This week we were asked to describe our earliest memories, our homes and families, and who was the core love, the centre of our childhoods.
Some people among the group had moved many times and had to choose which home to describe, others had lived out their childhoods in the same place. Those people who described happy, stable childhoods seemed to feel – now that they were adults – no less self-conflicted than those who’d been denied that experience. Many people in the group said that their mothers had been the love-centres of their lives, and for several that is still true; even for a young man who had recently married.
I am one of those in the group who experienced parental abandonment; though my own experience was a “temporary” one, of which I have no conscious memory. Though some group members still have both their parents, some had lost one during childhood, through death or – worse – a parent who left the family. It was interesting to see how we subconsciously repeat the patterns of our formative years later in life (something I am well aware of having done in my own life; having perceived this through the gift of hindsight).
Hearing one person’s story of paternal abandonment and the issues this raised, especially in relation to their own child, I found it challenging to dispense with my judgement of them. I was impressed with the group counsellor as she reflected the participant’s feelings – without any judgement – and engaged them in role-play. It reminded me that the object of counselling is not to point out that the person being counselled is doing something “wrong.” The counsellor’s role is primarily to listen and reflect the counselee’s feelings back to them. This incident gave me great insight into my own failings in this regard, and I am determined to overcome my judgmentalism; not just learn to keep quiet, but to eradicate that aspect of my personality.
I shared my own earliest memory of being ubbahed (tied onto her back with a blanket) by Koko Betty, my Basotho nanny. I remember looking over her shoulder as she opened our pale blue, wrought-iron, driveway gate. There was a dog, Springbok (the escapee), an aggressive local brak, that she had to shoo away from the gate, which she did by miming stone-throwing.
Betty’s room always felt like the safest place for me at home; it’s comforting, specific, perfume was a blend of the fragrance of hard, green Sunlight soap-cakes and her salty body-scent, mingled with the smell of Cobra stoep-polish, paraffin, and old leather. When I was about three, both my parent were arrested for their “subversive” political activities and one morning we woke up with no parents around at all: Thank heavens for Koko Betty! I also revealed a later memory; that, from the age of eight until I was fourteen, I would attend a weekly session with a lady at Tara. I must be insane if as I thought I was going as an out-patient to a lunatic asylum every week. By the time these sessions stopped I was entrenched in a pattern of describing my fantasy social-life to the bemused, racist, therapist. It was a pretence that I fitted in amongst my peers, an indicator of my desire to belong.
One of Mom’s periods of incarceration included solitary confinement (a form of “passive” torture through isolation, which is emotionally deeply damaging). At some point after this Mom was advised that she and I should see a counsellor together but Mom refused to attend after the therapist, asked Mom why she was not afraid that my father’s black driver would molest me during the drive from my school to Tara. So the counselling by this racist woman continued, without Mom. By then I had already realised that most people were probably just as crazy as me, and was working out that the people who are most unbalanced are those who have never engaged in self-examination.
When, after I’d talked about these memories, the counsellor asked me who my centre is now, the answer was “I am.” I can really rely on myself; I know, love and trust myself. And I really look after myself.