Complex PTSD is a disorder with many complications. It is not merely the original trauma and memories that plague the afflicted. Those memories often as not return as “flashbacks”. A flashback is not merely a temporary memory flash of an original event but a complete, total reliving and re experience. The reliving is a total assault on my present sensibilities, transporting me back through smells as acute as an heirloom rose; taste real as a recently eaten repaste; visuals vivid as a 3d movie in high definition with the power to completely block out whatever is presently happening around you in reality. I am transported back to the event in totality not just in memory. Anyone in the room currently with me no longer exists. They disappear down a tunnel of reality in which already a tentative grip is severed. Loved ones no longer exist. All that exists is the event which may have happened thirty years ago in clarity that is as sharp as if occurring now. Physical pain of rape is experienced. My vagina screams in agony and the shame of the invasion of my privacy devours me, drawing you further into it’s poison ivy tentacles intertwined in my brain. All I can smell is the heavy, heady breathing of the rapist. Fetid alcohol and nicotine laden breath which is all consuming becoming the only life air keeping me alive. No longer do I smell the sweetness of the living child I have just kissed. They do not exist in this flashback of thirty years ago.
I am only a six-year-old twentieth-century child locked in the twenty-first century body of a fifty-four year old mother of four who can no longer hold on to my grasp of the time existing now. Loved ones no longer stop the six-year-old screaming in the physical and emotional pain from erupting up through your oesophagus. The muffled scream held in by the sweaty bovine smelling hand of the snatcher of my childhood innocence. That scream never escaped my throat then and does not now. It’s a scream that is never set free, forever held in and suppressed for eternity only to be relived each time a trigger of the “flashback” happens.
It comes without warning, with triggers that are never consistent and change with fluidity. A muffled sound. Dropped cutlery. A smashed glass on the floor. A banged door. The heavy smell of a recently smoked cigarette on a passerby on the street. A just finished glass of Guinness and its remaining hop odour, distinctly different from any other alcoholic beverage. Cannot be mistaken for wine or gin. No, it’s Guinness and it has transported me from my current 2017 existence back to 1969. I end up in the shower fully clothed as I attempt to scrub myself clean of their smell and bodily fluids; curled up in the walk in wardrobe in the dark corner hoping not to be discovered, huddled in the corner of the chemist shop where a child has just had a tantrum or in a trance at the dinner table when a family member has mentioned some item from the day’s news that triggers a memory. That is a flashback. It is all consuming and it is real.
With repeated flashbacks which are at first surreal and bewildering, comes at times dissociation. This is where I am further are removed from the present and my final feather like grip on the connection to around me is lost.
This derealisation allows no one to reach me. I am lost in the past. Lost to the trauma as if it was happening now. Its devastating grip is complete. The perpetrator’s voices are the one I hear. They talk to me now controlling my every action. My mother becomes me; I become her. Her words of necessary death are imminent and required by her. She forces me to talk in her voice, her idioms, expressions, desires, requests, evaluation of me, devaluing of me, erasing all that is normally held dear. I am not only disconnected from those around me but at times disconnected from myself. Once the physical symptoms have finished their ravenous consumption me, I am removed in my mind. For me, that was the commencement of self-harm and suicidality.
Self-harm comes in many forms for various people but mine manifested itself in deep cutting episodes. When dissociation occurred I would never remember cutting, how I did it; where; with what nor what damage I had caused. I would return from my surreal state, totally unaware of what I had done, rejoin the family, completely oblivious to the incident. No pain was experienced until sometime later and it was then that awareness of what I had done dawned. I might stand in the shower and with the deliberate precision of an artist target the wrist and press the razor sharp blade against my skin and watch with dispassion as the first the bubble of blood begin to form as the skin begins to separate. That’s the first cut. Dissociation is complete and then all that is desired is the visibility of the veins and muscles. The second cut follows easily, followed directly into the same track as the first and so it goes until the muscle is revealed and blood is beautifully flowing freely and with it all the guilt, pain and grief of the past. The death of the children, Aisling, my babies that had been taken away. The blood running down my legs. The blood liquefying down the shower wall or bathroom floor represents each lost child. It is my atonement. Try as I might I can never reach the artery. I have dug and dug and never reached it. I have failed. Then the predictable trips to the Emergency Department for stitching, downplaying the event to avoid admission to the psychiatric ward or assessment by the psychiatric team. Avoidance of admission to even the private clinic paramount. Containment destroys the chance of suicide, my chronic, ever present goal. It is the just payment for what I allowed to happen. Just payment for the children I allowed to die, allowed to be raped and allowed myself to be raped. I own the guilt for those atrocities completely. I alone am to blame and must pay the price. I own the guilt for what happened over those eighteen years.
The men and my mother’s job is complete. She so often said she should kill me. She first held me up against the wall, feet off the ground to her face height and said “You know one day I will kill you”. I was about four when she lifted me up by the throat and said that. She tells me that now. Now it is my job to complete the task for her. Let her rest in peace. Her needs are all that matter. I dissociate almost daily and she tells me to kill myself and finish the job for her.
I have Dissociative Identity Disorder. Dissociative identity disorder is a type of dissociative disorder. It was previously known as ‘multiple personality disorder’. It is a disturbance in a person’s sense of identity, causing them to feel or be observed by others to have 2 or more separate personalities. The different personalities are called Alters. I have many different Alters, all associated with different ages of when I experienced severe trauma such as the first time I was raped or when Aisling was murdered etc. My mother alter is my most dangerous one as she causes havoc and is the one along with a thirteen-year-old who drives the self-harm and suicidality.
She organises me to stash medication and hide razor blades. “Don’t take that dose, slip it into your pocket when he’s not looking and hide it”, she would say or “Go get a blade now while he’s distracted and slit your wrists. Finish yourself off”. She is relentless, intrusive, sneaky, coercive and downright cruel.
Other times it would be just me, the present day 54-year-old wanting to punish myself for letting the men near me and not protecting the other children. The only way to do that was by cutting. So while Andy was out of the room I would go into the bathroom and start taking apart a razor blade. Once I started, I would dissociate and go into a trance and commence cutting feeling no pain whatsoever and just become mesmerised by the deepening wound and ever increasing blood flow. The banging on the door would be distant, from another time. I would not hear it. Not recognise the voice. I would just keep cutting until satisfied I had caused enough damage to redeem myself for my sins. Only then would I come back to the present and hear Andy’s imploring at the bathroom door. I open the door to reveal a bloodied mess in the bathroom. Other times he is unaware I have cut and I just cover the wound with my sleeve, clean up the mess, hide the blade for future use and come out of the bathroom calmly. Only maybe an hour later when the blood soaks through the garment or flows down my arm is it apparent what I have done. She’s had a victory once again. She and the men. The past blends into the present.
Not all cutting episodes are as a result of dissociation but are deliberate attempts made in a meticulous, calculating manner to end a flashback, just to relieve consuming guilt or to kill myself I would bide my time and wait for Andy to be out of the house for just a few minutes it would take to carry out the act and get the relief. His ever vigilant supervision was exhaustive and steady, never wavering but someone who is intent on self-harm or suicide will find a way. They can be the most honest person in the world but once suicidal or wishing to self-harm become calculating and devious with only one agenda. I become selfish and only aware of my own desires. Hidden blades from stolen razor blades careful dissected to remove the blade out of the cradle of the safety razor would be drawn across the skin on the forearm. Deep, pressured. One cut, then two then maybe three until the skin separation was complete. The underlying fatty tissue exposed. At first, no blood would flow so no relief was felt. Then, ah yes then, the blood would flow and the deliverance would come. For the time at present, distraction and diversion were complete and the flashback would stop or not come. The aura had been defeated. Mother, oh Mother dear you have got what you wanted too. My body mutilated once more. If suicide was the necessity the cutting would just continue until veins, muscle tissue and tendons became exposed. The tendons appeared and these are remarkably harder to sever and by then time would have elapsed and Andy would have found me bleeding heavily and I would be saved once again with extreme anger on my part. There was no gratitude ever expressed. I was not grateful or relieved. I was just frustrated that yet another attempt had failed. After years of cutting my lower arms are two-year-old picture drawing lines of ugly red keloid red scars and tissue. Stitching varies wildly in casualty, so some wounds are a work of art, neat and tidy, while others carried out by uncaring Doctors who think self-harm is attention seeking and give clumsy, rough large stitches which scar badly. Mental Health training in Emergency varies wildly and at other times you encounter understanding and appropriate respectful treatment and consultation and relevant history taken. Correct assessments are made and time spent to allow me to recover from the trauma, self inflicted, though none the less valid. I am bandaged and taken into a private care room not sent back out into the public waiting room. Careful evaluation of current professionals is consulted and who assess me rather than a knee jerk reaction to admission to hospital which can just serve to exacerbate the trauma. However, there is a breed of Doctors and Nurses who have no understanding of Mental Health and no evaluation takes place. I am Triaged and sent back into the Waiting Room still in flashback, bleeding through the bandage for all to see, visibly upset. I wait sometimes three hours for further assistance and when I receive it I am not asked what precipitated the cutting but are merely stitched up, not even given prophylactic antibiotics or letter for my GP explaining the situation and sent home. My partner is offered no support. Sometimes I am not sent home but the Mental Health Team is called and I am admitted to the nearest Mental Health Unit which may not even have a bed for the night. All that can be hoped for is that the Private Clinic will have a bed available the next day if I have not been Scheduled under the Mental Health Act. If I have been Scheduled there is awful process of interview with a Psychiatrist, a total stranger, to have the Schedule lifted. I say as little as possible and learn quickly what to say to get it removed. It does not take long to learn to play the system. Hopefully I go home if the event is just a cutting but if it is an overdose or other suicide attempt transfer to the care of the Clinic where I am well known and receive excellent care and see my own Psychiatrist is the best outcome. Not ideal but better than the Public System. It is crucial that the Public System exists and we must have one but it has a long way to go before it caters to the needs of those experiencing Complex PTSD. Much needed Government funds must urgently be invested in developing a system that caters for the range of differing mental health conditions and separates the varying clients of deviating conditions so that these conditions are not exacerbated and clients do not become institutionalised. The Private System is not perfect either but through private health funds individuals needs are better catered for. The tragedy is that it is only the relatively few that can afford Private Health, an indictment on our society.
Guilt is such a huge driver of my suicidality. The grooming and abuse by the men and my parents were so effective and complete that I truly believe I am to blame for all that happened and deserve to die for all that occurred to myself and most of all for what was perpetrated to the guiltless and virginal children, raped and murdered. For the loss of Aisling and the other murdered little ones. They were my responsibility. I cannot escape this. What is guilt? Guilt is a cognitive process or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realises—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse. Guilt is closely related but is different from shame but in the eyes of a child very hard to separate. If one realises that one is guilty of a sin in a country that is founded on the very premise that one is born in the State of Sin being Catholic and should spend one’s life being absolved of it and the Priest the man charged with duty of absolving you of that sin is part of a group of men contributing to your ever growing mountain of guilt as a child and teenager your world view becomes skewed and distorted. It is a metamorphosis that it is irreversible and causes the reality of truth and falsehood to become a permanent mental state. The only state that will absolve my guilt is the forgiveness of those children and Aisling. Absolution and amnesty that will bring peace to my soul. To date it is a clemency denied me and in its place suicidality replaces it as the driver of my motivation despite the love of my family. I do not deserve them due to my overwhelming guilt.
Another complication of Complex PTSD apart from depression can be Dissociation Identity Disorder. In times gone past this was also known as Multiple Personalities Disorder. Many ritually abusive paedophile rings and such cults, deliberately divide the personality of their victims down the middle of the head, making sure there is no communication between the two sides. “Left side” is instructed to speak to no one other than the perpetrators. Under EMDR at times my mother came to the fore during therapy and engage in a very combative battle with the psychotherapist, insisting I had to die, she was worth nothing and kept saying “she was given to me for my work”. She saw her management and recruitment for the Paedophile Ring as giving her ownership of Erin and the other children. Their task was simple. Do as the men wanted and she instructed them to do. Not too much to ask and all that they were worth. The men’s requirements and requests were of paramount importance to her and her husband. They got paid well for this service and the children were simply a part of this business. This is not of course literally my mother talking but rather the part of her personality that I have absorbed and observations of her life and events I have seen as a child. When she ‘appears’ I throw things around the round and become very combative and rude. Initially, she was challenged by the therapist and they battled on points such as this my imprisionment, abuse, hatred of my father, self-righteous justification for her treatment of me and the list went on. Then the therapist informed me, she had done further research and it indicated that the mother was a part of Erin and not to be challenged or expunged but rather encouraged to work with Erin and become a part of the present day mother of four. She was not to be agreed with but not challenged. She explained to me that my mother was part of the formation of my personality and that I was unable to let go of her, so had to learn to unite with working towards one person, one mind not a fragmented milieu of tortured brain fractures. To this day she still appears at sessions but she is at last civil to the therapist and does not seek to put her down or denigrate all that she tries to communicate. At least not all the time! She is less likely to fight her on the issue of the men but still requires Erin’s death and sees it as her right to request this. As the therapy sessions progressed and the Mother figure manifested herself more frequently under EMDR very forcefully, her anger became palpable through hitting of herself, of the furniture, tearing up tissues, throwing objects around the room and making guttural sounds. She wound up in tears in sheer frustration such was the extent of her emotion. She vocalised to the Psychotherapist her fervent wish for the death of Erin and for her innate knowledge of Erin’s wish for her own death. They both wished for the interference of “that man” (Andrew) to be stopped or Erin planned to deal with him through his demise at her own hand. At one point the Psychotherapist’s own life was threatened for protecting my life. Never did Mrs. O’Byrne or Mr’s O as she became referred to call Andrew as anything other than as “that man”. I could pick my phone up in the middle of a session and call “that man” under EMDR if I wished a session to end !!!! It was most peculiar and rather amusing that a woman who never had even seen a mobile phone could use one perfectly. A perfect example of the complexities of multiple personalities disorders. One session, in particular, was unusual and a clear sign of a merging of the personalities. Under EMDR I became extremely upset about the death of the third baby and my mother taking it away and was grieving deeply for it. The psychotherapist was holding my hand and comforting me and we were talking through the process when I became quiet and stopped suddenly. This was often a sign that my mother was going to manifest in a flourish by throwing things around the room in anger. This time, however, my voice just changed and I did not let go of the therapist’s hand but rather held on to it more tightly and cried saying she did not understand how hard, painful and difficult it had been. She coaxed me further sympathetically saying she understood it must have been very problematic for me. I just stared at her for a long time taking in what she was saying totally ill at ease. I was in two bodies. My mothers and my own. My mother did not trust her but desperately wanted to tell her of her trouble and agony. Her inner turmoil. I totally of course completely trusted this angel of a woman so could not understand my mother’s reticence. I was once more torn between my loyalties. What was extraordinary was that my mother let the therapist hold her hand.When I came out of the EMDR, short a time though it was, it was a breakthrough. The two personalities had merged as one. My mind was assimilating and synthesising its personalities. She explained to me that I obviously as a child had witnessed or had been told or my mother’s travails or troubles and she was wanting to share them but was not yet trusting enough. Clearly, my personality was needed to deal with issues close to my mother. The problem was, was I strong enough.
It is quite extraordinary that I can enter a session with this gifted therapist and she can assess which Erin she is talking to. Erin 1 the four-year child of the past, Erin 2 the birthing 14-year-old, Erin 3 of the present, whether my mother is wishing to exert her control and the many other Erins in the cauldron that has evolved. She treats all personalities with respect and this is the only forum in which they all are openly revealed. At all other times the untrained are unable to detect the difference, hence the ability to convince family to leave me alone for a short time, time enough to kill myself in the guise of “I’m great today, just want to sit here and read my book” or “I’m just going for a quick shower” albeit at four o’clock in the afternoon. Assessment of a highly suicidal person is not for the faint hearted. Even though my suicidality is chronic and an ever present wish, it runs peaks and plunges down troughs. It comes with a level of deceit previously unknown to me. Stashing medications behind Andrew’s back and bare faced telling him I have taken them. Saving enough to take three weeks worth as an overdose. I took the overdose while he is getting our youngest out the door to school then calmly come out to the kitchen and make the morning Cappucino as if nothing had happened. Cold as that. It is only when the medications start to take effect and I can no longer reach for the cup of coffee that suspicion is aroused. Then the cycle so familiar to us begins of ringing 000, Ambulance visits, intubations, time in ICU or High Dependency Wards to recover, Schedules, Tribunals, stays in the clinic and the inevitable regret that the attempt has not worked. I always regretted that it had not worked and come through the fog of the medications angry at the staff for not letting me go. I have often had to be restrained. The bitter disappointment of living again and the agonising embarrassment of having to face my family once more. How to I do explain to them that I love them more than life itself and that is exactly why I do not want to live. I truly believed they will have a better life without me and with their father. Locking myself in the toilet to slash my wrists or waiting until I have enough time on my own to carry it out. Going into the toilets at the psychotherapist rooms and doing it there and then waiting for the police and ambulance to be called. Waiting hours in casualty to be stitched up. Making up stories that it was just self-harm, not a suicide attempt. I was well rehearsed and knew how to work the system by now not to get scheduled. I kept my emotions well under control no matter how I was feeling anything other than getting scheduled and sent to a public ward or PECC. Andrew agreed and is a good ally. I also wanted to avoid the clinic now too. I hated it, lovely a place as it was. I just wanted to be at home. If my healing was going to take place that was where it had to be.
Besides, there is never enough time for my attempts to work. I am watched too closely. Monitored by those who love me. A man of 27 years love, a 17 year old mature beyond his years who has grown up too fast since he was 13, living in a house with such an affliction that has entered his idyllic adolescent world. He has witnessed more than a child his age should have. Witnessed his mother attempt to smash down the kitchen door with an iron frying pan at three am in a flashback trying to rescue Aisling. Seen me sleep on the floor in the kitchen beside the fire, unable for months at a time to find slumber or peace in a bed. Run after me, catching me just before I throw myself in the dam, sit on a bench with his father beside me at the dam after an episode and gently just be with me whilst I fight a flashback and urge to kill myself. attempt to ingest poison and lock me in the tennis court with his father at one gate and him at the other, keeping me from trying to kill myself. Watching me kick his father and say horrible things to him as he tried to keep me safe. See the evidence of severe cutting episodes as I cut my wrists sometimes deliberately, sometimes in dissociation but horrific for him regardless to see his mother with such deep wounds, to then be left at home alone while his father took me to ED. No child should see these things but see them he has and his resilience and ongoing love are inspirational to me. I have nothing but the utmost respect and love for him.
Andrew has had to call the other children and tell them what had been happening after each episode promising to keep nothing from them. So hard for them to cope with their mother’s self-destruction while away. The strength they showed in support of their father and me, absolute, unconditional love is to be treasured but could so quickly be lost when suicidality comes knocking at the door, but never is. I will never know the full impact of my illness on my family but am in full knowledge it’s been devastating and enormous. I see the pain in the faces, the tight hug not wanting to let go. It is cruel that the sins of previous generations can impact so heavily on those of the present. This pains me and I feel like I have infected the family with my destructive and pernicious past. My parents exacted a high price from me and I am still paying that debt as they elicit a further even higher price on the next generation which I find more painful to bear than the original score they sought to settle. How cruel that the Mick Wafers of this world should extract a painful toll on two innocent generations. What a wanton waste. However, the generations fight back. There is an underlying resilience not to be underestimated. Not to be undervalued or deprecated. Like the Phoenix it shall rise up through the ashes in both generations. My psychotherapist is dedicated to “pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow. Raze out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleansed the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon” my “heart”.