I’ve been watching Patrick Melrose. Loosely based on his own life, the author Edward St. Aubym tells a gasp-worthy story of privileged dysfunctional families, child abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction, with threads of redemption surfacing occasionally. I’m finding it tough going. I remember abandoning the original books for the same reason, although there’s something a little more palatable in the watching of a talented cast of actors portraying such darkness.
When Patrick finally shares of his abusive childhood with a close friend, the therapist in me is waiting for said friend to say “you may want to talk about this with a therapist.” Those words don’t come. Instead, he demonstrates how to deeply hear someone’s distress and be an ally for moving forward. And I began to reflect on the number of people who actually don’t consult with a therapist in the face of such history. I’m guessing there are more than I care to contemplate. (I say this with a biased perspective of course, believing therapy can provide a way through the often treacherous paths to healing).
Many blessed with the courage to admit their secret past have divulged their story to me. I can remember with clarity the occasions when I was the first person to bear witness. Weirdly, it’s an honour and a privilege to acknowledge and accept without judgement what someone has endured in silence. Deeply troubling as well. My years of professional training and supervision prepare me for such stories, yet the human being I am feels my stomach falling away, the sinking feeling that comes with being a confidante.
Those of us who carry the burden know only too well that Shame gets in the way of sharing the secret. Abusers usually bully and threaten their victims into silence, convincing it’s the victim’s fault, not their own inappropriate proclivity. Shame seals our mouths and hearts. Shame serves as a protective scab over the original wound. Patrick uses alcohol and other drugs to keep the scab intact – I know from personal and professional experience how well it does so. It really takes courage to contemplate messing with that scab. If you’re reading this and happen to be in that phase of recovery – bravely approaching the possibility of revelation – I encourage you to do so. Whether you reach out to me or any other suitably qualified professional, I promise you it’s worth the risk. Hope lies underneath the scab, it does.