28 October 2018
My Story Part 16 Piercing through the heart of darkness
I experienced two weeks of the best and the worst of human nature and the best and worst of my own nature in the most intense physical and spiritual journey of my life. Having slowly graduated to my earthly reality I found myself once again confronted with my demons. Had my pilgrimage lifted the veils of darkness that overwhelmed me, or the pain and frustration of failed expectations in my life and relationships? I found myself feeling closer to Shafiq in some way. I looked at myself more closely than I had before. I felt a calmness but also heard the murmur of my discontent in the background, humming and awakening more with each passing day.
As the daily pressures of my life continued, I felt my anxiety mounting. I had to get to the source of my discontent. My children were growing. From time to time I would feel my frustration growing with them. I felt like I bore the lion’s share of responsibility in my family. I was always sorting everyone’s life out. I was the fixer in my own life and in everyone else’s life around me. Yet I felt the pressure of this self-imposed obligation. I felt the weight of the world bearing down on me. I almost blamed Shafiq and felt a hidden resentment brought on by my own martyrdom. I felt like a victim, like everyone “took me for granted”, but judged me as the supreme bitch. I felt like no-one knew how I really cared about the well-being of everyone. I felt like ‘they’ (the world – everyone, including my own family) judged me and disliked me and didn’t appreciate me. This is what I thought about myself and projected onto the world. All the while, I was trying to control everything and everyone, and convincing myself that I was helping everyone. I felt like a caged animal. I constantly felt like no-one understood me. I would sometimes feel sorry for myself and feel the urge to run away from everyone, but I knew that I would not have the courage to do that. In my moments of extreme pressure, I’d feel anger welling up inside me and I’d explode at my children and Shafiq, sometime to the point where my screaming matches with Shafiq increased, leaving us all feeling torn and desperate. My trip to Mecca seemed to have intensified everything, as if to bring it to a boiling point. I had prayed for answers and felt forsaken as I felt myself spinning further into the vortex of my emotional turmoil. My Haj had not lifted the veils so much as pierced through them to reach the heart of darkness that tarnished my soul.
My family would sometimes walk on egg-shells around me hoping I don’t get triggered. It took me some time to realise that while I perceived myself as a victim, I behaved more like a bully. I cry in shame just recalling the trauma I put my family through. I wasn’t always the ogre, but the memory of those times overshadowed the good ones. I remember praying on the planes of Arafah for God to help me and my husband. For a long time, my prayer was that he helps me ‘against’ what I saw as the cold distance of my husband. It’s hard for me to revisit my selfish state of mind where I felt hemmed in by my own life because of failed expectations of feeling appreciated, loved and acknowledged as good enough by my husband, my mom, my children, who themselves were not capable of understanding their own emotions and who were looking to me for love and appreciation rather than the other way around. I kept on feeling like Shafiq didn’t love me. The truth was that I didn’t love me, and I convinced myself that no-one else did. I felt like my little kids needed me more than they loved me.
I loved my children with an iron fist. The dubious joy of motherhood has taken me to the heights of pleasure and pride to the recesses of my deepest fears. What is it about our children that brings out the most extreme reactions and emotions? Why is it that in the relationship with our children, we generally tend to want better than what we want for ourselves? Most of us cannot honestly say that we wish that for any other human being. We can perhaps want others to be happy and may even want them to have what we have (if we are generous of heart), but rarely do we want other people to have more than we have. Yet with our children, there is no limit to the good wishes we have for them. In fact, we make some of our biggest sacrifices to ensure that they have the best of what we can give them. We want them to excel at everything. Is it because we see them as an extension of ourselves? Do we see them as the chance to succeed where we failed? They may share 50% of our DNA but does that mean that they are half an extension of ourselves? Or can it be that they are no extension at all. They are complete souls that have come through us and share of our DNA but are not a part of us. Khalil Gibran summed it up in the first verse of his poem “On Children”
“Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself
They come through but not from you
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you”
I learned this the hard way. I was so overwhelmed by the gigantic responsibility of being a mother that I monitored and controlled everything my children did since they were born. I believe in the importance of boundaries for small children, but I fear my boundaries may have more closely resembled fortresses. I wanted them to be perfect and not flawed like I was, I wanted them to be well adjusted and happy, successful, productive and the list goes on and on. I was affectionate and loving, but my command-control style as a mom often came across as bullying sometime subtly and at other times overtly. I recall giving them endless lectures about studying hard to make a good living and supporting their own families one day. Yet when my sons each at different stages started questioning the system and the value of the current education system, I became exasperated because even though I agreed with them, I felt duty-bound to push them into the sausage machine, because I could see no viable alternative. I became frantic about their future and what they were going to do for a living and the more I panicked, the more pressure I placed on them. Although my oldest son’s aptitude tests showed a penchant for engineering he fought me when I urged him in that direction. My second son who gets straight A’s in math, performs mundanely in anything that requires rote learning, is utterly bored and disengaged at school. My daughter whose head is in the clouds and spends her free time drawing and daydreaming, is not at all like me, and although I was relieved at her lack of intensity and her calm subtlety, I was still worried that she had problems at school. I paid a small fortune for tests and assessments for all my children to ensure that I was not missing anything. They felt as if I was measuring their worth by their performances at school. Even when my kids did well at school or anything else, I didn’t announce to family and friends any of their achievements and even less did I announce their failings. I refused to let the family and friends place any pressure on my children or me. It never occurred to me that I was placing sufficient pressure on them for everybody. I felt like their failings were my own and their successes in some way were attributable to me. I was, to my chagrin, worried about what people would say, and wanted to shield my children and myself from criticism or gossip or envy. But I was shielding myself from my own fears and failures
At least to my credit I did not expect them to excel at sports even though I was a sports fanatic when I was at school. None of them showed any interest in sports. My oldest was on the A-team for water polo when he entered high school, but he despised water polo partly because he suffered with asthma and partly because it was a tough and demanding sport. I pressured him in the beginning and then let go, realizing that he needed to do what he felt good about, rather than what I felt good about. It reminded me of when my swimming coach in my teens came to beg my mother to make me return to swimming because of my potential, when I really hated the rigours of training and swimming galas. I let go, despite my secret wishes for him to be an excellent water polo player.
I was not so giving with everything else, and now…. I was imploding. As a wife and mother, I was failing. Something had to give. My oldest son, was becoming a broody introvert, questioning everything and silently resenting my iron fist. His younger brother, who was always an introvert is a quiet rebellious genius, who knew several computer languages at the age 13 but now 16, still struggles to comply with a system of learning that is thrust upon him. I had to send my daughter to a private school as she struggled to pay attention in big classes and I had a hysterical breakdown with her teacher at the public school she attended because all my efforts to make interventions had failed. My self-loathing was inextricably linked to my need to control. My need to always be right and to convince myself that I had the moral high-ground. If this were so true, why did I still feel, like I was missing something?
I attended many self-motivational courses, visited doctors, therapists, Imams and energy healers, exploring the spectrum of professionals from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary searching for answers. I always returned in tears to God sometimes feeling close to Him and at others feeling abandoned. I knew in my heart that lessons of perseverance and patience of which I was in short supply, was a key part of my endurance test in this stretch of my journey. I resisted the temptation of trading with my Creator, as more useless pursuit I have yet to encounter. Everything I needed was there, I was just not reaching it, perhaps because I was looking in the wrong direction or perhaps I was missing the obvious clues, like a science experiment in progress. The laws of nature need discovery not invention. They are the trick of the mind’s eye, which decides its readiness to receive the magnitude of such greatness. Patience and wisdom are its vehicles and faith and His message its fuel.
The butterfly in the cocoon that I saw in Mecca was fighting to break out. I felt like I needed a catalyst for my transformation. I felt like it was there but just out of my reach. I continued to search. I was almost there…
Find out more next time, God-willing
With love and perseverance, Radia💜