Mother’s Rainbow Dream
I hope to live long enough without the cancer returning to transcribe and publish all my mother’s homesteading journals as well as her California diaries written before we moved to Alaska.
For now I would like to share this entry, written after we had been on the homestead for nearly a year. I apologize for not being able to place this entry in the fuller context of what she was writing about her life at this time, but this can at least be my first introduction to you of my mother.
March 29th, 1960
Last nite I had a horrible nightmare and one the nite before. I hadn’t dreamed for ages but since being so tired it seems as if all my worries and fears connected with the homestead have been coming thru.
Sun. nite I dreampt [sic] (we had planned to go down to store etc. Sat. and didn’t buy groceries – and I really had to make meals out of nothing all week-end).
I dreampt that an Italian family (?) moved in with us. She was a great cook and the odors would waft thru the house – we all lived in the same house but cooked meals separately.)
This 1 nite I went in to the kitchen and there were big salmon steaks (not our favorite dish in real life but looked delectable in my dream) and an enormous dish of fresh asparagus – yum – I’m starved for fresh vegetables) and new fresh boiled potatoes covered with parsley – and I gave everyone a heaping plate – then I had to confess to her that I’d taken it and put it all back and opened a can of asparagus, a can of salmon and a can of potatoes (I’ve never even used canned salmon and potatoes)
Then I had another dream on the same nite – The whole family was out walking and suddenly we looked up to see a dark rainbow appear – then it got bright and behind it a skyline appeared outlining massive dormed buildings such as I’ve never seen and skyscraper bldgs – then it all disappeared and a big wind came.
We realized it was a hurricane. We could hardly stand up against the wind. We saw big apt bldgs on the sides of the streets but the entrances faced another street and we were on the wrong side. The wind grew stronger – finally a door appeared and we went in the bldg and the person asked us what was wrong? We told her of the great wind but as we pointed outside – all was silent and the wind was gone … and I awoke.
I am noticing the difference in the way I feel between approaching my mother’s child writings and approaching this example of her adult writing. Somehow inside myself I can feel compassion and sorrow for her when she was a child. Dealing with her adult writing almost creates her physical presence around me, even though she is dead. I can feel a knot of fear in my gut, and sense her shadow over not only my house but over this entire little town I live in.
- Partly this experience makes clear to me a basic difference between the maltreatment my mother experienced as a child and the maltreatment she did to me.
As a child I suspect that although she did not get her needs met adequately at least some part of her knew she had rights. There is a profound paradox and irony here. Sometimes the same people who loved her as a child at other times hated her. This form of conditional love, of ambiguity and inconsistency on the one hand gave her at least the suspicion that she had the right to be loved, and gave her hope for love. On the other hand their behavior also gave her the ideas that if she could just be a good enough child and make her own badness go away, then these same people that hated her would love her. In the anguish of her own unmet needs she was teased, tortured and tricked into believing that the entire fault was hers.
My mother experienced betrayal trauma through these kinds of devastating interactions with her caregivers. I strongly believe that in addition to all the other traumas my mother experienced as a child that sexual abuse was somewhere in the mix though nobody knows for sure. It’s not hard to have suspicions about who in her life might have been involved, including her brother, uncle, grandfather, father, even female relatives are not free of suspicion. I do know that by the time she turned 11 the major damage had already been done.
My situation was completely different. Nobody ever betrayed me. My mother hated who I was to her from before the first breath I ever took. She never loved me or pretended to love me. I was her evil child, the devil’s child. She hated me and loved my siblings. No ambiguity, no inconsistency, no making be believe I had any rights, no chance that I could control anything. There were no cracks for illusions to seep into my world. There were no maybes, no “what ifs.” No hot and cold, no right for me because I was wrong – constantly, continually, fundamentally, essentially always wrong. I was the personification of wrongness and nothing I ever did was right. Pretty dang clear!
As strange as it may seem, when I talk about needing goodness to balance out the bad and the ugly in childhood, the particular clarity that was given to me from my birth, that very consistency was actually a good thing. True, the terrible abuse that accompanied my mother’s beliefs about me was beyond traumatic, beyond wrong, beyond harmful. But I was never disillusioned. I was never teased, tricked or betrayed.
My child mind was never given a problem to solve with the solution withheld. I WAS the problem. Well, that was pretty centered! There was nothing misleading about my place in the world. There was no mystery. I was told that I was trouble from the moment I was born. I was told that my mother wished I had never been born, that she cursed the day I was born, that I was the cause of all the problems between my mother and father, that I was more trouble than all the other children put together. I was told that everything that was wrong in our family was my fault. Nobody ever told me anything different.
“To be or not to be, that is the question.” I had nothing to question. I KNEW I was evil. It was a fact. It was true, I did not have to believe it. Hope did not exist, so I had nothing to hope for. I had never known anything different so I had nothing to be angry about. I didn’t have to understand anything. I didn’t have to try to change anything. All I had to do was breath, suffer, and grow up. My world was straight forward, uncomplicated, direct and simple. Linda was evil and deserved more punishment than what she got. She never had rights to anything else.
My punishment never ended from the time I took my first breath in my mother’s world to the time 18 years later when I left it. There were various sorts of pauses along the way, so I could go to school. But her hatred and rejection of me as an inhuman evil being never faded or faltered. I knew where I stood, and that was nowhere. I could not earn my way into her good favor. I could not plead on my own behalf. I could not defend or protect myself. I could not control her. I could change nothing. I endured but I did not break. In reality Linda as a self barely existed at all, not present enough for my mother to toy with. She never had that satisfaction.
Perhaps if my mother had been cleverer in the beginning she could have broken me. Her pervasive overwhelming abuse of me meant that any time the little person that was the actual individual Linda ever so much as peeked her face out where my mother could see me, her reaction was so severe and convincing that I retreated into hiding and she was blind to me. With the exception of a few times I could count on one hand in my older childhood that I attempted to be present in my body, I had vanished from existence by the time I was four during what I call The Toilet Bowl Incident. I didn’t know at the time that I was watching myself leave, but when I go back now and look into that memory I can see when it happened.
What that gave me was a lifetime of dissociation, but not one of violence. There was no way for me to fight her so I simply retreated, vanished and went into hiding. I only came out when I was alone on occasion to play some simple game, or to be with my pet rabbit or to be with the mountain. But I was left alone out of my mother’s sight so seldom that my individual self never became anyone important to me. I never wondered about her or missed her.
But neither did she ever take on a separate life of her own. She gave me no trouble, must have been quiet and still and must have taken easily to her invisibility. She existed in a timeless place and did not either wonder or wander. It is another good thing that to my salvation I never lost touch with her. I thank the homestead for that. Although she never changed and never grew up, she was always there on the mountain, even any time I had to go outside to the outhouse. I suppose a bit like passing little secret messages in the hallway when you briefly brushed past someone that you cared about. Not that we ever exchanged affection. It wasn’t anything like that. It’s just that I never lost her until I left Alaska when I was 18 and joined the Navy. But all that is another long story.
Maybe in her own way my mother felt the same thing that I did on the mountain. I know she loved it. Maybe when she was out walking the slopes she met her own true self there the same way I met mine. As my sister, Cindy, pointed out to me last night in our telephone conversation, maybe having the homestead kept my mother from killing me, from killing all of us. Maybe it kept her as sane as she could possibly have been – and believe me, that wasn’t very sane! But maybe without the mountain things would have been a whole lot worse than they were. We will never, fortunately, know.
But I do believe that as we learn more about what leads to the differences between what I call the endurance phenotype (me) and the survival phenotype (my mother) we will find that when a child develops from birth in an environment of neglect, maltreatment and trauma, the differences in the degrees of consistency that a child experiences in its most important relationships has a powerful influence on how the genes related to these phenotypes are affected.
I also know that in my life, by the time we homesteaded when I was 7, my relationship with both Alaska and the mountain were both powerful beneficial factors in the context of my life. I was attached to them both.
This tells me that just as a young child can become attached to a toy or a blanket, humans have the ability to form meaningful attachments within their environments that do not always involve humans. Attachments work through our opioid system and make us feel good. They operationalize our oxytocin system. Pets fit in here. All relationships that involve a sense of comfort, soothing, security, safety, dependability and consistency are helpful allies on the side of good, and are desperately needed for the traumatized child to balance good against the bad and the ugly.
Unmet attachment needs create an unbearable pain in our opioid based attachment system. Unmet needs hurt. Terribly. It is natural for us to feel these effects of withdrawal. We are supposed to be engaged in our world, engaged most importantly with one another. In my case, I did find nonhuman ways to meet some of my attachment needs, but except for my distant relationship with my siblings (my mother controlled those relationships), I never bonded with humans. That wasn’t natural. That wasn’t good for me.
My attachment system was on a starvation diet where my mother-child’s was operating on a pattern of feast or famine. Because she must have been fed with attachments sometimes and under some conditions the affections that fed her were seriously withheld. During the times her caregivers left her starving she knew what she was missing and I think that made her hurt too damn much.
In fact, that is the pain that broke her. So it was not only the inconsistency that got to her, but besides the sporadic nature of the way her attachment system was made to operate her caregivers had created an appetite within her for attachment and gave her a hunger and a craving for affection that I never felt. Nobody ever loved me so I had nothing to miss, nothing to long for, nothing to grieve for, nothing to try for or fight for or control for.
I longed for and grieved for the homestead with great sadness when I was removed far from it, but the mountains never hurt me. Mine was a far different kind of attachment than what my mother-child had with her humans. I was numb where she had a blazing inferno.
Another very important point has to do with what experts say are the four main human systems that motivate our behavior: attachment, caregiving, sexuality and competition. The activation and operation of all these systems are deeply rooted in our body and rely heavily on hormones and brain chemicals that are themselves instructed by our genetic mechanisms. I most easily understand the relationships between these systems in terms of the gas pedal, the brake, the clutch and gear shifting.
Infants are amazingly adept at soliciting their caregiver’s attention. All these interactions are operating through our opioid feel good, feel bad, empty and full system. Only as a child progresses through its developmental stages normally does caring for another’s feelings through empathy and an understanding of the self in relation to other people who also have a self and a mind come into play after age 18 months. By that time the right emotional brain has finished its main development and the left brain cerebral cortex gets its turn to grow with a corresponding development of language abilities.
As a child learns to care about other people its own caregiving system will begin to develop. The basic motivational system of competition requires a different gear than does caregiving. They don’t operate well at the same time unless the competition is about providing for offspring. In a confusing environment of inconsistent need-meeting, children can learn early that there are ways they can manipulate their caregivers to get what they want and need.
This striving can involve aggression which is an activation of the fight instinct that develops active coping abilities. Obviously something went terribly wrong in my mother’s case. I believe her final survival phenotype, with its corresponding brain operational and hormonal changes, became a deviation far from normal that tied into the “kill your offspring the world is a horrible place” genes. I also know that the amount of hatred that she projected onto me was massive, more than she could bear to keep within the confines of her own psyche. In that way her aggression toward me had nothing to do with me. It was all about killing off the ugliness within her so she could become free to be loved. Twisted and impossible, but her brain did not work right. No borderline’s brain works right.
We must also consider that sexual abuse of all kinds prematurely activates and contaminates a child’s sexual motivation system. I suspect my mother was sexually abused. I have no memory nor do my siblings have any memories of sexual abuse occurring in my own childhood family. There are many books written about the subject of sexual abuse, so let me just say here that in adult romantic relationships, the attachment, caregiving, and sexual systems naturally operate in balance with one another. If one of the partners, however, has an history during early developmental stages of severe abuse, neglect and maltreatment the chances of that person being able to form a healthy secure attachment is minimal. (recommend Siegel’s book on parenting)
Natural selection includes the process of siblings fighting for sustenance particularly in times of scarcity. Once triggered by early childhood adverse experiences, this competition system can become extremely destructive. I believe that my mother learned early to fight for her needs, either in competition with her brother or just in competition “period” for what she needed from her caregivers. Besides attempts to control, she no doubt also tried caregiving in the form of placating and trying to please her adults. But while both these two systems are themselves in competition with one another, her natural need to attach first and foremost, was sent into chaos. If she was sexually abused, that means all four behavioral motivation systems were in unbalanced action.