Healing Deep Within: 1 — The Bogey Man

Healing Deep Within:

Recovering From the Wounds
of an Abusive Childhood

The family farm

In the following article, Marlene offers a poignant view of life inside the cocoon. It’s an intensely personal account of the traumatic, long-lasting effects of abuse upon a young child’s psyche. It’s also the story of how two transformative dreams brought a promise of healing, and the long, slow, ongoing assimilation of these dreams into the daily life of the dreamer.

Is it any wonder that, at 61 years of age, there are still times when I feel like a walking, ticking time-bomb, ready to explode? The home that my younger sister and brother and I grew up in, a small Wisconsin dairy farm, was seldom a nurturing one. As children, we experienced frequent physical beatings and verbal whippings, freely administered by an insecure, out-of-control mother.

The wounds to my body have long since healed. Hardly a scar remains. Yet the emotional damage, while crippling, has remained mostly hidden. For unlike physical scars, self-concept disfigurement is visible only to a public of one–me. Is it possible to heal the broken heart and splintered soul that came out of such an abusive environment? While there are no quick or easy answers to this question, the story I choose to share is one of both tragedy and hope.

The Bogeyman

Marlene With Her Younger Sister and Brother
Marlene With Her Younger Sister and Brother

The torture, unfortunately, didn’t always end with the beatings, nor was it confined to our bodies. As more punishment, we were sometimes put in the closet of the downstairs bedroom–the same bedroom in which I had been born.

When I heard the closet door being locked, absolute horror set in. Not only was it pitch black in there, but this is where the bogeyman lived, among all the winter clothes stored in moth balls. I knew that if I moved, one of those big coat sleeves would come alive, wrap itself around me, and strangle me alive. (To this day, the sight or smell of moth balls will instantly take me back to that closet.)

I called my sister the other night to wish her a happy 56th birthday. She, too, remembers the closet with the bogeyman. Both of us spoke of how horrified we were when mom would tell us to go down cellar and bring back some canned fruit for dessert. We knew that if the bogeyman didn’t reach through the open steps on the way down, he’d sure grab your ankle on the way back up.

We talked about the bedroom which we had shared growing up–how the tree shadows on the wall moved during a windy, full-moon night. Surely the bogeyman was on the prowl again! Even in the morning daylight, going to the closet to pick out our dresses for school that day was terrifying. Why? Because the shadows weren’t on the wall anymore. Which meant that the bogeyman must now be hiding behind our hanging clothes, just waiting to grab us.

So upstairs was definitely not a safe place to be. Yet we all slept there, for 18 years. I have no memory of any nice dreams during my childhood; only gruesome nightmares, night after night. But downstairs was not much better. It mattered not which room–bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining room, living room, front or back porch–all became torture chambers at one time or another.

There never seemed to be a “right” way of being or doing to please Leona. Whatever we put on our plates, for example, we were expected to eat. And if our eyes sometimes got bigger than our stomachs, we could never throw any left-over food in the garbage pail. “Just think about all the starving children in the world,” was the mantra.

If you didn’t eat everything on your plate, you were sent to bed now; any food that remained would become your next meal. Guaranteed. No questions asked. And if you still couldn’t gag it down, it showed up for the next meal. And the next. Until it was eaten.

I did finally win one small battle. Even though I grew up on a dairy farm, I couldn’t stand drinking a glass of plain white milk. Like the food on our plate, however, we were expected to drink all of it. Somehow. Well, one time I just couldn’t keep it down. No matter how hard I tried to swallow, that milk had a mind to come back up. And come back up it did–all over the kitchen table, all over the food, all over the floor. Never again was I asked to drink my milk!

My mother’s rage was easily triggered. My sister and brother and I could be playing a great game of Monopoly, or Sorry, or Parcheesi, or old maid, or dominos, or pickup sticks, or jacks. Somehow we’d get to quarreling. If mom couldn’t scream us into minding, out came the stick. And if we were really bad, the game would end up in the furnace. Yet we knew, through experience, that a new game would be under the next Christmas tree. (Somewhere, way down deep, she had a soft spot.)

Many times the three of us would fight over who got to stand on the heat register in the bathroom, or the one on the dining room wall. There were only two heat registers, and there were three of us. Outside it was thirty-five degrees below zero, the north wind was howling like a tornado, and we just wanted to get warm.

Scraps and fights ensued. Suddenly mom would have enough of our bickering and out would come the stick or the switch on all of us. Closet, here we come. But at least we would have each other to hang onto during out frightful sobs. Three together felt much safer than being with the bogeyman all alone.

Perhaps it was during my long hours in the closet that I learned to stuff my feelings. I discovered that my body, through some miracle of healing, would eventually cause all the raised, tender welts to disappear. But I didn’t have a clue, back then, about how to heal the deeper wounds, or deal with all those awful feelings. So in order to survive emotionally, I started to compartmentalize. I became a master “stuffer.”

Much later in life, when some of these buried feelings would start to come up, I would hear people say, “Oh, grow up.” Or, “Why don’t you get over it?” But this well-meaning advice only added another layer to the already thick layers of stuffed feelings–anger, resentment, rage, hate, fear, guilt, shame, crushing powerlessness, and a feeling of unworthiness for which the dictionary has no adequate words. There was never a time, growing up, when I was allowed to express my feelings. The rule was, “Just shut up!” And shut up I did.

I can also remember sitting in that dark closet, alone and terrified, trying to explain to God why I did what I did. I was as afraid of God as I was of mom, especially with Him writing down all my bad stuff in His big book. That really scared me!

I made more darn promises in that closet. I promised that I would do better next time. Whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it, however she wanted it, I’d do it–no questions asked. Like some programmed robot, I bought into all her beliefs and agendas and made them my own.

“One way or another,” I vowed, “I’ll prove my worthiness. With the help of God, I’ll try harder; I’ll work harder; I’ll work longer. Then they’ll love me.”

It wasn’t until years later, long after I’d become an adult, that I started to understand why I always ended up playing the all-too-familiar role of a workaholic people-pleaser.

Healing Deep Within: 2 — A Rainbow of Pain

A Rainbow of Pain

Marlene's family (Marlene on the left)
Marlene’s family (Marlene on the left)

For years I listened to my mother’s thunderous roars of wrath about how God gave her the three worst kids in the world. “And since you’re the oldest,” Leona would add threateningly, “you should know better.” If I tried to explain something, or raised a question, or made a comment, look out! Because that big strong hand of hers would slap so hard against your mouth that it would send your body hurtling across the room. Then, through my tears, I would hear her warning. “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!”

Always tell the truth, we were told. Honesty is the best policy. Don’t even think of telling a fib, or a little white lie, because that little lie will require you to tell a bigger lie to cover the first, and on and on and on, until–Wham! You find yourself flying across the room again, and then the 3/4″ stick is pounding against your flesh, creating the most unbelievable swollen welts of black, blue, purple, yellow, and red. A walking rainbow of pain.

On one occasion, my mother had dad’s belt in her hand. The flying belt buckle put a “rainbow” all around my right eye. Finally, with band-aids in place, I was taken off to a cousin’s birthday party. I was eleven at the time, and half the kids in my grade school were there. Believe me, mom made sure that I told all the kids why I looked the way I did. I had to tell the “truth,” no matter how embarrassing, how humiliating it was.

And if my story didn’t satisfy her version of the truth, then when we got home, the willow switch might come out. That sucker stung worse than bees and left lots of tiny “rainbows” all over–on my face, neck, arms, back, and legs. Their precise location on my body depended on whether I resisted and tried to get away, or just stood in one spot and took it. Eventually, the beating would end.

One time (and one time only) my mother’s fanatical obsession with “telling the truth” was stepped up a notch. Because of some supposed lie, I got my mouth washed out with home-made lye soap. My God, the fire jumped out of the wood cook-stove and started roaring and burning and eating my lips and tongue and gums and throat. Then it stuck between my teeth and became still more fuel for the fire.

But even then I somehow believed that mom must be right. I had done something wrong. Therefore I was bad. Therefore I deserved what I got. After all, wasn’t I one of the three worst kids in the world?!

After this ordeal with the lye soap, I knew that God was once again writing down one of my wrongs in His big book in the sky. I had to start telling the truth. I had to stop telling these lies. If I didn’t, God would have all the proof He needed and I would burn in hell for eternity, or be assigned to shovel coal to keep the hell-fire furnace going.

Eternity was unfathomable. How many years was eternity? And how large was the furnace that I’d be stoking for that eternity? I knew how large the furnace in our cellar was. It took five to ten huge chunks of wood at each filling to keep that big old farm house warm. I couldn’t imagine how big the furnace of hell must be.

Healing Deep Within: 3 — Reaching for Blackberries

Reaching for Blackberries

Ron & Marlene
Ron & Marlene

I went off to college in 1958, at the age of 18, filled with excitement and enthusiasm. Even though my mother gave the Dean of Women a fit, and some weekends at home were the usual hell, I was finally out of there. Free at last! (Or so I thought.)

My younger brother and sister, of course, still had to endure the abuse. After I left home, mom apparently changed her scare tactics. The two kids were put into my parents’ big closet in the upstairs bedroom. There were lots of clothes and shoes in there. And it was pitch black. Mom would tell them to sit still and shut up, because once that door was locked, for hours at a time, then the rats would come out. (I’m sure glad I missed that scenario!)

Then, on August 17th, 1959, my father died. Suddenly, hell took on a new meaning. Through my mother’s clouded eyes, it somehow became my fault that dad ran into that tree a mile from home. Shortly thereafter, she disowned me.

In 1961, I brought Ron home for a weekend visit and proudly announced that we were engaged to be married. My mother’s reaction was swift and brutal. Her screams of venomous anger, piercing me like freshly sharpened darts, lodged somewhere deep in my soul. “I’m telling you,” she yelled at my fiancé, “she’s not worth one god-damn red cent!”

And when she learned that our wedding was to be the following summer, on August 18th,, the roof went up and off again. “How could you? So close to daddy’s death date!” Disowned again. (It happened seven times over the years.)

She was there, of course, and had a ball!

I worked part-time jobs to pay my way through school. The fun and freedom of college were wonderful, and after graduation I taught high school for three years. Then I became an office secretary, doing what I had been teaching–typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, and office practice. I loved it!

Then, in July of 1969, Ron and I flew to Virginia Beach to attend a week-long retreat at the Edgar Cayce Foundation. Each day, during our walk to and from the Foundation, I would pause to pick some blackberries. Picking raspberries and blackberries in the woods at home had been a family tradition, and I loved crushing through the deep, thorny thickets in order to get the biggest and best berries.

A week after our return to Wisconsin, I had an intense dream.

“Deep Within”
(A dream from July, 1969)

I’m home on the farm, standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room. Ron is sitting in the dining room in a big chair. A couple comes onto the back porch from the woods.

They’ve been picking blackberries. Ron introduces them to me. The man tilts his pail to show us what’s in it.

“See,” he says, “that wasn’t so bad.”

“Well, where are all the berries?” I ask.

In the pail are different kinds of fruit–one red apple, one green apple, some reddish-green blackberries, and a few ripe blackberries, including one really big blackberry. I again ask where all the berries are.

“They’re just about done now,” he replies. “Pretty hard to find any more.”

Suddenly I’m in the woods, reaching into a large, thorny tangle of blackberries in order to show him. “There’s a lot of them,” I say, “if you look deep within.”

Instantly I wake up. A deep masculine voice is reverberating in my ears, over and over, like an accordion bellows going back and forth. “Deep within… Deep within… Deep within…”

I get out of bed and begin my day. But wherever I go, over the next couple of hours, in this room or that room, down in the basement or out in the yard, the same resonant voice keeps repeating, strong and clear, “Deep within… Deep within… Deep within…”

Two months later, following our dreams and some guidance from the Cayce readings, we packed up and moved to Virginia Beach. By 1971, we had purchased a small homestead sixty miles inland. It was the ideal size–2 1/4 acres. We had a dog, a few cats, some chickens and ducks, twelve Nubian goats, several bee hives, an orchard, and a huge organic flower and vegetable garden. In three or four years the place would be paid for. Then Ron and I could retire from our nine-to-five jobs to enjoy a life of peace and quiet and freedom in the country.

In late November of 1972, however, a phone call changed our life’s direction once again. An acquaintance from work, knowing of my typing skills, asked if I would be willing to transcribe some tape-recorded readings that were similar to those that had been given by Cayce. Intrigued, I said yes. One thing led to another and, to make a long story short, in the spring of 1974 we moved to the mountains of southwestern Virginia to help give birth to Light Morning community.

Now if you have a burning, “deep within” desire to learn more about who you really are, and you want to deal with all your issues and unresolved stuff, I would say, “Go for it! Join a community. Quick! Any community.” Believe me, you will find out tons and tons about yourself–if you are willing to look.

I wasn’t. In 1978, I left Light Morning. Yet I continued to meet “moms” all over the place! Wherever I went, there she was. Somehow I kept re-creating her, in one person or another. Seven years later I returned to Light Morning. But I was still without a clue as to why all this stuff kept happening to me, or how it tied into the deep woundings of my childhood.

Healing Deep Within: 4 — My Mother’s Casket

Early Light Morning: Joyce, Robert, Marlene, Ron
Early Light Morning: Joyce, Robert, Marlene, Ron

My Mother’s Casket

Like mother, like daughter. For ten years, my mom did not speak to my grandma. How could that be, I wondered. I never understood, until I stopped all communication with my mother during the last six years of her life. Why? Because no matter how hard I tried, I could never meet any of her expectations. At some point I just got sick and tired of scraping up the courage to call her on the phone one more time, only to have her hang up on me.

In mid-October of 1990, my brother called. Mom’s liver was full of cancer. “Soon it will be over and done with,” I thought. It was a busy season. I had six weeks to go on the craft-fair circuit, selling the baskets that I’d been weaving for the past five years. My brother said that the family back home had everything under control.

Early in the morning of December 8th, he called again. Mom was dying. Ron and I drove the 24 hours from Virginia to Wisconsin, straight to the nursing home. Leona was semi-conscious. At first, looking down at her, I was in disbelief. The strong work-horse of my childhood now lay there, literally gasping for one more breath.

Her gasping went on for six hours. Then it was over. She was gone. Mingled with my sense of relief that her suffering was over were feelings of sadness–a sadness for her, and for me, and maybe for what could have been.

While viewing my mother in her casket, however, before the service started, something happened. She seemed to have a slight smile on her face; a peaceful, calm, finally-at-rest feeling. She almost looked like a movie star.

To this day, I don’t know how to put it into words, other than to say that seeing her lying there in her coffin was the start of a L-O-N-G healing process. The healing continues at this very moment, for even as I write this I am crying–my first deep-within, sobbing cry since my mom’s passing eleven years ago.

Healing Deep Within: 5 — A River of Gold

A River of Gold

Marlene and Leona
Marlene and Leona

At my mother’s funeral, I talked with one of my uncles. He told me that Leona had been horribly abused growing up, thanks to grandma and grandpa swinging the leather horse straps and the logging chains on their eight children. I was stunned! Never before, in all my fifty years, had I heard this story. “Will this chain of abuse,” I wondered, “ever be broken?”

For the next two weeks, I sorted through all of mom’s “treasures on earth.” She had moved from the farm into town in 1965 and, except for the machinery and the cows, had brought everything with her. My God! Why had she saved this and that and everything in between? It was intense work physically, and even more so emotionally.

Ron and I returned home to Light Morning on Christmas Day, 1990. For another two weeks I dug through my own “treasures on earth.” None of them seemed to have any meaning any more. Fifteen 39-gallon bags of my “stuff” went to the dumpster. More would have gone if I hadn’t run out of trash bags.

For months afterwards I lived in a strange void, lost in a fog of questions and confusion. I recalled the endless “to-do” lists on the Wisconsin dairy farm where I spent the first 18 years of my life. From before the sun came up to well after sundown, we hardly did anything but work. And after all that toil, this is where we end up? In a casket?!

As one of the world’s best workaholics, “getting it all done” had been a piece of cake for me. Just tell me what to do, leave me at it, and consider it done. Keeping busy, busy, busy had always seemed safe, I guess, since the ceaseless, mind-numbing activity left me with neither time nor energy to even think about (let alone do anything about) my festering wounds and buried feelings.

Now, once again, the chronic absence of quiet time in my life at Light Morning was shielding me from getting in touch with any of my “masterfully” stuffed feelings. Instead, I was experiencing a lifetime of daily foreverness in the eternity of hell, venting my anger onto every person, place, and event. I was busy stoking my own hell-furnace, throwing in great chunks of “fire-wood” to keep it blazing.

“How dare anyone call this mess life?” I fumed. The time-bomb inside was ticking, ticking, ticking, around the clock. On three separate occasions I seriously considered suicide.

By November of 1993, nearly three years after my mother had died, I was living in a war zone. Part of me insisted on another big basket push for the holidays. Another part of me was just plain sick of this entire hobby-turned-business (or, shall I say, “busy-ness”). A fierce internal struggle was going on: “I should” versus “I don’t want to.”

Years before, I had come across Kahlil Gibran’s belief that, “work is love made manifest.” I had been moved by it at the time. Now, however, I found myself hating whatever my hands happened to be doing. Everything felt like work for work’s sake, and there was no love to be found anywhere.

Then one day all my inner, emotional turmoil manifested as outer, physical pain. Suddenly my left hand and arm and shoulder simply stopped working. For almost five months my arm just hung there, absolutely useless, with a deadening “bad toothache” sensation day in and day out. At last, all my frantic doings were done.

So I surrendered, moving into what seemed, at the time, like an eternity of reading and sleeping and dreaming. And into all my dreams came my mother. She didn’t die! She’s still in my face. I don’t want to look at her. I don’t want to be in the same room with her. How could she have done what she did to me?! How could she still be doing this to me?! There’s no place to run from her. No place to hide. Anger and hate and rage surge up between us.

Gradually, however, the dreams begin to soften a little. We acknowledge each other. We make eye contact. (Which I now recognize as a larger “I” contact). More softening comes. My mother and I are speaking briefly. The icy coldness starts to melt.

In hindsight, this long, enforced hibernation was such a blessing! By the following spring I was up and around again, my arm like new. Then, in May, came another transformative dream, as intense as the “Deep Within” dream had been twenty-five years earlier.

The Huge Healing Center
(A Dream From May, 1994)

I’m in a huge healing center, bigger than what my eyes see when I’m looking at the sky. At the entrance is a large gold-mining operation, next to a river, where all the gold dust falls. I’m chatting with a lot of old-timers from back home. Some of them I know; others are strangers. They all know mama and daddy.

Now I’m inside the healing center. The hallways are part of the river, and gold dust is floating on top, like lily pads on a pond. I walk down to a nurse’s station. Although I’m fully clothed, I never get wet. It’s neat!

In some places the water is only a few inches deep; in other places it’s up to my waist. And while I’m walking, I watch these golden “lily pads” pass right through me, always keeping their shape. Yet it doesn’t seem strange at all.

Then I come to the next nurse’s station. I ask for Leona, my mom. The old man in charge seems glad to see me. He says that her therapy will be done soon. We talk for a while. Then he says, “Here comes Leona now.”

I look a long way down this hall (or river) and there she is. I start walking towards her. She’s young and beautiful, like the prettiest movie star I’ve ever seen. She is wearing an awesome dark purple top, which seems to make her even more beautiful.

We are walking towards each other, both of us with open arms and smiles and excitement. Then I wake up–wham, back to this reality.

“Wow!” I thought, as I awoke. “What an awesome dream.” I remember closing my eyes, lying there in bed, wanting to return to the healing center. Wanting to feel that hug.

I have no recollection of ever dreaming of my mother again. I just know that she is alive; that she is healthy; that she is happy. A lot of healing has taken place–both for her and for me. I’m sure we shared that hug!

Healing Deep Within: 6 — Beautiful New Memories

Beautiful New Memories

Back-on-the-farm sweat shirt
Back-on-the-farm sweat shirt

My perspective on everything keeps changing, from moment to moment, especially after the events of September 11th (which, synchronistically, was my brother’s 53rd birthday). More of my “stuffed” layers continue to come to the surface. Just like that glass of milk, suddenly another layer is up and out and “onto the table,” so to speak. Then it’s time to clean up the mess.

I’ve stopped blaming my mother, for the most part, for what occurred during my childhood. The realization is slowly growing that, while I cannot change what happened in the past, I am the initiator of where I find myself–now.

One day I was writing in my journal about all the nasty crap that came between my mother and me. Somehow, though, it got turned around, and I wrote and wrote and wrote about the lovely, fun, positive qualities she had.

She was the best of the best in the kitchen, for example, from the main course to all sorts of cookies, cakes, pies, and puddings. (As I write this, I can almost taste her chicken-feet soup, with the wide egg noodles. Yum!)

The real fun was when she was on the sled, with one of us on top of her, hanging on for dear life, as we flew down the hill, between the two big elm trees, past the machine shed and the corn cribs and the pig shed, out into the open pasture, heading towards the creek. What a ride!

“Let’s do it again!” we’d plead.

And the fun we had as a family at the local roller skating rinks.

How come I wasn’t able to bring all these beautiful memories into focus for so many years? Why wasn’t I able to appreciate her? She was one smart, talented, caring, hard-working gal!

I’m still weaving baskets, nearly fifteen thousand of them to date. I ship them to shops in four states and am thankful for the dollars they bring in and for the avenue of creativity they allow me to express. One might say I’m a “basket case.”

All the hours of weaving, with no thinking required, leads me into an almost hypnotic quiet time. It’s an ongoing opportunity to let go and relax, trusting that a beauty which is “deep within” will surface and find expression in my creations.

Gradually, I’m learning to see my baskets (and myself) as “love made manifest.”

Marlene: Basketmaker
Marlene: Basketmaker