body cells were drowned in floods of emotions, new and very old. This episode was also very reminiscent of an event with my sister when I was 8 or 9. My grandmother was visiting the family during the summer holidays. One night, my parents needed to attend a college event and asked if she could be with us. I don't remember what distracted her attention, but it wasn't for long. My sister had raided the liquor cabinet and disappeared to the guest cottage blitzed to the extreme. Not wishing to leave my brother and myself alone, my grandmother took us along the path to the guest house and we found my sister sprawled on the ground almost unconscious. What happened next remains a blur, but the emotions were indelible. The past was imposing itself upon my present in the heaviest manner possible.

   I got through the biopsy fine in the company of my overwhelmed mother and a very contrite man. While I waited for the results of this surgery, I moved to my step-father's library. An invisible, murky bubble had been formed around my mother and her friend and I didn't want to be a part of it...It was unreal, unhealthy to such a destructive degree...I always welcomed my mother whenever she stepped out of it , but she seemed hypnotically drawn back into it after brief spells. With my step-father's nephew, we did wrap up the remaining details of a huge and unwieldy estate and I prepared for another escape, this time to the south of France. Suffice it to say that , after 6 weeks, I boomeranged back to New England after a lower back injury and flu. I did not want to return to our home and stayed at a motel for a week, then for a month with my amazing godmother. Being my parent's closest friend, she was well aware of the in's and out's of my family and she too was experiencing a painful re-adjustment caused by the heavy and drunken presence of my mother's companion. Having spent her youth with an alcoholic father and dealt with the long-lasting effects of her upbringing, she had difficulty with the toxic atmosphere and my mother's trance-like isolation with him. Their close relationship was shifting....not ending, but certainly redefining itself. I met several times with my mother and I sought to become independent for both of us. Carrying the colossal weights of my sister and her friend, I felt the pressure and wish to lighten her load somehow...At the end of this soul-searching month, my brother sweetly drove me back to the Berkshires to pick up the healing I had begun almost 10 years before.

   From 2000 to 2003, my efforts to stand on my own were determined yet clumsy. Within the recesses of my psyche were still anvil-like bundles of resistance, anger, fear and guilt that impeded my forays into adulthood. Plus, I was about to make yet another change to my career-that of artist. I had taught language for over 10 years, worked as an arts and culture administrator for two and had launched myself into acting for the past 6 years...My bow was vastly outnumbered by strings! My life energy was changing and I did perceive light through my own cracks. Mother also started composing poetry again and joined a creative writing class. This class gave her new life and such pleasure. We frequently joined up in Lenox because she needed to get away so very badly. Her companion and my older sister often made life so unpleasant and they rarely lifted a finger let alone hatch a kind thought to help her. During this time, Mother was experiencing heart-related problems-who wouldn't have? She was diagnosed with a flu-like condition to her heart and she had to treat herself well and thoughtfully for quite awhile. I remember that, during a Christmas gathering, it was my brother and myself who worked to help my mother while my sister and Mother's live-in  simply sat and talked to each other encircled by the smoke of cigarettes. This almost pathological selfishness was a depth-charge to my heart and I shall never forget nor forgive the two monoliths in our family room for this.

  In the autumn of 2003, Mother had to make another monumental decision which saddened her to her very core. To move out of her beloved house on the mountain. I won't delve into the reasons for this, but move she did into another house that she decorated with her history.A couple of days before her move, she did call me and asked if I could come up to Vermont to help. I said yes right away, but when I got off the phone, I felt the onslaught of ambivalent and tired emotions course through me. I called a good friend to ask for her support of me and to accompany me on this very pregnant mission. She said yes without hesitation and I relayed this to Mother. The idea of additional people wore her down and she suggested that I stay where I was
and that she make the move with friends/helpers-of course, not with her companion's assistance nor with my sister's understanding and volunteering to lend a hand. I felt very, very badly about this, but I truly needed some support as well if I was going to contribute to dismantling our history. I still feel ambivalently about this to this day.

  And then in January, 2004, my farewell to all I had known truly began.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Weights and Imbalances

                                                               Weights and Imbalances- 1984-1995

         It is very difficult for me to confirm my older sister's diagnosis as mentally ill. That seems truly twisted on my part because being subjected to and observing her behaviour for so many years, how could I not perceive her as disturbed, ill ? My mother and blood father disagreed deeply about this with my Dad stating that my sister had become totally spoiled. Mother, for reasons of her own history, assumed all the guilt for my sister's condition yet felt there was a particular bond between them. My step-father first witnessed my sister as out of control and would often say that " she's well until she isn't ". From the outside of the misshapen family circle, everyone would say " your poor sister, she's ill", " she can't help it", " you must try to understand"... Up to a point, I do. But I also witnessed how manipulative, controlling and selfish she could be. How she obtained what she wanted when she wanted and how much she took us for granted. Again, later on, we were all told that this was also part of her illness. At one point, my mother and step-father wished to place her under supervised care because they could no longer deal with the incessant and extreme highs and lows, the sheer unpredictability and scale of her behaviour. However, my sister was totally capable of obtaining a public defender who kept her out of this safer and professional situation. And, I believe, that there was no talk of committing her to a " mental institution"-it was to be a retreat or halfway house that would allow her more freedom and safety. I do understand my sister's not wishing to go anywhere-I do. As a result, my parents and my sister were lost in the system and my parents had to find solutions practically on their own . But it was my sister who was able enough to manipulate the system in her favour with little regard for how it influenced family life and members.

    There were many other episodes that I observed throughout my years that revealed her conscious and unconscious control over all of us. I rarely spoke to her about trying new things, new attitudes and perspectives because I could tell that, though she would listen, she would not hear. Consequently, similar discussions occurred over and over again. What was important for her was to be the constant focus of attention and energy. Plus, she was an interesting person. The years went by when family member after family member would spend hours, days talking to her or very tolerant Vermont friends being generous with their time and means taking care of her, feeding her, listening to her. When someone ever gave up in exhaustion, attention, they would be expelled by phone or by a very threatening, rageful letter condemning them to the deepest depths of Hell. And so it is that I remain unconvinced of her inability to assume any responsibility for herself and her actions over the many years.

    In the years between 1984 and 1994, the drama disappeared and re-appeared. In 1984, she threw herself out of a hospital window and luckily she escaped with only a broken wrist. She moved from house to house which my parents provided her with and, very briefly, she became involved in sculpture at which she was truly brilliant. After being supplied with costly materials, casting, promotion and exhibitions, my sister told my parents that she no longer wished to do this one thing that would assist her in becoming more independent and perhaps even happier. She even gained outside recognition for her work and that was the operative word- work. There is no denying that the physical work was hard and precise, but she was good at both. Perhaps it was the demand for more sculptures or the expectation of my parents for her to try to extricate herself from the confines of her world and of theirs. My sister did not wish to work for her independence. Perhaps she never wanted to be independent.

  During this period, my own life was taking its own twists and turns. I found many teaching jobs in Paris, Boston and the School for International Training in Vermont. I even taught at my step-father's college in exchange for drama classes. Plus, I got engaged which I never thought would happen due to my transient life mixed with still unpacked bundles of  explosive material that was my past. I travelled across Canada and lived in Vancouver for over 2 years taken on as a cultural arts administrator for a French-Canadian organisation. Because my fiance wished to pursue a film career in LA and I still clung to my contact with Europe, we parted in San Francisco . It was during our three years together that I began to experience and notice the powerful after-shocks of my very early life. I began to have night-terrors and often could not sleep with my fiance. I wouldn't tolerate any form of pressure to do anything having experienced the emotional dictatorship of my sister. The effects of this also seeped into all forms of employment- my tendency to rebel, to not accept any form of authority and to undermine any framework that supported my perceived imprisonment and control. Looking back many years later, I must admit that I didn't make things any easier for my fiance. As for employers, unless they handled their authority compassionately and wisely, they frequently became targets of mistrust and their employment a torture that no one else could see.

  From 1991-1994, I was back in Vermont with one foray to France in 1991 where the memory of being burned with cigarette butts surfaced causing me to return for deeper, trickier self-investigation. My parents had kindly rented me a small schoolhouse nearby because, really, they needed to have a life of their own when they could and I just needed to be separate from the dramatic atmosphere. Which, as it turns out, I did not help as I plunged deeper into my black muck of pain, rage, guilt. I began to self-harm. This would occur most often when I couldn't get things to work-cars, windows, etc. My rage and sadness simply shot into my hands and I would claw my face, arms and chest. It was as if a tornado had cut a path through unvented emotion and I was left completely drained and startled by what had just happened. I did not do this for attention. I was just so angry and my emotions were like a small child chained up in a dark room that no one entered or at the bottom of a forgotten well. This behaviour would also happen if I felt deeply hurt in family conversations. Because so much had taken place when I was pre-verbal, words were not my vehicle for communication. Added to that my first language was French then had to be switched to English didn't help. So, when my heart saw a glimpse of being able to share what was experienced or felt, words just tumbled out like clumsy, heavy weights. Everyone else seemed so articulate to me and I simply fell into a searingly painful silence that I held onto until alone. What I was trying to say got mirrored by my sessions of self-scratching and everyone finally could see and understand with each mark on my body. Whenever I felt hurt, people had to see it.

  I feel very sorry that my parents had to see this which must have been so reminiscent of my sister. I moved to the Berkshires in order to follow intensive psychotherapy plus energy healing that would support both myself and my body. I was also under the supervision of psycho-pharmacologist at Austin Riggs. So, 1994-1995 were exceedingly painful. However, at the beginning of ' 95, I began a fairly strict regimen of walking almost 4 to 6 miles a day which would take the energy of emotion and discovery out for exercise and fresh air! And at the end of the summer, I embarked on a totally different route- that of theatre and in London. I had achieved a great deal in the Berkshires and I received such support from my parents. Of course, the situation with my sister continued to plague them and, once again, I felt very ambivalent about leaving them. I departed for England on my sister's birthday in early October. I liked that coincidence very much!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Third Instalment to Growing Up With Sibling Rivalry

Forays Into A World Beyond Family 

posted July 25, 2015

There are two things (perhaps more ) that I wish to convey. The first and probably most life and heart-changing for me is the reception of the archaeological dig that this recounting symbolises. To each and every one of you who has taken the time, care and sweet attention to even read these overweight instalments jammed to the hilt with painful perceptions, muffled emotions, I must thank you and let you know how profoundly this moves me and assists in lifting this iron-clad history from my heart, mind and body. You can't imagine what good your love, warmth and support give to me and to the child that has crouched in silence and obscurity for most of her life.

And to those members of my family whom I have held in my heart and favour and for whom this must be difficult to read, you mean so very much to me and my gratitude for your love and courage comes from my heart-core. Bless you all.

Secondly, the portrait of my sister is very dark indeed and the shadow she cast frequently overwhelming. I try to believe that she is not an evil soul and that, of course, she has her story to tell. We have been hearing it for most of our lives, but her perceptions are written down in what she has called her “ logs” in minute detail. She had moments of tolerating and enjoying her family and her sense of humour unique and sharp. And creative, my word! Such talent to be swept up and drowned in her rage and refusal to keep up with the work it required. She had her moments of kindness and I believe that she can't face the terror and cruelty she visited on her sister. I don't know my brother's history-perhaps he was spared being a male child. But his life was very anxious indeed. She almost confessed to me long ago, but that instinct vanished instantly. I will say one thing though.

A. became the troubled centre of her family's life and dominated most discussions, holidays, day to day life to the point that very few family members got to know my brother and especially myself. My sister's tale had its own town crier and I would disappear into my room silent stuffing layer upon layer of thought and feeling into my body and heart cells. Now, I am emptying myself of this tremendous weight and you are my precious witnesses.

From 1969 onwards, I went away to boarding school, then onto college. Although I received the best of academic education fostered by my parents to the best of their ability, the years at school reveal
the emotional imprinting already described. I was bullied cruelly by my two room-mates for my entire first year which made me wish for home psychological warts and all. I would be kept awake which exacerbated the night terrors already ingrained physically and mentally during infancy and so much more. The headmaster and the dean of the school took me under their wing while I tried to disappear even more. One can imagine the effect that this repeated treatment had on me and, because I had remained silent for so long mixed with my hostility to the English language, words never came easily. When I did speak, it was almost telegraphic interspersed with mountains of feeling. Again, I was sent to a school psychologist against whom I pitted myself. Any psychologist working with an authority such as a school was never to be trusted.....ever. So the allies I did have were all of the foreign students, the secretaries in the offices, the cooking staff, the night janitors and, lastly but so importantly, my studies.

By the 9th grade, I would rush through dinner in order to escape to the classroom building and shut myself in a quiet room away from the noise and pain of dorm life. I didn't have a good experience that year with a room-mate either. However, this period also had its lighter moments of evening parties, disobeying the poor house-mother, etc...For the second semester, I moved into another room with a girl who was so kind and good to me. Of course there were moments of misunderstanding and tension, but these were not the norm as before. This experience was unusual for me and so deeply good.

In the backdrop of this was home and the atmosphere volatile to say the least. My sister, aiming to complete her high school education, had moved in with my parents into a new and larger home. A farmhouse which was long and had more rooms than the schoolhouse we had originally moved into. Once again, my sister was at the end and promptly made the room fastidiously decorated by my step-father her own. Up went the rearing horses, the flames from their breath, the blanket to block out both light and sound and her machines which she tended with what love and great care. Luckily, and for the first time, I had a room of my own separated by my brother's room and closer to my parents. It took some adjusting to, but you can imagine that I did. When away at school, I would get abridged reports about my sister-suicide attempts, raiding the liquor cabinets, incessant smoking and squabbles and sometimes stays in local mental hospitals and retreats. Once, when I returned home, I sat on my sister's bed watching her carve her arms with push-pins. By the time I was 12/13, my poor mother, bravely confronting her own ghosts and coping with A, would sit with me and ask “What will we do with your sister?” Or, “what will we do if your sister kills herself?” In later years, she deeply regretted this and frequently apologised saying that no child should have to face this at my age. My stepfather tolerated A's behaviour up to a point though both parents were overwhelmed and constantly drained. I believe that the last straw was her constant smoking and also getting so drunk that she smashed bottles against a tree just outside the house. Also, besides horse chores, she dominated family gatherings by doing very little and barking back epithets if anyone asked her to do anything. The relationship between my step-father and my sister became hostile and my sister was eventually moved to a small house closer to the horses and more independent. Once again, all windows were immediately blocked and life as A wanted continued....

I feel such sympathy for my parents because they acted on what they could do-providing my sister with everything she needed, getting support from professionals for themselves and my sister. The sheer amount of life-energy that my sister consumed was staggering. And she remained unaware of this as long as she got what she needed... Already, I had decided to not resemble her in the slightest way. I feel now that trying to be good and dutiful lay the groundwork for frequent self-sabotaging behaviour in my life. Not that I had to be cruel or selfish to develop and I did have my moments! But perhaps a bit more positive rebellion and behaving as a teenager and less as a fatigued, world-weary adult could have been beneficial. Watching the ongoing convoluted dynamic between parents and sibling, I also made the early decision never to have children...And I have stuck to this decision. Now, I can't blame my sister for this life-choice. But the care and attention she took from us for so long all was a definite factor plus I observed from the first years how one child could dominate an entire family's life. I couldn't and wouldn't allow that in mine a second time.

So, where was I? Oh yes, still at private school...By my junior year, I had managed to become an A
student. My nights in the classroom building had been paying off over the past two years. My sophomore and junior years were sadly influenced by, guess what?!, another aggressive female presence! A girl who had developed a crush on my then best friend and she was hell-bent on separating us. She sadly succeeded and made my life a misery until my friend was expelled at the end of the year for taking drugs. Whenever she stayed over with my friend, they would throw things against my door in the night, isolate me in all activities and make fun of me for seeing a psychologist....There's such repetition in this story, isn't there ?

My final year at private school was fairly quiet and this black presence was silently smoldering in newly found solitude. I graduated with high honours and I never wished to return to this school again. By the by, years later, at college, this girl , now working at the college book-store, came up to me and apologised for her behaviour towards me which I felt took courage and I thanked her for this. To this day, I still remain grateful for such an acknowledgement.

My years at Queen's in Canada and at Mount Holyoke College seemed quiet and fairly smooth. My
friendship with my studies remained as close of ever and I kept social activity to a minimum until my last year. I experienced a couple of repetitions of early experience with room-mates and such and I don't feel that more elaboration is required. By now, what was social was threatening and isolation had become my order of my day. Like the hermit crab, I was going to decide when I would come out of my shell or exchange my old protective shell for a new one.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Second Instalment of A Sister's Story End ~ 18 September, 2015


    When I turned 7 in March of that year, seismic change was gearing up in depth. My parents decided to return to the US, the land of my sister, of everything uncontrolled and unprotected. I, of course, did not want to move at all. I had become a French child, a happier child-more outgoing and life-participating. My language was French and the US loomed strange and very dark indeed. I told my parents that I didn't wish to go. To leave me with Donnie, the terrific governess...I could live with her and continue to be. Well, as my responsible parents, they could not accept this
desperate arrangement nor could imagine the devastation that I already experienced  that generated such a request.
I felt both powerless and doomed and it was time to get my invisibility cloak out for a very, very long time.

   I forget much of the preamble of family consultations and preparations- a desired hole in my memories. What I do remember is the day of departure in July. My home of 34, rue de l' Universite held in its lobby a terrified and grieving child sitting on a suitcase or trunk repeating to herself, " This move is going to be bad for me." My parents,
after over 10 years of expat living, were looking forward to being part of a community, contributing, creating a new life. As for me, it was a day of tragedy and loss that I never fully recovered from...I was the little angel of The Tuileries that was going to fall painfully to the ground and whose wings were going to be clipped so that I wouldn't fly away...The 5 day journey on the Queen Elizabeth went by in a haze...On the morning of our arrival, I woke up and heavily went to the top deck to witness our "progress" into NYC harbour. It was hot, sunny and hazy and the little tug boats hugged the great ship past the Statue of Liberty. Passengers cheered around me. I believe I sank down and felt such heaviness...I  felt as if in another world separate from passengers, crew and my family. I watched everyone in a kind of slow motion with no sound and the Statue was most certainly not a sight of liberty to me. For a couple of days, we stayed with my step-father's relatives on Fifth Avenue. The one event that I recall is going for walk in Central Park with my step-father who cautioned me not to go too far because " it wasn't safe". From the donkeys and puppet shows of the Tuileries, we had come to Central Park with its a heart of darkness.

   The myriad details of travelling to and settling in to our final destination escaped my sadness and trepidation. We reached Marlboro, Vermont and our lovely house surrounded by silent mountains, no cathedral bells, no little shops...
Just a dusty narrow road with no neighbours in sight. Now, I am sure that not every moment felt so bleak, but the contrast was absurdly shocking to a 7 year old Parisian child. No civilisation, no history or culture, no people who revelled in aesthetic dress or food, NOTHING. Plus the sound of the English spoken was ear-numbing. But my family did settle into a life, my parents found like-minded souls-a few even had considerable experience abroad. My step-father found work at a local college teaching French and European history. My mother slowly gathered her rural threads- dogs and horses. We even adopted a life-saving presence to me- a small kitten abandoned by the road whom I called Minette. We became the closest of friends sharing a similar history in unknown territory.

   During this time, my sister had been moved from Devreux to a hospital outside Boston. My parents would arrange visits, of course and some included my brother and myself. I felt understandably ambivalent about all this, but
I had realised from the very beginning that my life was no longer my own, that I had no choice any more and that
family obligation rode over my heart like a careening tank. Things were explained, scenes described and the appearance of my sister hinted at...And so we went...Two children into the cuckoo's nest teeming with disturbed souls,
a seemingly suppressed atmosphere and my sister's private room to enter upon one's peril. My sister herself looked other worldly-a beehive hair-do, make up that made her look nothing but ominous and black leather from tip to toe.
Her walls were plastered with her angry, amazing art...Huge horses breathing fire and rebellion, haughty riders trying to control the bridled power under them...My sister's artwork has always been astonishing and the intensity of it
couldn't be handled by most. Except by the family who knew her and the fathom-depth of aggression in her behaviour.
I remember a couple of visits-not too many were inflicted upon two siblings wrestling with newly-found powerlessness and ill-fitting adaptation. Let's just say that the succeeding years, my sister would occupy a threatening and unhappy background, especially on her visits home. Any requests for her to assist in family activities or chores would be met with either black sulks or aggressive comments. She hated dogs and she would kick at them any time she could-boy, I knew how they felt. Meals became potential land mines-she would snap at anything it seemed...Unless, of course, the topic was horses...This would assuage her mood and these times were peaceful. She was in control. Anything for peace....

   What added further damage to my already blown-apart childhood was the living situation for the children. My mother always apologised for this in later years. Because of how the house was built long ago, there was a bedroom at the end of the house with a room that acted like a corridor for the occupant to walk through. And that was where I had to live-right next to my sister with her living back and forth through my room. Can anyone imagine a greater Hell? Again, by then, I was buried under such powerlessness and my erstwhile cocoon gently encased me into a child who spoke English, adapted to survival in the New World and who slept fitfully every time her sister would come home. The separation between myself and my own country of emotion had begun and I was just 8/9.

  My few years at the local elementary school simply amplified the shaping of distinct continents-myself, my family, the teachers and the other school children. Not to go into too much detail,  life at school often reflected dynamics at home when my sister was around. Teasing and downright bullying mostly from school girls made the bus rides long and stomach-clenching. And the classes were no better. Some other girls were subjected to the same treatment and the idea that this behaviour was to be expected and tolerated struck me right to my core. Adding insult to injury, I was referred to a local child psychologist ! How absolutely twisted was that? Why weren't the girls who found it necessary to insult, the threaten and render lives miserable day after day sent for correction? The people in authority became people never to be trusted and, once again, like the polar bears of today, I felt stuck alone on an ice floe with my entire identity being melted away.

  Luckily, the psychologist became a friend and ally. But worlds had been drawn like swords and I tried to fight even though my hands were tied and my heart gagged. The final straw was when a boy insulted my sister and her mental illness before everyone and I simply charged at him and hit him. And guess who was driven to the psychologist? And for defending someone who had tried to kill me, who burned me with cigarette butts and who made family life so heavy and unpredictable...I was right to defend her on the principle that no one with either a mental illness or emotional trouble should be laughed at. But, within a year of this and continued unhappiness coated with deep misunderstanding of me, I was given the choice to go to boarding school or to remain with the local children.

  By now, what is called " learned helplessness ", became a way to stay alive. Frequently associated with animals who are repeatedly subjected to adverse events or treatment with no ability to escape or change the situation in which they find themselves, this phenomenon can be applied to any living soul trapped in an iron-clad labyrinth of guilt, anger, confusion, loss, violence and so much more. Perhaps this is why I have such an unconscious heart-bond with animals, especially those in captivity of every kind who must endure such suffering in silence and with no understanding of why this way of " life" has been visited upon them. The injustice and sadness is without measure and the consequences as convoluted or tortured as each individual becomes.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Facing One's Demons- by Julia Still
                                               The Beginning of Her End
                                                       22 July, 2015

    Has anyone carried forth a story within every cell of his/her body and the weight of that story creating such baggage that true movement is not possible? And I mean movement that is not fight, flight or even freezing up.

Today, I have the image of a possum mother under her litter of clinging babies- she is brave, instinctive and will nurture her young. She will also teach them to play dead when threatened. But from the first days of their birth, she will carry them...This is what I have done with my early history, but, unlike the possum mother, I have not taught myself to separate healthfully from its sticky details and its appetite to devour my healthy instincts, my ability and right to thrive, to feed myself on life's generous fruits or even to feel safe within my family, its brood.

In 1957, I was born into a family with one older sister and one older brother. I was born at a very chaotic and overwhelming time when my parent's marriage was coming to end and after six years of unexpected turmoil caused by my sister's emotional troubles. The first burden I had to carry was the hope that my presence could save a dying marriage. Added to that, I had an angry and deeply unpredictable sister who did not want siblings at all and who acted upon her rage and embedded sadness. I am uncertain as to what happened to my brother who was two years younger than A-perhaps my brother is holding the painful barbs of his history close to his chest.
As for me, within my first year, my parents realised that I was in danger after the first attempt upon my life in a flat in Paris. I was immediately kept in a separate part of our home under the watch of au pair girls. When I was over a year and a half, I disappeared. I still don't know where I went, but I was watched over and understood...I know that. What happened was that one morning, I just didn't respond to anything-to a mother's voice or affection, to being held by strangers and to life in general. I wouldn't hold myself up. Nothing. Terrified, my mother rushed me to a neurologist  in Paris. What he recommended was not to subject me to medical testing until after 6 months. If, after that time, I had not re-emerged from this protective yet abnormal cocoon, then we would see....

I did re-emerge, but there were behaviours of self-defence established and the cocoon never removed just invisible. Similar to Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility. What I had crawled away from was very much how I had left it- a chaotic, unpredictable household, an overwhelmed and unsupported mother, a non-functioning marriage and, of course, a violently aggressive older child ruling despotically over her two younger siblings who obeyed for their lives, their well-being...From looking at family photos, this story is hidden in images of holidays and family celebrations...Which is not to say that my parents , especially when my step-father courageously emerged onto the scene, clung to being unaware or refused to try all manner of positive healthy action. Not at all. They were young, conflicted and had such issues of their own. They tried as hard as Hell...My father less so after the divorce. He had far less patience with my older sister's behaviour and even less with methods of psychiatric investigation pursued by my mother and step-father. By this time, I developed severe asthma and couldn't breathe in both the physical and emotional atmospheres.

In 1960, my mother re-married and, with my step-father's help, slowly worked to make family life
safe, tolerable and under control. In 1961 or 2, my parents decided to send my sister back to the U.S. to the Devereux School in Pennsylvania. If the French nuns couldn't control my sister, perhaps more modern methods could. I don't remember much about that time. I was as happy as I could be without the shadow presence of a volatile older sibling. I believe my brother was happier as well, but I should not speak for his history. I was doted upon by a
loving and caring governess who proudly strolled the streets of Paris with a very blond and blue-eyed child. A rarity in those days. So, my history seemed settled and I was content.

Friday, 11 September 2015

A Very Long Time

Inner Visions of Outer Worlds by Julia Still, 2014    

It has been such a very long time since I have written here and maybe you have decided to travel away. I hope not!
Greetings from my heart to my well-worn feet to one and to all!
The following instalments that I will be posting here will be dedicated to anyone who has grown up in a chaotic environment caused by the presence of a severely disturbed relative. I decided that this summer I wanted to articulate what had remained so silent and so potent for most of my life and that I needed to share with any witnesses that the Universe may provide. So bless you and thank you for reading what is to follow.