'My traumatic past has left me feeling hopeless'
Each week, adult and specialist adolescent psychotherapist Belinda Kelly answers your queries
Q I'm a 46-year-old man and I'm struggling. I'm married and I love my wife and children, but I often think about not being here. Lately, I have started to imagine ways to end it. The only thing that's keeping me here is the guilt I feel at hurting the people I love most.
I feel tortured most days and I lie awake at night, my mind racing out of control. I have never told anyone, but I was sexually abused as a child. This led to years of me feeling rotten and dead inside. My teenage years were a mess, with alcohol and drug abuse. I was also really confused about my sexual orientation. When I met my wife, my life felt safer. Her love helped me manage my self-hatred.
But I recently discovered that my abuser has died. This has sent me into a spiral of chaos. When I am drinking, certain sounds or smells can set me off and make me want to kill someone. I see his face and hear his voice and I can't erase the memories.
A I want to honour the enormous courage you have taken in writing to me. In naming the pain you are suffering, in finding words to express yourself, you are loosening the hold that this unspeakable crime has had around you. It is a privilege to witness that, despite how badly you feel about yourself, there is a glimpse of hope that you are clinging onto. And I beg you to cling to it.
You have managed to find and sustain an intimate relationship despite the most unimaginable hurdles placed before you. You have beautiful children who you have created from a loving, trusting relationship. What a remarkable achievement.
But you have kept your traumatic childhood a secret for far too long. When secrets and shame thrive in the dark, they can become dangerously twisted. An abhorrent crime was perpetrated against you. You did nothing wrong. Often when people think of ending their lives, what they really want is for their suffering to end. And you have suffered needlessly for too long.
You now need professional support to help you manage the overwhelming symptoms of your post-traumatic stress. Your flashbacks are a natural trauma response which, like nightmares, will decrease as issues are resolved and the healing process begins.
By getting the expert help that you now need, you will be able to live again; to be free of the devastating impact of your abuse; to have the life that you truly deserve.
• Dublin Rape Crisis (DRCC) helpline is available 24 hours a day on freephone 1800 778 888. Telephone and face-to-face counselling services are available
• The HSE National Counselling Service provide free counselling to adults who have suffered childhood abuse. Freephone Dublin 1800 234 110
• The Samaritans freephone helpline is available 24 hours a day on 116123
• To find a therapist, see www.iahip.org or www.iacp.ie.
Q Every year, I begin dreading going home for Christmas. I'm a 25-year-old woman, but I'm reduced to a quivering child at the thought of having to spend time with my family. Our Christmas revolves around too much alcohol and arguments over past hurts.
For many reasons, my childhood was traumatic. It's left me feeling useless. I couldn't stick college and I struggle to hold down a job. When I do go home, I am raging at everyone. I come back exhausted, sad and frustrated with myself. I still haven't confirmed I'll be there for Christmas. The last phone call with my mother ended in a huge row because I just couldn't commit to visiting them.
A Christmas can be such a stressful time. It promises a perfection that the reality can never meet.
For families that are dysfunctional, or where there have been traumatic experiences, this season is especially demanding.
Going home for the holidays should be an exciting prospect. To return to a home where you can be nurtured and supported by those who love you. But if you grew up in a home that wasn't supportive, the prospect of going back as a young adult can be deeply confusing. It's confusing because our child self longs for a different outcome. And the adult self has to experience once again the painful reality.
You write that you feel sad, raging and "useless". These feelings make perfect sense to me. You are hurting - and you are directing all that hurt against yourself. You are still trying to make sense of who you are in the midst of the trauma. If you were raised in a chaotic or hostile environment, it's very difficult to go out into the world and feel like an adult when there is still so much to be resolved inside you.
Most identity formation takes place in early adulthood rather than in adolescence. It would really support you to see someone professionally if you haven't already. That way, you can get to know who you are underneath all the family baggage.
You will realise that you are a beautiful human being who deserves a life worth living. You will find courage where there was shame and doubt. You may find meaning and a sense of purpose in your life.
I wonder where you would like to be this Christmas? And with whom? And can you make that wish happen, or even just a part of it?
It might mean staying in your own house with a friend or going away on a holiday alone. Or you can compromise and decide to spend a couple of hours with your family and return to sleep in your own house.
I know you might not feel like one, but you are an adult now. You are not responsible for anyone in your family.
Calmly state what your plans are this Christmas. Try not to react to whatever response you hear. Don't jump into the dysfunctional dance.
Just breathe deep into your big-girl boots and stay true to the emerging healthy you!
Emily Power Smith is currently on leave
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