I am having a lot of problems related to my past. I was abused many times when I was 5, I was having a lot of family problems, my mother was beating me all the time, my parents were fighting, my father married twice and both of my mothers were living in the same house. The other mother never beat her children but my mom was always beating me for things that I didn’t even do. Now I am 24 and I am very sensitive, I feel for every little words spoken about me or every gesture made. I am confused about everything, I can’t take a decision. I am not confident at all, I am just looking at other people and trying to copy them. I am crying sometimes at nights, I feel so helpless and alone. I can’t trust people. I am just listening to people and am scared to say to them something. I am just a complete mess. Can you help me please?
I really hope so. Some weeks it’s hard to even open my mailbox it’s so full of examples of the emotional agonies unique to our species. Thankfully between the cries for help and appeals for guidance I do often get really lovely letters from happier or restored souls, thanking me for advice I’ve given them, or for old columns that they have stumbled across that have helped them through difficult times. These I cherish. Correspondence like that is humbling and offers a unique and rare opportunity to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile rather than just vicariously riding other peoples traumatised coat-tails. Without such missives of hope and transformation sitting in judgment on other people’s problems, often dealing with issues that I’m as likely to be myself experiencing as solving, would simply be too much.
The extremes of human betrayal and heartbreak, thankfully for most of us sit just beyond the borders of our day-to-day experience. Your letter highlights the sort of terrible trauma the luckier among us are spared. Your letter should really be relegated to the category of correspondence that I deem takes me too far out of my depth. How can I presume to help steer you to safe ground beyond the dark crevasses created by your childhood experiences. Even my worst nightmares could barely take me to the places you must have visited in your darkest hours. I can only imagine the courage it’s taken for you to get through what you’ve experienced. All I can do is express my admiration for you for enduring and now displaying continued determination to address your past by writing to me.
For proper tangible support, the kind you need and deserve, that can definitely help you steer a course to a better place, I’m not the answer. Luckily there are all kinds of really fantastic organisation’s, run by kind and more importantly skilled people out there ready and waiting to help you. (ALICE PLEASE CAN YOU INSERT THE BEST FOR ABUSE AND DEPRESSION). Once you connect with them you’ll discover other men and women who have also been victims of the terrible crimes adults visit on innocents. They too will have experienced similar unhappiness, insecurity and issues with trust. Being betrayed by the grown-ups you rely on to shape your world can have a mutating effect on how you see life. No wonder you look beyond those formative years and to strangers for behavioural patterns to copy. You should be kinder to yourself about what you are feeling at the moment. What you’ve described to me are symptoms of past trauma, not character defining characteristics.
As custodian of this mailbox I can assure you that you are not alone. Are you a reader? If so, perhaps a spot of bibliotherapy might be useful along with professional help? I recommend Edward Saint Aubin’s darkly compelling Patrick Melrose series of semi autobiographical novels, or the actor Alan Cummings recent autobiography ‘Not My Father’s Son’, a poignantly composed chronicle of damage sustained in youth and his recovery from those experiences. With proper help from qualified people your negative feelings about the world and your place in it will lift and evaporate and who knows, maybe you too could end up using your sad story to explore, illuminate or even save others from a similar experience.
Finding it within you to triumph over the legacy of suffering your abusive family left in their wake won’t be easy but it’s entirely achievable. Far from wallowing in misery, your letter suggests a desire to shake off these emotional restrictions that are binding you to past nightmares. The weight of past history is not to be carried on our backs in perpetuity but scrutinised for lessons and then dumped as we move toward a better future. That mythological phoenix rising from the ashes is as good an aspirational image as you’ll find.