Belief and Secrecy

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you are right. (Henry Ford)

Belief is so very, very important and so very, very under-estimated by many. Whether it be belief in oneself or belief in another guiding light, I cannot over-estimate the importance of belief in something.

I was brought up without any religious foundations. My parents were unable to marry within the Catholic Church through no fault of either of their own.  My mother married a widower nearly 20 years after the death of my father and I remember her absolute joy in the fact that she was now married in the eyes of the church. I felt this ironic from someone who had never discussed religion at all throughout my childhood. In that moment, I understood that mum had suppressed a need for this ‘guiding light’ in her life and had just got on with it. But given the opportunity, after 40 years of estrangement, she took it with open arms. Her words, “I am now married in the eyes of the church” resonated with me for a long time and I believed that she had thought her life as a part of our family was second rate. I further felt that by not having faith myself, I was missing out on something that was very important but had no idea how to find that faith myself..

I remember, at times in my life, meeting people who in my perception, exuded perfect peace. These were exceptional people who took the world in their stride and believed in an overall plan. These were generally people with very strong religious backgrounds.  Having said that, some of the saddest, most disillusioned people I have met have been those who have felt abandoned by their faith. My mother’s family, cousins and aunts that I feel close to, still have strong religious affiliations and in some ways I envy them that faith. I always felt that I might possibly find peace by embracing belief. In my case, the faith I am most drawn to is Buddhism. I have read quite widely on it but never taken any serious steps to pursue it.

Don’t get me wrong, I was brought up in a generous and loving family. My parents were both reserved and had a strong belief in the importance of the stiff upper lip. I remember on several occasions as an adolescent or young adult when I was upset, mum would say to me, “Don’t let your father see you crying like that.” There was never the hug or the talk it through approach that I and most of my contemporaries took with our children.  My parent’s generation was very focussed, if not on coping, at the very least appearing to cope.  I fully accept, at least have since accepting awesome, that my parents did the very best job that they could for my brother and I but if there was just a little openness neither my brother A, nor I would have been left wondering to the extent that we were.

Dad died from leukaemia six weeks before my brother’s wedding in 1980, several months after my 21st birthday. Dad and I had been close, sharing an interest in community service, a love of fishing and being on the water and I held him in very high esteem.  A few years after dad died, I found out through my brother that dad had been married previously to his marriage to mum. It was something that played significantly on my mind over the years exacerbated by mum’s refusal to talk about it. I have to stress again that my parents were good people, very good people.  Mum indicated that dad would not tell us because we might want to talk about it, might want to ask questions or might tell others about it. I remember dramatizing this in my mind. At one time I believed that maybe A and I were not full brother and sister, that we were not our mother’s children, that we had unacknowledged half siblings, that mum had been the cause of the breakdown of dad’s first marriage….. I would then dwell deeply on what else we didn’t know. A short time ago, I did some searching on ancestry websites and now believe that there were no skeletons. I accept that if there are skeletons, they may rattle into existence in my future but I neither anticipate nor dread their arrival and I certainly do not give them permission to occupy my present space or thought processes. There are a couple of other similar stories that I could relay but I think the picture is pretty clear from that one example. I don’t feel anything about this anymore, no resentment and no sense of wondering. It is just a part of the past.

I would always had said that my childhood was blessed. I had loving parents, everything I wanted or needed but I became consumed by whether I was not remembering something, whether my childhood was really unimaginably bad and I just didn’t remember it.

I remember mum telling me after I had grown up that as a small child I had been diagnosed with cardiac problems and that for the first few years of my life I was treated like an invalid or at the very least someone who was ‘delicate’.  It was only, at the time I started school, moved house and to a new doctor that my parents were told to treat me as a normal person. And they did. I have wondered whether this early treatment was the reason why I was painfully shy as a child and whether this contributed to the reason why I remember very little of my early childhood.

I remember really odd things: throwing away an ice-cream that my grandfather had bought for me, I think because I wanted a different flavour, when I was about 3 years old. Now I don’t remember whether I was reprimanded for this, I just remember that I told my mother that I remembered it (as a young adult) and mum said that pop would have been very upset about that. I remember agonizing over upsetting someone who had long since passed away and possibly didn’t ever know I had wronged him. I could not see that I was putting my adult values onto my childhood self and wondering why I could not meet the standard.

As I read and write this, it sounds so ridiculous but certainly for me, the crux of my depression was very flawed thought processes. There were a number of other things from my childhood or adolescence that I looked back with deep regret and had no idea how to leave behind (mostly all of similar significance to the ice-cream incident). There were no major decisions or events that could be considered life changing, no violent crimes, no hidden babies or anything else that might be kept as a deep family secret, definitely no skeletons. That is all in the past now and leaving this behind has been so very liberating and integral to my recovery.

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