My name is Paul and I am 56 years old. For most of my life, I have felt separate and dislocated from myself and my surroundings, an observer of life rather than a participant. I know this was due to experiences in my early childhood.
Even though I 'knew' about these experiences I could never understand them or give them credence as they seemed so surreal and distant. I have described these as a movie which runs in my head that I watch, again and again, as an observer. In truth, I was badly treated, neglected, beaten, sexually abused, psychologically scarred and emotionally destroyed, all by the adults that were supposed to take care of me. The damage of this has blighted my whole life resulting in abject loneliness and isolation due to my inability to trust anyone, or to know how to properly care for myself or even acknowledge that I was in any way worthy of that care and happiness.
This mindset from an early age has presented a destructive and pattern of 'coping' behaviour in myself that included alcohol and drug abuse, psychological self-harm and dangerous life-threatening behaviour that led to mental ill-health, emotional dislocation, broken relationships, suicidal ideation with numerous attempts on my own life. It left me with a tortuous pattern of thinking that placed me as the guilty party in ALL situations, forever trying to please others and taking the blame for all the suffering in the world on my own shoulders due to the guilt and shame I had been saddled with. I led a truly hellish life, hidden from those around me by the mask of societal success, with a robust, talented and practical persona that had found apparent happiness. I refer to this persona as the 'Plastic Paul.' This was who most people thought I was, but it was really a suit of armour.
In my life, I have worked in the care sector since I was 30. I worked in various agencies supporting adults with learning difficulties. During this time I was seriously considering that I had some kind of learning disability, possibly autism or Asperger’s syndrome because it helped explain why I felt so dislocated from everything. This was not the answer.
I then moved on to spending 17 years working in a mental health day centre, where I realised that I did have a mental health issue as I was anxious and depressed alternating all the time, I even considered that I had bipolar disorder because the symptoms seemed to match many of my experiences, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, multiple personalities in my head, and again dislocation from my surroundings. I had several extended periods of sick leave at my day centre job as the pressure my overtly critical internal dialogue, and self-destructive behaviour that led to me losing everything I held dear, had left me considering suicide as a way out of this nightmare. This was not the answer either.
During last year (2020) whilst I was on sick leave, I started to receive peer support from Survivors Unite, an agency that I had, ironically, previously referred other people to as part of my job. I was supported 1:1 weekly, for the first few months, then in addition, had support from one of the Counsellors. The support I received from each was different in focus, but consistent in approach.
We would reflect on my life through the prism of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I struggled with this concept because the 'movie' in my head was not real and had nothing to do with me, it was different, separate and scary. However, through the support I have received I now am able to recognise what actually happened to me, to accept it DID happen, to accept I was the victim, the innocent, and to start to see my life from a different positive viewpoint.
It is hard to explain how much this changed things for me, in a relatively short time, but there is no other way to say it than I was unequivocally believed. I was supported in a way I had not been before, I was helped to see that I not alone, and I was helped to see that I did have control in my life. I was helped to see that all that went on in my head HAD happened to me and that it was actually my brain keeping me safe from the trauma I had experienced. I was helped to see there was a way out of this hellish vision of my life, I was helped to see how despite everything I had repeatedly told myself, I was successful, popular, liked, talented, intelligent, skilled, experienced, valued and above all capable of being loved and giving love in return.
I had not had this feeling from any of the other therapies I have personally received, or have promoted in the past through my job. None have brought this change about. No disrespect to them, they are valuable services but I think they were dealing with the symptoms of my illness, not the trauma that was causing the symptoms.
Survivors Unite is a unique service that MUST continue, develop and grow. There are so many Survivors who are still out there, in the place I was, before hope of change and recovery came back into my life. All those others need that specific support as well.
All I can say to express my gratitude for this service is that the language that has been used, the type of support given, the propagation and development of trust, and the unfaltering feeling that I am believed, supported and understood has been the foundation stone on which I have been building my personal recovery.
Survivors Unite WAS the answer.