In another post I talked about feeling anxious while meditating. Sometimes meditating was helpful and relaxing and other times it was anxiety producing. I understand why I have some of my anxiety as I am dealing with a chronic illness that is flaring up; I feel sadness for the state of my health while also feeling grateful that it is not worse.
While meditating the other day feelings of profound sadness and loss surfaced. Most adults have experienced these feelings in their lives and have worked through them, and others, like me, did not learn proper coping skills and continue to carry emotions around like an old sack. I have been to therapy and learned to put down my sack occasionally and have a look-see at its contents; I was able to discard many items. But there always seems to be something jangling at the bottom that I can’t quite reach and occasionally it catches my attention.
I just finished reading a book called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, 3rd edition by Robert M. Sapolsky. He discusses the biological workings of our bodies and ways in which we think, feel, how we were raised, stress hormones and receptors, and how genetics effect our health and longevity.
I learned that I was at a distinct disadvantage from the start. Our family grew up poor, to an over-stressed unhealthy mother of six children who were born a year apart (except for me, the youngest, three years later.) Our father was abusive and unsupportive even through he has remained in our lives after the divorce. Some people grow up poor and don’t realize it until they are older – we knew it from the start. We went hungry, we were cold, dirty, neglected and I was sickly.
Our mother was dependent on him for the little monetary support he provided. We were on public assistance and lived in the projects. She left him due to the physical and emotional abuse and received nothing but child support and whatever he felt like giving. (In the 60s-70s, child support amounted to about $10-20 a month for each child.)
Our mother was dysfunctional; married at 17 and having children right away. We were her playthings, she loved babies. She was uneducated and never held a job. She was physically abusive, often slapping us in the face or head or verbally abusing us. But she was not unloving; often kissing, hugging and telling us she loved us. I believe were were neglected out of ignorance i.e. they just didn’t know better. Our father was an auto worker with no education. Together they were a potent pathology of animosity, secrets, and deceit. We as children never held stable ground nor formed a solid foundation.
When our father visited it was a time of tension. We never knew what to expect. Sometimes he was happy and amenable and other times he was cruel. He was especially harsh to my oldest brother whom he bullied and often derided for not being tough enough. My second oldest brother was the protector – he often came between our father and whoever the target was that day. We all have OCD, PTSD and other major health problems.
A few instances that stand out from our childhood include our father visiting before a holiday and giving all of us money – except for my oldest brother who was often singled out. Since we thought this unfair we returned the money (maybe $20 each, this was the 70s); this was no small feat for cold hungry children all under the age of 12. In retaliation our father placed the money on the stove and burned it in front of us (more than once.)
Sometimes our father would tell us he was coming and never showed up. Our mother having dressed and cleaned us and made us sit on the couch waiting for many hours. She was afraid he would come when he were not ready and punish her, usually through no monetary support or bullying.
He would come annually and insist on taking us shopping for example, school clothes or shoes. He would not let our mother come and he would not give her money. He did not trust that she would spent it as wisely and he would. He criticized our every option, degraded, and reminded us how much we cost him every time we drove home.
Occasionally he would come in a good mood and take us all to Dairy Queen. He would remain in the car and send us up to order. This seems like a happy moment until you realize the stress involved. Sometimes our father wanted to know the cost beforehand and it was unknowable – he would let us order and then make us leave all the ice cream on the counter and walk away because he would not pay.
My brothers were bullied the most; often called sissies and weak. My youngest brother used to hide under the bed when our father visited; my oldest brother stuttered for many years when he was near our father.
I have some good memories; our father took us camping for several summers at Allegheny State Park. We rented a cabin and brought along a friend; stayed for a week. It was a reprieve as our father often invited one of his friends and so he behaved. At night we sat around the campfire and listened to The Hobbit on the record player. We took hikes and walked along the dark roads with our flash lights turned off. The total blackness and millions of stars in the sky.
Our mother would lie and steal to give us things we needed. She sometimes had us steal for the family. My brothers would rob the freight trains behind our house and bring home cartons of cereal and electronics; whatever they could carry. I remember having to eat Grape Nuts cereal for a month with powered milk or packages of boxed macaroni. Sometimes they would bring home items to resell and later they sold drugs. This was survival and not a matter of right and wrong. It was a matter of not getting caught.