A successful facade can hide a history of childhood violence that reaches far into adulthood. A young musician who was on the brink of killing himself shares his story with Ramona Depares in the hope that it may help give others a voice.
Adults who were subjected to violence and trauma during their childhood need to have their voices heard and a support structure put in place for them.
That’s the heartfelt appeal of a young musician, well-known in local music circles, who decided to share his experience anonymously after failing to find easily accessible professional support for situations like his.
“I had to research my symptoms online and then narrow my condition down to a few options, and only then did I start looking for a therapist who was qualified enough to try and help me,” he says.
The musician adds that, regardless of how successful someone’s life may appear to the outside world, this does not mean that the childhood trauma is over and done with.
“I reached my lowest point last March, when I decided to kill myself. I thought for ages how to do it but finally settled on hanging myself, because in my mind that is what rock stars do, nowadays, or so it seems,” he says self-deprecatingly.
Chillingly, he had it all planned down to the last detail.
I drank a bottle of vodka for courage and tied a hangman’s noose
“I made a will and wrote a letter to my mother begging her to forgive me, as this was not her fault. I didn’t tell anyone what I was about to do. There was no final song, and no last goodbye on Facebook. I drank a bottle of vodka for courage and tied a hangman’s noose,” he says candidly.
But at the end of the day, he found that he couldn’t do it.
“Maybe I’m a coward. No divine light appeared, no mysterious voices told me not to do it. I worried about who would take care of my cats. I worried about my mother; she wouldn’t understand. Nobody would. I’m atheist, but I asked God to help me. Surprise, surprise, there was no answer. I realised that I will always be alone in my struggle, but I decided to go on.”
And yet, to anyone looking on from the outside, it would appear as if the young man was living the perfect life. He describes having a job that pays well and getting along well with his colleagues. He owns his own apartment, where he lives with his two cats, whom he “adores”.
As musician, he has also met with success on the local front, having been active on the scene for over 20 years.
“I have written songs that did very well, and I play gigs regularly. I also enjoy reading, cooking and I love movies,” he tells me.
Which makes his next statement – “Last March I nearly committed suicide” – even more unlikely.
And yet, this was but the culmination of long-term childhood trauma that was left untreated. The abuse started when he was young as four; he describes his father as an army veteran who was “forced to leave the corps for a better pay” upon his son’s birth.
“He never forgave me for this. He physically and psychologically abused me for 14 years, until my mother finally left him for cheating on her.”
By the age of five, he knew all the most obscene insults possible, because he would get them regularly screamed at him – something that he says affected him in the long term even more than the beatings.
“After a while, you get used to the beatings. But your own father telling you that he hates you remains etched in your skin forever. I never hated him back, I just didn’t understand why he was like this. I wish I could blame alcohol, but he rarely drank. Some people are just born evil…I get it now.”
It was only years later that the young man decided to speak to a girlfriend about his experiences.
“She asked me something I had never thought about before. Where was my mother while I was being abused? The truth is I don’t know, and I’ll never ask her. I’m not very close to her, but she’s been through a lot herself and I don’t want to upset her and fill her with guilt. I love her, but in my heart, I feel resentment towards her for leaving me alone,” he confides.
And, though to a certain extent he managed to move on and build a life and career for himself once his father moved out, what he describes as “the emptiness” never left him.
“It was only a matter of time until I broke, till I succumbed to the pressure that had been building up since my childhood. I started smoking at 32. I practically became an alcoholic, drinking two bottles of wine every night just so that I could sleep through the nightmares. By my mid-30s I was taking a cocktail of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills and cocaine,” he says bluntly.
I want people who are going through the same thing to know they are not alone in the world
The consequences affected his relationships and his work. He describes how after being let down and abandoned by most people, he finds it almost impossible to trust someone.
“I’ve become quite reclusive, and sometimes bitter. I’ve been single for a long time now and don’t see that changing anytime soon. I can’t believe anyone would really want to be with me, if they knew how broken I really am. Somehow, I managed to hide my feelings from everyone, but my work suffered. I was fired from three jobs and I was always depressed.”
The turning point came last March, when the young musician managed to pull himself from the brink of suicide. He describes the fear he felt at hitting rock bottom, wondering what would come after death and whether he would be remembered as a failure by the people he leaves behind.
“I wish I had a happy ending to share with you, apart from the fact that I’m still breathing I suppose. I can’t explain it, but I’m not ready to go, not yet. I quit the cocaine and alcohol nine months ago and started going for therapy. I am not cured of my depression. I can control the anxiety with pills, but depression and PTSD have no cure, they’re part of me now. The trick is learning to live with it.”
Part of the healing process has involved opening up to a few people close to him, although reactions have not always been what he hoped for.
“People don’t understand. I wanted to share my story with readers because I want people who are going through the same thing to know they are not alone in the world. If I can quit an addiction and try to rebuild my life, then so can others. If I can do it, so can you. Please seek help. It sounds like a cliché, but talking to a professional or to a good friend does help,” he insists.
The young musician closes our interview with a plea: every day, he tells me, he teaches himself to be compassionate and to recognise people who are going through a hard time.
“If you do meet someone like that, just listen to them. Don’t talk, listen. That’s what we need, to be heard.”
‘Seek therapy to work through the pain’
When children experience violence from the people who are supposed to take care of them and love them the most, the impact on the child is huge – mentally, physically and emotionally.
Therapist Danjela Falzon explains that childhood abuse coming back to haunt adults on an emotional level is a reality.
“A child’s first experience of the world usually comes from their family environment. Moreover, in homes where violence is used, there tend to be other forms of abuse also taking place, such as emotional abuse or neglect.
“Children who are not given the love, safety and care needed come to believe that they’re not loveable, that they are unworthy and that their needs will not be met. If not addressed, this extends into adulthood,” she says.
The repercussions of such a situation can be quite wide-ranging.
“When children experience and witness violence, some learn that this is the only way to deal with conflict, causing them to use violence in their own relationships as adults. Some adult survivors, on the other hand, move towards relationships where once again they’re re-traumatised, seeking out people who are violent or abusive towards them.”
She explains that a great deal of research has been carried out on the long-term effects of violence, and it has been shown that adults with a history of child abuse are more likely than the general population to experience physical health problems.
“Mental health problems associated with past histories of child abuse include personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, depression, anxiety disorders and addiction,” she continues.
Her advice to those who have experienced violence and abuse in childhood is to seek psychotherapy or counselling, in order to have a space to discuss what’s happening in their lives in the present day, in terms of issues they may be having in relationships, at work and so forth.
“Although it may be a painful process, counselling allows them to express their sadness, pain and anger at what happened to them as children in the supportive, accepting environment of the therapy room. In therapy, people can express emotions they’ve never felt able to express, and work through the emotions related to their traumatic experiences.
“Slowly, they can learn to move through their pain and hurt and begin to develop more healthy coping mechanisms, have healthier relationships, and build the self-esteem and self-love that was damaged by their earlier experiences.”
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