Making sense of chaos is difficult for young minds, and yet, often necessary for survival. I could not have recited the list of causes for my family’s particular brand of dysfunction, I just knew from an early age that I needed to be on guard. So I developed what I called ‘body radar’.
My parents were drinkers. Mom, who liked to get what she called tipsy, was never a threat. Father was another story. Sober, he was intimidating; drunk, he was unpredictable. There were moments when a soft underbelly would emerge, and Dad would blubber expressions of endearment, but the potential for violence was always there at the edges, in the strength of his grip as he held me to him, or the twitch of a nerve in his jaw. He liked to lord his prowess over us: a constant reminder of what would happen if we stepped out of line (a line, by the way, that was never clearly defined).
Mom’s attempts at keeping peace in the household, which consisted of four daughters and a high-strung poodle, usually amounted to one single phrase: “Don’t upset your father.” We all lived in fear.
Evenings were the worst. Dad wanted us in bed and out-of-the-way by the time he got home from work. Unspoken, our roles were clearly defined: Mom was in charge of Dad, and I was responsible for my baby sister with whom I shared a room. My job was to make sure she fell asleep and didn’t wander out of the room for any reason. She wanted none of it, and so the nightly fiasco would begin.
I would sing to her, stroke her back, tell her stories, all the while keeping an “ear” out for what was happening two floors down. I learned that if I quieted my body, I could sense what mood my father was in and monitor my sister accordingly. If I heard him on the stairs, approaching, and my internal alarm was raised, I’d tell my sister to pretend to be asleep, and follow suit till the danger passed.
My body became a reliable source of information. I trusted the connection. When a neighbour girl told me I was adopted, I railed at her for even suggesting it, but my body said: there is truth here. When I confronted my parents, they revealed that while I was not adopted, but that my two older sisters had been – although we all shared a mother – and that I also had two brothers.
When one of my sisters left home to be with her brothers, I knew she was in trouble – I felt it. Following my insistence, my mother discovered this sister had the first of what would be a series of psychotic breaks. She returned home.
My ‘body radar’ became an accepted phenomena, so much so that my older sisters would invite me along on their outings and ask me to ‘find’ the boys. I’d tune in to a name and we’d walk the downtown streets until I zoned in on the target.
My body started telling me other things, too: foretold deaths, and warned against unexpected visitors. At fifteen, unable to separate my overworked sense of responsibility from this irrational knowing, I shut it all down, praying to God to turn it off.
It worked for fourteen years, and then suddenly, as if the damn sprouted a leak, it came pouring back. An older cousin, interested in the paranormal, suggested a few books I could read, and encouraged me to develop what she called my intuition. She would bring me jewellery from unknown sources and I would tune into my body as I had as a child.
Friends and family members starting coming to me for insights. My ‘body radar’ strengthened. For the next twenty years, I offered this gift up for public consumption.
And then I pulled back again.
Intuition is an integral part of who we are and how we interact with the world. It has served me well, and it has also been a burden. In many ways, I am still that little girl, wanting to protect others, having taken on an impossible responsibility. I withdrew because I needed a new perspective. I needed to find a balance between what is rational and what is not. I need to know that intuition, when applied to others, is a tool for growth and not potentially damaging. I need what I do to be empowering for others, not an ego boost for myself.
I think of that little girl often, lying awake in the dark, listening to the cues below her, next to her, and within. I think of how clever she was to develop a system of survival. I wonder about the young woman who learned to hone the craft, and the many people who crossed my path because of it. And I wonder, if this really is the end, or if life holds something else.
There is a stirring of excitement with that last thought.
I’d love to hear your experiences with intuition.
Writer, avid reader, former educator, and proud grandmother, currently experiencing life through the lens of ME/CFS. Words are, and always have been, a lifeline. Some of the best adventures, I'm discovering, take place in the imagination.