I’ve sat through group and individual therapy each week for the last eighteen months, and during that time, we touched on every aspect of my life. My presence is no stranger to the therapy room, but this is the first time I was ever able to untangle childhood trauma. I thought we were making excellent progress, but I was aware of bouncing from one topic to another, which eventually led to disorientation and feeling very lost.
It felt as if something fundamental was missing from the therapeutic journey and it took me all this time to understand what that might be. I may well have dutifully conjured up challenging memories in therapy and identified all the right feelings, but I didn’t sit with them long enough to form any kind of conclusion or attain healing
It’s devastating to reach this stage in therapy and I even wondered if the entire experience has been one big avoidance trip. The thought of having to go back to the beginning and trawl through the feelings all over again is a daunting prospect and there’s something very shameful in admitting that this is where I’m stuck…. at my age… a prisoner within the same past trauma.
When I first started this blog, the tagline read, “A tale too tragic to tell.” I was trying to convey how it almost sounds tragic to recount so many traumatic experiences in one short life. I find it difficult to hear pity and the last thing I ever want to do is sit around licking old wounds until they’re raw. What I do need to do during my final months of therapy is to stop bouncing around and learn to sit with certain emotions long enough to hopefully generate a solid state of recovery.
Shame. Humiliation. Fear. Anger. Those may well be some of the hardest emotions to admit but they are much more painful to sit with. They are the fuel to my avoidance and the catalyst to a lifetime of mental health problems.
Something happened in group therapy on Friday that seemed a benign interaction at first, but it inadvertently made me aware of something I’ve not quite grasped before now. The only other male member of the group asked if I have a problem with him. “You always seem to look straight through me,” he said.
I don’t have any particular issue with him, but our small interaction did feel slightly uncomfortable. I thought about his comment for some time afterwards and I reckon that he probably does detect subtle hints of something uncomfortable. I realised last weekend that the issue is not with him, but rather what his gender came to represent in my own life.
When I was a little boy, people would easily mistake me for a girl. Everything about me felt feminine and this played out in how I walked, talked, and the toys I liked to play with. I was only ever comfortable playing around girls and the boys found my lack of interest in football distasteful.
Maybe the gender confusion infuriated dad or he may just be carrying baggage from his own childhood. Those reasons bare little importance to the healing today, but he was always an angry bully who terrified me from an early age. His loyal-family-man principles worked hard to put food on the table and clothes on our back, but I was still unable to trust his apparent goodness. I’ve never hated anyone as much as I did my own father and his obsessively strict parenting instilled an incredible – sometimes inappropriate – fear of aggression and violence.
Unfortunately, a fear of violence mixed with feminine characteristics didn’t go down well in a deprived housing estate where violence was an everyday part of life. Fortunately, I wasn’t often a victim of physical attacks, but the verbal abuse felt every bit as bad. “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you,” is a load of old baloney.
It was the older boys on the estate who would spout a tirade of derogatory names while threatening all manners of violence. My close group of friends – made up of both boys and girls – would say, “Take no notice,” but the shame and humiliation was devastating to live with. The gauntlet of abuse contributed to my refusal to attend school and all because I was not your “average” boy.
I’m not blaming myself, but those characteristics became an easy target by two separate paedophiles. The first lasted from the age of about five to eight, and the second from nine until I turned thirteen. At the time, I seem to have been a willing participant in our “games,” but of course, it was still abuse and the experiences had a significant influence in my overall trust of adults, especially men.
When I shared my gender confusion with the group months ago, everyone looked genuinely surprised, as there are no traces of femininity today. It took many years to rid myself of those very natural characteristics, although I do still harness a female part deep within.
I watched a programme on female to male transgender. One person said that one of the hardest things was to change some of her feminine characteristics into more masculine ones. He had to learn how to walk, talk, and sit like a man and be constantly aware of his demeanour in public.
I identify with that experience and even remember having to lower my voice to a tone that sounded more masculine. The world was very different back in the 70’s and if I wanted to avoid further persecution, there didn’t seem to be any other option. Through the years, all of these experiences came with a painful price of shame and humiliation, which harnessed the intense fear and anger.
I often wonder where the inner strength came from back then, but the desire to bounce back was always much stronger than the destruction. There was an element of self-blame and my narcissistic mother’s critical voice would ring out in my ears, “You brought it all on yourself.” The guilt soon became the mortar for shame and humiliation.
The ultimate betrayal came as a young adult when I became the victim of an attempted murder and my assailant was another male that I liked and trusted. It was never just about my attack, but the experience opened the door to a world of extreme violence and psychotic killers. I had never even spoken to a police officer in my life and now I was interacting with the judicial system and High courts. The reality became more traumatic than I ever imagined possible and it destroyed the last bit of faith I had in my fellow man.
I am very comfortable and happy with my sexuality and gender today, but I don’t understand why I’m unable to heal from the shame and humiliation, and the fear and anger. I do get along with men in my day-to-day life, but there’s always an underlying discomfort and this particular interaction in the therapy room has connected me with something I spent years avoiding.
It’s time to stop running