By Keith Thomas Davis
My name is Keith. I am 66 years-old. I am a Survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I note with simple cold detachment that a certain Cardinal’s legal team is hoping to change his circumstances, and all of that will unfold as it will. Well I, and most other Survivors, would dearly love to see our circumstances changed too. We have to spend many years of our lives seeking any sort of release from the weight of Depression and PTSD that was foisted onto us by our clerical abusers. There is no early release for us.
I have lived each and every single day of my life, from 5 years old onward, surrounded by depression and a colossal case of PTSD. The memories of the cause never leave me. So from where I stand, a couple of months for some pampered bod in a pampered jail cell is but a picnic by comparison.
The photo is of me in 1979 … depressed for 22 years by that stage, and desperately trying to pretend otherwise. Today, 39 years later, I look at my eyes in that photo, and they say it bloody all.
Survivors. We are real people. We are far more than just a 5 second vignette tacked onto the sensationalist reporting of certain high-flying court cases. We live lives that have been greatly affected by the perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse.
Who are Survivors? We are you. At birth we had the same potential as you. The potential to do great things, or nothingnesses, or the myriad of things in between. And then something happened to us. And against our choice, we became not like you.
Have you ever really wanted to say something without fear staying your hand? Powerful protected voices tend to swamp ours out. Well, not this time.
I’m dropping the fear, and I’m going to rip it all out there as bare as I can, come what may. This document is the hardest thing I have ever written … and it is doubly hard to countenance the fact that what I relate below, my history and my life, is not at all unique … it is far from unique … because too many men, women, and children out there in our society have experiences similar to mine. What an appalling indictment of our society that is.
There are some inescapable truths about how our lives have been affected. Our voices are muted, rarely heard in full, so I would like to inform you about how it feels to be a depressed recipient of clerical abuse. It is not pretty, and the living of it has been even less so. Yet, I say these things without anger, and later on I’ll explain why.
Depression and PTSD are no laughing matter. They are a scourge. I would give anything to not be a lifelong expert in such matters. The following is written for other Survivors, for people with depression from other causes, and for people who are blessedly without it. I want to challenge, and inform. On the surface it might just appear to be my history, something that I have lived, but in truth it is an Everyperson Story, it is about all of us and the things that happen within our society.
Here’s what depression feels like to me …
“Depression is a right bastard. It clings to you with the holding power of ten tons of superglue. You can’t just simply flick it off. The air and the ground of the world you are trying to walk through, and exist in, is made of dense, restricting, molasses. You cannot push your way through, and every single step meets resistance. You cannot breathe with even a touch of ease. Despite the surface face-saving appearance of brave man, everything scares you and undermines the fragility of your self-worth. It affects every single facet of every corner of your life. It affects your ability to relate to your partner, your family, your children, your friends, your workplace, yourself, and every other person you meet. It stops you from trusting everything and everyone. And that’s how depression feels to me on a light day.”
None of those words confront me anymore. None of them are a surprise. Their content has rattled around within me for the last 61 years. Those words have been my life, every one of those words has been my life. As measured by psychiatrists and psychologists my abuse experiences, and the resultant effects on me, fall at the extreme end of the spectrum. As measured by me, I agree with all of that, and then some. I’m not affected by flashbacks or nightmares largely because the memories of what happened to me are simply always there. It is not as if my sub-conscious has to search around for them.
I have no intention of going into the specific details of my abuse. It was sickening for me to experience them, their frequency was unrelenting, and it would sicken you to read about them.
Also, there are some areas I will not deeply share, but they are part of the cost. I have met some outstanding women in my life, and all of those relationships were lost. Not because any of us were unwilling or unloving. I can understand, now, that it is difficult to hang in there when either side could not effectively break through the veil of my depression.
I have three beautiful children. We all love each other, and we all struggle to communicate clearly across the gulf of my depression. To the end of my days I will never stop trying.
I have three siblings. A brother, and two sisters. I cannot reach them. Costs and abiding sorrows underscore the lives of many Survivors.
For the above three reasons, let alone the abuse, I will never forgive my abusers, but nor will I ever hate them. The negative of unforgiveness is balanced out by the positive of hatelessness. Neutrality. That’s the best I can do. I’ll run with that.
Until a decade ago, I’d lived all of my life acutely aware that things were simply not happy within me. I was too shy, and too reticent to engage in any meaningful way with other human beings. Despite my best efforts I could never successfully engage with the external world, and the people within it. On the surface I bumbled along and appeared to live a regular sort of life. It took an inordinate amount of nervous energy to maintain that illusion (I am sure many people can relate to that).
I started journalism at UQ and couldn’t complete it. I started computer science elsewhere, and couldn’t complete it. I started business studies at USC and couldn’t complete it. I wanted to become a professional man, and couldn’t attain it. I could not engage effectively with the external world. The smothering nature of my memories, my fear, and my agoraphobia won.
Back in the day, back in my day, abuse victims were not helped. We were seen as an embarrassment whose experiences were never to be talked about. The Priests on the other hand, were venerated. I left the orphanage thinking that all the years of torment had been my own fault, and therefore that deep underneath, I must have been a bad sort of person, even though in opposition to that my rational mind said that, no, I was not.
Well, surprise, surprise, hello … Depression and PTSD … they sprinted in my door like malevolent banshees and enveloped me for all of the years that were yet to come.
The kicker here is that I did not know that I was deeply depressed. I did not see the lack of drive and lack of spontaneity in me that others saw writ large. I did not like the memories that I had but I simply thought that … gosh … if this is life … then it sure as heck is one mountainous shit sandwich. I couldn’t understand why, if I was at least good enough to be admitted to various tertiary courses, I never seemed to be good enough to complete them. It was all so incredibly frustrating.
It is not exactly funny how it all works folks. When you are continually abused as a young child over many years you end up thinking that you are the one who has done something wrong or bad. You then carry that unfair legacy throughout your adult life. And you end up thinking that everyone can see this badness deep within you … even if the poor sods are only trying to say hello to you. If someone treats you badly you tend to absorb it and stay mute. You end up thinking that you are simply just not good enough. Ever.
At this point it would be so very easy to choose anger over love. It would be so very easy to spew out my anger over my lost life and the meagre sentences handed down to the pampered and protected clerical perpetrators – those beggars for early release. But no to anger I think, because it consumes, and because it widens the wounds. And no to anger I think, because it will not give me back lost time, it will simply add to the total of the loss. I choose to share a positive, even though it exists in a work-in-progress state.
I am just one voice, and there are so many more out there who have never been heard. I want the following to be of assistance to fellow sufferers. I want it to help. I want it to show that hope is possible, and that there are ways out. I also want the following to inform anyone who does not have depression but may be connected to someone who does. I could not have thought the below, or written the below, or experienced the below, without the dedicated help of some very gifted people.
When I was younger, I didn’t have the faintest idea that my depression and anxiety had become, by that stage in my life, permanently habituated. It took another 30 years before I developed the guts to even look at the issue of my depression. That’s the effect unremitting childhood abuse can have on a person, as I’m sure all too many of you out there know only too well.
A decade ago, life itself decided that I’d had a gutful. My whole being bloody well gave up on it all. I had a total breakdown, could not work, could not think, could not get up out of my chair, could hardly function. It led to years of unemployment and poverty. All the nervous energy that had so poorly sustained me for decades just simply ran out. I knew, finally, that I needed help. At that stage I was diagnosed with clinical depression, the permanent variety. That diagnosis was a red rag to a bull, it stirred something in the residue of my spirit, because stuff the Catholic Church I thought, if ever there is a time to fight it is now.
After a decade of hard and confronting work with therapists, psychologists, and one outstanding psychiatrist (albeit briefly), the veil and the weight of it all has lifted a bit. Joy, and love, and friendship, have managed to partially enter the room. During that decade I lived as an absolute hermit on an old farm. I had a couple of close friends, wonderful forgiving people, but generally people-avoidance was my go. However, I found a pathway out from the worst of it all. My submarine may still be wallowing slightly under the water, and that is the realistic truth of that, but my periscope at least has found a way to stick up into brighter clearer air.
What suggestions would I pass on to fellow sufferers of Depression & PTSD?
Because I have such a steel-trap of a mind, I had determined at some point that I would push through life and tackle the legacy of my abuse all by myself. Without help. Didn’t work out too well I must say.
Such an approach failed me each and every single second, hour, day, week, year, and decade, of my life. Until roughly a decade ago I was too proud, and too swamped (and what a deadly combination those two things can be) to seek help from Lifeline, Beyond Blue, RUOK, and all the other groups and therapists who exist out there to specifically help people like me.
I am grateful that I finally decided to seek help, and that help is ongoing, and I have accepted that I was simply incapable, 50 years ago, of dealing with the fact that I had endured years of unrelenting psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. Back then it took all of my energy to keep the thoughts and memories buttoned down to what I thought was a manageable level. Truth is, nothing was manageable. Also, back then nobody really wanted to know because half a century ago you were supposed to just suck it up, and society was not geared to listen to you, or believe you. The better late than never scenario is indeed, in my case, a better late than never scenario. Thank the stars for that scenario I say.
But these days, in this modern era, people do listen, and people do believe. That didn’t save the younger me, but it opened up the possibility of relief for the older me.
So … quite clearly … don’t take the early advice I gave to myself. Don’t follow my early plan. It was a crap plan. My plan was an abject failure. It tied me to a half-lived life. Depression can become habituated to the extent that you end up thinking that it is just how life is. Well it is not how life is meant to be. Life can, whatever the limitations, be wonderful.
If you are a sufferer of depression, be different to me. Be faster than me. Be smarter than me. Start early with tackling your condition, and as hard as it is dive in and confront it, seek assistance. Good help, that works, is out there.
I am pretty objective about all of these matters. I’m not sorry for myself, whatever my limitations, and nor should you be. My old dog Zoe, a beautiful being who has dropped planet and entered Canine Valhalla, gave me mega-sympathy over the years of her life, often with undoubted cause. She didn’t judge me or ask me to spark up, she simply accepted me, and then accepted the dog biscuits in return with glee. She met all of my sympathy needs.
Writing, right now, about depression and PTSD, does not make me any braver than I normally am or not, and it does not make me any braver than you. Nor does it depress me any more than I am. I am well aware of what happened to me all of those years ago, I stuck it all on my table and had a good long hard look at it, and I am well aware, acutely aware in fact, of the legacy issues from that time that I still carry. A lot of sufferers carry these awarenesses and legacies. I simply hope that talking about my experiences, and about the sorely needed ray of light that has come in over the last decade, will encourage others in a similar situation to seek help.
In the end, what is it that I really want to say? Well, I understand that Depression & PTSD can be caused by many different circumstances and happenings in life. Mine was caused by childhood sexual abuse. That causality is native to me. Your causality is native to you, whether it be domestic violence, bullying, racial vilification, war memories, or something else. The absolute given, however, is the fact that depression does not differentiate on cause. If a situation opens the door for it, it will dive in with a bloody vengeance.
If your depression was caused by childhood sexual abuse, I cannot make any universal redress recommendations. We all have to look deep within before making that decision. All I can relate is that, since my perpetrators were long dead, I took legal action against the orphanage where I was domiciled, and against the Catholic Church. For me, their response to my legal action against them constituted yet another example of abuse. No surprise there.
If you, the readers of this, are blessedly free from depression, and have a friend or family member who is not … I implore you to do the following … understand them, love them, do not judge them, don’t tell them to just get over it, don’t walk away from or dismiss them, and use every fibre of your being to encourage them to seek help. You might be the one who makes a hell of a difference in their lives. It may end up being the best thing you have ever done.
To my fellow sufferers: I am a 66-year-old man. I’m a human being who has handled life as best he could. I’ve done some good things, and I’ve made my share of mistakes. I finally decided to tackle my lifelong unwanted gift of Depression & PTSD. It took hard work, and I will not kid you about that, and there is more work to come, and I won’t kid you or myself about that either … but it has enabled me to, after such a long time, and with some serious heavy-duty help along the way, again have at least some deep air in my lungs, and again have some joy, and some love, and some humour in my heart. I can now experience some forms of that thing called happiness. I wish the same, or much better, for you.
Summation: Survivors. We are real people, and we live our lives as best we can despite the limitations that were placed upon us. I believe that all Survivors are amazing people, living examples of the indomitable nature of the human spirit when faced with adversity. What I have written is not just about me, like all Survivors I’m a work in progress. It is about all of us. It is about our society and what happens within it.
Keith Davis is a citizen journalist. He is an implacable foe of social injustice, and he is a strong believer in the inevitable implementation of a Universal Basic Income in Australia. He has a varied background, including print media publishing, not-for-profit group administration, and Indigenous sector project management. He fully supports the notion of Treaty. He writes from the heart, believes that whimsy and thoughts out of left-field have at least as much power as logic and reason, and does not limit himself to any one particular topic or theme.
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