Kieran Kelly

THE 48 ACTS

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ANXIETY/TESTIMONIAL

“ It is not what you are looking at, it is how you are looking at it.”

I have spent an entire lifetime living and working in highly anxious environments.

I have worked in some of the most highly volatile and dangerous places on the planet.

I have sat and listened to people in some of their darkest and most challenging moments.

I have wanted to die, and have tried to die.

I have spent huge chunks of my life acquiring knowledge and information on just about every aspect of the human condition, just so I could survive.

Survive what you might say? The answer, honestly? I never really knew.

Four years ago, the chaos that was my life, enveloped me in the most unimaginable darkness, and I almost did not make it. Except for the love of family and close friends, and the wonderful expertise of medics, I would have become another statistic of the modern cancer of suicide.

I am four years now into the journey of trying to make sense of my story of life, coupled with all the terror, fear, shame, guilt and hurt that our stories bring, but also the hope, compassion, love and freedom.

It was during this period of time that I came across Paddy Rafter’s story and website, and it was almost as if Paddy was telling me my own story, but the difference was he was telling me my story in a way that made sense to me for the very first time.
As I mentioned earlier I had acquired vast amounts of knowledge, information, and experience over a lifetime, but the one thing I was missing was awareness. An awareness of me. I was aware of just about everything and everybody else, but I had no awareness of myself. I would never have seen myself as an anxious person, but I discovered that anxiety permeated every part of my being.

The things that Paddy spoke about, like, environments and the different types of environments that make up and impact on the world, really began to resonate with me.

He spoke about the different types of environments like:

Internal human environment of self.

Environment of family.

External environment of community, society, planet.

He speaks about how the balance of all of these environments are essential for the wellbeing of society and our planet.

The one thing that jumped out for me was how the microcosmic of self, impacted (negatively or positively) on the wellbeing of the macrocosmic of society.

He spoke about how fear and anxiety are destroying the ecosystem of the human species.

At first glance, it looked like Paddy and I viewed the world in completely different ways, but in truth we both just had different views of the same thing, and in many ways the blending of these two views was to be the key to me becoming really aware for possibly the first time.

The one thing we both had in common was that we both had a story. I would expect at this point you would have read Paddy’s story, and the power that awareness and understanding of your story can bring to your recovery.

Paddy’s awareness and his ability to take personal responsibility for his own story and difficulties, has allowed me for the first time to take all the knowledge and information that I have learned, and through the telling of my story create an awareness of myself that I would not have had heretofore.

Telling my Story through a Lifetime of acquired knowledge and information, and most recently “Awareness of Self”.

I was born in a middle size provincial Irish town. Both myself and my twin were the third and fourth of five children, and our family lived in a working class area. The local neighbourhoods were very vibrant, and there was a great sense of community. We knew all of our neighbours and their families, and we spent most of our free time playing outside. Whenever there was a big sporting event in the news – whether it was tennis at Wimbledon, or the championships in the Irish sports of hurling and Gaelic football – for weeks afterwards the fields would be lined with kids replaying that event. We would have our own championships, our own improvised goalposts, our own improvised everything. And for us, living by the river was fantastic. We had rowing boats and rubber dinghies, and we could swim since we were knee high to a grasshopper.

We would stay out playing in the evenings, particularly during the summer months when the daylight lasted several hours longer, and often we only went home when we were hungry. We often went to other kids’ houses to play, although they must have noticed that it was very seldom, they were invited to play in our house. We simply could not ask them.

Our house was too unpredictable – because my mother suffered from a debilitating condition known in those days as manic depressive – psychosis (now called bipolar disorder), and my father’s way of coping with it was to retreat to the pub next door often for hours at a time.

One result of his heavy drinking was that when Ireland sank into a deep recession in the early 1970s, which hit his family business very hard, he fell into debt. So, after his parents died, we moved into their house, and our house was sold to pay off some of the debt. Although it was only three doors down from where we had been living, the difference was drastic. For one thing the house was in a state of utter disrepair. It was cold and damp, and there was no escaping the water from above or below.

Every time it rained outside, it also rained inside our house through holes in the roof, so there would be pots and basins everywhere to collect it. The foundation of this house was ten feet lower than our old one – in fact it was even lower than the river itself – so during the winter months the ground floor was regularly flooded. Even when the water receded, there was a persistent dampness throughout the house, so the wallpaper was always peeling, the corners of the linoleum in the kitchen always curled, and the cost of renovating it was simply too high, and the money was simply not there.

It was always a place of high anxiety and uncertainty because of our family dynamics, but in many ways, I would rather have spent my days there than having to go to school, which for me was torture right from the start. That was because at a mere five years of age I began to develop a paralyzing fear of being anything less than perfect, and it was partly thanks to a nun, who was my teacher for the first three years of primary school spent at the local convent. I was afraid of my life.

Like many nuns at the time, she was utterly intimidating, an imposing figure draped in a full black robe, with a huge set of rosary beads wrapped around her waist. Her voice was gentle enough in her regular speech, but when she shouted you could hear her for quite a distance.

She carried a ruler inside a giant pocket in her robe, and it was not to teach us measurements. Her great mission was to instil in us the catechism, a set of questions and answers on the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and if that meant having to use the ruler well then, so be it. The questions were colour coded for different degrees of difficulty, and we had to learn them verbatim. Any mistakes would be met with the slap of a ruler.
I learned to try to be perfect in order to avoid punishment, and I did mostly manage to escape punishment by memorising, memorising, memorising, unlike any of my more unfortunate classmates.

I got great respite the following year when I moved up to the Christian Brothers Primary School for second class, and had a lovely young teacher not long out of teacher training. In addition to being a charismatic teacher and a gentleman, he also shared with us a love of theatre and drama. My twin and I were both in his class, and he wrote a play with us in mind for the starring roles. Written in Irish and called “The Bonanza Kid.” It was a western about a local sheriff and an outlaw who looked an awful lot like each other, resulting in comedic cases of mistaken identity.

It was quite literally my first pronounced role as the good child, as I was cast as the sheriff who kept law and order. But in this case it did wonders for my sense of self and my general well being. In all other aspects of my life, I hardly said a word, to such an extent that my father called me “the listener”. I was the observer, the quiet one, standing back and listening as I constantly anticipated danger, while also being afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Yet walking out on the stage was fantastic, because the character had a voice. Even as a young child, I had a strong sense that I could identify with characters, so it was easy to get into the skin of what they were supposed to be. It was also great to take on the persona of someone else, because that meant not having to be myself.

Third class in primary school was where my life was to change forever more. I was sexually abused for a period of about nine months by a person in a position of trust outside the family. The abuse stopped when I got my summer holidays at the end of third class.

Throughout that summer I suffered with extreme nightmares, night tremors and bed wettings. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming and unable to breathe. When my mother would call the doctor to come in the middle of the night, I was eventually diagnosed as having asthma. Strangely enough I never seemed to have asthma attacks during the day, it was only in the middle of the night.

Of course, we now know it was panic attacks I was experiencing. I eventually told my mother what had happened to me out of pure terror and fear, as I was going back to school in September.

I know that my mother had gone into the school, and after that to this day I have no idea what happened, as it was never spoken about again. My mother told me that I would be going back to school and assured me that everything would be ok. She was right to the extent that the abuse stopped, but I did not realize back then how the experience was going to shape and define my entire life afterwards.

The rest of my school years passed by in a blur. I was always on the outside looking in. I was never involved in team sports of any sort. I developed a way of staying detached from everything and everybody, in that way I could never get hurt, and also nobody would ever find out what my secret was. I really do not remember happiness, but I do not remember sadness either. I always remained in that neutral almost numb state. I just remember my school days as a time of high anxiety, and I experienced my education through fear. A lot of my teachers were strict disciplinarians with a fondness for the leather strap. Some would give us lashings on the hand for not sitting up, for being untidy, for not doing the homework, and that all encompassing category: for being unruly. This for me meant a constant fear, all day every day, of being punished for imperfection. It is very hard even now to describe what that fear meant, other than a constant feeling like a hole in the pit of my stomach, and an almost always sense of impending doom, and an expectation that something bad was going to happen all of the time, but never knowing what that something bad actually was. This for me was crucifying as I already felt dirty and bad inside of me, and any slap from a leather strap was really only re-enforcing what I already knew anyway and pushed my dirty little secret deeper inside of me.

I learned to use denial and pretend as protection. If I don’t pay attention, then I can continue my life unnoticed. I can make the world safe in my own head . I can make myself invisible to harm. I desperately wanted to be someone who fits in, who isn’t plagued by the idea of being different, or being flawed. I did not know that fears kept hidden only became fiercer. I did not know that my habits of pleasing, and placating, of pretending were only making me worse.

None of this learning through fear led to a broadening of our minds or a thirst for knowledge, naturally. All it did was breed anxiety. I, as a rule follower, did my best to avoid punishments, and I also harboured a secret wish that my doing well in school would make me feel like something, and take away the deep sense of darkness. Some of my teachers did pick up on this, or at least hints of it. Their typical refrain at teacher parent meetings about me was, “Has potential, could be better.” And I distinctly remember one of the Christian Brothers telling my mother, “ that I was highly intelligent, but I was underachieving”. If only he had known. If only I could have told someone what I was feeling.

None of that really made a difference, as I had decided to join the army, and back in those days you did not need an education to join the army. That took away the pressure when I sat my Leaving Certificate exams at the end of secondary school, as I knew I would be setting off to training in a couple of months time regardless of what my scores were.

It did not take away my anxiety and fear of imperfection, though. That was something that I would carry with me into my army experience and beyond.

Growing Up in an Unbalanced Environment.

I had joined the Army despite my mother. I had also done it to escape from our family and to join a new, larger family in which I would be able to hide because no one there knew me – and paradoxically, at the same time to rise above the rest and become somebody.
I did not have a clue who that somebody might be, but in my school days I would daydream, and dream at night about becoming somebody special who would grow up to make a difference in the world.

Some kids wanted to be pop stars, or film stars or sports heroes. I just wanted to be someone other than me.

I knew that my mother would not approve of my choice of joining the army. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my mother, in fact, I loved her profoundly, even though in our family we did not express anything of the sort at that time. Throughout my childhood she suffered from severe manic-depressive psychosis – and because she suffered so much, we all suffered along with her. I carried a deeply rooted guilt through most of my life, that because of what happened to me, that in some way I had made my mothers sickness worse.

She was born in the West of Ireland. The second youngest of a large family, she was highly intelligent and went on to study medicine in college. In her teenage and young adult years she suffered with what would have been euphemistically known as “the nerves”, but still managed to persevere through her studies and function on some level.

My dad had left school early, and worked in the family business. He met my mother at a dance in the local ballroom where many romances began in Ireland.

They got married, and within eight years they had five children. Although she wanted to have a family, that was a lot to handle in quick succession, and she experienced several miscarriages as well. I was of course too young to know from personal experience, but that rapid change in her life and level of responsibility, plus the emotional fortitude needed to raise a young family, while also being geographically removed from her own family, no doubt took its toll on her already struggling mental well-being.

All my mother ever wanted to do was die, and I could never figure that out. She would often say to us that she could never really explain to us what she was experiencing. The only way she had of expressing it was: “I would give anything to be sitting here dying of heart disease or cancer, because then I would have a name for it, and I would know what it was.”

But she could not find a name for that awful loneliness and emptiness that she was experiencing constantly. Instead she would constantly complain – about her condition. About my father’s drinking – always a victim, telling us, “You don’t know” or “You don’t care”. She always spoke about “Going to the river”.

When I was growing up, she was always sick, either mentally or physically. Our home was a highly anxious environment, an anxiety that spilled over into my existence outside the house as well. It all served to make my mind utterly unsettled, so that I was always waiting for something to go wrong, even though it was not that bad all of the time, the truth was that you could never trust that things were going to be ok.
During the day instead of being able to focus on the lessons at school, my brain would be in turmoil anticipating that everything would not be ok when I got home, because we never knew what would be coming next. Would she be high? Would she be in bed? Would she be low? Would she be there at all? Trying to concentrate on our school lessons I would find myself utterly disconnected, chunks of time passing by after which I would realize that I had not absorbed a word the teacher had said. Then, at night, waiting for my father to come home if he had been in the pub.

Starting at a very young age, I would lie, flat on my back, staring at the ceiling as the minutes and hours ticked by, and worry about the argument that could potentially kick off when my father walked through the door. And although there were many nights when there were no arguments, the reality was that you were always waiting for it to happen. The fear wasn’t that he would be obnoxious or angry, or that he would become violent – he was totally the opposite, he was a very quiet and passive man. It was my mother who would do the shouting at him.

To make matters worse, on the nights that I would somehow get to sleep, I would have terrible nightmares and tremors, and would often wake up with awful panic attacks and bed wetting. It was around this time that I became my mothers closest listener and confident. I could sit for hours listening to her vent her feelings and frustrations, and giving out about my fathers drinking.

I used to find it strangely comforting living in my mothers dark world, as it became a distraction from the almost constant inner darkness that I was experiencing. In some ways it became a gift that I brought through life afterwards, an ability to live in and understand other people’s darkness.
However, I was to discover many years later that you cannot hide from your own darkness, and that at some point and time it will catch up with you.

To make matters worse, I thought I was the only one in our family who was unable to overcome that anxiety, because everybody else appeared to be handling things quite well, but I discovered as the years went by that that was not the case.
I went to bed every night dreaming that I would grow up and be some sort of a superhero that could fix the world, and that mammies should not have to suffer like my mammy, and that little boys should not have to go to bed with such fear and anxiety.

One of my worst Christmas memories was one Christmas Eve night when I was around 10 or 11 years old, and when – I am not proud to admit – I even wished my mother was dead. Christmas Eve in our house was never a happy occasion to begin with, as it was always shrouded in anxiety, depression, and alcohol. Christmas in Ireland then, and to a somewhat lesser but still persistent extent now, was associated with drinking and going to the pub, and it was often the time of the year that my mother would be at her lowest. So, for about three weeks before Christmas I would worry about what was going to happen.

Would mammy be ok? Would Santa come? Will daddy be in the pub? I would pray and pray for a normal Christmas.

On this Christmas Eve night I remember being the only one in the house aside from my mother. My father was in the pub which was a mere two doors away from our house. I was sitting in the kitchen.

My mother had been in bed all day with a bad migraine, but suddenly I heard her bedroom door open, and she came rushing down the staircase and into the kitchen. She was in her nightgown and robe, and in a very high manic state, squealing that either “daddy came home from the pub, or she was going to the river”. She caught me by the hand, went out the front door, and brought me into the pub two doors away where my father was. She started screaming incoherently in the middle of the packed pub about what my fathers drinking was doing to her, and that if he did not come home she would go to the river.

I do not think that I have ever experienced such shame, humiliation and embarrassment in all my life, as well as fear and terror. It was over as quickly as it happened, my father brought us home, and I went to bed not that there was any chance of sleeping. I remember laying there thinking that it would do everybody a favour if my mother did go to the river and she was to die, and maybe that would have brought peace to the house. And the guilt that I carried with me through life afterwards – that I was capable of thinking that way about my mother – was incredible.

When my mother was really unwell she would be taken to “The Mental” , a public treatment Psychiatric Hospital in our town. When my mother would be brought there, I always felt a huge sense of guilt, because I always felt as a child that mammy was unwell because of “my secret”. It was miserable for her to go there, miserable for my father to have to bring her there, and miserable for us to visit.

Still, I made regular visits to see my mother, even though no one ever forced us to go, and ultimately I was her confidant and listener. My father or one of my older siblings might take me up there in my younger years, and from around the age of 12, I would walk up on my own to visit her. In truth I hated going in there with a passion, but I felt obligated to do so. And so once or twice a week I would walk the 15 minute journey, to the hospital, and then sit there – in a chair beside the bed, or the two of us side by side on the corridor, or looking out the window in the common room – until I felt that enough time had passed that it was ok to leave.

I might have uttered a simple “Hello” as I entered, but we never exchanged a hug or other pleasantries, and for my entire time there we would sit, showing no emotion, in total silence. Every minute was agony. An hour there was the maximum I could bear, and if an opportunity arose to escape after half an hour, then all the better.

My mind would wander as I sat there, and I would watch the other patients with a kind of fascination. They were all totally absorbed in their own worlds, with little or no communication to anyone. Who were all of these people I wondered, and why were they all there? I often say” we wear our script on our face” – that our faces tell our life stories – but everyone in “The Mental” had the same face. Their pupils dilated from the medication, they sat there with blank stares, utterly withdrawn from the world. It was such a surreal feeling to be in a room with people who were not “present”, and the saddest thing was the inevitability of who was going to be there year after year, caught up in the cycle but never making any real progress, and that included my mother. Yet they could not be all “crazy”, I thought. There had to be something deeper going on.
My mother had gone to medical school and she could regale us with the intricacies of how kidneys work, how they secrete the body’s waste materials and then reabsorb the chemicals that keep the system in balance. I was always riveted by her account of the miraculous way the body functions.
And yet as I sat beside her in a psychiatric hospital, having been hospitalised by her mental illness, I was struck by the contrast of the incredible complexity of the mind and the ways that we human beings are connected and attached to one another, and how little psychiatrists knew about what they were treating. I became fascinated by how little we knew about what was present, and wondered one day would it be possible to know as much about brains, minds and love, as we do about the other systems that make up our organism.
I set out from an early age to learn to navigate the human condition in a receivable format for wellness.

I also never realised that the most destructive trait I learned in my family of origin was “Pretend”.

We just learned to pretend it was ok, when it was not ok. I brought this pretense through most of my life afterwards, and it was to cause great difficulty for me, because it means that you learn to live your life in denial.
Pretend also means that you live your life in fear. The fear that someone might find out who or what you really were. The fear that somebody might find out that you were really just a dirty little nine year old abused boy.
If you live your life in fear, you live your life in anxiety, and that anxiety can have massive implications on your physical and mental health for the rest of your life afterwards.

As soon as I turned eighteen, I left my house to join the army, really believing that I was leaving my past behind me and going on to make a fresh start. But as I was to discover years later, the past, and in particular if you have no awareness and understanding of it, is always with you in the present moment, and can have a very negative effect on your present and future.

My Army Family.

My first day in the army was fantastic. It was a wet autumn day. I left my house around 10 am to walk the five or six minutes up the road to the local barracks where my transport awaited me. There were no sad goodbyes. We were just not that kind of family. I just put my bag on my shoulder and walked out the door.

I felt a great sense of adventure that day, of something new and exciting. This was my ticket out of that house, and I would not have minded if I never went back inside those doors.

We arrived at the central training camp around mid-day, and it was bustling with activity. It felt huge – it was nearly like a small town in its own right. There were drills taking place on the square, there was shouting everywhere. My only thought was : Wow.

They brought us into the fold gently, though. The jeep dropped us off at the recruiting office, and our platoon sergeant came out to greet us. I had expected the superior officer to scream and roar at us from the word “Go”, but he was pleasant and genial as he welcomed us to our new home. Then after a mucky lunch of something that they claimed was beef stew and that was memorable for all the wrong reasons, my group of recruits was taken to the quartermasters store to be kitted out with our uniforms. We were then taken to our billet, one in a series of red bricked buildings that were once British army barracks and would be home for the next six months.

Twelve of us were assigned to each billet, on six double bunks. The room was a high ceilinged space with a pot-bellied stove in the middle for heat. The stove was turf fired, which meant that our duties would include morning trips to the nearby turf shed. But the whole space was pristine. I could even see my reflection on the green linoleum floor and the beds were supremely tidy and each one came with a “bed block” : a stack of sheets and blankets folded into tight rectangles and arranged perfectly so that when the final blanket layered over the top sheet it fell within specified measurements. A good child’s (like me) dream and nightmare.

We recruits spent the first evening in the billet introducing ourselves to one another, something I had never been good at. On the other hand it was great: I was delighted to be in a place where nobody knew me or my family, and where I could be anonymous. But I was clearly a fish out of water. A lot of the others were tough, many of them from the inner cities, and some coming directly from state run institutions. I was the only one who had completed secondary level education.
Waking up on that first morning, all I could think was: Oh my God. Get me out of here.

Because then the shouting and roaring started.

It was six am, to be exact, and the sergeant burst into the room at full volume, banging together two huge aluminium dustbin covers, and roaring at us to get out of bed. “I’m not your mother” he boomed. “Your mother isn’t going to help you now”. A wake up call in every sense of the word.

Oddly enough though, being the “good child” I was used to the shouting and the drive for perfection, so I thrived in our tasks right from the start. I finally realised what my teachers had said, that I was intelligent, but had not been able to apply it. I used that edge to my advantage over the coming months, and a lot of the recruits would gravitate towards me if they were not sure of anything. I became the one all the guys would gravitate towards if they had a letter with bad news from back home that they could either not read, or they needed someone to share the bad news with. I was also fine tuning the role of listener which I had learned from an early age. There were evenings I could sit around the pot-bellied stove in the billet, and guys, particularly the guys from the institutions and orphanages would tell me their stories of growing up in such establishments.

I was always taken by people’s willingness to tell me their deepest thoughts, knowing that they could trust me and that I was not going to be telling anybody else. It gave me great purpose and meaning to be able to provide such a role . So, in that sense my role of the good child was preferable to any of the other roles, if only I had known how to deal with my own deep rooted anxiety and darkness. ( See section on family in Paddy’s website for more information on family roles)
Still though, it felt good to be needed, and it also felt good to know that I had a way to avoid being picked on.: I was a valuable asset.

But in the end, it was this defence that became my undoing, because while I thought I was diverting all the danger on the outside, on the inside the anxiety and darkness was growing. When you are the good child, the one people come to for help, you always have to be a step ahead. You have to be better and better, the best.

As paradoxical as it sounds, the relentless striving for perfection was actually worse for me now that I was succeeding in my assigned tasks. Whereas in school I was able to shuffle along with good but not remarkable grades, now I was out in front of the pack and feeling pressure to stay there. For this reason, and because I got good energy from the recognition and the sense of belonging that this role gave me, I constantly pushed myself to do more and more things well, feeling that my best was never good enough. Never mind that other people thought that I was cool and doing well – nothing I did was ever good enough for me.

After six months I graduated, and moved to another barracks. I went back to the central training depot in 1979 to do my junior leaders course, and graduated after six months. I married my childhood sweetheart Mary in 1982, and although on the surface that was a very happy time, I always lived with an almost constant sense of darkness and doom, that I had no language for, and it incrementally eats away at your whole sense of being, and you cannot tell anyone, even those closest to you, because the truth is you do not know what to tell people. You just constantly experience an awful sense of awfulness and darkness which eats away at your very soul one piece at a time.

In April 1983 I embarked on a six month overseas mission with the United Nations to the Middle East. Three months into that tour of duty things had gotten so dark for me, I just wanted out. Not necessarily out of the war zone, and not even necessarily out of life. I wanted to be out of the pain, out of the utterly repressive mission I had assigned to myself throughout my entire life: to be perfect. The perfect child, the perfect student, the perfect soldier, the perfect everything. It was exhausting, and I had had enough. I wanted to die, I wanted to end the constant torture in my soul, and I tried to die. I only survived due to the intervention and the presence of the chaplain of the forces, who unknowingly came across me in a very distressed state, after a failed attempt to end my life.

When I came home from that overseas trip, I did not tell anybody what had happened, out of fear of being judged (and being labeled “mad” like my mother). I did promise the chaplain however that I would go and speak to somebody, and he set me up for an appointment with a therapist. I went for several visits, but I never really clicked, as I felt the therapist was not really listening to me and he talked too much.

Although my first experience of overseas service was difficult from a personal experience, in hindsight there was a positive aspect to it as well, as I began to see the power of the human spirit in action. This was in the way the people of the villages who had experienced severe trauma through war and conflict could still come together in a very positive way for survival, and as I witnessed more and more varied experiences and environments, I kept returning to the effects that different circumstances had on different people. I was fascinated by the fact that no matter how difficult the environment, people could manage to thrive and how was this?

When we returned from an overseas trip, we would get four weeks leave. This in essence was a recovery period to allow us to ease our way back into normal life again. During that time, I had also begun to question whether the army was really where I wanted to spend my career.

I signed up for a beginners course in Psychology, in a local college and although I found it fascinating, interestingly, in a slightly skewed way, the course did not teach me ways to treat or understand mental health that were any different than those that my mother would have been subjected to in “The Mental”. On the contrary, it was largely concerned with theories and abstract thinking that had little practical use from what I could see. But it did give me, in addition to piquing my interest in areas I became curious to know more about, an insight into the kind of labelling and categorising that I knew I wanted to avoid.

Late one Saturday night, and into the early hours of Sunday morning, a young soldier died by suicide in the army barracks.

This young soldier like myself had recently returned from overseas duty, in fact he was in my platoon. I was devastated, not alone for the loss of such a young man who had huge potential, but why did I live and this lovely young man died?

I became a man obsessed with trying to understand.

One day a couple of months after this tragic incident, I had a call from my commanding officer who looked to see me in his office. At the meeting he told me that the army was very concerned about the recent number of suicides in the services, and were looking to set up some form of support and listening service for soldiers and their families, and he was very keen to set up such a service in our own local barracks. He felt that I possessed the qualities that would be necessary to provide such a service, and would I be interested. Of course I was and I was dispatched for training, and after a number of months came back to set up the first personnel support service for the army.
I was always known as a listener, and somebody you could confide in, and this meant that increasingly more and more people came into my office when they had problems, and needed a gentle listening ear.

I found that I took to this work like a duck to water. Firstly I had learned to be a listener from when I was a nine year old little boy and I would listen for hours to all my mother’s woes. I also found that I had a great empathy for other people’s hurt and pain, and I also found that I was able to escape from my own darkness by learning to hide in another person’s darkness. This made me very good at my job, and it also gave me a much clearer insight of where to begin my studies, so back I went to college.

My primary training was in Clinical Counselling and Psychotherapy. This was perfect in that it helped me to fine tune my skills in listening, understanding, being non-judgemental and objective, and create a safe place where people could feel safe to tell their stories, and feel comfortable doing that.

It is a real privilege for any person to allow you into the darkness of their world, and it is a privilege that should always be understood and respected. The one thing that I found fascinating from early on was how much other people’s stories mirrored my own story and that in essence we were all merely characters in the same story of life. We all had one thing in common, the feeling of not belonging, and compensating in some way for that feeling of mis-placement. I needed that bit of light that I got from helping others, it gave me a purpose. It allowed me to focus on something other than how broken I was inside. I had so many dark thoughts, and dark days that I felt that if I could make a difference in someone’s life in a real positive way that it was worth it no matter what the price.

More and more the issues coming into the office were connected to overseas service, and the difficulties that soldiers and their families were experiencing. I became part of a pioneering group who were involved in setting up debriefing groups that looked at supporting and educating soldiers around trauma and critical incidents that they may have experienced on an overseas mission.

It was during my second critical incident debrief in the Middle East that I came across a soldier who was involved on the periphery of a major incident, and who seemed to be struggling much more than the other soldiers involved, that I made an interesting discovery. This soldier was really traumatized and struggling with the incident and when we sat down and chatted in a safe environment, I discovered that he had had a very traumatic incident in childhood, of which he had never spoken about or processed. And what had happened was that the latest incident had brought back all of the traumatic memories from childhood. The latter was now overwhelming him. This was very relevant for me because of my childhood experience and I was determined to learn a lot more.

I dived headlong into my work with a massive passion. I became obsessed with my work. My work in trauma and the education of trauma took me all over the world from the Middle East to the Balkan States, from East Timor to Africa. It was a great privilege to work with people in the darkest moments of their lives, in some of the darkest places on the planet. It gave me a great sense of belonging, of having a purpose. It allowed me to escape from that deep visceral pain that never let me go. I did not realise that in my yearning to belong, in my fear of being swallowed up by the past, I was really only pushing my hidden pain deeper inside of me. I had not yet discovered that my silence and my desire for acceptance, both founded in fear, were both ways of running away from myself – and that in deciding not to face the past and myself directly, I was creating my own prison. I had my secret and my secret had me.

For much of my adult life I had thought that my survival in the present depended on keeping the past and its darkness locked away.

I was a nine-year-old boy chasing the dream of making the world a better place, and learning to hide in other peoples darkness to avoid my own darkness. I really wanted to know how a person survives and even thrives in the wake of trauma. How do people create lives of joy, purpose and passion, no matter what sorrows they have experienced? I wanted to know how to meet everyday challenges and survive devastating experiences. How we live with our past and our mistakes, how people heal. What if my mother had someone to talk to, would she have had a happier life, would we have had a happier life?

I became obsessed with education, knowledge, anything to help me understand and navigate the human condition.
I studied psychology, neurology, biology, psychiatry, spirituality, genetics, neuroscience, epigenetics, quantum physics, all the great philosophers. I sought out workshops, study groups, conferences, that covered the work of a vast number of educators from Descartes to Lamarck, Janet to Newton, Freud to Lipton, Bradshaw to Winnicott, Siegal to Pert, to name but a few.

I travelled all over the world to access these workshops and conferences. It was while I was in New York in 1997 attending one of these workshops on the work of Stephen Porges, that I became aware of a study entitled “The Adverse Childhood Experience Study””, (ACE). This was an ongoing study that looked at “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Deaths in Adults”.

I dived headfirst into researching this study and trying to find out everything I could about it for two reasons. Firstly, in my own work as a therapist and working with soldiers in traumatic incidents, it was interesting to see how many of them had psychological or physical illnesses as adults and who also had childhood traumatic experiences. Secondly, I became really concerned about myself and was I going to get sick? I became so anxious and preoccupied with trying to find out answers that it took over my life. I lived in fear of getting sick and dying.

I borrowed heavily to meet these commitments. I got into severe financial debt. I remortgaged the house. I was dishonest, I hurt people. I hid everything. It was like a drug, and I was addicted. My attic was full of boxes with reams and reams of notes and workshop materials. I was trying to put together a massive tapestry, a way of understanding, trying to see the data and the connections all at once, and trying to spot the unseen ties that would lead me to a greater understanding of the human condition. I would often sleep with the data under my bed, as if the data would sift up into my mind and reveal the answers in my dreams.

My Family

Nobody knew of the tortured world that I lived in, not even my family. I had perfected the persona of the “good child”, the fixer, the placater, to keep people happy. It is very hard to describe this to people. How could you acquire so much knowledge and education, and yet live a life of such secrecy? There is no easy answer to this question.

I know now from reading Paddy Rafter’s website and story that it was because I had no awareness of myself. I also now know that the human condition will do anything to survive and protect itself, and what happens is that these personas become real to the person, and are your way of surviving, but also a way of avoiding the judgement and the shame that will inevitably come from people. It is a bit like being caught in a spider’s web, the more you try to get free, the more you get trapped.

As earlier mentioned I married my childhood sweetheart Mary in 1982. Our plan was to wait a year or two before having children, to give us a chance to settle into married life and to make the house more suitable for a family, but then when we started trying to have children, we had no luck. A year passed, and another, and another, in which we underwent physical and psychological testing to see what the problem might be – a compassionless, humiliating process that only fed my innate sense of not being good enough. (How could I fail at that most basic act of becoming a father? Could I not even get that right?)

My fear of intimacy was crippling, and I was so alone in my darkest thoughts that I was in some way being punished by God for what had happened to me as a child.

We knew we had other options, though, so after four or five years we decided to pursue the route of adoption. It was during this adoption process that Mary became pregnant, and nine months later Joseph was born. Nearly three years later Jenny was born.

It was nearly, you might dare to say, perfect – except that was how I tried to force it to be. Of course there were happy times, but then there was the anxiety that I introduced into the mix so incrementally that I didn’t even notice for years afterwards. It was the little things, and they all started to add up. Everything had to be perfect, and everything had to be on time. I could never trust that everything was going to be ok, there was always that deep down feeling of impending disaster and doom. If we were going to the seaside on a Sunday, I had it in my head that we had to leave at 10 am sharp.

But what family with young children ever leaves at any time sharp? So, by five or ten minutes past the hour, my anxiety would kick in. We would then end up bickering the whole way there, and there would be tears in the back seat while poor Mary felt the pressure in the passenger seat. I had grown up in an environment where I learned to expect that things would always go wrong, so I was still expecting the same result – which is a perfect way to cause that very result, as it turns out: the more perfect I tried to make things, the more imperfect they became.

The result of this of course is that having grown up in a really anxious environment, unknowingly, through my own anxiety I was creating the same anxious environment in my own family. It is a bit like the whole spider web analogy again, the more you try to escape it and change it, the more trapped in it you become.

Joseph’s mental health in particular suffered because of this anxious environment, and he had a real battle with his mental health all through his childhood, adolescense, and young adult years, which culminated in hospitalizations and attempts at suicide. I of course blamed me, which I know sounds narcissistic, but I genuinely believed that in some way I was to blame for all of his difficulties. This only added to my deep sense of guilt and inadequacy, and imperfection.

After a number of years things began to settle down for Joseph, and although that was good, that constant fear I carried deep down within me all of my life, and this irrational feeling of impending disaster never left me.

My way of coping with fear and darkness (which I learned in childhood) was to go find somebody to help. By this time my work had almost totally evolved into doing talks and presentations using my lifelong experience of trauma, anxiety, and mental health in families.

I was busy going all over the country (and outside) standing on stages telling our family story, and it really brought it home to me the thousands and thousands of families all over the place who were struggling with the exact same issues we struggled with as a family. All that was really happening was that while standing on stage, I was just connecting to people of similar experiences and it had the effect of normalizing all of our experiences. My presentations became hugely popular. I was speaking at venues all over the country, from theatres to hotels, to school halls, to country halls with sometimes 500 to 600 hundred people or more in attendance. One thing that childhood experiences gave me was an ability to empathize with people, and in a way almost reach into their souls and feel their hurt and pain. This worked really well for me as it helped me to cope with my own almost constant sense of fear and darkness. I became massively popular and in demand as a speaker and my working day was increasing to 12, 14, sometimes 16 hours.

In a sense I was living the dream, a dream of a 9-year-old hurt boy who wanted to grow up and make a difference in the world in a positive way.

You would have thought that I would be happy and content, but the opposite was the real reality. I was leaving my house early in the morning, driving three hours, delivering presentations, getting back into the car, driving for another 2 hours, presenting again. Going to bed in a hotel (not sleeping) as I constantly played presentations over and over in my head and worried that people would not like me. Getting up again at 6 am and driving for another 3 hours. This was going on for six, sometimes seven days a week. I would not say no to anybody (the good child) for a deep rooted fear that they would not like me. I could get a standing ovation on nights from 500 hundred people, and 25 minutes later I would be pulled in at the side of the road in a totally dark and desperate place, and in floods of tears and not know why..

I did the only thing that I knew from childhood, I pretended that everything was ok (when it clearly was not). I took on more presentations, too full of fear to say no.

My family was noticing and tried to talk to me, I was on a fast track to burn out. It was a little bit like being on a roller coaster and you can’t get off. But really you don’t want it to stop because it is the only thing that is allowing you to survive, and you are terrified that if it stops that you will be totally enveloped in darkness.

A short while later I was working in a nearby city for the day doing presentations. I had taken the early morning train, and on arriving at the main train station I took a tram to continue to my destination. The tram was very crowded and I just about got a seat. At the next stop a very elderly, obese man got on and squeezed into the seat beside me. I did not know why at that time but I experienced a massive panic attack. I thought I would never get to the next stop. I managed to get off at the next stop, sat down at the kerb, and used my breathing to ground myself. After about five minutes I settled and decided to walk the rest of the journey to where I was presenting. It had been many years since I had a panic attack of this nature, and I really was not sure why, but I did what I always do, I focused on my work.
By the time that I got back home that evening I was exhausted and was in bed early. That night for the first time in a long time I had extreme nightmares and night tremors. These nightmares went on for some weeks. I was screaming and shouting in my sleep, and pleading for somebody to mind me. I would cry constantly in my sleep. I remember very little other than waking up with a feeling of absolute terror. My wife was deeply concerned as it was waking her up and she did not know what to do.

The nightmares began to settle down around Christmas time but came back again with a vengeance in February. At this point they became so frightening, that I would not sleep at all, and I would lie there all night forcing my eyes to stay open, rather than close them and risk descending into the terror and the darkness. At this point I was not sleeping, I was struggling to eat, I was working flat out, which was the only way I knew to keep the darkness at bay. You would have thought that with all of my years of knowledge and experience that I would have talked to somebody, and tried to do something about it.

But unfortunately that is not the way it works, because as I discovered afterwards and in particular from the information on this website, I was so far into the survival brain, that my logical and rational brain had almost disappeared.

I was heading very quickly into burn out. On a Monday night in late March the nightmare was so intense that I thought I was going to suffocate. There was this great big fireball coming right at me, and I had no way of stopping it. I was terrified and as the fireball came nearer to my face, a vision began to materialize in the fireball. It was somebody I had hidden in the deepest recesses of my mind for nearly fifty years, my childhood abuser. I woke up in a lather of sweat, screaming. I will never forget the terror of that moment. But did I tell anyone? No. Why?

Because I thought that I could push it back down, and I did not want my family to see me as some dirty little abused child.

The next couple of days were all about trying to survive. I did not know then that I had descended into a very dark and very dangerous psychiatric space. I did not know until much later that what had happened on the tram the previous November was that the very strong smell of body odour from the elderly man who had sat so close to me, had triggered deeply repressed memories of my own childhood abuser, and brought on a panic attack. The waves of emotions that were now enveloping me were terrifying and the impulses to do something to myself were frightening.

A couple of mornings later I left my house to die. The only way I could describe it was that it was almost like being in a trance. I had left behind details for my funeral, including choices of songs and singers. I knew where I was going to die and what I was going to do.

When I arrived at my destination, I got out of the car, and sat at the side of the river. I don’t know why but I became engulfed in floods of tears. For some reason my deceased mothers face came into my head.

My mother spent most of her life wanting to die but she ultimately lived until she was eighty six. I thought of my wife and family, and the fact that we had been through so much as a family, and we survived. I do not know what spirit guided my hand to take my phone and ring my son, but I did. I asked him if he could go and get his mother and his sister and bring them to our house and wait for me there. When I arrived home they were sitting in the living room.

We all sat down and I told them what was happening to me. Telling them about my abuse was the single most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. They only ever knew me as this strong husband and father who tried to go out and help people all of his life, and was this going to colour how they saw me? I told them about my desire to die. At this point I was in a deep state of trauma.

They called my GP, who when he saw me arranged for an immediate admission to a psychiatric hospital as (in his opinion) I had become extremely psychiatrically unwell.

This hospital became my home for the next 8 weeks, and I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder dating back to childhood sexual abuse.

My first morning waking up in hospital I could only describe as the lowest feeling I have ever experienced. The sense of defeat, of loneliness, of hopelessness was paralyzing. It was almost as if my greatest fears and nightmares had all come true at the one time. My greatest fear was that I would have ended up like my mother and yet here I was. I remember meeting the consultant psychiatrist who was to look after me. I bawled and cried incoherently, pleading not to electrocute me and fill me with tablets (like my mother), the fear of this happening was crippling. He was a kind soft spoken man who just listened to me, and assured me that this would not be the case, and that I would be a part of the treatment plan.

I genuinely believe looking back at that morning now, that the dignity and the respect that this young consultant afforded me in that first initial interview was the key that allowed me over time to confront my fears and hurts of over fifty years.

The first visit of Mary, Joseph and Jenny to the hospital five days later, for me, was horrific. Although I was delighted to see them, the shame and humiliation that I felt was something I will never forget. I was supposed to be the strong one, the one who fixed things for everyone else and here I was completely helpless, and in a deep state of hopelessness. I did not want to see the pity in their eyes. Their big strong father was reduced to this. But there was a great strength in the four of us being together, and that strength of family love offered some hope.

One morning early on in my hospital stay one of the residents who was in my unit was going home for good, having finished his treatment. We had been chatting at breakfast and I asked him if he had any tips to help me survive my time in the unit. He looked at me intently and said, “just be honest with yourself”. It was probably the most powerful but also the most challenging advice that I ever had received. But I was willing to take it on board and do whatever it took to get well.

Sitting down in therapy rooms was a bit like someone putting a mirror in front of you and asking you to look at yourself as you really are. It was painful, full of hurt and anger, shameful, humiliating, but mixed in with all of these emotions was a tiny seed beginning to grow, a growing sense of freedom, in that although the memories were painful, that’s all they were memories, and they could not hurt me anymore.

I began to learn that I was obsessed with proving my worth, with earning my place in the world. I had become my own jailer, telling myself that no matter what I did, I would never be good enough. I had spent my life trying to make a difference and trying to understand.

I wanted to be someone who fits in, who isn’t plagued by the idea of being different, or being cursed, or playing catch up forever in a relentless race away from the darkness of the past. I lived my life in fear and nobody would ever have known. You are afraid of the past, and of the future, and the present is so dark that you get lost in it and almost become the darkness. I didn’t know that fears kept hidden only became fiercer. I didn’t know that my habits of placating and pleasing are only making me worse. Fear is a killer, it saps your energy and keeps you from thinking straight.

My time in the hospital has helped me to realise how precious life is, and how fragile. To short, life was too short to settle for anything less than the love and the compassion and empathy which we are all capable of giving and receiving.

Coming back home into the “real world” and away from the cocoon of the hospital was very difficult. I could not deal with the deep sense of shame and humiliation.

I was this fragile child who had spent a lifetime, placating and pleasing and trying to make a difference in the world just to survive the deep rooted feelings of fear and inadequacy. I didn’t know what to do. I descended into a deep dark state of depression , and I could not leave the house. Some of the time, I could not leave my bedroom. I was paralyzed with fear and that fear was having a massive negative impact on almost every aspect of my life. This I had learned is trauma: a nearly constant feeling in my gut that something is wrong or that something terrible is going to happen. The automatic fear responses in my body telling me to run away, to take cover, to hide myself from the danger that is everywhere.

Every part of me wanted to die. There were days when it would have been easier to die, than to live, it was like death by a thousand cuts. Normally over the years when I experienced something like this, I just poured myself into my work, and kept myself busy, kept running.

But now I had no place to run to, I was too unwell, I just had to sit in the terror.

One Saturday afternoon, about six weeks after my release from hospital, something happened that was to define my whole world, and bring me back from the edge of nearly losing my mind.

I was on my own in the house sitting at the kitchen table when there was a loud knock on the front door. In an instance I was curled up in a foetal position under the kitchen table. The knocking continued for a few minutes. I had become a nine-year-old terrified boy. I will never forget the fear, I was howling, shaking, and frozen to the spot. The intensity of the waves of emotion rushing through my body were breathtaking and I believed that I was going to die. I could feel things happening to my body, it was like worms crawling through me and a feeling of my skin crawling. In the helplessness of the moment I did something that I had never done before, I started to pray to my mother. I just asked her to mind me and keep me safe. I started to hear my mother breathing; I knew that it was not me as it appeared to be outside of me. When I was a little boy, I used to lie down on the bed beside my mother when she would have taken to the bed in a deep dark depression. I would get great comfort from her deep breathing.

I know that this is very hard to explain, but I knew at that moment that my mother was there with me and the sound of her breath kept me safe. Language is not an adequate tool for something that can’t be perceived with our five physical senses, so it is difficult to find the right words to express my understanding of what took place during that experience. There are some things in life that we just cannot explain. This is the reason that we have miracles, and this was my miracle. After a while my mothers breathing seemed to become a part of my breathing and surroundings. Although I still felt drained and very tearful, it was almost that following fifty years of trying to understand and navigate the human condition and putting together a tapestry of life, I had finally found the one piece that was missing to complete the picture.

Somehow, I knew that from that moment on I was going to be ok. At that moment sitting in a foetal position under our kitchen table I knew that no matter how bad I was feeling, that is all it was, a feeling, and that feelings could do me no harm. It was the behaviours that I had learned over the years to escape these feelings, and forming attachments to these behaviours, was what was keeping me unwell. The knocking on the front door had unlocked memories, which had created a tsunami of feelings. I discovered that having the feelings and memories was ok, and instead of running away from them, I just had to allow the memories to breathe (much easier said than done) . I spent most of the weekend in floods of tears after that. Everybody thought I was getting worse, but the truth was I was beginning to feel a little bit better.

I now know from reading “Paddy’s Story” that I was experiencing “The Dawning of Awareness”.

I had lived a very isolated life, always on the outside looking in. Afraid to laugh, afraid to cry, never trusting that everything was going to be ok. Even on family occasions, I was always on the outside looking in, afraid to live in the moment in case that moment was taken away. The biggest difficulty for me was letting down that guard and letting people in. I remembered the advice I got from a fellow patient in the hospital who told me that I could never move on in my life unless I learned to be honest with myself. Once I learned to let my guard down at home and share my feelings, I was astonished at the power of forgiveness and loyalty and compassion that came from Mary, Joseph, and Jenny, even though my behaviours over time had hurt them.

In order to heal I had to be willing to let people close to me into my very fractured and scared world which was full of insecurity and doubt and a lot of hurt. I carried huge regrets over mistakes I had made. I grew up with an obsession of having to be perfect, and having to have my voice heard in order to survive. I learned from my family that I did not have to be perfect, and that it is our imperfections that make us human.

Awareness initially is a very painful place, as it means looking at my own failings and imperfections, and taking responsibility for the mistakes that I had made on my journey, in particular the mistakes that would have impacted in a negative way on other people. I carried a lot of guilt. In my lifelong rush to “save the world” and everybody in it, I have made many mistakes, and when you live your life without conscious awareness, the mind plays games with you. It could make you see things that were not there, or not see things that were staring you in the face, I know how naive I must sound, but the truth is I was not inexperienced.You don’t come out of abuse, some blinkered innocent, but you do come out desperate to love and to be loved, to be listened to, to feel that you are somebody. There is a kind of toughness mixed with fragility, a detachment…. It is hard to explain. But ultimately despite what the mitigating circumstances of my life were, I still have to take responsibility for my faults and failings and try to understand, because if I don’t, I will only live out the rest of my life in blame and denial.

This was also the first time that I began to see that we do have a choice: to pay attention to what we have lost or pay attention to what we still have. Choice is a word that can really be misunderstood. Some people will say that “you always have a choice in the decisions we make” I believe that that is too simplistic. You only have a choice if you have awareness, when you do not have awareness, your choices and behaviours can be very automatic, because (as I learned from this website) they tend to be coming from the survival brain, and not always in our best interests.

But I now knew that I had a choice, I can either lie down and die, or get up and live. I choose to get up and live. This was much easier said than done, and you must recognize that you have to be willing to let people in who genuinely want to help.

I spent three more years attending therapy as an outpatient in the hospital where I received my treatment.

I let people guide me towards disciplines like physical exercise, meditation, writing exercises, understanding diet, self-help groups, yoga, which i discovered that if you understand the reason for pursuing these disciplines, and practice them diligently and consistently, piece by piece over time, they can have a profound impact in a positive way on your life. Where they really helped me was that they allowed me to live in the moment, and to accept reality.

At some level we are all doing our best, because we want the best. But without conscious awareness we will inevitably stumble from one crisis to another. I now know that reality is the best place to be. Not in the short-term, because in the short-term reality is a very painful place to be, which is why we avoid reality and live our life in pretend. But take it from me, pretense is a killer, it just brings a life of fear and misery which will ultimately destroy you. But accepting reality in the short-term brings a life of freedom in the long term, and it brings with it an understanding that both good and bad things have happened to you and will happen to you in the future. The key is not to get stuck in the short term with it, and to trust that no matter how dire the situation seems right now, you can survive it. Because the moment you accept the troubles you have been given, the door often opens to another way of seeing things and subsequently doing things.

If you can accept your life as it is, then you can start to do something about it.

Accepting is not the same as wimping out by the way. Wimping out means not making a decision at all, whereas accepting the situation means making a decision to do so. And once you have made that decision, you have given yourself options that you can hopefully move forward with.

This sort of acceptance requires a substantial amount of letting go: letting go of past hurts, letting go of trying to find somebody to blame, letting go of expectations that the world owes us anything at all.

It also requires forgiveness – both of others and of yourself – and a choice to live your life as it is rather than focusing on how it could or should be.

Forgiveness is not easy. It is easier to hold grudges, to seek revenge, to hold on to anger. It is easier to live in the past and blame others for where I am in my life today. At best revenge is useless, it will not change what was done to me, it can’t erase the wrongs I have suffered. At worst revenge perpetuates the cycle of hate. It keeps the hate alive. When we seek revenge, even non-violent revenge, we are revolving, not evolving. Revenge does not set you free.

So, I stood outside the door of an old house in my home town and forgave him (even though he was long dead, I was holding on to the painful memories of the hurt in my heart). This had nothing to do with him. It was something I did for me. I was letting go, releasing the part of myself that has spent most of my life exerting the mental and spiritual energy to keep my abuse in chains. To forgive is to grieve – for what happened – for what didn’t happen.

Forgiveness and acceptance are two of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do, as it meant focusing on my own mistakes and imperfections as a human. The most difficult thing you will ever have to do is to become aware, step into the reality of the moment, and face your own mistakes and imperfections as a human, but to get to that place, to be able to do that, is indeed life changing.

Nobody ever set out to be an addict, or to have a difficult and traumatic life. I can beat myself up for the rest of my life over decisions I have made. Keep asking myself could I have done anything different? Maybe. And I will live for all of the rest of my life with that possibility, and I can keep beating myself up for having made the wrong choices. This is my prerogative. Or I can accept that the more important choice was not the one I made when I was lonely, desperately wanting to belong and to be heard, desperate to make a difference in the world, desperate to be loved,

desperate to feel any other identity than a hurt dirty little 9-year-old abused boy: or it’s the one that I can make now, to accept myself as I am, human and imperfect. To be the best I can. To honour the struggle that my parents had. To keep following my dream of trying to make the world a better place, to keep using every moment to try to make the world a better place.

To finally accept that there is suffering in life and there are defeats. No one can avoid them. But it is better to lose some of the battles in the struggle for your own dreams than to be defeated without ever knowing what you were fighting for.

Letting go does not mean that the past is gone. The past will never be gone (and as I learned on this website) the past is always present, because your emotional brain holds on to everything for survival. But with awareness it does mean that when painful moments come (and they will) and you feel a wave of hurt or sorrow or anger washing over you, you can learn how to manage it.

Always remember, our painful experiences are not a liability, they are a gift. They give us perspective and meaning, and an opportunity to find our unique purpose and hidden strengths.

Anonymous

Paddy Rafter

Paddy Rafter

If you need help with with Anxiety, Depression, Addiciton or are experiencing Coercive Control, Join me Community where I share my Music, Tips, Tools and Experiences.