I’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.
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,