“I write with a sort of grim determination to deal with things that are hidden and difficult, and this means, I think, that pleasure is out of the question. I would associate this with narcissism anyway, and I would disapprove of it. – Colin Tobin”
Extracting the story that has been my life has been an excruciating and painful process, though therapeutic. My family over the past years encouraged me to write, as did the Trojan and determined professionals that worked with me. I resisted doggedly in true tribute to the stubborn Irish bastard in me ! These burning questions do not go away. What had I missed ? What sin had I committed to deserve prolonged incarceration, punishment and abject abuse in the pedophilia and prostitution business operated by these pillars of the community, my parents? All this under the umbrella of their Hotel which operated at the heart of, and with the approval of a tight knit “God fearing” community.
The writing of the book began as an organic process. Notes on my mobile phone, jottings on the back of an envelope, reading a quotation that resonated. There was no deliberate attempt to write a book. Then one night in the Clinic about a year ago I inexplicably googled poetry readings on love. No reason. Just did. Suddenly ten o’clock became three o’clock. I was mesmerised by the words my eyes were drinking in. I had rediscovered my love of the rhythm of poetry and it’s ability to express and vocalise feelings in a way nothing else can. Seamus Heaney’s words came flooding back to me with new meaning now making sense of my confused world:
Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme
From The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney
His words resonated and leapt off the page. Finally I knew there was someone who knew my inner thoughts, who knew and could give meaning to my in depth feelings. Complete strangers writing about totally different, random disconnected topics could encapsulate the workings of my troubled mind. Not literally give meaning but offer me connotation and context. It seemed like a miracle. Writing poetry is an art, a way of expression and finding meaning in few words. A melody of passion flowing out onto the pages, words that flow into each other and yet express the inner most thoughts and feelings of those who read the words. I have always seen writing poetry writing as a gift, a wonderful gift, being able to illuminate words so that they form a picture, express a feeling and share a thought in so few words. Unlike telling a story or writing a novel that explains every intricate detail a poem leaves you to draw your own conclusion. It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket and my emotions were given a voice. The poem Past, Present, Future by Edward Webb struck me the most and opened my mind.
Life, lived; not by the, present, contained within the Now,
so thinking of a recollect – of what your mind will allow
means present becomes, neglect – and past, does future infect,
no change can be made- of what past has played,
to live in its control- decays the soul
for only in now, can a person be whole – only in now, can a body contain the soul.
thought of a future that has not yet played – a worry of a nothing, means, now, gets
no future is set – none should forget
if a present moment in now is given neglect –
a life will be stained with the inks of regret.
His poem hit a cord and opened up the gates of hell. They were not my usual tears of pain and anguish but rather droplets of unexpressed feelings released. A voice had been found. I started writing and some days got out of bed, had breakfast and just wrote all day literally. The words just came flooding out. At times I just ended up in the corner of the room sobbing or sitting on the bottom of the recess of the shower as the story came out. I found myself writing in Gaelige a language I had no idea I even remembered let alone could still write in but it just flowed. It helped enormously with psychotherapy and with working my psychiatrist. It explained a lot of the confusion going through my brain. I was finally able to sort out a timeline because as I was writing dates were inexplicably falling into place. Work I had done under EMDR made more sense as it was given context and names were put to faces. It was truly as if a fog had been blown away from my brain and clarity had come. However, it made me more dangerous to myself. It increased the suicidality. The revelations offered no peace just more pain. Suicidal attempts increased and yet I still could not stop writing. I was driven to get my story on paper. I wanted to bear witness to the deaths of those poor children. Stays in the clinic became longer and my mother’s personality became ever stronger and domineering driving the suicidal urges. Events took a nasty turn for the worse when I became temporarily homicidal and declared that if my Psychotherapist and Andrew interfered in my suicidal plans I plannned to kill them. I openly admitted to it under EMDR and later without it. It had to be reported to the police. This lasted two months. I was deadly in earnest that’s how committed to killing myself I was and now I was threatening others I loved who intervened in those attempts. I could not be assuaged from that path. I was single minded in my thinking. We increased the psychotherapy sessions and I remained in the clinic. After concentrated EMDR and a change of medication and a leap of faith by Andrew they discharged me from the Clinic to home. My Mother made no appearances at home and I had no flashbacks. I had self harm episodes but no suicide attempts. It was a very tense time for everyone. I could not be trusted to be left alone under any circumstances so that level of supervision on a 28 acre property is very difficult. Andrew and I are incredibly lucky we get on so well as we spent an enormous amount of time together !!!!!! However, as time progressed I had the opportunity to reconcile a lot of what I came to know and as I say the writing has been therapeutic and has been a necessary part of the process both for my family, me and certainly will be in bringing justice to Aisling and the other children.
Coupled with EMDR, psychotherapy, dedicated professionals, medications and the love of my family I am finding a way forward. It’s rocky at times. Different voices from the past win the battle and consume me but my present life is rising from the bomb site of my brain and rebuilding a person able to live with the memories and finally grief for the lost children I could not save. I comforted them and relieved our joint experiences as best as I could. Where once in my mind my best was not good enough now it’s slowly being accepted as the only alternative a four to eighteen year old had available. To be a survivor one has to accept that one was a victim first. That is happening very, very slowly and painfully and while the suicidality is ever present and ubiquitous and a tantalising solution on those days of battlefront flashbacks, other days I can live. Truly live. The taste of a salty sea can be safely enjoyed as a swim not an escape through drowning, a crispy hard carrot can be confidently chopped for a laksa without danger to my wrists. I can spend an hour a day, maybe, that is not consumed by ways to harm and kill myself. I can be with my children and remember what they have eagerly shared with me the previous and maybe even tantalisingly hope that I could hope to plan for the next day. I might even remember the next day what they told me the previous. My memory can be of the previous day’s activities not just ones of Ballyculchie and that room. My condemnation of those that ignored us and allowed such atrocities to continue and stood by in silence or actually perpetuated the crime is absolute and there is no forgiveness there. In the movie Spotlight they said “It takes a Village to raise a child and it takes a Village to abuse one”. That is my story. Everyone in my Village ignored what was going on and allowed the abuse to continue either because they were involved or because they were protecting their own children or too afraid to speak out.
I have to learn to forgive myself first and not blame myself for Aisling’s death. Darling Aisling in her oversized uniform and head full of such mesmerising stories of her world at the Industrial School or our sometime joint story of escaping on the back of the ceramic ducks outside the room on the wall. I deserve her forgiveness first before I can give any to anyone else least of all myself. Such is the positive progression to the present and rescue from the tentacles of trauma wrapped around my brain. Healing is a every present journey. Dissociation is never far away and reliving the trauma is constant. Just when you think you have dealt with some aspect of it you find yourself revisiting it again and again. Those living with PTSD and trauma from childhood have lives that are forever in the remaking and remoulding.