By Siobhain Crosbie
My dad was a drinker, he was always in the pub and everyone loved him, but me.
He married mum when she was just 19 and they had 5 children one after the other, I was the first born and my job was to help my mum with my brothers and sisters. Two of each whom I love dearly.
It was also my job to help mum hide dad's violence to her and he did direct a wallop or two in my direction but he never hurt the others as I could protect them and always did.
I never understood why mum stayed but then again mum always seemed so weak. . I used to get so angry at her when I would be wiping a bloodied nose or bandaging a hand that he might have burnt with an iron, or a cigarette, basically whatever he got his hands on at the time.
Then I'd feel guilty for being angry at her and feel disgusted that I might end up being like my dad.
My brothers and sisters rarely until they were older understood what was happening. I used to tell them it was an Irish way, loud and noisy downstairs or that dad had had a row with someone in the pub and was just shouting about it.
It didn't take too many years before we passed this information down but one by one all of us knew exactly what was happening.
The younger ones became terrified of dad and would hide in their rooms and would be frightened to come out, one of my younger sisters used to ask "if he kills mum, will he kill us?" I always reassured her and told her no, no one will be killed as I was the proper man of the house and I wouldn't let dad hurt them ever.
Dad, when drunk would hurl abuse in my direction and yes I was scared, but fiercely angry too. Angry at both of them, him for his attitude, mum for staying, why as a boy I can show her so much love, yet she goes to bed with a man, a monster to her. Why I could never stop him, why I ended up feeling so inadequate, worse still so very angry, but just had to ignore my feelings and carry on, what could I do, I was just a kid myself.
I used to find time to be alone, every opportunity I got to be out away from the house I took. Sometimes I'd get so angry I would want to hurt myself and would. Digging a knife into my arm, slicing it hard. As soon as I did it, the anger stopped, not for long, but it did stop.
The mornings following this would always be the same, I would wake up and my first ritual was to check for damage, my next, cover it up, the next ignore my anger at myself. No point it helped last night, that's all that mattered.
As my damage increased, so did the attention. My brothers and sisters started to notice, but we all had problems in one way shape or form.
My youngest sister hardly ate, barely enough for a bird and was so skinny you could see her ribs.
Our elder sister was always trying anything to keep dad happy, running around the house tidying, cleaning, cooking, anything to stop him being angry.
The next my brother, the younger one, was fiercely protective of my sisters and used to absorb my younger sisters at night with stories, to take them to a land of make believe, sometimes I'd feel so sad watching him gather them on his bed and creating happiness in dreams and far off lands,
The last brother, the youngest was a loner, he'd spend his time taking his anger initially out on insects, then smaller animals, his eyes would glaze into almost excitement as he'd torture whatever he caught. I tried to talk to him, tried to keep him close but I knew I couldn't reach him. My heart would break watching him so alone within himself.
He was the first to leave home, I couldn't, I had to stay to protect who was there. He left the day after he was 16, I heard from him once or twice but it's been a long long time now and I only hope he is ok.
My arms never healed, and over time I hurt myself more and more, it felt exquisite, the blood trickling down, but then I would feel ashamed and inadequate as I was the responsible one, first borns usually are.
I finally years later saw a therapist, he taught me breathing techniques, he taught me to understand the pain by cutting, was just a way of avoiding the pain inside. He helped me learn to use my anger in a constructive way rather than a destructive way.
He helped me accept myself for who I was and to accept my parents behaviour, this didn't mean like their behaviour, this meant to stop trying to change them both, but to focus on myself and my future.
I learnt that self harming was simply a physical example of the harm my parents caused me emotionally and the only way I believed I could control the mess in my head was to create a mess on my physical being.
I don't self harm anymore, I don't even smoke or drink alcohol, and now with my own children, I spend my time talking to them, helping them with their thoughts and feelings and working to make sure they never channel a ton of chaotic feelings into a ton of chaotic cuts into their body.
I am not my dad and never will be.
A Therapists thoughts.
By self harming the above man as a child couldn't cope with the feelings he was going through so created an intervention and cut himself. This often creates a feeling of release from the chaotic thinking, but in reality it's a shock to the body to feel pain and this diversion from thinking to feeling creates the sense of relief until the repercussions of the act create further negativity. Shame adds to issues already there and the cycle continues.
In an example as above the techniques I would use would be an integration of therapies.
Person centred therapy is aimed at creating a relationship that involves no judgement, but understands, no pity but empathy and openness to reflect openness.
This creates trust and allows the individual to work within a relationship without the fear of rejection.
Building on the above, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which if used correctly increases self awareness, we often have thoughts without recognising the feelings behind the thoughts. CBT allows us to become aware of the origins of the thoughts which allows us to take more control of the irrational negative thought processes ingrained from childhood.
Following and during the implementation of the above techniques, I would incorporate Psychotherapy as this helps create a conscious awareness, but also an opportunity to work through the feelings of the child, come to terms with those feelings but create a conscious understanding of where the original trauma occurred and process this.
The three combined can help address self-harming difficulties. Self harm is a symptom not a cause and by addressing the cause, the symptoms will alleviate.
I hope anyone reading this can connect, reflect and consider if the life of the child is going to be the life as the adult. It doesn't have to be.
Seek help and that's the first step to taking control away from your history and creating new control in your future.