Rage against the (Mummy) Machine

Tuesday 23rd October 2007

I don’t know where these roars come from but I know that when they finally escape me, when I let them – just for a moment – take me over, I experience both the relief and release of expression and the mortification that swiftly follows, that I am capable of producing such sounds. Such wounded, angry sounds.

Yesterday, in a moment of frustration and anger due to innumerable little upsets that all collided in a moment of stress, a roar sprang forth with such ferocity that I felt that an entire years worth of rage had spewed out with it. All of these struggles I have had with mothering, with coping, with being a loving and intelligent parent, came rushing to the surface in that one, single scream. It was as if I had been buried alive, suffocating in the dark and suddenly there was a glimmer of light. My rage rushed towards that light and exploded out of me. There was both tremendous release and shame. Thankfully I was alone.

Today I was not alone. I guess there was still a crack of light and my frustration elbowed its way towards it like a bogan in the January sales. My daughter, who was tired and frustrated with me, was engaging in the usual pushing, elbowing, whinging, crying struggle that inevitably ensues before she falls asleep in my arms and she kept on pushing her hands against my throat and hitting me in the throat as her arms flailed around. Now I was tired too – having spent all day with her, swimming and then trying to get her to sleep in her pram while I went for a walk and a talk with a friend. By the time I got home (via some grocery shopping) I was absolutely knackered and had to feed us both, bath her and get her to bed. Anyway, there she was overtired and crying and struggling and there I was trying to breathe deeply and not give in to the rising tide of anger and frustration that was building in me. Suddenly, she leaned up (elbow in my throat) and then half pushed up using my boob as leverage, which bloody hurt. I shouted at her and knocked her arm away from my boob and she, understandably, burst into tears. I tried to soothe her and cuddled her into my body but more struggling ensued and more elbowing and thrashing and slapping and banging of my body with bits of hers and suddenly I could stand no more. I ROARED like a wounded animal and consequently frightened her – just for a moment. She started wailing and I immediately felt hideous. I picked her up and cuddled her and told her I was sorry. I kissed her little head and apologised again and again.

As I was comforting her and feeling horribly ashamed of yet another outburst, I said to her, “It’s alright Lily, you are safe with mummy. Mummy would never, ever hurt you.” And promptly burst into tears. And I mean I wailed. That sentence generated more tears in that 20 or so minutes than I have cried in the last few years. Every time I said it to her, “You are safe with Mummy,” more tears came and more tears came. Something inside of me gave and there it was, this exposed nerve which was being washed clean with a torrent of tears. I allowed myself to cry and Lily cried with me. She watched me crying with compassion and some confusion. She put her hand on my face as if to try to understand why her mummy looked like that. It’s something she would have never seen before. I’ve cried before but never like that. Never wailed like a child in front of my own child. I hope to God I haven’t traumatised her for life. Eventually, I calmed down enough to put her on the booby and help her to sleep – all the while these tears silently rained down on her little head. Once she was asleep, I got back into bed and lay breathing deeply and trying not to think but to feel. I placed my hand on my heart and another on my belly and breathed deeply and slowly and allowed memories and thoughts to rise as they would. When I got off track and thought about dinner and the hubble and any number of other things, I gently refocused my mind and allowed myself to drop into my body.

I don’t really understand exactly what happened and I suspect that the point is not to analyse it and label it but to just let the experience live in me. To get out of the way long enough to let it do its job. To let it heal and cleanse that dark corner of my psyche and move on. So many things rose to the surface but only briefly and without any order. I realised that that sentence, “You are safe with mummy.” Was the trigger and I wondered why. It was connected to my childhood without a doubt and I thought that it was something that my mother had probably never said to me or ever shown me during my first four difficult years of childhood. I have never felt safe. Not ever. Hypervigilance does not leave room for peace. It seeks out dangers in the dark – real and imagined – and tries to prepare for the inevitable blows that will come. That’s the way it’s been for my whole life. I have, even unconsciously, had my radar honed in on any danger and been working continuously to avoid it or transmute it. No wonder I feel tired all the time. That’s a full time job for my nervous system. A recipe for an anxious and neurotic person, which is what I fear I am becoming. Particularly in my mothering.

I have so few memories of the first few years of my life but the one’s I do have are pretty ghastly. They are pretty much all memories of my father’s brutality and the dreadful tension we lived with constantly, waiting for him to explode. They each glared for a moment in my conscious mind while I breathed and allowed them to be there. I thought over and over again about what that sentence meant to me. My mother is a wonderful mother to the point of martyrdom. Once free of that awful situation, she gave me wonderful mothering with the exception of her tendency to smother and try to control me or push me to ‘achieve’. However, overall I have nothing but good memories of my mum and I knew I was loved. Yet here it was – this feeling that she had never made me feel safe. Never once told me that it would be alright, that she would never let anything happen to me. Consequently, I soldiered through my childhood believing that I was in danger. And on some level, that danger came not just from my father or from the outside world, it also came from her. Her inability to protect all of us during our childhood has left scars in us all. Some of those scars are worse than others but we each bear them. I never once felt safe as I was growing up. I still don’t and I guess what I needed more than anything, what any child needs more than anything, is a sense of safety with its parents. That never came for me. My parents were the biggest danger in my life. They were a danger to themselves, to each other and by default they were a danger to us. To me.

So where do I go from here? How do I start to undo these knots of anger, fear and, on the odd occasion, pure rage? How do I start to find safety for myself and for my child? Where do I look? Presumably the same place you look for every answer. Inside of me. It is humbling how much work there is still do on myself before I can even begin to approach the kind of parent I want to become. I hate that Lily, who is without doubt a trigger for some of these revelations, has to witness my anger and my rage no matter how rarely it happens. I hate that for her to facilitate my healing she has to be the conduit through which I reach the understanding. She is my little guru and I want more than anything to protect and nurture her. Above all, I want her to know that she is safe. With me. With her daddy and, most importantly, in the world. Never has that seemed more important than it does right now. Perhaps in helping Lily to feel that safety, I will be working towards healing those issues in myself. I just hope that I can do it more gently in the future.

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