When Your Childhood Is the Elephant in the Room


In the first 25 years of my life, I suffered two mental breakdowns and countless bouts of depression and anxiety. It took me many therapy sessions to discover and come to terms with why I was so monumentally “messed up” as a young adult.

The beauty of the human mind is in its ability to block out trauma, but sweeping our troubles under the carpet in the hope they will disappear almost always leads to future heartache. It’s never easy or pleasant, but it’s high time we started openly talking about the elephant in the room.

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

When I was 22, I was fortunate enough to take a three month sabbatical from my job, and travelled around Thailand and Australia for three months with some old flatmates. 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 travelers there who weren’t diving, which seems absurd now, but at the time it wasn’t a problem. 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 headed out to an all night party with the friends I was staying with.

A handful of us continued on to the after party, by which point I was absolutely wasted having taken a cocktail of uppers and drinking on top. I got chatting to a Thai girl in the toilets who 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 realized I wasn’t crying for her any more: I was crying for myself. 

At just 22 I already had a serious drinking problem and “recreational” drug habit. Soon after this incident I would start coming to terms with the reasons behind why I was so out of control. I would start to see I had been hiding the pain of a severely dysfunctional childhood. That the wounds I had been masking ran so deep it took getting completely obliterated every single weekend just to feel good about myself.

How could it have possibly been any other way after what I went through as a kid?

Sexual abuse. Check.

Emotional abuse. Check.

Bullying at school. Check.

Living in a constant state of anxiety caused by moving house every 6-12 months. Check.

Leaving home at 15 with no money or qualifications. Check.

The list could go on and on, but this article would be too long. The fact is that no-one escapes the psychological damage of a childhood like mine. 

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

She helped me deal with my demons, and start the long journey of recovery. I began to face up to my past so I could truly make peace with it, and over time, it would eventually stop destroying my chances of future 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, I believe we’re halfway to burying them.

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