Earlier this year I became aware of someone spreading a malicious lie about me, the type of mendacity which can have a material effect on your reputation as well as your ability to make progress professionally and the impact was so profound that I realised over the course of a few weeks that I needed to understand why that was the case.
For clarity, not why they told the lie although the speculation in my mind around that was wholly exhausting for a while but more why did it have such a negative impact on me. Why did the thought that others may believe it or that it was told in the first place make me feel physically ill? My initial reaction was dizzying confusion and a crushing headache which seemed to last from waking to sleeping.
It was a simple lie.
Why, when previously such an action would have seen me tackle it direct at source with relentless gusto and energy, did I allow the disabling effect of being wronged to affect me so negatively. Waking each morning was akin to waking when bereavement has crossed your path, that fleeting moment of normality quickly followed by the sickening flavour of sadness overpowering your palate.
In retrospect and hindsight is such a wonderful thing the challenging experience did me a huge favour because it opened my eyes to the fact that I had a journey of healing yet to embark on.
You see I had been in prison for a while and the impact of that experience was still flowing rampantly like poison in spate through narrowing veins but I had stupidly thought I could just suck up my justice failure and step back into normal life without taking time to consider the true personal impacts of incarceration.
In reality, how can you step from a world where wing mirrors perilously attached to a heightened state of hyper vigilance are required to get you through a day? From an event which delivers such crushing, debilitating shame and just decide that everything is ok.
That was my traumatic experience to recover from and the lie was simply the trigger, something which others have now given me understanding of, which brought all of that sharply back into a mind then swimming against a tide of insecurity.
I decided to do what was previously alien to me and speak to people about both the trigger and the reasons behind the impact. When I say decided that shouldn’t suggest immediate action. Prior to taking that action I gave up physical training and started eating whilst all the time trying to create or invent an opening line which would pass my lips to engage a willing ear.
Prison is an environment I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. That some people think it is the best place for them to live I still find deeply saddening and speaks to societal failure but that is for another day and perhaps best left to those in positions to influence the required change.
Rather ironically, when you enter prison – in my experience – you are regarded immediately as a liar, a wrong un, your IQ is assumed to be low and your thoughts are of course unwelcome on any matter as they are the words of a criminal. An infertile garden for planting new bulbs.
Sharing the story, however tough, became a therapy of sorts. Finding the courage to trust people with the most personal inner thoughts however was in itself a personal Matterhorn to scale.
I chose not to engage with professionals in a professional setting per se but more to share with people I knew had an understanding of what trauma was – you see I actually believed I had been a trauma free zone – to gauge whether or not it could be applied to me. I suspect my hope was that they would concur and tell me I was just experiencing side effects of the Covid19 virus.
That attempt at humour was part of the self defence mechanism I developed to avoid fully attaching my mind to the issue or perhaps more honestly was my way of trying to convince even the all seeing eye of those I was trusting that I was actually in perfect health and that ran beautifully, almost seamlessly alongside self-deprecation at a level which I recognise now was far from healthy.
Whilst simultaneously working, rebuilding, and focussing on convincing the world that all was good in my wee world. Losing myself in work was a long, practised technique and avoidance mechanism.
The initial acceptance that I had in fact not only experienced trauma but that I was carrying it around with me every day was in some respects liberating. The headache started to ease a little although the eating continued, and the training was still being put off with a creativity for excuses that would stretch the mind but not the muscles.
People started saying nice things to me and I’d get emotional. I’d witness a happy event and cry like a baby. The tap had been turned on and over a period of a few weeks the salty stinging flow of bitter tears was the norm in quieter hidden moments but curiously although leaving me utterly exhausted each bubbling episode felt like a step forward with the weight that had settled firmly across my shoulders starting to slowly erode.
The conversations with those that listened became easier in time, some were even generous enough to engage without feeling the need to offer advice they just listened. Never did I imagine that a largely one, way conversation fuelled by whichever bodily induced chemical could be so strength inducing as well as energy sapping. The balance changed the more I spoke, recognising that I wanted to speak more, I’m sure I was a nuisance because when the light went on I wanted to sprint towards it talking endlessly to the poor listening ears.
Have I recovered from that trauma? Who knows but I have a toolset at my disposal to manage it almost subconsciously now and when I finish typing this note to whoever I am climbing on one of those tools, an exercise bike, to listen to some fabulous music and race my imagination through the valley of Glencoe on route to a relaxing shower.
The listeners are a rare breed and I thank them for all their patience, kindness and generosity of spirit.
To the person who told a lie. I forgive you, I am grateful for meeting you and whilst I will never forget how you made me feel I will lose no more sleep about it.
To those who may have accepted the lie as truth I pray that in future you will not only question why someone felt comfortable sharing it with you but have the moral fortitude if listening is unavoidable to reach out for a different perspective.
To Barry from Gedburgh you sir are the stuff of legend and from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of my family I thank you for your friendship, you are probably blissfully unaware of the positive impact (at least I tell myself that) your engagement created.
And now to the bike and the realisation that sharing this story is one more step on the road completed.
Epione wants to personally thank John for emailing us and for the courage to share a part of his journey. All credit to the 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 firstname.lastname@example.org – We look forward to hearing and seeing you.