What an appalling set of stories. Each day it gets worse. Revelations of the abuse suffered by young women in Auckland over the last few years, and then further revelations of how their stories and complaints were ignored or dismissed by Police, have horrified many. For days media outlets kept referring to this as a ‘sex’ story, whereas in fact of course it was a story about rape and abuse.
One of the things that has changed my life the most is that I have learned to let go. But it is a lesson I started learning a long time ago. And possibly the most difficult thing we can learn.
When I was much younger, I was so full of rage and hate. Mostly directed at myself. Most of my childhood and youth was spent feeling terribly lonely and worthless. I really had nothing positive to cling to. So, I guess I clung to the hate and the pain. Every slight event took on huge proportions. Needlessly.
On the flipside, every kindness, every smile was taken to be a sign that someone loved me deeply. you can cue James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” here. While I really don’t like the song, I know exactly what he means.
I cannot exactly say why it changed. Hell, I can’t remember when it started to change. But there is one event that marked it quite clearly. I was still living with my mum, in my early to mid twenties. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I walked down to the bank to take out some money to pay her for board. It must have been about $120. Foolishly, the money was just folded up and put in my pocket.
I must’ve had my hand in the pocket and taken it out because all of a sudden the money started blowing down the street. Chasing after it, I was really amazed that other people were helping, but we weren’t quick enough to get it all. I must’ve lost just over half of it. I got home and calmly said to Mum “Oh, sorry, I’ve got to go back down and get some more money. I just lost most of it in the street”. She was flabbergasted. It was so unlike me. The me she knew at the time would have been raging. I think something just clicked in me, realising that there really was nothing I could do about it.
For many years, I still reacted badly to events in my life. Still had the rage. Maybe it was growing up (finally) or maybe it was some of the things I had to face. But things started to take on a different perspective. Starting on anti-depressants was probably a fairly big part of it too.
The next major thing was when I was told I had some brain tumours. The old me might have been apoplectic, but the new emergent me understood that, again, there was nothing I could do, and that I didn’t even know what if anything was wrong. I could only wait, and look at it analytically.
But these last few years of having my online life have been another big step. The chances I have had to reach out to others, to share my experiences, to share theirs. Real contact.
In fact, just the last year has been fairly major. I have written previously of a young friend I had been helping. Not long after I started trying to give her hope, she tweeted that she was going to end it all. I was beside myself. What can I do? She is just so damned far away! Did I do enough to help? What did I do wrong?? Well, it turned out that she was (thankfully) unsuccessful in her attempt. But more recently we discussed this issue and whether I would be disappointed if she took her life. I advised that I would never be disappointed. That I would miss her terribly, but I have to believe that I can only do what I can, and she has to make her decisions in life. And when another tweet came suggesting serious self harm, I was sad, but knew that (to put it bluntly) it is not my problem.
A course I was recently sent on by work put words to it. Detached empathy. To understand people. To feel (a shadow of) their pain, to reach out. But over all of that, to respect them enough to know they can make their own decisions. That you are not responsible for them.
And it was this last that helped the final piece of the puzzle slot into place. To finally understand that I can only do what I believe is right. To know with absolute certainty that I am a good person, making the best decisions I can, helping people as far as I can. And whatever anyone else decides…well, that is their call.
When my Mum died a while back, I actually felt no sorrow. I knew she was where she wanted to be. And with her death, some of the truths of what I have always known hit home. We hold onto things because we cannot handle the idea that we are not in control. That our actions have to mean something, or that we have certain expectations that must be fulfilled.
Grief, after all, is a selfish feeling. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Just that it is all about us, not them. We don’t feel grief that someone has died or left, we feel grief that we have lost them.
I’d like to leave you with this video. There are other versions of this song. Like John Barrowman’s dedication to past pets. But, being a Buffy fan, and because I adored Tara, this is the one for me. I warn you – you will cry. [edited to make the video embed properly)
Today, the me I am now, just feels SO good.
So I have told you about my mother. What I’d like to do now is go over the events of that day. Trigger warning for abusive behaviour. And if any of my family read this…absolutely no fucking apologies. Learn some fucking respect for others.
Let’s start with my family. I am the youngest of 4 boys. Eldest brother A is 8 years older than me. Next brother B is 6 years older, brother C is 3 years older. Brother A kinda took on the father figure because none of us had any connection to dad. Brother B led a troubled life. This was in part due to dad being overseas for the first 6 months of his life. Various other issues led him to being a serious drug addict and skinhead. His idea of a fun night out…well…you can imagine. Brother C was closest to me emotionally.
Nephew and niece (both brother A’s children) led a troubled life. Both battled drug addiction. Niece managed to escape when she found out she was pregnant and turned her life around. She managed to leave the father of her child – a man who was abusive. Nephew…well…he didn’t. A gang associate, who physically assaulted his partner on numerous occasions, tried to drag niece back into the bad life, and brought his gang associations into her life. But still she resisted.
I had taken the day off work and had planned to visit my mum because her condition was rapidly deteriorating. the phone rang at about 6:30am. Nobody ever rings us on our landline. Except for telemarketers and my mum. So when I climbed out of bed to answer it, we both knew what would follow.
Sure enough, brother C was on the line and said that Mum had passed away an hour earlier, and that maybe we want to come up to say Hi. Due to a late night, I was already shattered and not really in any state to drive to the rest home where she was. So I went back to bed. After a few hours sleep, my wife and I finally got up and had some breakfast before heading up.
When we arrived, the whanau was already assembled. The four boys, nephew, niece and her (new and utterly awesome) partner.
It was all very pleasant for a while. Well, as pleasant as you can expect given the circumstance. But then the conversation turned to what to do with Mum’s clothes. Niece considered giving them to Women’s Refuge. I strongly supported this, given the family history. Had Mum had the support of an organisation like Women’s Refuge when I was a baby, she would not have suffered half of what she did.
Brother A’s reaction was a bit of a shock. In retrospect, not in the least surprising. He vehemently opposed the idea. He stated that there was no way whatsoever that her clothes were going there, stating that the Refuge have destroyed more families than they have saved. I had to catch my darling wife’s eye and gently shook my head. As much as I wanted to take him on over this, it just wasn’t the right time or place. So we just let it go for the moment.
Shortly later, niece had to leave. Something told me she just needed to get away from all that shit.
Then conversation turned to various things. Brother A started telling work stories. These are stories that are apparently really important for us to hear, even though we’ve heard it hundreds of times before.
Now, the almost funny thing here is that all this was a very strong mirror of an event that happened many years earlier.
Anyway, his story involved someone who was a funeral director who started to embalm a body…one that started bleeding. Of course, dead bodies don’t bleed. This guy’s family was known to ours. It wasn’t the best of relationships. I went to school with the guy, and we sometimes got on OK, usually not.
This event understandably had a dramatic effect on the man. He attempted suicide more than once. I remember reading about it at the time. And for all the animosity that once existed between us, my heart went out to this guy.
THEN, as Brother A continued, his wife embezzled money from a lot of people. And this is where things got nasty.
There were a few things we apparently HAD to know.
- She was a volunteer firefighter
- As you would expect, there were pictures of naked women around the station
- She always changed into her “Level Ones” at the station while all the men changed into them at home.
Then he stated explaining, in a scoffing tone, about how she was talking about bringing a sexual harassment complaint against some of the other vollies. This brought some comments from those family members with a violent past. And present.
Then the comment that just astounded me. Remember, in the room is the body of a woman who grew up in an abusive family, lived with a psychologically abusive husband, a man whose daughter lived in an abusive relationship, and his son who is an abuser.
Brother K stated that he went around to this woman’s home and told her that if she proceeded with the complaint she would deeply regret it, her family would regret it, and that she would be best if she and her family just left town. Now.
I had no idea how to respond to that. All I could do was take the hand of my wife and leave, with some excuse of having to get some food. I knew the Mum’s funeral director would be coming shortly, but as we were told she would just be taken away, we saw no point in staying.
We had promised to take brother B home, and went back to pick him up after we had recovered, but he had already been taken home by brother C. At later meetings there were little jibes from brother A about how “we would have known this if we had been there to talk it over with the director”.
All I can say is that I am glad Mum has gone. Partly because she is free from all her pain, but because she does not have to witness this shit. And also that it means I no longer have any particular need to associate with those elements of my family that engage in this offensiveness.
This post has been a long time coming. Mind you, any post has been a long time coming.
I had written about my mum previously, but I wanted to dedicate a new post to her. She passed away on 18 July 2013. It wasn’t a particularly sad event because she had been wanting to die for some time. It honestly was a release for her.
Mum was born in 1933. In addition to the struggles (even here in New Zealand) of growing up during World War 2, she had an abusive father who was physically violent toward his wife and children. Then, when her sister got married, her brother-in-law was the same. But there was always something in her that refused to give in. She stood up to both men on more than one occasion.
She enjoyed her life despite this. Had a good job working for Bob Kerridge. Had a reasonable social life. But then things turned.
My mum had neurofibromatosis. It’s a condition that is normally inherited, but it can also occur spontaneously with a mutation on the 22nd chromosome. And she met my father. It is of note that she met him shortly after she came into an inheritance. I do not wish to dwell on him as this is dedicated to a very special, amazing woman, but suffice to say he was a man who claimed to abhor violence against women, but had no problem with psychological abuse.
Mum spent about 23 years in this relationship. God knows how, but she managed to produce 4 strong boys. But she constantly dreamed of running away. she often thought of suicide, but simply could not bear the thought of her children being raised by him. So she endured. For us. And for that, I can never be grateful enough.
Mum was a brilliant cook. As children, we were never left wanting. Whenever she did some baking, we were all encouraged to get involved. When she made a family pie, we would make our own mini pies. We watched. We learned. And we came to love food – eating and preparing.
We were often the envy of our classmates at school. Always having something amazing for lunch. I remember she used to make us “ice cream pies” which was basically jelly and ice cream mixed together to make a mousse put into a sweet short pastry crust.
She was an inspiration to us all.
But her marriage took its toll. She was a pack (or more) a day smoker – Matinee Menthol. And a very heavy drinker. I cannot remember a time as a child when there was not a flagon of sherry in the cupboard. I can’t remember how many she went through, but it was a lot. The neurofibromatosis was cruel to her as well. With fibrous lumps all over her body. Torso, limbs, face, head. She stopped work after marriage because that was what was expected of her. And she constantly had messages from her husband of how useless she was. Reinforced further by his incessant affairs.
By 1980, the tide had turned. It was time for them to split. Family home was sold, Dad moved into a hotel for a while before buying property in an affluent area, and mum got a small flat in central Lower Hutt and took care of two teenage boys with only the DPB to support them. But still, we never went without. Mum, on the other hand, had had a couple of heart attacks and was in rather poor health by this time.
One of the things that makes me the proudest is that, shortly after the split, she stopped drinking. All of a sudden there was no need. She was free to be who she wanted to be. Then, in 1985, the Lange government announced huge hikes on tobacco tax. She said “I’m blowed if I am going to let those buggers take my money” and decided to give up.
She did this by having a cigarette every hour, whether she wanted one or not. The every two hours. Then she would go longer if she didn’t feel like having one. One day, she went to the shops, and realised when her two hour allocation came around that she left her cigarettes at home. She never smoked again.
So here is this woman, oppressed all her life. Told how useless she is. And she gives up two of the most addictive substances on the planet without any help. From anyone. Least of all from two rowdy argumentative teenage boys. Even finding me having an epileptic seizure on the floor of my bedroom wasn’t enough to make her start smoking again. Nearly though.
The flat we lived in was upstairs. When we first moved in, she could not walk up the stairs without taking a break half way – she was just so short of breath. A year or so after giving up smoking, she was almost running up them. She walked everywhere, and was known to most of the shopkeepers for her lovely nature.
So finally, in her late fifties, she was starting to find herself again. It made me happy.
Then came the diagnosis of an aortic aneurysm. She was booked in to have it repaired. Went in to hospital, but discharged on the day of surgery because there were no ICU beds available for post-op care. This happened four times. Each time, her surgeon told her, she was getting closer and closer to death.
Fifth time, she went in. She was basically told that if she doesn’t have the surgery this time, the aneurysm will almost certainly burst before she can get back in. I had to say goodbye to my mother because at that time, as well as her being in hospital, my wife and I having to move house because we were evicted, I had to fly to Auckland to be with my wife because her mother was dying.
My mum surprised everybody – especially the medical staff – when she recovered so quickly. She was discharged from hospital a few days before she was expected. And this just led her from strength to strength.
A few years went by, and then she was diagnosed with another aneurysm. but around the same time, she has yet another vascular problem and a blood vessel supplying her right eye burst, blinding her in that eye.
She was getting older, and found that she wasn’t quite as able to cope with the stairs as she used to, so decided to put the flat on the market. Various real estate agents were involved, none of them terribly helpful. She ended up selling the flat privately and buying her new flat privately. Without anyone else assisting her. She would have been about 70.
This time around, she had her aortic aneurysm repair on the first attempt. She was discharged from ICU and taken off the spinal drain a day earlier than she should have. Within hours of arriving on the ward, she was complaining of various spinal/neurological problems and was rushed back to ICU. But by then the damage had been done. She was left partially paralysed, with a flaccid bowel and no bladder control.
After months at Burwood, where she continued to astound medical staff with her determination, then back to Hutt Hospital, she was discharged. Even in this new, more accessible flat, it was still unsuitable for her condition.
With thanks to ACC, in her new flat she was able to have the level of care she needed, and a ramp installed. Where she used to walk everywhere, she was now wheeling everywhere. But her condition deteriorated. She simply could not get the level of care she needed at home. And as a family we had to make the tough decision to move her to a rest home.
She hated it. She hated that she had lost everything she fought so hard for. She hated the indignity of having to have her nappies changed. She hated that she just couldn’t do anything any more. So she started sneakily stashing away her meds. And one day, took an overdose, leaving a note apologising to us all. It didn’t work.
I remember mum asking me once if I would be ashamed if she took her own life. I replied “Hell no!” I didn’t want her to die, but with what she had been through, if that was her decision, I would support it 100%.
She made do. She got on with what life was left to her, and kept up her interest in crosswords. Every time we visited her, she would say how she didn’t want to live anymore.
One of her last bright moments was her 80th birthday. I had organised a celebration at the rest home, inviting people she hadn’t seen in ages. It went better than I could have hoped. I so wanted her to hear the sort of things people only say at funerals.
She was nearly deaf by this stage, and couldn’t really hear all the wonderful things we were saying about her. Thankfully, her lovely niece explained it all to her afterwards.
Every time we visited, we would always end with a big group hug. My mum, my wife and me. Mum was pretty much the only member of my immediate family that really welcomed my wife and showed genuine love for her.
I really didn’t feel sad at her death. I had been preparing for it for years. I’ve said goodbye to her several times expecting it to be the last. The last time we saw her alive was a shock though. However much I was prepared for her death, the reality of her dying really hit me. She had developed pneumonia and a serious UTI about a week earlier. The person I visited was a frail, empty frame. Still with that beautiful loving soul inside, but the package it was in was obviously giving up.
I’m told she still fought to the end. Fought for every breath. That same indeterminable, even stubborn spirit not letting the bastards win.
At her funeral, I wanted to really pay tribute to her. So I talked about her overcoming her addiction, her health problems, and found her self. I talked about how her legacy, her lasting contribution to the world is the compassion and love she instilled in me. Her ability to really care for others. Her sense of self-sacrifice. Some of my friends – online and in real life – have commented on my compassionate nature. Every iota of it I owe to her.
A thought occurred to me the other day. And it has helped me process all of this. It was a realisation of how I felt. I genuinely felt like a proud parent seeing their child off on their big overseas adventure. We’ll meet up again when the time is right, but for now, she is where she wants to be.
Time to try and get back to blogging with a bit more seriousness. My return is inspired by the amazing work being done by Everyday Sexism on their website, Twitter account, and Facebook page.
They are doing something I tried to do a few years ago, but never really managed to progress it much. What I find interesting is that I wrote a blog post about this back then, and it has mysteriously been deleted. My Tumblr post about the same thing is still available though.
Facebook have a truly appalling attitude toward hate speech. They have said, in effect, that anything is acceptable so long as you ad “LOL JK” after it. Everything that is except pictures of breast-feeding mothers.
For years we have tried to get some of these horrendous sites taken down, without success. Facebook just are not interested. And the reason they aren’t interested is that they have no need to be interested. Facebook users are not important to them (given it is a free service) other than as a pool of customers for their advertisers.
When you use Facebook, an algorithm looks at what Facebook knows about you and presents advertisement – sponsored ads – on whatever page you are on. So if you visit one of these pages, and Facebook determines that you would love Dove products, a Dove ad will appear on a page encouraging rape. What Facebook DOES care about, and cares very much, is their income.
So, part of the solution is to target the advertisers, and convince them to withdraw their funds from Facebook. And for any reasonable company, this is very simple indeed. Who would want the branding of their product decided by another organisation. One that has proven time and again to have no social responsibility.
When some of these advertisers have been approached, their response has been “But we have no control over where our ads appear”. Beyond issues of fighting a culture of abuse, this is a very disturbing attitude. “We have no control over the placement of our branding and we are using this as a defence“. What company would go to a publisher – who publishes some nice books but also produces incredibly vile hate-filled or pornographic magazines – and says “place our ads wherever you like”?
So, why would we enlist such people in helping fight these Facebook horrors? The answer is a fundamental tenet of activism. Like it or not, the world runs on money. That’s where de facto power lies. So if you want to effect change, follow the money. Follow the trail of money to its source. So if Facebook won’t listen to users, they will damned well listen to the people who give them money.
Back in 2011 when I was actively doing this, I had one amazing response. I went to the website of the company whose sponsored ad appeared. Found an email address for the CEO and marketing GM. I emailed them a screencap of their product against images of rape. I received a very quick response saying they were immediately pulling all their Facebook advertising and reconsidering their social media marketing strategy.
This is what can happen. My approach at that time was one of concern for the company and product. Of course I wanted to effect change, but I was also concerned that a product and/or company I enjoy was being associated with such horrors. I could only do so much at that time, and did not have any real reach. But EverydaySexism are doing wonders. And I could not be happier about their success.
It takes a lot of spoons to do it. You have to deal with some pretty horrendous pages, some utterly vile views, and so much hatred. But if you can, it is a rewarding task.
TRIGGER WARNING: this contains discussion of rape, rape culture and rape apologism
The rape of a 16 year old girl in Steubenville, in the USA, has been a widely publicized case. However, it captured the attention of the world not because of the undoubtedly horrific crime that was committed but because of the town's initial response to it.
I won't recount the details of the rape here.
So often we are made to feel guilty or ashamed for grieving, or for feeling bad or depressed. We are expected to just smile and get on with things. After all, nobody likes a grumpy bum, do they?
We are expected to deal with our problems on other people’s timeframes. Put our sense of loss aside because other people have needs of us, or don’t want to be brought down. We’re expected to toughen up.
We are left feeling ashamed for not being happy. We feel guilty for being such a burden on everyone. And of course that just feeds into the vicious cycle.
Well, I call bullshit on all that.
If you are feeling depressed, if you are grieving for someone who has died, for a lost relationship, for anything, you have a right to deal with it on your own terms, in your own time.
My young French friend, my cyberkid, feels terrible that all the darkness she has been carrying has followed her on holiday. And this is a classic example of how it works. People expect her to just deal with it because so many people “have it worse”.
If you’re struggling, nobody has the right to expect you to recover in any way other than your choosing. Nobody gets to tell you that you are “taking too long”.
And certainly NOBODY has the right to make you feel that you are bad just because you are feeling bad. When we wander through the darkness, “bad” thoughts will come to us. For the most part these are normal manifestations of our turmoil. They are not to be feared. Ok maybe they are to be watched in case they develop into something more serious, but for the most part, we need to just let it flow.
We need to be supportive of our friends in need – including those we have not met. This means giving them space to deal with their shit on their terms. Of course we need to keep an eye on them in case they start engaging in harmful behaviour, but the most important thing is that we tell them we are there for them.
Just remember, it is your grief, your struggle. And it is up to you as to how long you need to recover from it.