We Need to Talk About the Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the RoomI’ve spoken before about suffering two mental breakdowns in the space of four years when I was in my twenties, but I’ve never written about what life during a breakdown entailed. The beauty of the human mind is in its ability to block out trauma, and I’ve certainly done a good job of that over the years. It seems right to share this story now. I feel that it’s high time to stop sweeping our troubles under the carpet, and hoping they’ll go away. We need to talk about the elephant in the room.

My first breakdown came at the end of my first travelling expedition.

I took a three month sabbatical from my well paid job, and gallivanted around Thailand and Australia for three months with some friends. One of the girls I went with was a flatmate, and someone I’d have described at the time as a bestie. They say you’ll never truly know a person until you’ve been on holiday together, and this was very much apparent by the end of that trip.

The Thai segment was largely spent lazing on beaches by day and boozing by night, with a large smattering of the readily available pharmaceutical drugs we took for fun chucked in for good measure. We must have been the only travellers on Koh Tao who weren’t diving, which seems absurd now, but at the time it wasn’t a problem. You see I had convinced myself that I was living the dream, but in reality I was merely trying to escape the pain I was feeling by getting trashed. Being in Thailand simply meant having nicer surroundings and not going to work.

By the time I got to Sydney for the last few days of my trip, I was in all kinds of a mess. Although I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained, sensible was not my middle name. So I did what I always did, and continued the Renster Show.

I went to an all night party with the friends I was staying with, and a handful of us continued on to the after party (or ‘crack on’ as we used to call them). I was wasted by this point, after taking a cocktail of uppers and drinking on top. I got chatting to a girl in the toilets, and it turned out that she was Thai. She had fled a few years previous, escaping a life of abuse, sex slavery and misery. Her story was compelling and had me in tears.

When the tears wouldn’t stop, I realised I wasn’t crying for her anymore, I was crying for myself.

Those tears continued to fall, and fall, and fall for hours. Until a friend of my friend came over to her house with valium to calm me and take the edge off my come down.

In the midst of all this I called my mother. She wasn’t much help. She wasn’t used to me falling to pieces, that was usually covered by my brother and sister.

“I don’t know what to say when you’re like this Reneé. It’s the drink. It’s the drugs. You’ve got to stop going out to parties.”

That was my mother for you, always blaming everything/one else.

I was 22 years old; had a serious drinking problem and ‘recreational’ drug habit. Yet never once did she even consider the reasons behind the booze and partying. Never once did she acknowledge that the reason I was so out of control was because I was hiding the pain of a severely dysfunctional childhood. That the wounds I was masking ran so deep, that it took getting completely obliterated every single weekend to feel good about myself.

How could it have possibly been any other way?

After being sexually abused as a young child; emotionally abused by my step-father; bullied at school; lied to about so many things including my parentage. Not to mention living in a constant state of anxiety, never knowing where we were going to live from one six months to the next. Then leaving home at 15 and fending for myself in this big bad world.

You can listen to this podcast for more details if you wish.

When I returned home from that I trip I made one of the best decisions of my entire life, and started seeing a counsellor. She opened my eyes to how toxic the relationship between my mother and I had become, and the need to redefine the rules if I were to continue having her in my life. She helped me see that I deserved to be loved, and taught me that if I didn’t respect myself then I couldn’t expect anyone else to.

She helped me deal with my demons, and started the long journey of recovery. I wouldn’t be ready to address my addictions for another few years, but it was a damn good start.

No one escapes the psychological damage of a childhood like mine.

Yet never once was it recognised (by the people I needed it to be) as the reason behind why I was so monumentally fu**ed up.

I firmly believe that until we face our past and make peace with it, then it will haunt us forever often destroying our chances of happiness.

Nothing that is worth doing in life comes easily though. It will likely be a painful process, but as soon as we’re ready to face up to the skeletons in the cupboard, we’re halfway to burying them.

Did you have a difficult childhood? How did you deal with the fallout? I’d love to hear your story in the comments section.

Thanks for reading,

Reneé xx

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40 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About the Elephant in the Room

  1. Your story is also MY story. The only things that are different is that I do not have a partner and I was never lied to about my parentage. Everything else is the same. I empathize with you as much is humany possible. I feel your pain and cry your tears. We must have been soul sisters in another time. Best of wishes to you and for you.

  2. I marvel at your strength Renee, you are so brave to have written this post. My childhood wasn’t terrible but there were a few things that bothered me and I’ve struggled with them in the past. I know what a bad relationship with your mother feels like though. I haven’t spoken to my biological mother in a long time, cutting ties with her to save my children from the same heartache I suffered. You are right though, facing our demons is the only true way to beat them. You are one amazing lady. xxx

  3. I am always so inspired Renee by your positivity and how far you have come from your past. I agree that we have to face our demons in order to move on and counselling can be an incredible tool for helping us do so. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself – your story and your words often help inspire me to do better and I am often reminded by them that I am in control of my life and my happiness and it helps hugely on the days when I am tempted to moan about things.

  4. Facing your demons is the hardest thing you can do, but it’s also the only thing that will help you come up of a messed up segment of your life. You’ve done so well and gone so far, honey. I really admire your determination to be the best person you can be: the best mum, wife, friend, cook… but you know that already. xxx

  5. I am really all for counselling – I like the fact that the NHS offers free counselling nowadays and you can go through self-referral. I think you are pretty amazing for turning your life around – having the tenacity to overcome your demons where so many others fall into a vicious cycle. I know that a counsellor is not going to give you practical advice or guidance but I think it is really powerful to be guided into a place where you know yourself better than ever before and can totally understand where your negative reactions to things come from. Brave, honest post hon Xxx (and thanks for linking #thetruthabout!)

  6. You are so lovely Becky, thank you. I did a podcast of the About Me chapter of my book the other day and got rather emotional. I can write about it until the cows come home, but reading it out loud was another story. I kind of forget day to day how bad some of it was. Which is most definitely for the best xxx

  7. Thank you so much lovely Zaz. Getting to know ourselves, and being comfortable with what we see in the mirror is a huge journey for some, but utterly vital for our chances of happiness xxx

  8. Such a brave post. You continue to amaze me every time I stop by your blog. I really admire your resilience and your ability to articulate the experience of such a traumatic childhood. #thetruthabout

  9. It took me a long time to get over the hurt, but I did it, eventually. I also cut ties with every single member of my family, including my mother. Not the road most people decide to take, but it worked for me and I’m so much happier as a result. It’s been 10 years now, and in the process I’ve created my own little family instead xx

  10. I’m so pleased that there are plenty of lovely people out there that had good upbringings. Every single person I know seems to have had some kind of dysfunction, so it’s good to hear nice stories. A real life hug would be AMAZING! Are you going to blog camp next Thurs? xxx

  11. I don’t think the wounds from a dysfunctional childhood ever fully disappear, but they certainly stop hurting once the past has been confronted. Everyone has their story and ways of coping with it don’t they.

    Really hope you manage to make peace with your past lovely, can’t recommend doing so highly enough xxx

  12. I’m well aware how I’ve never really managed to leave my traumatic childhood memories behind and how I continue to carry them around with me in a way. What’s that line about ‘you can’t write a new chapter if you’re still busy rereading the old one’ or something? The irony is that I didn’t go through half as much as this but I can definitely understand everything you have said. Two of my siblings have in fact had counselling and it really helped them. I just go for the crying at the most inopportune moments and acting like a clown on my blog method of therapy, neither of which are all that healthy!

    You’re incredibly brave writing about this. I’m going to read the other links properly. Not sure how to end this comment really. Bless you xxx

  13. I love how open you are in these posts. I’m lucky, I didn’t have a difficult childhood and reading about yours makes me even more grateful. Recreational drugs and drinking was just that, fun for me as a youngster. But reading this makes me more certain what a strong, wonderful person you are and how much you’ve overcome and still overcoming. I will give you a real life hug one of these days xxx

  14. Wow, that sounds like an awful lot for one person. I’m sorry. I hope you found away to work through all that and are not still carrying it around with you. I’ve immersed myself in distracting substances to avoid dealing with stuff before. For me too it just delayed the inevitable falling to pieces. *hugs*

  15. Renee, this is a brace, powerful, honest and compelling post, and I relate to a lot of it in my own way. We all have our issues and coping mechanisms, until we reach a point where we have to recognise that we have to take responsibility for ourselves – or else continue a potentially dangerous spiral. You are truly amazinf and i think that you are doing healing and also generous things by confronting the elephant in the room and sharing it with those who may need to understand too. Xxx

  16. I know I’ve said it often before, but you are such a strong and inspirational lady, R. To come out of such a shitty upbringing the other side, and become such a caring and loving Mum, and fab person with so much to give is a HUGE achievement- you should be SO proud of yourself xx

  17. You never really know what a person has ever been through until it is in front of you. I can’t imagine it. You must be a stronger person for it. I’m so glad the counsellor helped you to see some of the issues with your Mum and help you to move forward. This sort of post makes me feel very lucky to have the childhood I did. My parents split up but I never felt too bad from it. Brave post xx #thetruthabout

  18. Another brave, and wise, post Renee. Our childhoods define so much, and while I can’t say mine was bad, in all honesty it wasn’t great either, for many reasons. I know it has had a huge effect on who I am, and on some of the (very bad) decisions I made in my teens and twenties. We’re learning every day, aren’t we, and striving to be the person we want to be. Inspirational as always my lovely x

  19. Wow Renee you have been through so much. It is truly inspiring how you can share your experiences and offer hope to other people in similar situations. I believe we definitely become stronger through our own battles and you have definitely won yours. My sister and I often talk about our childhood and how it’s affected us. We weren’t abused in any way but once we became teenagers our parents just weren’t around. They divorced and were going through their own dramas and they took their eye off the ball. I think they thought we were old enough to fend for ourselves but we weren’t. We both left home very young, lived through a wild phase and have been each other’s rocks ever since. My brother came off worse as he was much younger and I know he definitely has been affected in many ways. We’re all very close as a result. However coming to terms with events and accepting them allows you to forgive yourself/others and successfully let go and move on. You are such an awesome lady. xxx

  20. Darling Kate you are so so gorgeous, thanks as always for your beautiful kind words. I’m sorry that you can personally relate to as much of my childhood as you can, but I’m super proud of you for over coming your troubles and becoming the kick ass slice of awesomeness that you are. Much love xxx

  21. I’m so sorry to hear about what your sister did, it can take a long time to get over the hurt after being betrayed by loved ones. I hope you manage to make peace with your past Ali, sounds like there’s lots of unfinished business going on. Sending strength your way xx

  22. Your courage and resilience astounds me Renee. Really it does. Such a brave post and one that I have no doubt will help many others, especially not to feel so alone. The marks are childhood leave on us are always there I think – good and bad. The good ones help us grow into a confident, healthy and happy individual who knows that are loved and deserve love. The bad ones do the opposite. My childhood was such a mixed bag of both. On the one hand I was blessed in many ways, on the other I saw and experienced stuff that no child should ever have to sadly. The drinking, the drugs, the wild behaviour I can all most certainly relate to. At the time you say it’s for fun, but we both know that actually it’s a huge cry for help. Healing the past is vital to us moving forward. I think I’ve pretty much dealt with my gremlins now from childhood but goodness me, it’s sure taken a very long time. Well done on being so courageous my love. And for turning your life around and making it something to be immensely proud of. Xxx

  23. I know so many people who cite their decision to see a counsellor as being their defining moment. Sounds as though it certainly was yours. Thank goodness you too that step. Very brave Renee. x

  24. Oh wow what a journey Sarah-Jayne. There is much to be said for learning to say no, and putting yourself first. If you can’t look after you then you won’t be able to take care of your loved ones, it’s why we’re told to put on our own oxygen mask first in the event of a disaster on an aeroplane…

  25. This was such a brave post to write. I have suffered two bouts of deoression (I am still dealing with the second). My mother left my father for a 19yr old when I was 15 and I was left to pick up the pieces and look after my younger sisters. I never dealt with any of this which hasn’t helped me in my life. Then a couple of years ago my sister (who I thought was the closest person to me) defrauded me of £3000, I couldn’t get my head round why she would do that to me. I am starting to deal with things and getting somewhat back to myself.
    Thank you for this post, it will help a lot of people.

  26. Oh honey that sounds absolutely horrendous! I’m so pleased you worked through your demons and came out the other side. I really hope your husband is okay xxx

  27. Oh my darling Leigh, you’ve suffered so much, yet managed to achieve such great things to help others in the midst of your grief. I really hope that life is super kind to you from now on lovely lady xxx

  28. A brave post that will, hopefully, help others in the same position realise that it is possible to get through this and find something better. Much respect as so much blogging is about presenting the best aspects of our lives and glossing over the rubbish bits.

  29. I love the openness of this post. So many of us, including myself, have had dark pasts and childhoods. My husband had a HORRIBLE childhood but he handles it in ways that just amaze me but I often wonder the older he gets if it’s going to start surfacing. I know for me I suppressed my childhood until I was 30 and then had a mental breakdown so bad that I had to be admitted to a hospital for a 72 hour watch….probably my darkest time…I saw a therapist and she helped a little but once my insurance ran out so did her visits. I think you may have inspired me to write another blog post Reneé 😉 thanks for sharing this post!

  30. What a vital, brave post darling that will help so many. I’m sorry for what you suffered and so proud you found the strength to reach out, get help and become who you are today: an inspiration xx

  31. I was one of the fortunate ones. I cared about everyone else too much, I did everything for everybody, I was the good un, the one who would never say no. But my brain did disintegrate and say No last December. Ironically enough the final threads disassembled after a drinking session. I got admitted to the Priory who taught me to know myself, accept and forgive myself, say no if I didn’t want to do something. My eyes have been truly opened – I have learnt compassion, kindness and forgiveness, both to myself and others. Thank you so much for your beautiful words, you are one of those who understands spot on.

  32. This is an emotional and resonant read, Renee. My childhood was also difficult but for different reasons, and it too has left a lasting legacy – how can it not? Add to that everything that happened with Hugo – I have more better days now, but so much feels unreal I have often worried recently I am a few steps away from a complete breakdown. Facing those skeletons in the cupboard is definitely an important step – but they do seem to follow me around. They are bound to, I suppose. Part of acceptance is understanding they are always going to be there. It’s about how I move forward. No easy answers I’m afraid xxx

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