I’ve been diving into a deep pool of nostalgia lately as quite the powerful (actually) catalyst to conducting a sort of life review across so many levels. Its turned up some incredibly powerful insights about myself and, in my “switched off” from thinking time, as-in when I dream or meditate, its as though I am now busily reconnecting and ironing out long-absent or badly distorted parts of myself from the sense of who “I Am” as they surface from the annuls of this personal history.
Some of the most powerful mechanisms for conducting this exercise which, by the way, didn’t begin as an “an exercise” but its as sure as anything turned into one, have been deep-diving the particular music I associate with various eras, re-reading old letters and diaries and also going through old photos and videos. I’ve talked about the music aspect before, in particular those playlists I’ve compiled (an ongoing project) to dance to as part of my daily routine and “feel good” exercises. I now have playlists put together for the first three decades of my life and they act like a soup seasoned with the very essence of who I was and what was “going on”, in those eras; in fact, a surprisingly nutritious dish that I now serve up for myself at times when I need them, not just when I’m dancing…though not quite so much that third decade, which is the noticeably spartan playlist so far (something which I find quite telling in its own right), but more on that in another post. I have no doubt that the marriage of these memory “soups” with dance is a therapy that is helping me to move some energy through my own memory banks and release, not to mention whip up, some life-affirming feelings whilst shifting any blockages though none of this started as a plan; it has just taken shape organically.
Lately, on a mission to clear out cupboards, I’ve also been trawling through old photos and scanning them in (or at least the better ones), throwing many out and boxing some of them up for my daughter, should she want them. I also dug out all those old video cam cassettes from my top shelf and, after an aborted attempt to transfer them myself, using software and leads that didn’t seem to want to play ball, I sent them all of to a professional who returned 28 cassettes that had been taking up copious amount of room…now transferred onto one single USB stick!
So, when these got returned to me on Monday, I held my nose and dived feet-first into the dark mire, hardly knowing what to expect but the effect was far more pleasant than my braced nerves had ever imagined (I’d put this task off for years, assuming it to be an abhorrent one).
I mentioned a few weeks ago (in my other blog, I think) that I had watched one of these videos on the actual camera it was found in, with the powerful effect of reminding me that I was a far more animated, “together” and hands-on parent than I had allowed myself to imagine across all the years of holding myself culpable for all the mess-up of my first marriage. These other tapes were a mystery as I no longer had the correct sized camera on which to play them back but, given they were from the very early months of parenthood, when all I tend to recall is a feeling of drowning in horribly distressing circumstances regarding the state of my marriage, I wasn’t particularly hopeful that I would enjoy them. Its true, my marriage was a flimsy excuse for a supportive relationship at that time and I was in dark despair in that portion of my life but I think I tend to tar all those times with what I have come to realise about all that in hindsight, more so than what I was consciously thinking about day and night at the time…bearing in mind that I was mostly preoccupied with my little daughter and all that entailed. I think, when we are more circumspect, we can really surprise ourselves with just how much we can actually cope with when we are “in” a situation and its the later analysis that can shock us rigid (take the horrors of childbirth, for example, which we do get through “at the time” even though, in hindsight, we wonder how we survived it).
As a result of tarring all those years with this “it was all bad” brush, I had, in effect, cut them off from my timeline, thinking this was OK for me to do, like deciding to sever a badly wounded limb and expecting myself to hobble around without it from now on, but now I realise my mistake. Now, I see the importance of having that limb reattached, in whatever shape it happened to be in, because…actually…it was stronger than I knew and is part of who I am today but it just needs reanimating!
Because the effect of “chopping off” this part of my past has been to leave a giant gaping fissure in my life, extending from mid twenties to, well, mid thirties and that’s really quite the chasm, one that I can’t help feeling has something to do with the state of my health ever since, so this is important for me to address.
For the first part of that decade, I don’t have video coverage but I do have the photos, albeit absent of me (apart from, quite literally, one or two) since my ex never pointed the camera at me…but those photos do serve to take me back, nonetheless, to the very memories I had been keeping at bay…of trips to Scotland and the lake District, getting our first dog, buying our first house, the occasional social gathering, birthdays and outings. And I think it’s something a lot of us tend to do, don’t we, after the divorce…thinking we have to rip up all the evidence of that entire era as though it never happened; but what, as in my case, the relationship lasted for 12 years? This is a time chunk I can’t afford to loose and I would rather make amends with it now than at the very end when I am facing my maker (far more useful to me this way too).
And, of course, I did have those two VHS videos of my first wedding just waiting for me to dive right into the era.
So, as a total afterthought, I sent off those to the video guy with all the mini cassettes and, of course, back they came on Monday with all the rest. And is it now telling that they were the first 2 that I sat down and watched from beginning to end, out of a choice of 28? Perhaps I just felt the need to establish the chronology in its correct linear format. That decision, after all, to marry came first, before the one to go ahead and “have a family”, as the phrase goes though, for a lot of years, it felt a bit lean to consider what I had as a “family” given it mostly felt like my daughter and I against the world (there is a telling segment in one of the videos where my daughter kept calling our dog “daddy” as her real one was never there). However, at the time of that wedding, I clearly envisioned having two children, ideally a girl and boy.
In fact, there is a segment in the video, a moment I remember (but couldn’t recall it being taped, I think one of the kids must have got hold of the camera…) of me talking to my lovely Aunty Margaret, who is long gone from this world, towards the end of the reception, in which, prompted by her, I describe what I envision…a move to a more rural “spot”, how many kids, all my aspirations for the future; I am so lit up, so on to something with my passion for this envisioned life path as I talk that its now fascinating to me to watch “her” (me) and wonder what happened to all that. When did things get so taken out of my hands with divorce and ill health? Is all that I can take from that the belief that life is shit and then you die? But then I have NEVER succumbed to that kind of thinking, even now, so how do I reconcile such optimism shining in my face that day, knowing that I began to crash just a couple of years later?
I can recall talking to Margaret on the phone, a surprise call she made to me (we never normally talked by phone; we wrote letters) after I announced to her I was getting a divorce and she brought up that conversation to me then: “You really knew what you wanted, Helen, with such optimism and such a powerful vision of the future…I had no doubt you would achieve it because you shared with such conviction, such enthusiasm in your voice, I was so impressed by you that day, everything looked bright…” Thankfully, she wasn’t saying she was less impressed with me that my marriage had failed so soon, but she was (I could tell) deeply disappointed for such vision having been “derailed” and wanted, fervently, for things to work out for me again. Impossible to miss all the sheer pathos hovering around as I recall all this and yet that doesn’t make it too painful for me to behold, although perhaps it did for a long time. What it does is remind me who I was in that video, talking so animatedly, and of the fact I am STILL that person not so very deep inside. Yes, life has its curve balls and can have its rough and ready way with us but these things, such as what animates us and our intrinsic passion, never go away and, in fact, often grow stronger, polishing-up all the more for all the friction that life doles out and this reminiscence has been one of the strongest exercises to come out of the videos (so far). I still identify with that person sat there in the gold dress (yes I wore a gold silk…with gold brocade and flashes of purple lining up the long back slit… self-designed, self-beaded with colourful glass droplets, beautifully crazy dress that only I would have come up with and that uniquely creative and confident person is still alive and well!) so I claim her back now, newly dusted off from life’s bumpy ride.
I was also struck my just how many people, first off, made all that effort to BE at my wedding, from far-flung places and busy lives. Whilst the marriage didn’t last, the feeling of deepest gratitude for that remains intact because they were here for me, not for “the marriage” per se and this in itself is important to sift out of time’s abrasive effect. My husband asked “what on earth do you want to want to watch those for? I can’t imagine anything worse than watching my first wedding play out, blow by blow!” but he was missing the point. I was revisiting the part of myself that was there on that day, having spent months putting my all into a meticulously planned event that was as quirky as it was a great party with a Beatles tribute band in attendence and, besides, these were all people that meant something to me and, in many cases, still do…that proviso being because quite a handful, some older but some not so old, are no longer alive and that was quite the sobering count-through. One woman, my mother’s best friend from years back, with whom I kept in touch for well over 20 years after my mother passed, only died recently, sad news I received in the post over Christmas from her husband. Simply taking in that she and he, and just so many others, came all that way “just for me” was a sobering realisation, perhaps more appreciated by the me that is 52 years old and knows how much upheaval is involved in travel and overnight stays, than the 30 year-old I was at the time. I found myself fervently hoping that I went around and individually welcomed and thanked every single person there, though I know all too well how carried away people get on “their big day”, how it all turns into quite the blur as to what you did and said and to whom…which is why video footage can be gruesome as well as nostalgic. Thankfully, I found mostly nostalgia!
I was also taken aback at just how many people there are friends that I have completely lost touch with or, at best, have infrequent and often only surface-deep catch-ups when we once ran much deeper; and if you had told me that about these people, at the time, I would have been astonished. This has been for a whole variety of reasons, of course, but one of the biggest, there is no doubt, is that I became just so isolated and “cut-off” from everything in the years of that marriage and the aftermath of divorce, leading straight into chronic illness. There is nothing quite like the effect of a personal disaster scene to act as a forcefield that keeps you out of all but the sturdiest social connections. Conversely, I see in those videos a handful of individuals that were to truly stand the test of time, one of whom I chat to almost every week, for which I am so grateful. Its a measure of that friendship’s resilience but also the fact we still recognise in each other worthy qualities that we each had way back when and sometimes this kind of mirroring effect can help to ground us in our sense of self and to hold steady through the tough times, as-in, when me see ourselves reflected back in the eyes of a resilient friendship it helps us to believe we have not lost our sense of self and that it endures and is worthy, whatever else unfolds.
Important also to take on board that not all friendships are meant to last forever; I prefer the analogy that we are often just ships passing on their otherwise diverse routes and that more ships will pass up head. Perhaps its the Asperger part of me but I tend to regard most people’s expectations of staying friends “forever” a little bit odd and rather limiting if some of those friendships are not suitable to be tied together as our lives evolve and unfold in new directions yet some people are still tied to these old, ill-fitting obligations. I prefer to hold to the vision, and I do, of other friendships up ahead that I have yet to even imagine but, as I said, I truly value those that have stayed the distance and feel so deeply “myself” in those as there is already the continuum in that history that has otherwise been missing in my thinking (as above) and there is often something special that occurs when you have been intimate for that long through thick and thin, so a mixture of both is my ideal. I would much rather have a few quality friends than enough for a sizeable wedding party but perhaps that is an inevitable reflection of the age I was then compared to now (for the record, when I remarried, we had just two friends, our two children and my husband’s parents there at the quiet country manor it was held at and it was, in its own way, perfect and very beautiful for its intimacy).
Moving on from those wedding videos into those taken when my daughter was born, yes, its hard to sense in my voice just how weary I was (seen also in my face of the handful of photos taken with me and my daughter over those first few months…I was parenting as though alone though people “saw me” as having a husband’s support, which is a dire combination) but then you could say this is typical of early parenthood. Also, in hindsight, I believe I had more than a touch of post natal depression, of course not helped by feeling emotionally abandoned, and bullied, by my husband (which I was). Yet, something interesting now is, I also see in his face a range of telling expressions, over and over again…and they tell me he was also in some sort of post-natal depression of his own; I guess this also happens to men too, if less reported about. Whilst I chirup on in the sing-song voice, doing what mothers do, in the rare footage when he was around (in which he appears as a somber faced, sunglasses and leather jacket wearing persona, mostly adopting the aloof demeanour of some sort of security guard in attendance or blankly ignoring us two from some ceiling-gazing position on the sofa) I now see a hardness and blankness that potentially belies an inner terror, a feeling of falling or of having taken the wrong turn in life. With the objectivity of over 20 years having passed, I can allow that he realised, almost instantly she was born, that he had made a terrible mistake becoming a parent and it left him feeling spun out of control, landed in the wrong life and with a sense of walls pushing in on him at every turn.
This isn’t to excuse him at all; after all, its not as though the decision was an accident, we had discussed and then planned it for years, but to say that he didn’t know the strength of his own unresolved trauma around his own abysmal childhood (which he had confided in me years before and around which, knowing both of his parents, I could well believe the scars he carried…he remained, very much, the little boy abandoned inside and now he had competition he couldn’t deal with for my attention). He went in to this “plan” blindly optimistic we could rewrite all that history, and also knowing it was what I wanted or I would have married someone else, but instead he clammed up and became hard…harder and aloof than I had ever known him…which confronted me with a choice, either me and my daughter or this marriage; and for the sake of (mostly) her at the time, I chose the former. Again, facing up to this and allowing the relief of accepting we have each had our pain load to carry has been cathartic this week, allowing a rivulet of healing to start leading where floods may later follow (easier to do now my daughter is all grown up).
The biggest gift of all, and I have hardly skimmed the surface, is that I have been introduced to the me that was the busy and animated, often funny and always so on the ball person pre all those years of chronic illness and this feels so timely. As I work so hard at reprogramming the glitch that has embedded as those health issues (courtesy of The Gupta Program…still going well) it feels important to have a sense of that person alive and well …and, yes, so animated…at my core. Somehow, after just an hour or so of footage, its as though I have got one of my wheels back into the train track of me and there is a sort-of course correction taking place at the subliminal level; its as though parts of me “are back” through enhanced familiarity of what that looks, sounds and feels like. I feel there must be an analogy I could use, something from biology or stem cell engineering but the reminder of how I thought, acted, moved, even span my high energy out of myself into a room in such a way that it engaged other people with my enthusiasm and creativity, yes my joie de vivre, all those years ago is influencing the me of now through direct contact with it, a sort of transference process, allowing “lost” parts of me to be brought back to life through this highly visual means (and, given I process in such a visual way, a typical autistic trait, I would say super-power, this part is important). Seeing through my own eyes, though my engagements (how did I spend my time, what sort of things did I make happen), through my highly animated feet and hands, through flashes of the colourful clothes I wore, is helping to reconnect me with aspects of me without the distortion that has been ill-health. I’m so grateful now for all the many times I decided to reach for that camera with one hand…tacitly, to record memories of my daughter but they appear to have also captured important memories of, as well as for, me.
And, oh, the love for my daughter that comes flooding over me when I reacquaint myself with her 1, 2, 3 and 4 year old self; how could I ever doubt that I was a good parent, allowing myself to think I didn’t do or love or protect or anything enough…I see now how much I loved then and feel how much, even more so, I love now and it is the most powerful incentive for being alive and well to feel this mother-daughter charge run through me as the biggest gift of my life bar none and to want to be here for her, with her, for many more years to come.
This is made all the more powerful, in a sense, from the fact I am the one holding the camera as I move around and talk, without seeing myself (as per real life) because boy do I talk. I now appreciate why my daughter is the highly animated consciousness she is if she was immersed in me giving my full attention to every nuance of parenting like I apparently did, with so much experiment and fun (there are scenes of entire rooms being turned into paint-by-feet experiments, for instance), so much pointing things out, prompting her to notice, asking what she thinks or feels about things, encouraging her to process in new ways, to think outside the box, question why, explore…and oh what a live wire child she was, always on the move, giggling, exploring, in to everything and so bursting full of affection, wanting to hug everything from strangers to every kind of creature we encountered from chicks to goats to snakes and lizards, all the same to her. And boy did we go to some places, so many farms and animal sanctuaries, trips to Cornwall and Devon with just me, her and Buster (my Rhodesian Ridgeback) crammed into my little blue Uno, riding welsh ponies up hills when she could barely get her legs over the saddle, sleep overs and B&Bs with our friends, a spontaneous trip to Venice with my friend and her son and, for her, dancing classes and local playgroups. If she was chock-full of energy and enthusiasm for life, I was apparently matching it inch for inch back then…in fact, we were (and are) a dynamo for each other and this reminds me what an absolute gift parenting has been for me. She is still the one person who can inspire me out of the very worst crashes to want to be full of vivre again in an instant and it is from that deep wanting to be fully alive that I have always found my bounce-back factor.
When I have looked back to those years I have tended to, most unfairly, recall the hard times when coping with the transition phase of the divorce and almost losing my house (it was precarious for a couple of years) forced me to office work and farming her out into the care of other people who sat her in front of the tv screen with the sugary snacks I had to keep telling them, repeatedly, not to give her (I had never felt such guilt as when she had to have four “baby teeth” removed under general anaesthetic in hospital because of sweets doled out by a minder while I was working full-time). I’ve held onto memories of not coping with the juggle, of being snappish, of having those melt-down moments that all parents have at some point.
My mistake has been that I have tended to “make large” that relative blip of time, mostly overlapping when she was in school most of the day, compared to what was actually four solid years of me being the full hands-on, completely dedicated, highly attentive and responsible parent, making the full-time job of it from the day she born…I was, frankly, awesome…and re-owning this, reattaching it to myself, has been MASSIVE in terms of my sense of self, also my sense of “what I have achieved in this life” (women are conditioned to be so very poor at acknowledging their parenting achievements as amongst the most important things they could have spent their lives doing…). Its so very easy to look back and judge myself for not having had that successful “career” but what about this important work, ongoing but never more important than all that I put into it back then. That was when I put the solid foundation down, for both her and, yes, and for myself too as I settled down into learning the ropes of parenthood from scratch, having had very different precedent from the way I was parented and having no one else around me for support, guidance or even an extra pair of hands. On top of which, I now know about my Asperger’s as a light shone on why I simply didn’t relate to so many of the approaches to parenting I heard about from other mums in my postnatal circle…I just knew I had to invent my own way and trust in that and in my daughter’s ability to meet me half way, as she always did (she has since thanked me, profusely, for my unconventional parenting as it has made her into the self-assured individual she is today). In short, I did really bloody well!!
And now I own it. In fact, I own all of it, all of this, the whole history of my life, even the mistakes, and looking it all in the eye is such a big part of it rather than just giving lip service as before – “I’ve made peace with it all” – but really it was because I was averting my eyes, being selective, filtering out the harder bits.
Ironically, what I find is that “the harder bits” were not as hard, or should I say rewardless, as some of these more recent times have been struggling with my health; all the physical pain that feels manifest out of some previous, if more abstract, sense of struggle that came first. Again, I can’t help feeling that if only I can get over this sense of past hardship weighing me down like a concrete breeze block, all that can self-resolve too.
You could say, and some people do, that there’s no merit in winding back the clock to delve into our past histories but I would suggest that the more strongly a person shrugs this need off, the least comfortable they feel at the prospect…and, thus, perhaps they, above all people, would truly benefit from getting curious about why that is, why the big avoidance, the shrugging, the averted gaze?
These uncomfortable feelings left as residue in our energy bodies can haunt us, though we don’t yet know it (and perhaps never will make the association) as issues with our health, unresolved feelings that hover for years and years, as sore points or avoidances around certain topics that make us flinch, or as the various stuck patterns that play out in our present day life. We don’t need to do deep analysis, I’ve found, to get to the root of these since the subconscious will do most of the work for us when we start to explore but, in my case, just recognising that there was a closed door with a “do not enter” sign hung on it around some of this territory and, gently, prising it open to let in some light has been extremely powerful for me, already (and there’s more to come as I go further into these tapes and at least one more giant box of photos plus a load of albums).
I used to question the merit of video recorders and find them a bit “naff”, that is until I became a parent and now those tapes of my daughter’s unmistakable giggle, of those soft curvy arms and that tussled yellow-blond hair that I can almost touch and smell, are the priceless gift of all priceless gifts to me (they have now been backed up multiple times so I never lose them again!), there is medicine in every moment I spent with that little person, who can never be lost, since she is inside of my heart for as long as I breathe and her essence is still in the grownup person I speak to almost every day. I remember they once told me there was nothing like a mother’s love for her a child…I now realise I have spent 22 years unpacking the marvel of that discovery and am so grateful for the miracle of it, no regrets, no talk of hardship or juggling, no room to complain left in there any more and I know this year of enforced separation has driven the message home like never before. I am so thankful for the life path, with all its foibles, that showed me this unmatchable joy because not all parents seem to realise it.
Even if there are no tapes to be had, digging out old photos, old music, or just allowing the mind to go soft and to wander down long closed-off corridors can be a lead into this kind of “re-attachment to yourself” and “making whole” practice. Not so long ago, I surprised myself by “thinking myself” back into my childhood home during a spontaneous mediation and, impressed by all the fine details that came up (I’m sure these have increased lately on the back of the nostalgia exercises I’ve been doing, especially listening to certain songs, as they can transport me in an instant to particular moments in childhood…the radio on as my mother cleans the windows on a bright sunny day or the feeling of our sitting room on a chilly February morning when the fire had just been lit, etc) by taking a little wander around the house to see what else I could see. What I discovered was that I could walk from room to room as though I was wearing a virtual reality headset, it was in 3-D and had such incredible detail it was as though I was really back there.
So, I take in the wallpaper around the fireplace, the way the sunlight hit the yellowish curtains, see the paint scuff on the sitting room door, feel and almost smell the metal door handle as I turn it, feel the tread of the carpet in the hallway, notice the light through daffodils in a vase on the hall stand, the bumpy wallpaper, then turn to go up the stairs, past the little shelf that I used to climb on, around the corner and on tip toes to look out the window towards the main road with its buses going past, go into the bathroom with the “Wedgwood blue” bath fittings, see the curled wallpaper below the sink, the smell of the soap we used, reverse out and into my bedroom, the exact feel of the floor, how it had a raised patch in one corner near the boiler pipes, the number or paces between the bed and the chair, hear the creak of my wardrobe, the feel as the catch released, the musty smell of old wood inside and the “secret compartment” where I hid my diaries, run my finger along familiar books on the wooden bookshelves my dad built over the sealed-off fireplace, go into my parents room next door, always painted yellow, and bounce belly first on the creaky sprung bed, try to stand on it like jelly and feel through my legs how I always wobbled precariously as I did this, the very noise it made and jump back on the floor…you get the picture. It’s all intact, every nuance, stored up in there for life and we carry it around with us, whether we own it or not!
By owning it, we make ourselves more whole and we cease denying parts of ourselves, or indeed others we are irrevocably connected with. In fact, we soften towards them all, releasing the kind of tension that only every hurts us in the end, because we can see much more clearly why we are connected at the bigger scale, you could say in the bigger “plan” that led us to where we are now. These countless stories we carry are no longer splintered off from the idea of what we are prepared to accept as our truth because they are no longer seen as negating that truth. Instead, it is all “truth”, as in, it happened and so it must have been necessary to “make me who I am today”. That oh-so important person, the me of here and now, gets to feel the completeness of it all and this is then reclaimed as the source of so much sense of personal empowerment, replacing what came before it, which was most-likely a much more vague yet infinitely more dangerous sense of having been fatally wounded by life or of having “messed things up”. Yes, we can finally let ourselves off the hook and allow that things are perfect just as they are; which is more likely to show itself once we stop being in such a wrestle with what was. We might not be able to change all that…but we can change how we react to it!
Really, there are no messes just so long as we are comfortable with who we are at the core of all the incidentals than come and go and its so much easier to sense who that core person is when we allow the continuum of experiences that, for all it flips back and forth between “good times” and “bad”, always had this one thing in common…steady and unwavering…and that is who we are at the consciousness level, that part of us watching the show or, you could say, this is our essence. My own sense of essence has grown so much stronger and more resilient of late, even more so this week as I continue to open up this even-more visceral box of memories to explore. The array of feelings that have been jogged out of deep-freeze has been astonishing, I have watched aspects of me that I forgot I even had reanimate, almost without skipping a beat, including more youthful (which is a state of mind…) and optimistic, dynamic feelings stirring inside of me but most of all, if I had to label it, the most resounding feeling that has come out of it all has been love….love for everything and everyone I have ever had in my life, deep resounding love and gratitude for my daughter and, yes, deep love as-in appreciation and knowing and unconditional acceptance for myself, which is the most important ingredient of healing that there is.
JUST REALISED today is my 10 year anniversary of writing this blog! There could have been no more apt post than this one. And within 5 minutes of posting, the doorbell rang and beautiful flowers were delivered from my daughter for Mother’s Day…now that’s timing!