I remember the psychiatrist I was seeing once asking me, “Who said life has to be a struggle?” And I didn’t have an answer. It seems that I’ve been struggling all of my life.
When I think about it, being conceived is a struggle. I mean it takes a lot for a sperm to travel all the way up to the egg and then it has to struggle to break through into the genetic matter inside the egg. That’s one hell of a struggle. And then the fertilized egg has to travel down the Fallopian tube to the uterus and then it has to successfully implant itself in the wall of the uterus. Again, another struggle. And then the embryo has to survive for nine months before it is born. More struggle. And let’s not forget about being born. That is a struggle. Trying to make it through an opening which is not designed to be big enough for the human head. Both mother and baby trying to accomplish the same thing. Both straining to get it done. And then you have to start breathing. That first cry of intake of air to inflate your lungs.
In my case, I also had to additional struggle of surviving the actions of a crazy woman who made my mother’s life hell. I mean, who should have to go to bed at night fearful for her wellbeing? Who should be worried about what her mother-in-law might do to her? I do know that my grandmother hit my mother hard in the stomach when she was carrying me. Was her intention to cause my mother to abort me? I don’t know. Somehow, I think it was. Grandma was a nutcase!
I was the youngest of three. Born to a very dysfunctional family. My father worked way too hard. It had defined his life from the time he was 18. He didn’t like confrontation. He wanted everything to be simple. He wanted his mother and his wife to get along. Not going to happen. His mother had had him to herself for 33 years. Then he got married. My mother tried to make his home life what he wanted. His mother had other ideas. He didn’t believe that his mother could be carrying out a planned guerrilla war against his wife. He thought his wife was just being emotional and irrational and demanding. When he finally found out that his wife had been telling him the truth about his mother’s behaviour, he moved his mother out of the house but then expected his wife to look after his mother’s needs – taxiing her to the bank and the grocery store and buying her clothes when she needed them. And he expected it. He never did it.
I don’t know what his definition of ‘love’ or his expectations of being married were but I never felt that he loved my mother or that he unconditionally loved me or my sisters. My mother seemed to be grateful for his attention. Her self-esteem was in the dumper. She thought she wasn’t pretty, or attractive. She thought that since she had not been able to finish high school she was not smart. She, I think, never really felt worthy.
And then there were my sisters as I remember them when I was growing up. My oldest sister was afraid. She lived in fear of being hurt, of being abandoned. She tried so hard to please. She struggled to fit in and to be acceptable. She was told that she had a learning disability which was not diagnosed because they didn’t do that in the educational system at the time. Really, she just learned differently than the educational system was willing to accommodate. So, she thought she was stupid. She struggled to do well in school. She strove very hard to be exactly what was expected — the ‘good’ little girl. She became hyper-vigilant and watchful. And., because she wanted security and regularity and predictability, that affected how she responded to the events and people in her world Anything that did not fit in to her world view or which threatened to upset her world was wrong. It had to be controlled or changed or, if all else failed, removed.
And then there was my middle sister. Her birth was a struggle because she was a breach birth. She was born in a time of, I think, reasonable stability in my parent’s relationship. She didn’t have to face any learning issues. She seemed to fit in easily – the social chameleon. She could fit in easily in any situation. She was my family’s ‘Richard Cory’ because underneath that skin of confidence, was someone who was also watchful, someone who was also hyper-vigilant, someone who also struggled to fit in and to be what was expected. In her case, she was able to adjust to fit the expectations of the group or the situation. Need to be witty? She could be that. Need to be charming? She could be that. Need to be funny? She could be that. Need to be mature? She could be that. Need to be pretty and attractive to boys? She would work hard to do that. Whatever was required so that she could fit in and feel accepted, she would do.
And then there was me.
My oldest sister was conceived right after my parents married. I know that my mom wanted to start a family. She always said that initially she wanted to have six children. My oldest sister was also a reason for my mother being demobbed from the army. The middle sister was conceived about one year after my oldest sister was born. I don’t think things had really started to deteriorate for my mother then. She was still trying to make a home and have the security of her own space at the time. But after the middle daughter was born, my mother decided that she didn’t want to have six children.
By the time, I was conceived I know [because she told me so] that my mother was seriously thinking about leaving my father. She was scared and felt alone and felt that my father didn’t believe her. But there was the worry about where she would go with two young children if she left. Her father, my grandfather, would not have taken her in. I think she might have been thinking about going to my aunt for help. I know that her sister would have helped her without question. But then my mom found out she was expecting me. Now she had to look after a four year old and a two year old and my father and her mother-in-law and the house all while expecting another child., She had to deal with the egregious behaviour of my grandmother who was trying to gas-light her. She, I think, just started to feel lost and alone and afraid all the time. And her pregnancy was not easy. By the time I was delivered, my mother was so very tired and, I think, worn out both physically and emotionally. I believe that my mother’s body chemistry of fear and watchfulness and worry about bringing another child into her life situation passed itself on to me in her womb. I was born knowing that I was not unquestioningly wanted.
I was a very demanding baby, I know. I was fussy and fractious. It turned out that my mother’s milk, while plentiful, was not nourishing me and so I had to be put on formula, an unexpected expense. And mom felt like a failure because her milk was lacking – read, according to her mother-in-law, she was lacking. And my mom was tired and she had no one to support or to help her. So there she was with a four year old, a two year old, a newborn, a crazy woman living upstairs and a remote husband. And the more she needed help, the less support there was. Dad really was absent to her.
As I grew up, it seemed to me that I was always having to fight to be acknowledged. While I know that it was impossible to ignore my presence since I was loud and boisterous and argumentative and physically imposing [to say the least], I always felt like I was being ignored or excluded. I always felt that I had to fight for my place in the family – for my right to be acknowledged and to be part of the group.
This led to two paths which I followed as I grew up. Since I knew that my father privileged intelligence and I was very smart, I made sure that I was an excellent student. It also helped that school was the one place in my life where I felt safe. I still felt excluded by the other kids in class. I was the last one picked for any team and I was rarely invited to birthday parties and that hurt but I told myself that it didn’t really matter. Learning was easy and fun and I usually had really good teachers so that more than made up for recess. Home was definitely not a safe place to be. I never knew what to expect when I got home. I didn’t know what mood my father would be in. That unpredictability and lack of consistency made home really unsafe. At home, I spent a lot of time outside sitting on the front porch reading or playing with my friends. Or I spent time parked in front of the TV or up in my room reading. As I write this, it strikes me that, while I didn’t want to feel ignored or left out or excluded, I set things up so that is exactly what happened. I think I told myself that, rather than wait for acceptance and being included, I would do the rejecting. Then I was in control of my social situation.
It feels to me that I’ve lived most of my life being watchful and hyper-vigilant. I’ve tried to monitor the reactions of other people to me. I’ve tried to be acceptable. I’ve tried to make my work better than anyone else’s. I’ve worked hard to meet what I’ve believed to be are the expectations of others. I’ve tried, for the most part, to live my life without letting the internal rage I’ve felt erupt. It’s very tiring living a life based on fear of rejection yet that’s what I’ve really done. That fear has been at the root of just about every decision I’ve ever made. That includes taking on jobs or tasks when I’ve been asked for no other reason than feeling that my being asked was an indication that I mattered and that I was included and that I was wanted.
In the last year, finally, I’ve begun to truly know that I AM a Godforce. I am conscious that all I need to do is to be true to the person I know I am and to speak my truth out loud. When I’ve been asked who I am, I’ve always responded with what I knew or felt I was not – I was not selfish, demanding, anti-social and on and on. But I understand now that the universe does not process a negative so the more I said what I was not, the more I was exactly that.;
I have never declared out loud, without anger, the truth of who I have always known myself to be. So here is my declaration:
I am Jean Winter. I was named after my mother and I wear that name proudly. I am a bright, funny, caring, person. I am loyal. I have the ability to hear beyond the words people say to me. I don’t carry preconceived notions of what anyone can do or of what’s possible for them. I hold everyone as able to live their own lives. I do not know what is best for anyone but me. I believe in the spirit of the law not the letter of the law. I love learning. I’m curious about life and want to know and understand. I have a really nutbar sense of humour and a great laugh. I am very artistic – I love colour and line and design. I cannot imagine my life without music in it. I am a very sensual and spiritual person. In that sensuality and spirituality, I am able to bring forth new ideas, create new thoughts, and bring out the best in myself and others. I intend to live my life large and to choose those things which light up my day. I owe myself my life choices. I hold great respect, integrity and generosity of spirit for myself. I am my own best friend.
As I re-read this today, I am struck by one fact. It is that, I also a conscious woman awake to her own potential. I also declare, here, that I will always respect myself and the truth I know. There is only that which is important. Everything else is so much persiflage.