Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery of the truth about the unique history of our childhood. Is it possible to free ourselves altogether from illusions? History demonstrates that they sneak in everywhere, that every life is full of them – perhaps because the truth is so essential that its loss exacts a heavy toll, in the form of grave illness. In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom. If we choose instead to content ourselves with intellectual ‘wisdom‘, we will remain in the sphere of illusion and self deception.
The Drama of Being a Child
My name is Deborah.. For many years I was lost, the bridge between myself and others was shattered by events in my history and in my family, but even before those events I wandered with a sense of deep aloneness in my soul, restless and seeking. From an early age it seemed I watched from the sidelines and saw further and deeper into things, but there was no place of affirmation and so very early on I began to use a journal to write and find an avenue of expression for my soul.
At the same time I experienced much confusion due to the neglect and emotional abandonment of my parents. These wounds were all invisible and would take a long time to bring to light, since I was provided for physically, however the emotional connection was absent and as my family of much older siblings began to break apart I suffered a deep sense of growing disconnection and dissociation, which I have come to understand through therapy and inner work on my emotional recovery are core symptoms of Complex PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
At the age of 17 I suffered a massive motor vehicle trauma. My left femur was shattered, my ulnar bone and ribs were broken leading to a punctured lung and I was trapped in a crushed car while rescue workers and paramedics worked to free me. It was a painful and frightening experience, that left deep imprints on my soul. I was placed in skeletal traction after being operated on and spent the final semester of my schooling in hospital.
Six months following this my eldest sister lay down on the floor after weeks of headaches and a blood vessel burst in her brain, she entered a coma and hovered there for some time. Following this other painful events followed. Our family began to shatter which led to more broken attachments.
Several years later my father was diagnosed with cancer and died within six weeks. By the age of 23 I was certainly suffering from as then undiagnosed and untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and attempting to medicate that with alcohol. And life was due to spiral even more out of control over the next 8 years as all the complex emotions surrounding these experiences and from my lonely childhood were more deeply buried in my body.
Immediately following my father’s death my partner of the time decided it was all to hard to cope with and met someone else. In truth I now see he had never really loved me. Throughout the entire relationship he would refer to his ex girlfriend who was the love of his life. Our relationship was not real, it was based on illusion, he was a dope addict and we were both using drugs addictively for some time. Our entire relationship was based around getting high. At the age of 23 I was in a fog and suffering from psychic blindness. In that relationship I had my first two terminations of pregnancy. Emotionally unnurtured and immature I knew on some level I would not be able to give a child what it most needed.
Our plans to meet overseas and travel were cancelled in a 4 am phone call. The deep psychic suffering I was in and the grief, all of which I could not feel or share with my family I drowned down with alcohol. One month following my father’s death, pushed away by my mother, scared and confused I travelled alone to England, and worked and travelled through Europe.
Intimate relationships were fraught with difficulty all during those years. I had weak boundaries to non existent boundaries, was highly sensitive and receptive emotionally and energetically and had next to no emotional insight into myself. Due to my history with my parents and siblings, I had the pattern of attracting partners who would abandon me and were emotionally illiterate (suffering what I now know is as Alexithymia – a difficulty naming and processing emotions), shut down or absent as I was to my inner self. In truth, I too found it impossible to sustain emotional intimacy. During that entire time I was cast out on so many occasions by people who did not understand the deep inner pain my addiction hid.
Bizzarely fate brought me into contact with my ex in Greece during that time and due to my lack of self care and boundaries I allowed him to use me for sex further and then abandon me when he found someone more together emotionally than I was. Sad as it is to say. I really believed on some level I did deserve this kind of treatment. I should have had a sense of outrage for myself. But due to the pain of my past I had not learned about psychic boundaries. Because I was not respected, I learned not to respect myself and so promiscuity, tied with alcohol all became part of the picture. I was an open target for predators, due to the pain of my past and the lack of value that was shown towards my deepest feelings and needs and towards the sanctity of my body in childhood.
The list of invasions to my psychic and physical boundaries I could list here. Having my personal journals read and then being mocked or diminished for the feelings, having my arm pulled out of my socket by being swung around, being tickled past the point of distress and pain and having my cries to stop unacknowledged, having my foot burned due to my mother leaving a bucket of boiling water under it in one of her cleaning frenzies on a caravanning holiday. Having a fishhook stuck in my big toe that was left on the floor. Being told you really are a clumsy child, just too sensitive, such a drama queen. These are just some of what is abuse but took me years to recognise as abuse.
I will not go further into the details of the next painful 9 years suffice to say that at 31 I turned up at an AA meeting and finally found the key and modicum of self respect and care for myself to put down substances. And so my journey to recover and heal myself began. It took 10 more years and the ending of my marriage to discover my co-dependency, which lay at the core of my addiction. To begin the recovery of what Charles Whitfield and others have called the real or True Self, from within the prison of the false self, well that would take 20 years and is still ongoing. It has been a massive work which led me to breakdown and the dark night of the soul about which I am writing here.
I now see that all these experiences forced me inward to develop the most important relationship, the one with myself. However nurturing empathetic relationships with others who understood were very important. The problem was, due to my history I was not likely to attract these.
I have learned, the nature of our relationships is always a product of the nature of the relationship we have with ourselves and that relationship is so strongly influenced by the one we have with our parents and by the nature and quality most early significant attachments. Also if we do not learn to develop a relationship with our deepest feelings and needs and learn to act on behalf of them we end up with a deep problem which can and does lead to illness. For me the feelings that I could not express began to be experienced somatically. At the age of 31 I sought help for my addiction through Alcoholics Anonymous, a great river of sadness that I had been holding began to break open but new problems came with developing the power to express and feel my own truth.
In my quest for healing and in order to attempt to build a bridge with my then husband’s family we moved over to the UK from Australia. I moved away from those rooms of AA because it felt that on some level I was questioning things that just did not gel. It seemed I was being blamed for being an addict and being told it was a life sentence when really the addiction was an avenue I took due to my difficulty with honoring and expressing feelings. That I had developed this difficulty was not my fault, it was a result of my history. It was in the UK that I embarked on my second attempt at therapy. An attempt which sadly was aborted due to fear and the deep psychic calling I felt to return to my father’s house by the sea which was the place the represented to me the smash up of those Plutonian years 1978-1986 and offered me a place of rest and healing that I needed.
In truth I needed to be alone with my soul. So in 2001 feeling great sadness and ambivalence we returned, I aborted therapy and eventually my marriage of 11 years fell apart. There as Neptune began its slow passage over all of my personal planets I entered the dark night. Three years later fate bought to me the last painful relationship which was the final attempt to be heard by someone else and the most essential learning of my life. That until I could love for, care and nurture me, no one else was going to do it.
I have learned that the most important need of the child is to be mirrored and affirmed for her true self. To have his or her feelings and needs reflected back and made sense of. This was not possible for my parents, due to their own issues. I was taught early on to deny pain, that injuries should not hurt and there were many injuries, especially physical ones that have only come to awareness in later years. At times I was laughed at when I was injured, sent to my room when I tried to express anger, or had my boundaries invaded in ways which, as a young child I was not aware of.
So much of what we experience in childhood remains inside us, not as a memory, especially the earliest experience, but as a deep psychic and sensory energy or vibration that is just felt. Before we develop and fully formed ego, and that depends on the ability of our parents to adequately mirror us, we are just immersed in a sea of sensations. Assaults on our person are stored in the body. The work of Peter Levine into trauma shows that imprints of traumas stay in the body as a psychic imprint and then later try to work their way out.
I think it was Freud who gave the name repitiition compulsion to this process. Alice Miller talks about it in many of her books, but most especially The Drama of Being a Child, from which I have quoted at the beginning of this article.
For me the path of grief and loss due to the loss of relationship with myself led into the dark night of addiction and then to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and then out again in a quest for a deeper understanding than I could find there. I was not a defective character, my soul was in mourning for the loss of myself and I never learned to separate who I was from others because I was so sensitive and receptive. I had never been taught the skills to care for, nourish and protect myself. I had an open heart and also a hunger to receive the love that it was hard for my parents to show me.
When the traumas of my early adolescence hit, I had no resources to deal with them and so I began to turn to alcohol to numb my feelings: a practice that was encouraged by my father and elder sister, who sought a drinking buddy. In the absence of support in the face of these traumas, also I learned to deny them and bury the pain inside… But what was buried had to emerge and it took many years of recovery for that process to begin to unfold and unravel, a process that is still ongoing today as I learn how to nurture myself and care for my spirit in nourishing ways.
Broken attachments underlie addictions. Broken or insecure and inconsistent attachments leave us traumatised and alone and very confused and insecure when relating. They lead us to isolate or seek other avenues to alleviate the distress. When the bridge inward to our heart and feelings, to our deepest core nature is blocked, we suffer and this suffering takes the form of an unconscious longing and grief. Charles Whitfield, John Bradshaw and Alice Miller write that it is only through developing the capacity to do our grief work, to mourn for what was lost that we recover and find our way home to our true self. It is only in understanding our history and its impact that we come home. For, from out of the depths of aloneness and through the recognition of our deepest suffering we pay the coin to the ferryman which will take us across the dark ocean to the distant beautiful shore of sunlight, grace and love which is our true home.
For a long time I wandered, seeking the way back to my heart and my home. In the Divine Comedy Dante writes.
In the middle of my life I found myself in a deep dark wood.
That is where I found myself in midlife. There was fog all around. It has been a long, long, journey to find a path through that tangled wood, to understand the nature of and mend my fractures, a journey with many twists and turns which led at times to the re-traumatisation of unconscious injuries which rose up in order to make more clear the nature of the initial trauma. It has been a journey that has taken me through deep ravines of pain and suffering and periods of extreme isolation and aloneness within which I was trying to develop a new relationship with myself. Such a journey is not uncommon in midlife, when the deep needs and scars of the soul can rise up and ask of us a finding of a new way to express and free our trapped spirits.
Slowly I am finding my way home to myself. When I feel the truth inside my body I am home. When I feel the tears flow. When I can feel great joy and revel in my darling puppy’s excitement and play without censoring. When I can laugh and sing and dance and feel the vast awesomeness of a dappled sunset I know I am coming alive and finally emerging from my chrysalis and the dark night experience of my soul to be fully awake and alive on this amazing planet which is earth.
My journey through the dark has led me to deep aloneness and through my ability to remain in that to a deeper feeling of connection with the earth and the collective of which I am a part. Some degree of aloneness I do feel is essential to birth ourselves as individuals. Paradoxically the more deep my capacity for solitude the more deep my capacity for intimacy is. I need periods of rest and quiet contemplation to feel my connection with my feelings and with life. For me without that ability to be with and see into me (intimacy) I am lost to myself and to others. With it and through it I am connected to humanity and to life.
To begin to learn that I had a right to live my own life and be me, well that is the biggest lesson of all. Sometimes in order to grow I may have to leave behind that which no longer serves me. This isn’t selfishness. It is a sign of self respect. And the deeper truth is that is it in learning to love and care for ourselves that we learn to love and care for others.