My brother has cerebral palsy. When he was born in 1966, my parents were told he would never walk, never talk, just be a ‘vegetable’. He wears hearing aids because he is partially deaf, has glasses and uses a white cane due to his vision impairment. He is uncoordinated in his movements, is non-verbal and has been assessed as having the intellectual equivalent to a six-year-old.
He did learn to walk, thanks to my mother’s sheer determination.
I was three and my middle sister 17 months old when my brother was born. And from that moment my sister and I were, to all means and purposes from the perspective of very young children, abandoned. Our baby brother needed a lot of medical attention. From toddlerhood, he became violent. He screamed all the time, threw tantrums and was perpetually frustrated and aggressive and angry. He would attack my sister and I. Until he settled down in his early teens, the only time he was quiet was when he was asleep.
My parents had no support at home and coped the best they could under extremely difficult circumstances. They loved us, but life for my parents was way beyond struggle. Words cannot begin to describe the pain my middle sister and I felt as little kids.
Addiction ran in my mother’s family, mostly to alcohol. My grandfather was an alcoholic, and his mother before him. Aunts and uncles were alcoholics. Cousins were alcoholics. My mother became an alcoholic in her 50s. My youngest sister, born when I was 14, became addicted to alcohol and drugs as a teenager.
It was during my 30s that I realised I had to do some work to heal myself. I saw a clinical psychologist and read self-help books. Then, in my 50s, I began attending Al-Anon 12-step meetings before starting on the 12-step process. Although I wasn’t living with an alcoholic, I found the program incredibly helpful because the spiritual approach it recommends can be applied to so many problems one may be experiencing in life.
I also discovered the ACA 12-step program for people who have grown up in dysfunctional families where they have been impacted by abuse, neglect and trauma. I learned I was an adult child whose ‘inner child’ had never grown up.
At this point, although doing this work on myself was really helping, I still hadn’t faced – after so many years of working on sorting myself out – my actual childhood. That’s when my gut feeling told me I had to do something, so I booked into South Pacific Private Hospital.
I was familiar with South Pacific Private because both my cousin and my youngest sister had attended for drug and alcohol addiction. In my 30s I’d considered attending South Pacific Private, but at the time I thought it was only for seriously addicted people. I didn’t think I was that bad.
I was wrong. What I learned was that South Pacific Private is for people with a range of substance addictions like drugs and alcohol, but also for people with depression, anxiety, PTSD, discorded eating, sex and love addiction, people who self-harm or are addicted to prescription medication and so on. Many clients are people like me, who have done a lot of work on themselves and have come a long way but still need to get to the ‘bottom’ of things.
It was a difficult and challenging time, but one of the best things I have ever done because I finally truly understood my life.
Whilst at South Pacific Private I completed five days of group psychotherapy work. I learned that for my entire life I had carried a heavy load of guilt and shame about my brother – and that deep inside I had hated him for what he did to our family. I had carried the pain and grief about this all of my life. My inner child had thought she was responsible for my little brother’s disability and it was all her fault. I had carried her anger, grief, fear and shame for so many debilitating years. Through this psychotherapy I forgave my parents and my brother. I also forgave myself. It was incredibly freeing.
It was also at South Pacific Private that I learned I had been a sex and love addict in my teens and 20s. My inner child had been desperately looking for the love she felt she had missed out on, but because she felt she didn’t deserve this love, had chased all the wrong people.
Today it feels so good to have finally dealt to such a large extent with the pain I carried for so many years about the loss of my childhood. My life is good, I am happy and contented. I have all sorts of plans for the future, including finishing university by doing my Master’s and then a PhD. And I am incredibly grateful to be who I am, with my family and son, the home my husband and I built together, the wonderful community I live in and the work I am doing. I also try to frustrate myself a great deal by playing golf badly.
My brother is now thriving. He lives in a wonderful, purpose-built group home with four other men with disabilities. The staff are excellent. He works a nine-day fortnight in a ‘sheltered workshop’ and stays with my parents (now in their early 80s) every second weekend. The NDIS has been a real benefit to him. He is happy.
For years our ‘family motto’ had been about minimisation: “We’re OK as a family. Yes, life was difficult but at least we are closer because of it.” How wrong that was. We were simply an incredibly co-dependent family. A family that tried to cover up and patch over all of the pain while never admitting to any of it.
It was only when I started ‘rocking the boat’ in my early 30s that our little ‘dream’ family started falling apart. At the time, no-one liked it but, for me, it was time to start asking questions.
Now we are completely different. My challenging of the status quo, over the years, and then others doing so, slowly led to all of us changing our lives and growing up within ourselves. We have all been healing ourselves, little by little, a day at a time, and are all in much better places. I am grateful, both for the life I am living now and also for the life I have lived. It has made me who I am and today I am happy with me.
If you, or someone you know is struggling, help is available. Reach out to our team on 1800 063 332 or take a free, confidential self-assessment.