Wednesday, 5 May 2010

My Adverse Childhood Experiences, or at least some of them….

My Adverse Childhood Experiences, or at least some of them…. this is incomplete, just a few brush strokes, some outlines....

Warning : some of the details within this text are graphic, and may be disturbing to read. Please take care to be aware of the possibility of adverse reactions and triggering, and to be gentle with yourself, to take it easy and to only read as much as you are comfortable with. My story is but one of many, and in some ways nowhere as brutal as those of so many others that I have read and heard and witnessed.

I offer these words in the hope that reading will encourage others to write of their stories, to help in the process of recovery, to say to ALL Survivors.... you  (and I) were innocent children, we were powerless to do anything about our situation, and we any guilt we might have, any shame is not ours; it belongs rightfully to those who harmed us and to those who protected them, those who knew and did not act.

It has taken me a long time to recover,  to reclaim the sweet little child, full of curiosity and sensitivity, willing to explore life and desirous of becoming a contributing member of the community, developing my talents to enhance the lives of others.  It has been a  path of frustration,  fear,  desperation,  shame,  denial,  avoidance, dysfunction and disappointments.

I would never say it made me the man I am, or that I learn valuable lessons from the trauma - I would say that i survived in spite of what happened, and had it not, I would have found my beauty as a human being much earlier. That said, I am so glad that I have found that within myself. I survived. And now to a certain degree, I thrive.

Each survivors story is unique, each path towards recovery it's own path, and non can be judged for how long it takes, how many times one may 'falter'. Moralistic Judgement of the behaviours of Survivors after a trauma so soul-destroying are part of the abuse system, and I have no time for them.

All Survivors deserve the best help that can be provided, the most empathy that can be aroused, the deepest respect for their journey, and they deserve justice....

And lastly, this : ALL children deserve to be treated with total empathy, with love and respect, by all adults. Kahlil Gibrans Poem, 'On Children' expresses this eloquently, and I recommend reading it, again and again. It's been a resource for me, a source of comfort and guidance, throughout my life.

Let me talk awhile about what it was like, what my experience was ….. at least what I can recall of it… it's all to easy to describe the events, much harder to describe what it felt like, and how I buried those feelings, just to survive. And how those wounds and buried pain resurfaced many, many years later with devastating effects, not only for me, but for those around me.

The setting : I was born the 10th child of a sickly Irish Catholic Farmers wife, daughter of landowners, married to a nouveau riche Irish Catholic Alcoholic who was doing his family’s bidding and resisting in the only way he knew, by going along with it, resenting it and drinking: which combined with his own childhood trauma led directly to abuse within our family.

My older brother was beaten regularly. As was my father before him. There was other abuse ongoing, though I was hardly aware of it. All of us were affected by this cycle of abuse. All of us scarred in one way or another.

I was a sickly baby, my birth requiring specialist medical care, a complete blood transfusion, born by caesarian and I spent 6 weeks in an incubator.  I was certainly damaged, traumatised, though this was unintended, as I now understand from the evidence emerging from neo-natal and peri-natal studies, which I have written about elsewhere.

One of my earliest and most clear memories are of being left at a Convent boarding School, called Killeshee, at the age 5 or so, dressed in sandals, socks, short pants, a bawneen jumper, transfixed, terrified to my very core, listening to a Nun who towered over me, as she revealed to me that there was a God who knew everything about me, that I was befouled with the stain of Original Sin, of Adam and Eve’s transgression against God, and their weaknesss before the Devil in the form of The Snake, and that my very soul was eternally damned, and that unless I obey the Laws of God I would be cast forever into a burning tortured Hell.

She explained to me the meaning of venial sins and mortal sins, and their consequences with regard to the meaning of purgatory, of hell, of limbo. I don’t think I understood the full meaning of her words, nonetheless I feel utter terror seep into my very core,

She appeared to me to be livid with rage, her face contorted, encased in her nuns habit, and to me she was as an immense and all powerful, a dark brooding monolith standing above me and I felt that woman’s rage penetrate me as a complete body shock.

I froze. I was literally terrified rigid. The thought of hell seemed as real to me as her assumption of my sinfulness and guilt, my worthlessness as a person utterly proven.

I knew there was no escape, no possible salvation, and shame, guilt and fear surged through me,

I stayed frozen in that shock and fear for a long, long time.

I am standing in the back of a classroom, in the months that followed, ashamed and terrified, tears streaming down my faces, trying desperately to not move, trying not to not speak but I have to, so I stand out from my desk … because I have just poo’ed myself, and there’s piss and shit seeping out of my pants, running down my leg, onto my white socks, onto my brown sandals … I am in a state of shock and I do not know what to do. I am also excruciatingly embarrassed. And frightened.. I move, and the teacher, a nun notices the ‘dsiturbance’, and immediately starts shouting at me, she is disgusted with me and makes it plain for the entire room, the shame deepens as I become aware that they are all aware… ….. I am pulled and pushed out of the classroom, and I am made to stand outside the door. I wait. Standing in my own shit, encased in a stench of my own making, I wait. I shiver and await my punishment, utterly alone.

I am standing in purple frilly underwear, like a girls swim costume …. Only there are no girls, just boys and nuns. It’s sunny, and I am standing in the middle of a quadrangle, with children walking around me, jeering me, spitting at me. They are being directed to do so by an raging Nun, I am, like General Custer, surrounded on all sides. Unlike Custer there is no glory nor is there a sense of an enemy.  I am feeling a visceral combination of obstinate silent rage and unutterable shame. Rage at my powerlessness, shame at my humiliation. This is what one Nun devised as a punishment. I do not recall what it was for, though I am told by my brother, later on in life, that I fought quite a lot. Apparently I was a ‘troublesome’ boy. A ‘difficult’ child.

I am standing in a line-up, with other boys, and I am once again, silently terrified, and we young boys, at age 6 and 7, are standing on the polished wooden floor of our dormitory, which from memory included a wooden panelled hallway, leading to wooden panelled bathrooms and past a nuns bedroom, a room that was ‘guarding’ us.

I am in line, and I am holding up my underwear for inspection by a nun. There is a small poop mark on my underwear. An angry shrieking voice confirms my fears, and I get roughly pulled out of the line, I am slapped and publicly told off about the poop mark, shamed once more in front of everyone else; I am sent to wash my underwear…. This was a regular experience, and obviously, given my previous traumatic shitting experiences in class, I am being targeted – however at the time I don’t see it that way. I believe that the nuns are right and that I am wrong and I accept their judgement of me as defining me.

I am in a large assembly hall, with all the other boys. We are all wearing white arran jumpers and shorts. It’s a weekly gathering, it’s a Sunday. We are lined up in rows. The Nuns are listing the crimes of individual boys, and punishing them in public. Ritual humiliation for the benefit of our souls. MY name is called, and I am expected to walk up to nun at the front. I do so. She reads a piece of paper, she declares some offence I have committed, like a hanging judged, her loud pious and angry voice denouncing my crime to the entire assembly.

And then she gives me a sound beating with a cane, ten times or so, across my naked rear. I stifle my cries and try to not show any feeling… at age 6 I can master myself to mask the true emotions and feelings. After all this is for my own good.

I am in my bed and there is a priest at the end of my bed. I am in a cubicle. I am about 8 years old.

The priest, Father Murphy, or Murchu, the Irish version of his name, is my music teacher, and he Is here, again, to question me. We have already had confrontations, because I wanted to try out ALL the instruments in the School Orchestra and of course that led to an altercations with him.

Father or was he a Brother, I can’t recall, Murchu/Murphy also teaches us swimming and PE. He was the one who threw me into the deep end of the swimming pool, fully clothed, plus my Pyjama bottoms, to ‘teach’ me how to swim, and how to save myself by removing my trousers and tieing the ends to make an air trap to support me. He forced me into the water, physically, after shouting at me and all this in front of the entire class and I was absolutely sure I was going to drown. I was being called a coward by this beastly man.

“Crowley, are ye a man or a mouse?” he says, with a barely disguised disgust. I know the routine.

If I answer ‘man’ he beats me for standing up to him, for being ‘cheeky’.

If I answer ‘mouse’ he beats me for being a coward.

This happens every few days for a few months. I tell no-one. There is no-one to tell. I am utterly alone.

I am standing in the kitchen. At ‘home’.

Which is not home, but is the house of my Grandfather, and my Aunts, who are my ‘guardians’. They took control of my father’s estate after he died, when I was 4. I am 7 now. They sent my mother to a Cheshire Home, and cut her off from her seven children. They were the ones that sent me to boarding school, as they did all of us.

And I am standing defiantly in front of my Aunt Sheila, who is liberally berating my mother to me. Even then my mother was a distant figure, I had no real memory of her. I have no idea what started my aunt off on this lecture. She is screaming at me from her position seated on a wooden kitchen chair.

“Your mother is not ill, she’s just too lazy to walk!” she accuses, after railing off other reasons why my mother was so dreadful … and she paused. Something breaks inside of me, I cannot take another word. Fury erupts and I slapped her on the side of the head as hard as I could … which wasn’t that hard …. But it was enough. She struck back, slapped me behind the legs, while she dragged me to where the cane was.

I was thrashed with that bamboo cane, and then locked in a room, on bread and water for two days.

When I was released I was given another beating, this time with a wooden spoon, and another severe warning. I was learning my lesson. There were many lessons.

This is a memory that used to haunt me. It is all I can recall of this. Something is shut down within me. Something dark. Or maybe not, maybe it’s just a projection, and amplification of how I feel in general. I am pretending to sleep in my bed. I am petrified. I am trying to almost not breathe, There are four dark shapes looming over me. I can hear their breathing. This is a boarding school. I am alone. This is a recurring memory. With it comes an existential fear, a wish for darkness, for silence.. I have never been able to go beyond this point. Am I making this up? I don’t know. Yet the FEAR feels real.

I am dozing early morning. I am 14. I sleep in my bed, in a cubicle again, with a locker, and half of a window, which I share with my next door neighbour.. A brother, a non-priest in hassock, sweeps in and pulls back the sheets and blankets, looks to see if I have a morning woody….and sweeps out again, without saying a word. He does this to a few other boys. We don’t talk about it. We are too shamed. We call him ‘Tiny’ because he is a small man.. He’s a bully. A red-faced dwarf version of Richard Nixon. His invasions are becoming more constant, such that we get used to them. He has a room in the middle of our dormitory of cubicles. We all hate him. We have him as an English Teacher as well as our guard. He and I have clashed on many occasions, mostly because I am good at English, I write poetry well, I can easily work out various levels and ‘meanings’ of poems, way beyond the limitations of textbooks.. He sees my natural intelligence as a threat.

With regard to these early morning inspections, we suspect that he likes to check on our genital ‘development’, but we don’t understand why. The morning woody was confusing to me too. We don’t understand and we don’t say anything. We are too ashamed of our own bodies.

I am on a low mountain side, heather all about us, on an old track, muddy, uneven and scattered with pools of still water, and we are on a school cross-country running exercise, In some ways this is an escape from the dreary, choking, monotony of the School itself, Mount Mellary. There is open sky and sunshine cuts through the fast moving clouds, rays of light beaming down on distant hills, rain can be seen coming in from the distance. The colours are grey, blue, brown and purple.

I am a first year student at a Cistercian Monastery, which is also a Reformatory. A school for troublesome boys. A school for boys like me. I had been expelled from my previous location of incarceration. And sent here, to be reformed by the strict ministrations of the Monks and the remoteness of the location. It’s truly remote, about 10 miles from the nearest town. Windswept and cold. Nonetheless I did well academically. But I was bullied lots and fought back. They called me ‘the bull’ because I would put my head down, tuck my chin in and charge my tormentor whenever I lost my temper, running at my enemy, fists flailing uselessly, as I could not see my target.

I am sitting beside a bigger boy who has just tried to touch my genitals, who tried to get me to expose myself to him. He is crying. His tears are flowing because I have refused. I sit away from him. I too am crying. I am lost. All alone. His assault was less concerning to me than my overall predicament, that of an abandoned, lonely, angry obstinate boy – I was unaware of sexuality as such, and all I was concerned with was how utterly alone I felt, how misunderstood, even by myself. How can I get away from here? These were my thoughts, though I would never have dreamed of telling anyone those feelings. I tried to run away twice, by walking out of the gates, on down the roads, with no real knowledge of where I was going to go, how far my ‘home’ was. On both occasions I was picked up and returned and punished. No one ever asked me why. It was more “What the hell did you think you were doing, Crowley?”

‘Empty Vessels Make Most Noise!” was the one of the most frequent phrases my Aunt used in addressing me. For the rest she was content with reminding me of the utter uselessness of my mother (a person I did not really know), the vast generosity of herself and her sister in taking me in, the sacrifice they were making by way of the family fortune they were amassing in their business dealings. Hubris. Arrogance. And a solid hint of insanity. Though it was later on that that perception came to me. It was confirmed many, many year later by a family friend, the consultant who looked after my mother while I was in utero. Funnily enough most other members of my family did not see this insanity. They denied it, we never spoke about it.

Different flavours of the same bitter fruit, at home and at school.

I am in a boarding school, the Cistercian Monastery. I am in bed, crying myself to sleep … I am cursing my father for his absence, for not being here to protect me. I fall into a fitful sleep and I dream. I dream of an apocalypse, a nuclear Armageddon. I see an explosion. And I go for a walk, running in my dream, looking desperately for the father who should be protecting me, enraged at being abandoned, all this in my sleep. I am found by a monk wandering the hallways. I am shocked into wakefulness.

I bullied my younger brother for most of our life together. I started fights with him, I deliberatley hurt him, and then as his tears flowed I turned and I blamed him: “look at what you made me do!” I would say. Where had I learned that trick?

So many adults used that exact phrase after or during a ‘punishment’. I used it later on upon my own children. Until I stopped. Until the day came and I recognised, and acknowledged, the fear and terror in their eyes.

And even then I did not understand what I was doing, I just knew I could no longer act in that way, not for myself, but for them. I could not stand their pain.

My Aunts often compared the two of us. I was always the ‘wrong one’. He was a ‘Crowley’ I was not. I never understood this. Nor did I understand my anger at my brother … which was really displaced anger, I now know this, it was the anger I felt towards my tormentors and then being unable to discharge it against them, did so against my brother. He probably did not understand it either, how could he have? We both suffered.

I remember being in the room of a priest, Father Flood, he was the school bursar and my trousers and pants are down and he is fondling my testicles…. He is smiling, sitting in his chair as I stand before him…. I am nervous… I can see another boys penis and testicles, they are brown and smooth and I am sitting on Father Floods lap.. … but I don’t remember being in the room and seeing he faces of the other boys… just their genitals. Father Flood takes my genitals and 'caresses' them smiling at me ... I don't understand what he is doing, I think it is a medical inspection.... i am unsure of what to do.

I am in a woodland, naked, covering myself in mud, talking to the trees and leaves and plants and to the ground… I am happy, alone, and I am, for this short while, free. Woods and fields and streams and solitude were my sanctuary.

I am being chased by a gang of boys, and I am tired, panicking and terrified…. I pick up a stone, a piece of slate and turn and throw it at the oncoming gang of boys I have to stop them, I cannot go on any further….

Only the stone slips from my fingers as I hurl it, and it slides away from my intended targets, slicing and twisting through the air, and I know, I know immediately that this is going terribly wrong. And I watch with dismay, with a sinking heart, aware of the trouble that is to come, as the piece of slate strikes an boy, Tom Carmody, who is one of the few with whom I am friendly, who is not at all involved in my torment, right on his temple … a flash of red, the blood spurts and he falls..

I run away, I run like the wind, blindly away, as far as I can get as quickly as I can and I hide in a field of long grass. I stay there until dusk, until a nun comes calling for me. She’s calling me. I hear her voice and realise I must stand up. I can hear her voice getting closer.

I don’t stand up, and she finds me, cowering, covering my head with my arms and hands, curled in a fetal position. She is gentle with me..She’s a ‘nice’ nun, Sister Rose. She brings me back to the Mother Superior and leaves me with her. I get a severe dressing down, followed by a solid thrashing, and I am taken by another nun to a locked room. I stay there for at least a day, with bread and water for sustenance, until I am released to my Aunts care….I am being expelled from this place… She drags me to the car and we drive home in silence…three hours in the back seat, in silence, dreading the punishment that is surely to come, feeling her silent rage building with every mile. The inconvenience to her is in her eyes my greatest sin.

Back at home, her home, I never really saw it as my home…she gives me another good thrashing, beats me across my rear with a wooden spoon and then a cane until I am really, really sore … I cannot sit down… she then locks me into a room for a two days, in solitude, on bread and water.

I remember waking up one Christmas day, all excited to see what Santa has brought me. I share a room with my younger brother. Our beds are parallel to each other. At the end of our beds are two large bags…. There’s fruit on top of both of them….. under the fruit in my bag is coal…. My brothers bag is full of toys and sweets. I feel terrible, really, really angry, disappointed, let down, envious yet powerless, because if I say anything I will surely get a thrashing…

I spend a lot of time daydreaming scenarios in which I get terribly hurt and am close to death, in a hospital, and those who had been my tormentors come to visit me in hospital and I finally get their attention, and some affection, I soak up their pity for me, their guilt …. I really enjoy these daydreams, and almost live the trauma of whatever imaginary sickness or accident I create in my mind … going right into it, feeling really sorry for myself, and then the feeling of joy as people come to see me and offer me their guilt laden support, some soft kind words, and gifts…

These daydreams continue until I am in my late 30s… they arise whenever I am sad. Some times they just arise from nowhere. I cannot stop them, I don’t want to stop them. I need the love. I will do anything, suffer anything for that love… in the day dream… in real life I just coast by, doing just enough to pass all kinds of tests… and never, ever remember being told I was loved or being able to say ‘I love you’ to anyone… and really feeling it.

I can't accept love from anyone, I cannot trust it. This is so painful. I cannot fully accept that life will cover me, will nourish me. I keep that locked away and try to love in spite of it. Fear rules my life. That was how I have felt for most of my life. Emotionally crippled, and I blamed myself for it all for so long.

THE BOARDING SCHOOLS I ATTENDED and some of those who abused me, i don't recall (yet) all those who did.

Killeshee 2 65-67 La Sainte Union Nuns

Willow park 4 67-71 Holy Ghost now Spiritans
Father Stanly, Head
Father Barry
Father Senan Corry, Rugby Juniors
Fr William DWANE,
Brother Aloysius (Andrew) Montgomery,
Brother Murchu

Colaiste Na Rinne 1 71-72 Lay
'Ban an Ti' (The Matron)

Mount Mellary 1 72-73 Cistercians

Colaiste Iosagan 4 73 -77 De La Salle

I know I am not the only child to have suffered and that many suffered far far worse than I, and do even as I write these words......

What kind of Society rationalises these abuses?

What kind of Society trains young men and women to kill, sends them overseas, and calls them 'heroes'?

What kind of Politician refuse to acknowledge that this mistreatment was intentional?

What kind of person?

A damaged person, damaged by being born into a damaging Society. 

What kind of person creates a mythology to 'explain'all this away?

What kind of person blames those who show the signs, the symptoms of such experiences, such as addiction, dysfunctional behaviour, rage, ill-health, psychological disruption?

What kind of person sees all this, and seeks to gain understanding, compassion and empathy?

What kind of person acts to ensure that these behaviours are absolutely prevented?

Kindest regards Corneilius

 Do what you love, it's your gift to universe

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Anonymous said...

I feel so lucky to have found love. I was blessed to be at the top of the line and I never take that for granted .The memory and warmth of that love is my consolation now. I am sorry you cant have that. I am glad you have the love of S.I am sorry we didnt notice more .With lots of love J

mick fisher said...

now i see how your quest for the natural way has become so important to you. it can be the only way to overcome such adverse influences in childhood and remain whole as a person - such abuse forces us to dig deep into our world to find our reason and some peace, and that you've managed to do this is testament to the 'natural' way/flow you've let yourself go with. i've not suffered the abuse you have, but have had very similar issues with love, and have found you and your work just at the time i'm coming through the other side myself. kinda points towards flows/forces in life that pull people, ideas, experience together when we open out to such reality - its a gift that comes from that necessity to dig so deep...
that pulling together IS Love Core - naturally! :) btw - i love you :)
re. the memory that haunts you - the lady i lived with for many many years had what began as flashes of memory, accompanied by mental torment which needed intense councelling to deal with. slowly the memory (of the time when she was only maybe 1,2 or 3 years old) became more substantial, and abuse eventually became the thing to believe - won't go into detail, but flashes of memories together formed a picture of what probably happened, this picture being the only one that makes sense. at a time when it became necessary to substantiate the picture rather than just live with it in isolation and eternal uncertainty, she confronted the abuser, and was given a tacit admission, which made the memories real. but far more imortantly, having this brought even only a little way out of the shadows has helped her to know just why she has never been able to live comfortably with herself, in relation to her family (where the abuse came from), and with friendships/relationships as they become deeper - if secrecy and fear is behind your interreactions with the greatest influences in your life, it colours your relations with almost everything - APART FROM the only thing that goes even deeper - the natural forces which mold us as human beings. hopefully she will be able to work through more, and come to this, and come out from inside her shell....
was talking to a man in bantry the other day who spent many many years living in sheds and fields because it just wasn't possible for him to live a more 'normal' life. he believes that it's the work of our generations forward to bring light upon the darker aspects of the world, like the ones you describe affecting you, simply because we now can, whereas those before us were living in a world where there wasn't even a foothold to start from.... spreading awareness and raising consciousness is shining that light, and sharing kindness, happiness, pain, is providing the fertile ground we need as a people to grow into this new awareness

corneilius said...

J. How could you have noticed? How could I have even begun to speak of it all? Who could I have turned to in those dark years, between Boarding School and The Aunts? I was, even at 28 yrs old, unawares of just how profoundly toxic my childhood was. I actually believed it was 'normal'.... and that there was something wrong with ME... that I was the problem...

And it wasn't until I started to notice the patterns repeating in my own mistreatment of my children that I started the work of really going into the experiences and seeing them for what they were, and it took some time, as you know.... these things do take time.. to face it all, to empathise with the little Corneilius, to recover, to heal... and it is underway yet...

corneilius said...

Mik, thanks for your comments. I have often said that subtle abuse can be just as toxic as extreme abuse, it all depends upon the sensitivity of the child or person, we are all different... and we interact with our experience in differing ways..

Yet, within the current structures of Hierarchical Society, many are hurt, many are traumatised, many are conditioned, and trans generational truama patterns drive many processes.... such that many whose experience may appear, on first glance to have been benign, will show the signs of controlling behaviour patterns..

No war torn country as yet has EVER healed from the trauma of war in a conscious way - and History is nothing but war after war after war....

Add to that the willful manipulations of Church, State and Corporations exercised on children and it's all too easy to understand WHY so many are so unhappy.

Abuse is a wide spectrum of behaviour. To look at only the gross is to miss the point. In fact looking at the gross is often used as a distraction, a hype, a demonisation of the few sorry souls, a scapegoating for the Society...

corneilius said...

Here's an insightful video, of David Smail, speaking of depression and the woundedness of those who have suffered from circumstances not of their own making.

I urge everyone to view this, to listen carefully to the fullness of what David says. His words are dense with meaning, with empathy and understanding.

This piece of video was made in 1989, during the height of the Thacherite years... and it has special resoance for these times of 'austerity' for the distressed and wounded, and bonuses for the wealthy....