Mental Wellbeing – I’m Healing!

If you haven’t already, it might be a good idea to read part one of this article and grab a coffee whilst you are at it.  This is the continuing story of my own mental wellbeing journey, one that I had no idea I had to take, because generally I felt great.  I didn’t suffer from bouts of depression, I felt anxious sometimes, depending on events around me but never saw myself as suffering from anxiety but as it turned out, I was in need of some major mental healing.  The previous article finished with me experience what I can only image is a true state of peace for the first in my life, I had a sense of calm and fulfillment that I had never experienced before, I thought I had (to quote Shrek) peeled back all my onion layers.

The very next morning I woke up and it was back, that simmering rage in my gut, that thing that had learned to control throughout my life was letting itself be felt, what else could possibly left to unpack!!  Over the next few weeks I was about to find out.

The brain, as I have come to realise through the research I do for my day job is a fascinating if somewhat complicated organ that’s sole purpose is to ensure our survival.  One of its strategies to ensure we can continue with our life when the chips are down is to bury our most traumatic experiences, never to be remembered until it thinks our conscious self can cope with whatever it has hidden.

Up until that time in my life I had developed a mistrust of everyone in authority, reinforced by a drunken and physically abusive father, a physically violent primary one teacher, and a psychologically aggressive primary 4 and 5 teacher and all during those early years, I had no one to go to for help (my mother was never able to stand up to my father).  My father was then kicked out of our house when my mother finally got support, they divorced 2 years later to which my father drank himself to death when I was 15 years old.  Its safe to say there was no love in my family or my life up to that point but I had a job as a milk boy that I loved, I worked along side a school friend Craig and the driver of the milk float I’ll call him Bill.  I looked up to Bill, he looked like he had everything going for him, a happy family, a great sense of humour, all his customers including my mother loved him and thought he was great, indeed he was highly respected in the community.  When he offered me extra hours on the farm whilst I waited until I was old enough to leave school I jumped at the chance.  These memories of that time in my life as it would turn out are incomplete, there is a time from just after my father died to when I joined the army that my brain refuses to let me remember, that would not stay that way for long.

Listening to an audible book in the car on my way home I experienced a flash back (I didn’t know that at the time) an image that quite frankly was awful, at the time I put it down to an overactive warped imagination and dismissed it.  Then a couple of weeks later whilst traveling home in the car listening to an audible book I got hit with another 2 images, clearly connected to the first one.  I didn’t know what to do with them, they were vile, and the simmering rage in my stomach started to boil, I didn’t know what was happening and had no idea, even with the level of awareness I had developed, how to process this information.  As part of the process that I had been going through with Rico Gomez I was journaling my thoughts and experiences so when I got home I opened up my note book and started writing and as I did this, my mind released more information, providing context around the images, when I next saw Rico, I let him know what I had experienced.  Still the simmering rage remained, I had not finished this journey yet.  It took another couple of weeks of journaling before my brain released the final flash back needed to understand what had really happened, and again, it was vile (I don’t use that word lightly), without going into the detail of it, Bill was sexually assaulting me at the farm, each image was getting more graphic and worse until the final short video hit me.  In one of those incidents I defended myself against not just Bill but one other male, I lost my temper and lashed out at them both, my punishment for that was they both raped me.  For the 15year old boy, that was the final straw, there was no love in this life, and absolutely everyone in power were to be avoided and kept at arms length.  This was the root of my rage, this was the driving force behind my need to stay in control because if I ever lost control awful things would happen.

I had shut love out of my life, when I was talking to Rico, he would say, the way to get past fear is to embrace love.  It was then I realised I had never experienced what love actually “felt” like and I said at the time, you might as well ask me to give you a lift into town when I had no idea what you meant by “lift”, I had no concept of what a car was and a town, what’s that?  This is what love meant to me at that point at best I practiced some of the behaviours of love but none of it had any feeling attached.  Something that I discovered whilst reading the research on trauma that is not unusual with trauma victims.  Indeed severe trauma victims can also lose physical feeling as well as emotional feeling.

My body had been carrying the signs of this trauma for 35years and I had no idea, it made me as an adult a very unpleasant person to be around when I was not happy but nobody would tell me in that moment because I had developed a “look”, an extremely aggressive look that stopped me having to become physically violent, it worked, it kept me out of trouble but at what cost to my family?  Now the real healing begins.

The Healing Process

Now that I have come to terms with my past, I now need to develop new habits, I need to learn to feel again and to deal with adversity.   I have 35years of body memory that I now need to re-train.  My level of awareness now is super high, I know when I am being triggered, moving into a stress response that may not be helpful to the people around me and I can stop that response, reconcile it and for the most part hold a calm place.  Its not fool proof yet, I get caught out on the odd occasion but I deal with it quickly.  Here are some of my strategies now that my awareness is at a heightened level.

  • I meditate every day, sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for half an hour, what ever feels right.
  • I have kept journaling noting everyday, something I am proud of and something I am grateful for.
  • I sat down with Kirsty, my wife, told her my journey, and we talked about what that meant for us as a couple from triggers, to communication, to the showing of love between us and our kids.
  • I don’t get caught up in time.  This is something new to me.  In my effort to stay in control I had to plan everything, now, at best I give myself one thing to do each day and that’s it.  Life throws stuff at us all the time, we get to choose what we react to and what we don’t.  This has been a big mental shift for me, but one that stops me feeling guilty for NOT working 10 hour days.  It allows me to take time out for my health e.g. going for a walk at 11am for an hour and not feeling guilty about it.
  • I am reconnecting more with people around me.  This process would scare my 8yr old self but we seem to be comfortable with this now.
  • I am mindful of practicing habits of love, being more thoughtful and considerate of others, being more generous with my time to help those around me, showing gratitude where ever I can and being there to support my family as and when they need it.

Slowly I am keeping myself open to how my body feels, both the good and the bad, letting the feelings happen and sit with them, after all this is what it means to be human.  My healing is still work in progress but I am determined to keep at it, to be a better husband to Kirsty and to be the best dad I can be for my boys Lachlan and Jamie.

I just want to say this last thing, if by reading these two articles, you connect with (all or part of) my journey, reach out and get help.  Find a counselor or psychologist that you connect with and explore what is really going on with your mind and your body, for me I would definitely reach out to Rico Gomez, his approach is kind, to the point and he genuinely gets excited when you peel back another layer of your onion!

Whatever you do, please do not do nothing!