boy with hood upI was raised on catholic shame and guilt and not just any old catholic shame and guilt but the Irish catholic kind. The kind of guilt and shame whereby you are continuously told you’ll go to purgatory for being naughty or you are going to burned in hell for the slightest misdemeanour. What I really longed for was to be raised on love and care but sadly that wasn’t to be my path. I had a mother who was manipulative and was everyone’s favourite auntie, no mean feat when your mother was one of 14 and your cousins had an abundance of aunties and uncles to choose from and they always chose her. She was revered as the kind gentle auntie, the one who everyone wanted to spend time with yet this same gentle placid natured woman turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of her own daughters and was complicit in allowing it to continue unchecked. I was to experience horrendous domestic violence daily often beaten and repeatedly reminded I was a worthless child. My stepfather would make a boxing ring by placing an item of clothing in four corners and force my big brother and I to fight each other for his own pleasure.

Therefore it is no small wonder that I discovered that alcohol, fags and booze could somehow dampen all that inner shame and guilt I carried like a heavy weight upon my small skinny shoulders whilst simultaneously using whatever I could to constantly chase the heady escape of the terrifying reality I was living in at age 12 and decided this was the ‘cure’ I had been waiting for.

My teenage years were spent fighting, shoplifting and stealing from others to keep me continuously topped up with the substances of my choice. I met and married the first man who told me he loved me who was as damaged as I had been and together, we became a volcanic eruption of irresponsibility and permanently chasing the next ‘high’. There were many lows, my first serious suicide attempt came at age 17 when I discovered my little sister was now being groomed as the next little girl in the sights of my abuser and my mother came to the hospital like  a concerned parent and when left alone heart illustrationwith me she demanded I sign myself out before the psychiatrist could section me. I thought she was there because she cared, it took me many years to realise she was covering her own back and that of the monster she was married to and was worried I might spill the family secret that would heap guilt and shame on her when really she led me to believe the guilt and shame still belonged to me and I was never to speak of the incident again. However every cloud had a silver lining and my GP introduced me to prescription drugs that would heighten the heady feeling of alcohol when I mixed them together and also got the approval of my husband to be and his friends. Several years in chaos ensued but by time I was 22 I was widowed by the suicide of my first love and was left alone with 3 children under 4. My mother and her husband blamed me for that as well and threw me out of the house when I went to her distressed and crying to tell her of my husband’s death with the words you should be ashamed and his death is your fault, reinforcing that good old catholic guilt and shame even deeper. I quit what I thought were the ‘drugs’ but continued to drink alcohol and consume prescribed meds, sometimes secretly, but I never had a problem, at least that’s what I told myself.

I got a job, met an amazing man who strangely came from a normal family with a loving relationship with his family who I trusted with the secrets of my past and who steadfastly and consistently challenged my feelings of guilt and shame. I loved work but had to give it up when my youngest daughter was diagnosed with a life threatening tumour and I felt guilt and shame for that as I still ‘used’ while I was pregnant with her. She got well after a lengthy battle and I settled down as a stay at home mum. In my early thirties I re-entered education and despite still binge drinking and being on prescribed meds I did my GCSEs and A levels then signed up for uni. Life however had other plans and my husband was diagnosed with cancer so I deferred my uni place and slipped back into the familiar blanket of trauma that I was so accustomed to and had the perfect excuse to drink more and ask for more meds from my doctor which he willingly gave to me. To the outside world I functioned well did commenced my degree, embarked on voluntary work but I was always willing to help others even at the expense of my own wellbeing. I didn’t know how to say no and constantly looked for validation from others and would feel guilty if people asked me to do something and I wanted to say no but voice would say yes.

It took me a further number of years to get tired of the drink and drugs and reach a rock bottom that for me meant I had to get help as my drinking was out of control and by this time I was buying bootleg Valium in the 100s. I was 39 and on the outside was academically successful, had a good job and functioned pretty well, if you didn’t look too close you’d think I had a perfectly ‘normal’ life. It stairswas in a 12 step programme that I finally found me and I learned that it wasn’t the catholic religion I was exposed to that heaped shame and guilt upon me but the shrewdness of those who consistently harmed me and used religion to reinforce the harm the were causing to me. I learned to be kind to myself and I met people who treated me with unconditional positive regard and astonishingly didn’t want anything in return. I met amazing people who were trauma informed before it became the new buzzwords that are bandied about by many but truly practiced by a few. I learned how to say ‘no’ and that the word ‘no’ is a full sentence. I reconnected with little me with the help of a truly trauma informed service and 2 amazing practitioners who worked at my pace in collaboration with me, not at me.  I learned to acknowledge all the traumas I had faced throughout my life and removed the guilt and shame I carried around like an extension of my very being. With truly authentic trauma informed care comes truly authentic healing, the kind that is maintained without any effort, the kind that is natural, the kind that means you can laugh again, the kind that has set me free and has allowed me to become the person I am today, not in spite of my past but despite it.

I have no contact with those who harmed me and have grieved for my mother, everyone’s favourite auntie, a kind gentle woman who never really existed and I wish those who harmed me no ill will. To want vengeance would mean they are still impacting my life today and they really don’t have that kind of power over me. I refuse to give it to them.

I know it’s a cliché, but I genuinely am living proof that we can recover from unimaginable trauma, but we can only do it in a trauma informed environment. Today I am proud of me, I love little me and grownup me and I have a faith of my own understanding based on love and acceptance not guilt and shame. Life is good. I was a victim, became a survivor and now I like to identify as a warrior as, survivor, for me at least, insinuates that I am just making it through life when in actual fact I am embracing everything life has to offer and this is only possible because not only did I receive trauma informed care I learned that all along I was able to treat others with trauma informed care myself.

To those working in the trauma field my message is simple if you are truly authentic then never forget;

If it’s about us, without us, then it’s not about us it’s about you!

Author: Rose Latham

Epione wants to personally thank Rose for the courage to speak her truth and share her recovery journey. All credit to the survivors- warriors and people with lived experience who choose to occupy this space and offer hope that recovery is always possible. If you’d like to share how you’ve overcome trauma and how you’ve been recovering, please get in touch with us at – We look forward to hearing and seeing you.

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