When I think about trauma, two things come to mind. Firstly, the majority of traumatic episodes in my life didn’t necessarily feel that way at the time, and secondly, trauma is personal, what causes trauma for me may not for you, and vice versa.
I grew up in Greenock &, until I was around eight years old, I remember a fairly happy childhood. My dad worked away from home a lot & my mum provided my younger brother, sister & I with a warm, loving home environment. I was settled in school & had a group of friends. When my dad was at home he did “dad” things with me, teaching me to ride a bike, to swim & taking me to football. It wasn’t a fairy-tale, but I certainly don’t remember any fear.
Around this time things began to change, my dad had an industrial accident which meant he couldn’t work for almost a year, my parents bought their first house, moving areas, and I started a new school. My dad’s drinking changed, and so did he, he was often angry & bitter & could become violent with little provocation. At the time it felt like I bore the brunt of that. Moving schools really unsettled me too. I began to feel as if I didn’t fit in at home, or at school, it felt like something was missing in my life and I began to look for something to fill that hole. I was constantly running away & began to get into trouble with the Police. I can see now that I was living in a state of fear & desperately seeking approval, but at the time could never have articulated that, nor would I have been encouraged to. Emotional honesty wasn’t on the agenda. If I cried, I was asked if I “wanted something to cry for” & If I was angry, I was immediately shut down, often violently. I normalised this and learned to supress my feeling as best I could.
When I was around thirteen, I had my first drink, and immediately I thought I had found that missing “something” & a year later I began experimenting with other drugs. My risk-taking behaviour intensified; I was seldom at school & often in trouble. My parents split up, and from a fairly comfortable existence, my mother, brother, sister & I were living in poverty in a one-bedroom flat, with little financial support from my father. I remember being fifteen years old and having to sew the soles of my trainers back on repeatedly as we couldn’t afford replacements. My way of dealing with this was to become further embroiled in drugs & crime, & I found a group of peers who helped facilitate that, as I did for them.
At eighteen I served my first prison sentence. I was absolutely terrified but used the skills I’d learned to this point to ensure no-one knew that. For the next twenty-one years, this was my life. I spent more time in prison than out, I was involved in prison unrest, spent time in segregation, witnessed & participated in violence, saw people kill themselves & took drugs to cope. Outside of prison I lost friends to overdose, to murder & to life imprisonment & again took drugs to cope. Drugs weren’t my problem; they were my solution. In 2010 I ended up homeless on the streets of Glasgow, where I would spend the next four years, with brief periods in prison, which by this time was probably keeping me alive. I lived like an animal, from moment to moment, and placed no value on my humanity. I didn’t wash, change clothes or eat properly. I could go days without speaking to another human being, and I refused to engage with services or the DWP. My life revolved around taking drugs and begging in the street to fund that. By the end I hadn’t spoken to my family in almost twenty years.
In 2013, whilst in prison for the last time, I finally asked for help & met a wonderful woman who became my care manager & whom these days I’m fortunate enough to call a friend. She managed to get me a place in a residential rehab upon my release. I stayed there for six months, with no idea what I was doing, no idea what abstinence or recovery where, just a knowledge that I didn’t want my life to be how was before. I was introduced to a twelve-step fellowship & for the first time in a long time I developed hope. After leaving I gained my own tenancy & over the next two years, I built a life. I was employed as a support-worker, I had a girlfriend & I finally had my family back in my life. What I didn’t do was deal with my trauma, and slowly but surely, I lost everything, leading to a nine-month relapse. By the end I was completely broken and contemplating suicide. Instead I reached out to a friend working in a twelve-step rehab, who arranged an assessment within days. I spent the next year in there, working through the twelve-steps, attending fellowship daily, having group & one-to-one therapy & learning how to try & live a spiritual life. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned, which helped me make peace with my past, was that my father was probably passing on generational trauma.
I left in June 2018 with no clear plan for the future other than to stay clean. Two weeks after leaving I agreed to audition for a small part in a play staged by a theatre company run for & by those affected by addiction. That evening they called and offered me the lead role. I had absolutely no idea of the work involved, so I said yes. The next six weeks were some of the most intense, but enjoyable of my life. I spoke to someone I had grown to trust, who encouraged me to pursue acting if I was passionate about it & enrolled in an HND Acting & Performance course, which I completed in June 2020. I’m now a 3rd year Performance student at UWS. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be presented with the 2020 SQA academic achievement award by Glasgow Kelvin. I’ve appeared in 10 stage productions, 14 short films & 2 music videos, & have been paid to act professionally. I also discovered that acting is tremendously therapeutic, helping me to process and understand my own emotions in ways I never learned as child.
I still attend twelve-step fellowship, and I have an amazing life. I work in schools mentoring children, attend university, have fantastic relationships with my family & am set to marry the love of my life. As long as I keep dealing with life on life’s terms, I’m sure that will continue.
Epione wants to personally thank Robert for sharing his personal narrative and what worked for him in his healing and recovery journey. He reminds us that no matter what route you choose to take – recovery is ALWAYS possible. He invites us to consider that trauma and is personal and unique to each individual. Now working in schools mentoring children, studying at university, we send much love and congratulations to Robert as he is set to write another chapter and marry the love of his life.
If you would like to collaborate with us and share how you have overcome trauma and how you have been recovering, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org – We look forward to hearing from and seeing you in 2021!