Life Experience

Breaking The Rules

I recently realised that I’ve been living my life to an imaginary set of rules. I had this inherent belief that if I could just stick to these rules then good things would happen, or at least, bad things wouldn’t. These rules defined so much of my everyday life – from what I would wear, to what I would eat, and more than anything else, what I would say and how I would act. It was as if I had constructed this invisible box around myself – somewhere safe to live – but without realising that space was too small for me, and that it was actually holding me back.

It’s not difficult for me to understand why I would have such a strong attachment to a set of rules. Or why I would seek to create order to control against chaos. Because that is exactly how I would describe my childhood – chaotic.

I was 7 when my father committed suicide, and it only got worse from there.

My mother couldn’t cope with the situation so she handled it the best way she knew, by mentally and at times physically retreating from us.

I remember walking into the darkened room where my mother was sitting in shock, having heard the news about my father, and I will never forget the thoughts that immediately came to me: “Mum needs me now. I have to be strong. She needs my help.”

She didn’t know what to do. Especially when it came to my older brother. He became so angry and aggressive that she wasn’t able to control him. She would turn a blind eye to the emotional, physical and psychological abuse he doled out on me and my two younger sisters – refusing to face it unless I would angrily force her to deal with extreme isolated incidents. Threats of boarding schools or foster care would be wielded but quickly ‘normality’ would resume again.

I spent my childhood navigating an invisible web of trip wires – trying to figure out what Mum needed, and what would make her happy, while looking out for my sisters and trying not to anger my brother or draw negative attention from him in any way. I created my own imaginary set of rules for survival, and have held on to them ever since.

One of the rules I had absorbed was to always stick to the party lines: “yes, my mother did such a good job raising 4 children all by herself after such a tragedy!”, or “yes, my poor brother, surrounded by all those girls, really had it tough!”

It took me years of therapy to realise those stories weren’t entirely true, and were actually dangerously misleading. But the idea of being more honest terrified me. Somewhere along the way I had understood the most important rule of all to be very simple – never reveal family secrets.

I now know how toxic these secrets are, and how much they hold us back – just like the imaginary rules I created for myself all those years ago in an effort for survival. So I am breaking the rules. I’m sharing the family secrets. And setting myself free in the process.

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9 thoughts on “Breaking The Rules”

  1. I was going to say how brave you are for sharing this but I suddenly feel like that maybe that’s not the right response – people shouldn’t need to feel to brave to be honest. I know this must have been a difficult piece to write and share publicly so thank you. I hope others can benefit from your honesty and reflections. Love you hugely xxx

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  2. You and your mother were a world away from your father’s family.You had little contact and no support . I’m not sure if anyone spoke to you either individually or as a family to make sense of your father’s suicide. Expected or death of a parent from illness can be devastating to a child. Death from suicide is often confusing and potentially shaming. I didn’t speak of his suicide for years and often dreaded being asked about him in my own circle of friends and colleague s though they were therapists.
    I don’t know if your teachers at school knew and if they did were they able to talk about it to you let alone support you.
    I like to think if it were not for the tyranny of distance you might have had more to do with your father’s family .
    It must have been a very desolate frightening and confusing time . In my own guilt and grief about my brother I too did not reach out to your mother or you . I tried not to blame her but in my worst moments I did .
    Your mother brought all of you to Australia for the first anniversary of his death. When you arrived from the airport, at the front gate Your little sister asked her cousin Jem who was Lawrie? When Jem said he is my dad , Aisling asked Lawrie could he die so he could go and get her dad and bring him back. She was barely 5 at the time . And then we never mentioned your dad again.
    Sometimes without sufficient support grief can be unspeakable.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this story Auntie – I didn’t remember that about Aisling at all, but it just shows how disorientated and confused we all were. I look back now and realise we were all in shock, numbed to the enormity of what had happened, but muddling through life in the best way we knew. I have so much I want to say to you about all of this, but it means so much to me that you are being so open and honest with us – I do feel like we are letting go of generations’ worth of pain and shame, which can only make us feel freer. Sending you lots of love! xxx

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  3. Well done you – getting stuff out are definitely the first step and you are doing amazingly well. I can barely imagine what it must have been like and totally get why you are on this mission now… Go for it… you should be very proud of having written this post and free yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brave, brave, brave. To put these experiences out there is so so powerful. Thank you.
    My home life experiences were different but I can empathise with the set of survival rules and how much work it takes to challenge them later in life. So in awe of you for sharing. Xx

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    1. Thank you so much Rowena! It’s been difficult to share but I’m so glad I have eventually gotten to this place – and it makes it worthwhile when I get supportive responses like yours so thank you! xx

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