The biggest secrets that we keep are those we’re keeping from ourselves. We all lie to ourselves on a daily basis.

What about those relationships where you feel drained and exploited but you have to hold onto them because you tell yourself you need friends in life?

Or when you keep telling yourself there’s nothing wrong with your life yet there’s something that keeps driving you to one form of self-numbing addiction or another?

I don’t hit the ice cream or the chocolates when I feel accepted, supported and loved by the world. I don’t think anyone does. It’s conditioning from our childhood that sweets or certain foods are treats for being “good”. After eating them, I generally end up with a sluggish body and a headache.

Eating badly, excessive drugs and alcohol to the point of losing function, feeling weighed down for long periods of time, compulsive behaviour like gambling or social media checking around the clock, are all signs that there are unreleased emotions that are being avoided.

Nothing drains you more than holding onto secrets.

“The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community.” – Jung

My Deep Dark Secret

For years, when anyone asked me about how my parents are doing, I’d feel my body stiffen. Tensing up is an involuntary reaction that happens when we want to protect ourselves. Up until a few years ago, I hadn’t admitted the frustration I felt growing up in a family where the adults fought over any and every little thing. They had different opinions on life due to having been raised in very different family structures. Unfortunately, neither Mum nor Dad possessed conflict resolution skills. Their idea of ending an argument was coming to me and my brother for support and badmouthing each other.

I left my parents’ home when I was 23 and hadn’t, for the most part, looked back. What I couldn’t leave behind was the trauma inflicted on me which cast a shadow on my own relationships with other people.

My biggest problem, the one that’s most taboo in any society and hence alienated me the most, was that I didn’t feel any love for my mum. If you tell anyone you don’t love your mum you might as well be telling them you’re a serial killer. What kind of a horrible monster would you have to be to discount the hard work of a woman who raised you?

On the upside, my struggle to understand why I couldn’t feel love for my parents is what turned me into a writer. Dani Shapiro of Family Secrets podcast fame, talks about how feeling out of sync with her family is what made her super-sensitive to the subject of families so she wrote books to delve deep into the subject of disconnect between family members. She found out only a few years ago that her feelings of not belonging were well found. She was an IVF baby and her dad wasn’t her biological father.

The time I felt the most shame and guilt for not being able to muster up feelings of compassion for my own mum was when she called my office shortly after the HSBC bombings in Istanbul.

“I’m busy, I’ll call her later,” I said as my colleague shook his head in disbelief. He couldn’t help but judge. This was a guy whose mum had passed away when he was only young. He was the worst person to have witnessed the cold shoulder I’d just given Mum.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi

I had layered on many bricks in my 24 years, constructing an epic wall between myself and Mum. Her phone call was yet another brick in the wall despite her intention to connect.

Entering Mum’s World

Life brings understanding if you allow it. My heart began to open with the arrival of my two daughters, who are now almost three and one. With each baby, with my partner’s encouragement, Mum came to stay with us, sometimes as long as three months.

As her role as grandma, focused on the young children, she was not someone I had to grapple with. However, there’d be times she’d open up her emotional baggage, her divorce from Dad where they hadn’t quite settled on the money from property, and poison would come out.

I judged her harshly growing up because at the time I had no understanding of the invisible labour women put into relationships. Someone like Mum, bearing the weight of having been raised by an emotionally abusive mum herself, had to put in so much more effort because it is a rule of physics that the heavier your load is, the more work you have to do in order to get the same results as someone with a lighter load. On top of her immense effort to get herself out of bed at times, I judged her for being sickly and lazy.

Dad did too.

My brother didn’t. He seems to be blessed with a deeply compassionate heart and an understanding that if people aren’t somehow performing in one area, they’re not to be punished, but rather understood, listened to and helped.

My deepest understanding of Mum’s world came when I joined her sisters’ chat group.

Before I go on, my mum’s late sister, nicknamed “Sunny” was the sun in her family’s galaxy. She was a fashion model in the 70s, married briefly to a famous singer. She travelled the world, lived the glamorous life and always looked incredible, not even a hair out of place. When I first moved back to Istanbul, she worked her magic on me, and we attended a glamorous fashion show, where for the first time as an adult I felt beautiful again.

When she passed away nearly eight years ago, at the age of 57, it must’ve been a huge heartbreak for everyone. Shortly after her death, Mum decided to remain in Istanbul, near her family and she and Dad eventually divorced. The progression of events, the rhyme, reason was lost on me. I was completely in the dark, not having had any regular contact with mum from 2003-2016.

So after a brief trip to Istanbul in April this year, I joined the family WhatsApp group called La Sagrada Familia for “The Holy Family” in Spanish.

The exchanges I had in the WhatsApp group were sacred in retrospect as they’ve given me a tremendous understanding of the environment mum was brought up in where she inevitably must’ve felt she didn’t fit in.

The Blossoming Geranium

When Mum was visiting earlier this year shortly after Zoe’s birth, the one thing that made her happy was the flowers in the gardens of my neighbours in Lane Cove. So it was clear that Mum’s duty was to find some geraniums and plant them in our backyard. I couldn’t get her excited about sightseeing, or going to the beach because she seemed to just want to stay in and use the Ipad to chat with her friends – Mums these days, eh?

After she went back to Istanbul, Mum would keep asking about the bloody geraniums, for which I didn’t have time because I was struggling with a baby who didn’t sleep and a terrible two who beat up the baby at every opportunity she’d get.

She’d put me on the spot by asking about it in the family chatroom. I’d dismiss her and she’d tell my aunties what a horrible daughter she had. “Well Mum”, I wanted to tell her, “this is how you raised me”. She wasn’t interested in my world or rather didn’t have the bandwidth to have a relationship with me and why was I even bothering with her and my aunties?

I wanted to leave that horrible family chatroom many times. Nobody seemed to care about poetry, literature or anything deeply spiritual. I was hijacked by an ego telling me that because I did Yoga and meditated and they didn’t, I was deep and they weren’t. Oh, immaturity, it’s such a thing to laugh at in retrospect.

At one point, I got into a battle of who’s had more exotic beverages, what with a palace gold cappuccino being the jewel in the crown of the beverages I’ve had thus far, I patted myself on the back for beating everyone else in that category.

Besides my ugly competitive nature driving my interactions in the family WhatsApp, there was a more benign force in me telling me to stay present. That voice was intensely curious. It wanted to know all about my grandmother in her 90s, deaf and blind.

I’d ask the group about what my grandmother was like because Mum never spoke of her other than to say that she didn’t help her out when I was born. Apparently, that was a very hard time for Mum because I didn’t sleep well.

So try after try and not a word was spoken of grandma’s past, not by my mum or aunties. To my frustration, there was no indication as to what she was like when she was a young woman. What sort of a person was she? Did her daughters really know her?

They only spoke of the hardships she was experiencing as an old woman and their struggles to find her a carer.

Just as my dark side was threatening to take me over, a miracle happened as it does so often in nature. Earlier this week I saw that one of Mum’s geraniums had blossomed. Joyously I told Mum the news.

That’s when she opened up to me about grandma. I just shut up. I did not ask her any questions. I listened.

She told me that the extent of her relationship with her own mother was grandma criticising her hair and clothes. Grandma was a wanna-be fashion-icon who took hours to dress up and would go from tailor to tailor and hairdresser to hairdresser to find the style for the statement she’d make in any outing. She was a woman who liked having creative control, in short, an artiste.

Like Mum.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” – Rumi

And with that, my purpose in our family chatroom ended. I no longer care about who bakes what, who has the best holiday or drinks what sort of trendy concoction.

Where there was a wall dividing my heart, there’s now a flowering geranium.

Over to you…

What is the one thing, when asked, you feel your shoulders stiffen and go up towards your head in self-defence? For example, for years, I felt my body tense up whenever anyone asked me about how my mum’s doing. I was holding onto the secret that I didn’t have a relationship with the woman who raised me.

If you trust me, e-mail me your secret,

Better yet, find a pen and paper get journaling.