Memories of Pain beyond Pain

This morning I was sitting on the bus with my wife on our regular morning commute to Belfast when, for some reason, I started to drag up some very old memories of being in first year at school. One memory in particular came to mind; I remember staring at this girl in my English class and I obviously looked a little too long; I think I had started to daydream about something, when she snapped, “What are you looking at?”

I must disclose that I was still dealing with the trauma of my dad’s murder just 3yrs before. In addition to this, I had lost a full years’ worth of memories, my mother had moved a new partner in, we moved from Belfast to Antrim, I then had my 11+, changed school again for the 3rd time in 3yrs, my self-confidence and self-esteem were at all-time lows, I was dealing with the beginnings of survivors guilt, my mental health problems had begun to accelerate, I didn’t trust anyone, I thought people were all out to make fun of me, I was starting to self-harm in different ways and I was also dealing with anger issues that were directed entirely towards myself.

In an instant I was able to examine all the different ways this could go wrong for me if I had told her the truth. My initial thought was to reply, “something beautiful looking back.” But I already knew nothing would ever happen between us; I was unpopular and a bit of an outcast. I was never tall or muscular or popular with the ladies (I am nearly 40, happily married, but even now I would struggle, if my marriage ever failed, to meet someone new as some issues have never been examined nor dealt with). I also read the tone of her voice – the venom and warnings it contained and the clear message that I was shopping where I could never afford, and even if I could, it was not for sale to people like me, and the aggression that told me to clearly back off as far as possible as quickly as possible. It was something I have heard often before and since, when I have been attracted to girls my age or slightly older/younger by a year or 3. 

I also knew that if I told her my initial thought, meaning it as a compliment and nothing more, that she would seize upon the chance to humiliate me as I think she would feel like I had made her feel unclean by even considering looking at her in a way that denoted any sort of attraction or appreciation of beauty. All this went through my head in less than half a second and I realised I had only one option open to us both was to tell her something that would allow her to verbally get her point across and, having dealt with the situation to her satisfaction, despite the pain I knew it would cause me, I needed to lie to her.

So I replied, “something ugly looking back.” She replied, “Well you must be looking in a mirror then!”

Back then I was never good at reading between the lines, and even now that still applies. What I was and always have been, however, am deeply respectful. I always knew that if I was told “no” then I that would be the end of it and I would not pursue the matter.

However, in another window of insight into my developing mental health problems, I never always obeyed this rule. Don’t get me wrong, I never physically touched anyone or forced myself upon anyone – that would be something I could never forgive and I would self-harm until I felt I had been suitably punished, even if other people did. But I didn’t always take no for an answer. I was 11 or 12 and hormones were starting to compete with my level of self-control over my mental state. When I finally gave up, I made myself write 100 lines as a punishment. In a few years this would progress to starvation, cutting with a blade, punching walls (I once went 34hrs without drinking any liquid and I wanted to go much much further), mentally beating myself to a pulp every day and night and l began to think of ways to end my own life. I prayed that day would come very soon.

As the years were to go on through my teens and my defeats grew ever higher whilst my successes remained at the Zero mark (13+ strikeouts (I stopped counting) versus ZERO successes), my mental health problems within this area were to get ever worse and also contribute to other destructive behaviour aimed at myself to cause as much internal pain as I could. I must also point out that when I mean I struck-out, I don’t mean on an intimate level, I mean on ANY level. And it wasn’t just the continuous rejections; it was the way they were handed out.

I could never figure out what I was doing wrong, but I was also never told what, if anything I was doing right either. I was destined to keep making the same mistakes, but also hoping for different results every time (the very definition of insanity). I got to be beyond desperate. I prayed every night for nearly 2yrs, without answer. In the end I had to assume that the thing that was wrong was…me. My very existence was what was wrong. I represented everything a person DIDN’T want in a partner.

I took advice from everyone I could think off and when I wasn’t asking I was observing. I tried being upfront and asked people out = FAIL. I played the friend game = FAIL. I played the long game = FAIL. I played the waiting game in the hope that someone would ask me out = FAIL; and this was partly because when it did happen I was always distrustful (see the contradiction in behaviours emerging again?) and thought that they wanted to humiliate me as others have done, so I was too quick to reject them. And then I self-harmed as a result of blowing another chance. That anger that came as a result…is just…WOW!!! Like a nuclear blast going off inside my ribcage. Mental pain beyond pain; mental agony beyond words. I would scream my head off, and had enough control that the sound that escaped my lips was a mere whisper. I always felt that if I fully let it out that the only way to stop the pain would be to kill myself. And it wasn’t just the pain; it was the energy that came with it. It was more than my physical body could cope with or contain.

Remember the venom I spoke about? That was something I came to know the pain off only too well. The disgusted look on their faces, the tone of voice used; it wasn’t just heart breaking…it was soul destroying. It was also something I look and internalised. When I looked in a mirror I saw the most disgusting, humiliating, inhuman and unworthy of life, thing looking back. I wanted to kill it!!!

You have to have experienced this and more to fully realise the power of a simple kiss on the lips can be. On those unbelievably rare occasions when it happened, it had the power to drag me from the depths of my own self-induced personal hell and sent me to heights that would make an Eagle jealous and at speeds that would dwarf any rocket NASA ever launched into space.

And this was just ONE KISS on the lips, from ONE person, ONCE every 15-18months on average (I never got any further than a kiss, for a long time, but that is a different story). I needed these EXTREMELY rare victories as proof that I am worthy of some affection. That I am not a waste of time; that I deserved a chance to continue to live.

Things got so bad that I made a plan to end my life when I turned 25 as this pain was everything and every day. I knew roughly where I would do it (see plan below), I knew I wouldn’t be found on time, I knew how I would like it to happen and I didn’t give a fuck about the pain it would cause because no-one ever gave a flying fuck about how I felt, only to twist the knife to maximise my pain. The world had fucked me over and I was done being everyone’s punch bag. I was expected to absorb the punishment and not complain. Well…FUCK YOU!!!

I will also say this…I was a coward. As 25 approached I thought it was a little soon. I thought 30 would be a better number and by that point, if things hadn’t changed, the pain would be so all-consuming that suicide would be a relief!

I met my wife just a month before I turned 26.

PTSD – Survivors Guilt

Chained (1)

The older i get the more I realise just how ingrained this is within myself. It’s like looking at yourself and trying to notice the details and not just the overall picture. Within your exterior, hidden in plain sight, are all these details that make up who you are and they are there if you know where to look.

I say exterior, rather than interior, because I am referring to physical clues such as tone of voice and body language. Non-verbal communication.

In my case I have a strong compulsion to punish myself for the slightest wrong that I perceive. Simple things that have caused no distress to others feel to me like they are worthy of reprimand and I MUST be punished.

Recent Example No.1

Last month my wife went on a foreign holiday with her sister for a few days. This holiday had been planned for months but only booked a matter of weeks before the actual departure. I was invited as well but I declined for practical reasons and I also saw an opportunity to spend some time doing some things I always wanted to do but couldn’t whilst my wife was here. Nothing bad, just spending some time up the coast at night (ref Kinbane Castle).

The next day, I decided to watch a couple of DVDs and to have a few drinks and let my guard and defences down. It was during this period that my wife and her sister text to ask me what I was up to and I replied via FB messenger that I was sitting naked having a few drinks and beginning to feel tipsy (I don’t know why I said this as I was sitting fully clothed) and I suddenly got a phone-call from my sister-in-law saying that my last message was sent on a group chat and that I should delete it ASAP.

Too late; I received a reply from someone who was not meant to see that message saying ‘TMI’. I deleted my message right there and then but the damage had been done. My sudden concern turned to embarrassment, even though there was nothing to be embarrassed about. Unfortunately this proved to be a perfect storm as not only was I starting to feel intoxicated, I also hadn’t taken my meds the day before nor on this night in question, and my embarrassment quickly turned to anger.

Suddenly, and without hesitation, I sunk my teeth into my left arm and bit myself hard enough to make my teeth ache in my gums. In an instant the alcohol that I was using to lower my guard was now my weapon of choice to further self-harm. I knew I would be sore and there was a possibility that I may have a rough night ahead of me, but I didn’t care and I felt like it was something I deserved as I was such an idiot for not being more careful about where I send my messages.

This is like the time when my dad asked me if I wanted to move to Antrim a few years before he was murdered and I said no. I know the names of the people who murdered him and I know mine is not counted amongst them and never will be.

I know I was not to blame for his death; but survivors guilt leaves its own scars and this is one of them.

I know I am being irrational in that I have nothing to feel guilty about. I know I need to stop punishing myself for every slight I do. I know I need to stop letting others make me feel guilty. I know I need to stop treating myself so badly and I know I need to stop self-harming. I know I am a nice guy with a good heart who is caring and compassionate.

But I also know that I hold myself partly to blame and that as I cannot punish the people who killed him, I CAN punish myself as the nearest substitute.

I also know that after 30+ years I need to stop this destructive behaviour as the only person I am hurting is myself…but I can’t help it. It feels wrong if I don’t punish myself; like I am letting the guilty walk free.

Recent Example No.2

I was driving home one late afternoon and I saw the lights ahead of me turning from green to yellow. I knew in a second or 2 they would be red and I need to make a decision NOW as to what action I need to take. Do I have enough time to stop safely? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I hit the accelerator and saw the lights change from yellow to red just before I reached them. I had just went through a red light.

FUCK! STUPID STUPID BASTARD!!!

My wife had to calm me down because I didn’t cause an accident and I wasn’t caught by the authorities and I was starting to over-react in a big way over something so simple that it may go unnoticed by other people or it is the kind of thing people do all the time.

It’s what I do and whilst I can override these instincts some times…others lead me to some sort of self-harm.

I try, internally, to make them feel better by punishing myself for their wrongs rather than my own. I feel like I take upon my shoulders all the weight and troubles of the world because this is what I have been doing most of my life and, whilst it is entirely illogical, it is something I feel I am compelled to do.

I am just too bloody nice and too caring 😦