My new Heart

I met the most extraordinary lady a few years back, from the USA. Tall and elegant, with twinkling blue eyes and a mischievous sense of humour. This lady had seen it all. She had been beaten up and had her face broken. She had experienced homelessness and then employed as a cocktail waitress. She had her own graphic design business, before coming to Oz and travelling to the Far North. On her return, she taught troubled kids, believing in them until they could believe in themselves. Starting another business, she lived on two-minute noodles and water whilst ploughing away. She endured more heartbreak and found salvation in riding her motorbike and attending Cosplay events. Beguiling and independent, I had never met a more free spirit. She raised her daughter single-handedly, something to be immensely proud of. No family to back her up nor support her. Now, her daughter is grown, and my friend is leaving to  be nearer her. It happened within weeks, and not only did she notice the signs that it was time to move on, but she listened. She heard loud and clear through the notes that were left in her building, neighbours abusing one another over minor infractions. She heard it through her listlessness, and when she added up what seven years of rent had cost her, in a place she didn’t love. It had been the longest this free spirit had stayed anywhere.

We arranged to meet with her, shortly before she left. She gave my daughter this ring, saying that if she wore it, it would remind her of her worth and strength, just as it had her. It is Lapis, and fitted her perfectly. My friend didn’t have anybody to buy her jewellery, and so she bought it for herself as a young woman. I love that she didn’t wait to have it gifted her.

To me, she gave her Cosplay belt, fitted with pockets, so I could travel lightly. She made me promise to go to festivals in her place. She also gave me a gift which reduced me to tears. One evening at her place, a glass heart I was wearing slipped from the cord around my neck, and smashed on her tiled floor. Picking it up, my friend vowed to fix my broken heart. I had forgotten all about it, until the moment I opened the hessian bag and saw this:

My new rose quartz heart and my old, shattered glass heart.

It was quite simply, one of the most poetic and symbolic gifts anyone has ever given me. There was my old heart, shattered and black with all it had absorbed in the past. Here was my new heart, bigger though lighter, and certainly untainted. I shall keep both, as a reminder that one can heal with the right people around you. My friend has taught me many, many things in the past few years. She has taught both my girl and I to always believe in our dreams, to rejoice in being independent and free-thinkers. She has shown us how to survive on very little and how to celebrate when fortune enters one’s life. She has taught us how to be brave, and how to have fun. How learning never ends and what a joy it is to study new things. She has taught us that when life kicks you into the dirt, you can not only survive, but thrive. This woman had nobody to help her, nor cheer her on. Whatever she has accomplished has been done with determination, self-belief and a will of iron. My darling friend, the Lapis ring and my brand new heart can’t wait to bask in your glow upon our next meeting. xxx

Why didn’t you Tell?

The arm in this picture tells a powerful story.

Why didn’t you tell? Why didn’t you say something? Let me have a think about it…

I guess the teachers, family therapists, doctors and ICU staff don’t count. Nor do the parents of friends, police officers, Health Dept. It was almost a full-time job as a young person, writing reports and speaking to the relevent agencies. It takes such bravery to speak out in the first place, and to simply keep living after you have been dismissed or threatened for doing so. It took over a decade for someone to finally hear me. It took longer to start the healing process, a journey which is ongoing.

To those not able to speak out when the horror first occurred, I completely understand. These monsters may be in your family, they may employ you, or be in a position of power. To survive, you disassociate. You must, in order to stay alive. You have an out-of-body experience, your brain’s way of coping. Your words catch in the back of your throat, leaving you silent. If you are shouted down by HR, for example, it can take many months to open your mouth again. You have to get your head around filing a statement with the police, knowing that court may await you, bringing with it an opening of your wounds. If the person who committed the vile act is regarded by others as a convivial individual; community-minded and respected, you can feel very alone. There should be no smug questioning of the individual as to why they didn’t come forward sooner. There should only be praise that they did at all. It is so very hard.

This year has seen The Reckoning come to pass. I have waited my whole life for such an event. It has given allowance for those silenced in the shadows to speak, and to heal. I know how it feels to be a girl with a spotlight on her, people ridiculing, turning away and accusing. I know what it feels like to be the arm in the picture, timidly speaking out, but unable to reveal my identity. We have tried to speak out for many years, in many different ways. We have tried to change the culture and what is allowed by powerful individuals. Now is the time of being heard. Within ten years, my daughter will have joined the workforce, and be out there in the world. I am beyond relieved that it will most likely be a workplace with respect as it’s ethos, rather than creeps being able to do whatever they want to whomever they want. I look back at my younger years, and read my medical notes. The amount of times I had frank conversations about what I was enduring is astounding. I tried to tell, but nobody listened. It was all too hard. I am so glad that I survived to witness The Reckoning. It is changing the culture for our children.

Triggers and PTSD

We have to share with each other; it’s an absolute necessity. I have seen people retreat, building a fort around their minds and hearts. I can tell you from experience, it is the absolute worst thing that you can do. I have seen brilliant people rescind mid-way through stellar careers and lives,  eaten alive by depression and the aftermath of  trauma. I am often too busy to deal with my memories and triggers at the time they come up. I admit it’s a state I am not only grateful for, but prefer. I then wonder why I burst into tears in the shower, crawl into bed, unable to converse at the end of the day, or am irritable and bereft. I sat down and wrote some of my triggers, and then sardonically laughed, incredulous that I ever questioned why I am exhausted and crave space at the day’s end.

Here are some of the places, aromas, music, etc, that bring forth strong memories and emotions:

Suburbs: Concord, Bondi, Auburn, Greenwich, Lane Cove, Katoomba, Westmead, Parramatta, Revesby, St Leonards, Manly, Ryde, Lidcombe and Kogarah.

Scents: Anais Anais, Tabu, sandalwood, Aramis, cigarette smoke.

Songs: Run for your Life, Sorrow, Hard Woman, Dear Prudence, Stairway to Heaven, Belladonna, Oh Father, Stray Cat Blues, Ruby Tuesday, Comfortably Numb and so many more.

Conversations about crimes and offenders, falling, abductions, crimes against children, abuse. Seeing famous people and institutions fall one-by-one, some of whom I once looked up to.

Hearing people scream or argue loudly, having to climb stairwells or go over bridges; anything to do with heights, and being unable to avoid such. Hearing trains in the background or the wail of sirens, winter and feeling cold, certain herb teas that I used to drink as a teen, seeing strangers that remind me of past villains, sharp knives (I don’t own any, nor do I have a knife block), two-minute noodles, toffee, apple pies, carrot cake,

Too many movies to mention.

In any given day, I have to deal with at least one trigger that provokes unpleasant memories and emotions. I am often in a situation where I simply can’t avoid said trigger and have to somehow plough through. It is at home when the mask can fall and you can let it all out. How do you explain to someone the cologne they have spritzed has brought up unpleasant memories, particularly if you only met the person five minutes ago? What do you do when you are in a restaurant and a song comes on that hooks you straight into the past?  It is a minefield and I step on them all the time. A portion of my brain explodes, as does my heart. I pick myself up, and stagger home.

Once inside my sanctuary, a few things happen. I turn on gentle ambient music, light candles and drop some lavender oil into my diffuser. I play with my birds, and prepare a healthy dinner. I then soak in a bath filled with salts and essential oils, slip into pajamas and dim the lights in my room. Breathing deeply, I try to sort through what has transpired throughout the day, and what has come up for me. I let it be, assuring myself that it is of little surprise that I felt adrift, and that it is completely normal. I try to sleep, aware that I may have nightmares, if the triggers were strong enough. Waking, I will have a herb tea and hot shower, and start the day, hoping that the triggers go easy on me. This is PTSD, and trying to navigate through it.

When I was a teen, I met many returned military personnel and emergency responders, damaged by what they had seen. I met scores of people who had been in notorious orphanages. I met people who had encountered unimaginable horror as young people. Back then, knowledge of PTSD was in its infancy. These folks were thought to have ‘shell-shock’ or a nervous disorder. I regret not having my PTSD acknowledged for many years, as it is crucial to seek treatment early. When I open the paper and see an institution or individual I had encountered finally being brought to justice, a part of me rises, and yet another part of me falls. Why did it take so long, and why did so many have to suffer? Why weren’t we heard way back then? I take comfort that the world my daughter is growing up in is slowly but surely changing. The treatment we were told to accept would be deemed outrageous now. At last, at last.

I live with chronic pain and will require more surgery. I haven’t been able to run, rollerskate nor do many other things with my daughter, and need to be supine more than other mums. My daughter has borne witness to tears brought on by my constant pain, and seen my whole demeanour change when faced with a trigger. It is a wicked burden for both her and I to carry. It shouldn’t have happened. The times are changing, and it brings me such comfort. As I endure my nightmares and flashbacks I am at least assured that the days of being silenced are coming to an end. I feel like a bird with a broken wing, trying to heal and trying to fly. I am slowly getting there. The public outing of personalities whom had hurt and damaged many people has helped. No more dark spaces in which to hide. Suddenly, there is light.

My Daughter and the Encounter at the Park

A new park was created around the corner from our home last year, and my daughter couldn’t wait to explore once it opened. An avid climber, it had a viewing post from a pirate ship, flying fox and much more. She spent many a happy hour there with local kids, mostly girls. Friendships were formed, secrets told, and fun was had. Oh, to be a kid again! Just before her eleventh birthday, she came to me, and incredulously stated that a boy had asked her out, not once, but three times. He wanted her to be his girlfriend! She was astonished and said that she had no intention of being anyone’s girlfriend, but that she was happy to be his friend. At that, his buddies put the pressure on. “Why wont you go out with him? C’mon!” She ignored the wheedling and came home. The next day, one of this boy’s friends sidled up to her (he was 11), and said that she wasn’t a pretty nor sexy eleven year old, and how dare she turn down his pal. He waited for a reaction, hoping for tears, shame or even anger. My incredible daughter just shrugged, said she didn’t give a flying fig what he thought, and left him gob-smacked.

I was outraged when she relayed the reason why she doesn’t want to return to the park. She has many friends that are boys; good respectful young fellas, who wouldn’t dream of treating any girl in such a manner. It made this behaviour all the more shocking; neither she nor I had any prior experience with her being harassed. She asserted herself at the time, but these encounters made the park feel unsafe and she hasn’t returned. It has made me sad and incredibly angry. We are talking ten and eleven year old boys! Asking girls out, and if they are turned down, turning nasty. It sends shivers through my bones, the thought of their behaviour escalating as they get older. I had to talk to my daughter about harassment, and how boys and men behave at times. I hated that I had to talk to my girl, still so young, about the dangers out there, as close as her local park. I told her I had been through it, cat-called, harassed, and put down when I asserted myself. I explained that when people put you down, it’s because they have nothing inside to lift them up. Thus, they attempt to demean you. She understood, and we talked into the night. We came up with action plans and action steps if she ever encounters this again. Little girls should be able to climb to the apex of viewing towers, and zoom through the air on flying foxes unabated. She worries for her friends, the girls she used to meet at the park, some of whom may not be able to stand up to these boys as she did.  It is a conundrum she shouldn’t have to face at eleven. It is a conundrum she shouldn’t have to face ever.

#MeToo

I came across the following article about an exhibition of clothing that survivor’s of sexual assault wore the day of the crime. It seared itself into my psyche, and whilst I found it confronting, the biggest emotion I felt was rage; unadulterated rage. Anger that the public may require visual representations to even attempt to understand what the victim had endured.

Let me tell you a story… Once upon a time, there was a fourteen year old girl, living in Sydney during a typical Aussie summer. A grown man hovered, and she remarked to anyone who would listen that she found his attentions “creepy.” Upon discovering her alone one evening, he mentioned that if he were her, he would make sure that he wore jeans and a long top wherever she went, especially if he was around.  It was said as though it were a warning, and chilled her to the bone. It stuck in her brain, and she found herself wearing both jeans and long top as she prepared for a picnic, despite it being a heatwave. He wasn’t supposed to be coming, but at the last moment, hopped on the bus. Once they had reached their destination, the girl looked about, envious at other young women dressed in shorts and singlet tops, and angry she felt that she had to cover up in the extreme heat. The end result of the picnic was that she was raped. Her exhibit would be jeans and a long top, covered with dirt and sweat… My exhibit. Not only did the adults present not save me, neither did my choice of outfit.  Sexual violence is about power and control, not about what one is wearing. It never was. 

I have known many girls, whom at puberty, have felt uncomfortable with leering strangers and commentary from familiar people about their changing bodies, and have thus worn shapeless jumpers and cargo pants, even in the height of summer. It breaks my heart. It reminds me of  that time… When I see young people in shorts and singlets in hot weather, I rejoice. They are free, their skin able to cool itself, unencumbered. 

I have watched with dismay as the truth about Harvey Weinstein comes under not only a spotlight, but a search-light. The truth, at last! It can’t be hidden forever, no more than your dress can be blamed for a crime committed against you. I leave with the following from the sage Emma Thompson.

 

Old Magazines-A Time Capsule

I stopped in at The Bower, a darling little shop in Parramatta that sells everything from pre-loved tea sets to furniture. To my joy, I found magazines for 30 cents each, some dating back thirty years. It was extraordinary, the information on the pages. So much has changed regarding everything from medical advice to technology. Here is a quick run-down:

May 5, 1986

Six cigarette advertisements in one magazine! In Hollywood, Dudley Moore and Christopher Reeve were out on the town with their respective partners.  A feature on a lady who started a bread-making  business boasted that her success lay in using only high-gluten content flour! Porridge with dried apricots was apparently a popular breakfast! Peter Russell- Clarke was our most popular television food presenter, and featured in ads for Australian cheese.

Sanitary ads featured smiling women in pastel shorts, running and swimming. Laxatives (that could unblock a drain), were liberally put on show, and used as an adjunct to a healthy lifestyle, whether you needed them or not! Monstrous vacuums were the order of the day, as were video clubs. Send a cheque, and you would be the recipient of several family video-tapes in 28 days!

April 27th, 1987

Princess Diana was featured heavily, as was 46-year-old Raquel Welch. Shirley MacLaine’s Out on a Limb autobiography had recently aired as a mini-series in the US. In cutting-edge news, there was incredulous talk of laser surgery to improve eyesight. Could it be a reality?!

Retirement plans were aimed at those aged 55 years upwards, with no talk of working beyond that age. Shoulder pads are huge.

Elizabeth Taylor was 55, mineral water and oat bran were served at health retreats and cane furniture was in.

Glass brick windows afforded light and privacy, and Brandy Alexander pie (complete with marshmallows), was a popular dessert! OCD wasn’t then a known term, and what was coined as a germ phobia was usually treated with heavy medication. The strongest sunscreen at the time was factor 15+

 

 

 

 

Real Women

Sooo, I saw the above headline regarding Serena Williams last Sunday. I was so astonished that I doubted what I had just read. I had to read the quote a few times. I winced as though I had just been kicked in the gut. Surely, the media have grown up and are past such archaic statements? Apparently not! I am quite sure Ms Williams would recoil in horror if she saw her words twisted to make a point as to what constitutes being a real woman. I felt for women struggling with infertility when I saw the headline. I was one of those women. I look back on those years as the most achingly painful and lonely of my life. Opinions such as that above seared my soul, and made me doubt my worth on more than one occasion. When I came to the point of IVF being an absolute necessity, it was in some ways a relief. By then I had come to know myself. By then I knew that being a complete and functioning woman had nothing to do with fertility. It had to do with my biology, and the fact that I coped with constant agony courtesy of endometriosis. I was a woman because I had survived the un-survivable. I was a woman because I supported my sisters, both younger and older, providing counsel and comfort. I was a woman because I sought to rise to the status of survivor, and steer my destiny without interference. It would have been unfair to expect that a baby might gift me the label of woman. If anything, having a baby takes your autonomy for a time, and you need to grip on to retain your identity. Thousands of women read that headline, and winced last Sunday. Know that you are already a woman, and having a pregnancy neither heightens nor completes that status. It is time the media steered toward inclusivity and created less blanket statements which end in exclusion.

The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever!

My daughter and I and some dear friends went to Sydney Park last Saturday to pay homage to Kate Bush, whilst at the same time, denouncing domestic violence. I used to listen to Wuthering Heights as a young girl, living under the oppressive understanding that a violent and possessive man would be deciding when my life would end in the near future. I didn’t have to imagine him telling me that I was ‘going to lose the fight,’ nor have ‘bad dreams in the night.’ He told me routinely, and I indeed had bad dreams. I imagined coming back dressed in red, banging on the window, trying to get somebody (anybody), to hear me and welcome me in. Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned joining so many others, dressed in red, dancing to this song so many years later! It was a powerful remembrance of how far I have come, watching my little girl twirl by my side. St Peters has a special place in my heart. I was a young poet/artist when I lived there, selling my wares to the little shops up King St. I would take my little dog, Mitzi Winstopple to Sydney Park each evening, and dream of the future.

In preparation, I raided our fancy dress box and my daughter found a 50 cent gown that fitted her beautifully.

It was cathartic, and I felt cleansed. We wandered up King St to the Union Pub, where scores of other Cathy’s gathered. We bought felt hats for $10 at a bargain store, and I told my friend of my life in St Peters, and the sadness I felt at leaving. I came back not only to pay homage to Kate Bush, but to retrieve something I had left behind; myself.

The next day, I paid for my dance. I wept with the pain, but it was worth it. If there is a price to be paid, always make sure it’s worth it. Two days later, my spine is coming good. I can’t wait until next year!

 

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale, a series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, has just been released in Australia. Last night I streamed it, determined to watch only the first episode and have an early night. Of course, that didn’t happen. What ended up occurring was I watched all ten episodes. It was confronting and terrifying,  yet it somehow made my resolve stronger. As a survivor of sexual assault, physical violence and fundamentalist religion disguised as faith and obedience, I am acutely aware that the depiction isn’t a grim warning about what may happen. For survivors it is a remembrance of what has already been, and what we must guard against.

The order decreed in Gilead is the ultimate submission by women. Not having access to money and property nor control of their bodies. It is a world I don’t want to live in. It is a world I have lived in. Having scriptures spouted to suit whatever situation befalls, and to claim it as evidence that the perpetrator is in the right. Women and girls being told that they are here to be pleasing and pleasant, first and foremost. The exquisite rebellion encapsulated by reading, driving a car or etching words of encouragement for those who come after you in your cell.

I vowed that if I survived, I would fight for my daughter to not have to endure a speck of what myself and my contemporaries endured. I was fourteen when I uncovered that grown men were placing bets on who would obtain this child, far away from home. My mental fortitude kept me alive, even as they sought to destroy me, discarded as collateral damage in a war I knew nothing of. I hadn’t been taught the rules, so how could I be expected to play? We must arm our daughters with knowledge, fill their hearts with empathy and love, and make damned sure that no part of The HandMaid’s Tale is a part of their future. I know of too many incidents of women who are infertile sitting in far-right churches, and left crushed after it is announced that yes, it is indeed a fertile church, and one of its members is pregnant with her fifth child. Everybody applauding, amid laughter that God has rewarded this place with ripe fruit. The women who can’t have children or who are undergoing IVF feel as though a sword has pierced their soul upon such occasions. Worth is down to how fertile you are, and home-making lessons are offered and encouraged. The women are kept ‘accountable’ to each other. How exhausting and depressing. Freedom is found when you can be whomever you want in this world. It is not found in your dress, your submission, nor your fertility.