I’ve been on a journey. I’ve wandered many trails. I’ve lost my way, then found my way, and then lost and found my way again. My feet have felt the red earth and my eyes have gazed at the stars, and the road trip to Self has sent me down many dead ends, many circular exits from unmarked paths, and many halting steps forward into uncomfortable unknowns. Such are the conditions when one consciously chooses to cast one’s being on the entry ramp to the Highway of Hope.
Some time ago I wrote a book called JAGGED. It was written by an untreated man. It was written by a man who was desperate to escape depression, addiction, and strong feelings of inner inadequacy and hopelessness. It was written by a man buffeted by a maelstrom of storms within. It was written by a man who was unknowingly preparing himself to embrace the ending of all things for all time.
The book contained a hellish description of the damage, the legacies, and the pain contained within the mind of one Survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I do not regret writing the book and I never will. Prior to writing it I had thought that my journey to that date had been far too much for any human being to have to bear, but looking back I now see the book as the necessary catalyst that was needed to throw me far deeper into the abyss than I had thought possible. There are depths beyond depths below the bottom of the abyss, and on one of those levels I glimpsed in my plummeting a tiny little signpost pointing vaguely in the general direction of the Highway of Hope. I could have so easily missed that little sign.
In August 2020 I ended up in a mental health ward for a period and I had no idea how I had arrived there, I had totally lost any sense of self. Because of the nihilistic state of my mind, and perhaps because the mental health professionals there recognised that I had carried my maladies and legacies and PTSD for sixty two untreated years they took a bit of a gamble, and they offered me a year’s worth of weekly psychotherapy sessions with a Psychiatric Registrar. I say that it was a gamble on their part because my mindscape was so fractured that there was no assurance that I would even turn up.
It doesn’t hurt to occasionally have a laugh at one’s own hubris. When I was discharged from the mental health unit I though that I was well on the path to recovery and that my life was finally on some sort of healthy track. What actually happened is that I fell further apart at an ever accelerating rate. Hubris always comes back to bite you on the arse.
It took four long months for the psychotherapy to be organised. It took that long because the right kind of Psychiatric Registrar had to be found, one who could deal with an untreated Survivor of multiple instances of extreme abuse and rape. During the search for the right person I lost my love for writing, I felt that I had nothing to say and nothing to comment on, and I had lost touch with the person who used to write about so many whimsical and quirky things. The feel for writing, as of January 2022 is slowly coming back, but it has been preceded by quite a roller-coaster of ups and downs.
And so to the psychotherapy … I have about three weekly sessions to go, the year of treatment is almost up.
Psychotherapy is hard work, very hard work, there are no magic bullets or miracles or easy gains. Even the smallest of changes have to be fought for, and re-fought for. Setbacks are legion, and the exposure of past events and emotions and the dissection of legacies is very difficult. It was one thing to write JAGGED in the safety of my own room, it is altogether another thing to unpeel such content face to face with another person.
At first I could not open up, I could not trust the Psychiatric Registrar. It took months to establish real trust. It took so long because I had to learn to trust, I had to learn that in a general sense there really wasn’t a predator creeping up silently behind me with horrible things in mind.
Trying to unpack multiple instances of childhood trauma is no easy task. When I was a child I could not process the first instance of abuse, let alone process the multiple instances of abuse that followed. So it was difficult to define a clear starting point for the therapy. My past, the events and the emotions of my past existed in my present. My thoughts erratically jumped between events as though they were being experienced in real time – and so it had always been.
The only answer to all of that was to disconnect myself from my past to an extent. Not easy to do. Instead of nurturing the Child Within (which seems to work for many people) I had to choose a different path. I killed off the child within, which took some time – he was irretrievably damaged and his presence mired me continually in the morass. I am glad he has his freedom from me, and I am glad that I have my freedom from him. My past experiences are no longer like a film running on re-loop in my mind, they are more like a photo that I can pick up if I so choose, and then put down and away if I so choose. There’s a sense of freedom in finally having a choice.
During the psychotherapy I didn’t much concern myself with the Catholic Church. Apart from sending a well deserved rocket up the arses of two Brisbane Bishops I was happy to let my attentions focus on the psychotherapy.
September 2021 was a landmark month. The psychotherapy had been progressing slowly but well. Out of the blue I mentally collapsed and ended up in the mental health ward for another two weeks. It ended up being a seminal moment in the life of this black duck because Change, Real Change, stood up and asked how about you give me a solid go for a change?
It all came about in an unexpected way. While I was in the ward they conducted all sorts of health checks and it was discovered that I had a lesion on my, shock horror, very swollen prostate – ah well, old man stuff and all that. After a few ultra-sound sessions and an interesting trip into the bowels of an MRI I was placed on the Cat 1 Waiting List for urgent surgery within 30 days. As an aside it is interesting to note that Health Department spin merchants crow about how Cat 1 Waiting Lists are largely up to date … mmm … I’m about to hit 90 days. However in this matter things are looking up. Tomorrow I’m going in for the pre-anaesthetic appointment, and on the 11th I’m scheduled for the surgery … a biopsy of the lesion and a re-bore of the prostate … makes me feel like an old car whose engine is about to get a makeover.
However, the seminal moment I was talking about has to do with a different matter, and all of you who have a prostate are probably going to wince a bit while reading this paragraph. Having a swollen prostate means that peeing is not the absolute joy that it used to be, and that means, you guessed it, the entrance so to speak of the dreaded Catheter. Now the insertion of a Catheter is a pretty straight forward procedure in the vast majority of cases. In my case there were, um, blockages, and the prostate was so swollen the poor tube didn’t stand a chance. The nurses had a few goes, a urology doctor had many many goes, the head of the urology department, finally after 3.5 hours got the pesky thing in. The pain was unrelenting and atrocious and somewhere amongst all that arrived the seminal moment …
It is pretty well known that some Survivors of extreme or multiple instances of trauma have trouble re-integrating mind and body. The pain was such that I had no choice but to be in the present. Thinking about the past simply flew out the window as my body and mind shook hands and agreed to work together – bear the pain, don’t move, focus solidly on one thing for 3.5 hours (not that I knew it would take that long). When I eventually collapsed back on the bed the film in my head had stopped running. There was no Flicker, Flicker of the film frames. I’ll leave you to muse on how such a thing could come to be. Was it a forced re-integration of mind and body, was it the eight months of psychotherapy prior to the catheterisation, was it simply going to happen anyway? Who knows? I don’t, but I’m sure happy with the change.
So what are the words that are about to come out of a man who has been solidly helped by a year’s worth of psychotherapy.
My therapist (the Psychiatric Registrar) and I met and entered into an agreement together. She and I both committed to a year long process no matter what lay ahead of us – the pain, the re-living, the gains the failures, the fear and the joy, the excruciatingly uncomfortable moments, the shredding of comfort zones, the separation of current fact from emotional memory, the facing of fear, the embrace of change, and the many lettings go.
Psychotherapy is a long process, and both participants are deeply changed by the experience. Thank you Dr. H – a heartfelt thank you. I suppose I should also thank JAGGED, it belongs back then but it did help to lead to now.
I can only speak for myself. There are things about me that will never change. I carry some legacies that will always be with me and I embrace that fact.
I now know that there is nothing wrong with my brain. It reacted in a very normal manner to the trauma that it saw and experienced. It sought to protect me and it succeeded in that role for a very long time – but it had to unlearn many things and had to realise that the circumstances that led to the need for protection ceased to exist well over 62 years ago.
So what do I want? Acceptance of myself as I am now. I want a simple and happy life. I don’t care how tentative my footsteps are along the Highway of Hope, I’m simply glad that I’ve learned enough to take them.
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