You’re 8 years old and looking forward to school. You spend recess playing Witches, lunch time playing dolls, unless you talk too much in class and Mrs P makes you stand against the wall.
One day, Mrs P brings a new girl over to you, and asks you to show her around the school, asks you to be her friend.
You smile at the new girl and introduce her to the other girls you hang out with. She’s so cool with those Maui shirts you can’t buy here, that cool hair cut and that whole “just moved here from the city” air she exudes.
Within a short period of time, everyone is under her spell. Her confidence has soared, and very suddenly, everything changes.
One day you turn up at school, all smiles, ready to play with your friends.
Instead, She has gathered your friends around her, and they are whispering, staring at you.
With no explanation, you are cast out of the group – by all of them.
You beg them to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there’s no answer, just a wall of silence and that girl, who has suddenly become a giant, her shadow looming across the playground.
You can see in your friends’ eyes that they don’t really know what’s going on either, but just like you, they are also caught under her spell, despite being held in the warmth of her regard – at least for today.
They are scared – of being you.
It shakes everyone, but in that moment, all her work is complete. She has exerted complete control over us and is fully aware of it.
The next day, as though nothing has happened, she is all smiles and asking why you didn’t hang out with them yesterday – as though it was your choice, your fault, as though you imagined her sidelong glares, the things she whispered behind her hands and the way she teased anyone who sat with you.
Very quickly, this became the pattern of our little lives.
Every day was Russian Roulette. Would you turn up to school to be an outcast, or would you have to be mean to someone you cared about, to protect yourself?
In time, it just became life. That’s just how it was, and it felt that there was nothing you could do about it.
Of course, for her, that became quite boring, so every now and then she’d cast out one girl in the morning, and swap her over at lunch time. You were never safe. Never secure. Never, ever certain.
We tried turning to each other, but out of desperation to remain in Her good books, your confidante would turn informer, and you were left alone – physically, mentally and emotionally – it wasn’t safe to trust anyone at all. Especially not your friends.
Your parents knew something wasn’t right, they also knew who was responsible, but every time they threatened to get involved, you would melt down and beg them to stay out of it. If they got involved, your already hellish life would be far worse. You were already Stockholm Syndroming all over this girl – the worse she treated you, the more you needed her to love you.
Every now and then, you’d all get fed up, and a couple of you would brave her wrath just so you could spend some time together – alone. The problem was, she had forbidden us to spend time with each other outside school – unless she was there.
Like women having affairs, at 9 and 10 years of age, we were spending the night at each other’s houses in secret, then returning to school paranoid that she would have found out. If you’d dared to enjoy yourselves together, it had to remain secret.
When you really had enough, and started saying no to her, she would push you around the playground. Poking you in the chest as she ranted into your face. And nobody came to your aid.
If you did better in your studies than she did, you had to pay for it. Some of us were deliberately putting the wrong answers on tests to avoid her anger.
We weren’t allowed to have anything of our own. Especially not if it was something she wanted.
I had a crush on a boy in year 2. In year 3, he confided in her that he had a crush on me, but I knew that she liked him. I said I didn’t want to be his girlfriend. She told me I had to, or she wouldn’t talk to me.
When he bought me a gift, she told me I had to break up with him. I did.
She would accuse us of having secrets from her and we tripped over our tongues to explain that we didn’t. But we were paranoid… we did have secrets. The secret was, we hated her, but by then, we weren’t even allowed to have our feelings. They were wrong. She was the only thing that was right, and it changed more than the wind.
For five years, this was our daily life.
This is the way life began for me. This is where I learned how to be a person. These are the building blocks on which the rest of my days have stood.
And when I turned 15, I went and chose a boyfriend who was not at all dissimilar to her.
The one I’d had before that had asked another girl out on the bus because I wouldn’t have sex with him. When she said no, he asked me out again. Clearly, I was aiming high.
History repeated itself not only in the things I tolerated, but in the obsessive way in which I couldn’t even breathe if he was threatening to leave me. I hated him, but I needed him, because nobody else would ever want me. When he threatened to leave me, I wanted to die.
When he spat in my face for asking if I could go to my friend’s birthday party, I felt I deserved it.
When he called me a whore in front of my friends for being out of the house without his permission, I went home.
To the internet. To the only friends I had ever chosen who had not hurt me.
Oh, my family loved me. My family told me I was amazing. But they’re your family, and they have to. None of the people I had personally chosen wanted me for me. They wanted me to be only what suited them.
It seems that my survival instinct is to become whatever someone needs me to be, but inside, I rage. My emotions go on and off, like a switch.
I love you, I love you so much I can’t breathe, and it’s so genuine that you’ve never felt more loved in your life. Later, I hate you. With just as much ferocity and sincerity. Sometimes, I am completely indifferent, and treat you as though you don’t exist. Which is even more cruel.
Do I confront you? No, not really. Only on surface things, like the tone of voice you just used. Serious, big issues get locked inside because if I say them, things might get worse.
Serious, big issues only come out when I am fuelled by alcohol, and self-destructive. I drink to kill. To destroy every single part of my life. Sometimes, that has included my physical life.
I drink to not feel. I would do anything to not feel. To not think, wonder, analyse. But I’ve known there was an answer in my past that needed to be found. And so my entire adult life has been spent looking back. Just not far enough.
This is not a new story. I am not a unique case. I am just one girl, who, until a couple of weeks ago, had no idea that her actual brain had been wired to self-destruct.
I feel very disconnected – from friends, from family and from myself. I feel like there is something very wrong with me.
I’m a great liar now. I’ve been doing it since I was 8 years old. I am the greatest actor you’ll meet, and a total chameleon – I am whatever you need me to be. Isn’t that my role in life? To be what everyone else wants?
I can’t help it, it’s my instinctive, self-preservation tactic. And what you don’t know is that I believe every one of my own lies.
I don’t even know who I actually am.
The more years that pass, the more people you have to be different for.
I guess I couldn’t keep up. I wasn’t consciously aware of what I was doing, I acted on emotion – the emotional reactions of an 8 year old girl with a 30 year old woman’s experiences.
And in doing so, I passed on a lot of hurt that other people now have to wade through. I inflicted emotional and mental pain onto other people, who did nothing more than try to care for me.
The ones who don’t deserve my love are the ones who always get it. The ones who are worthy are the ones I hurt.
None of it is intentional. I simply am incapable of making a decision because even though you tell me I can choose whatever I want, inside, I am still that 8 year old girl who only wants to be loved, not hated and ignored and left alone for no fucking reason.
I want everything. I want everyone to love me. I want to love everyone.
Two weeks ago, when I realised that the compulsive hair pulling I’ve done since I was 9 has a name, and that it has a high overlap with PTSD, I recalled that my therapist had said she would be happy to diagnose me with PTSD, a year ago. I had dismissed it out of hand because it seemed ridiculous that something so old could possibly be why my life had spiralled out of control.
Sure it wasn’t that boyfriend? Or ones that followed, or preceded him?
Was it the boyfriend who held a shotgun to my head and laughed, because he knew it was broken but I didn’t?
The one who told me as an April Fools joke that he’d cheated on me with my cousin – who went along with it?
Or the one who threw a baseball bat at my face because I laughed when he tripped over his bed?
After all of those things, how could it possibly be the mean words of a little girl that are the reason I am so crippled?
But, like a bushfire, once that small spark was alight, I couldn’t put the flames out. It wasn’t just mean words, it was mental and emotional torture.
I suddenly realised the impact on my life, I realised that every decision I’d made over the course of my life, every life event I had experienced, had all been clouded by this.
I didn’t know.
I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, I had just been trying to live my life as best I could. People told me to get selfish. To start taking control and stop putting up with unhappiness. I thought I was doing that, but I wanted so many conflicting things. One day I was certain that this is what I wanted, this is what I needed. The next day, it was the opposite.
I am exhausted by being me.
The one thing you can’t turn off is your own headvoice. And mine hates me. It hates you, too. It hates everyone who has ever hurt me, and it hates me just as badly, for hurting others. The only difference is that I know I didn’t do it with malicious intent. The problem is, that makes no difference. All that matters is my actions, and the fallout thereof.
I have done to others, what has been done to me.
I can’t take back any of the hurt I’ve caused, but I can make sure it never happens again.
I thought I was doing ok with this PTSD stuff, but obviously there’s a lot of work to be done to straighten out the crazed pathways my brain has been following.
That is my responsibility and no-one else’s, and if I don’t do it, this is never going to end.
I do hate that little girl who, for her own reasons, took my life and shaped it to make hers seem better. I hate myself for allowing it all to continue. But now I know why I never left any of those abusive relationships – because they employed the same tactics that she had done all those years ago.
They did the wrong thing, and then told me I was imagining it.
Each and every one of us is accumulating a lifetime of hurt. A lifetime of scars. A lifetime of shitty, painful memories. These shape who we become, and they shape the ways in which we deal with conflict, or even love.
I don’t deal with either of them very well because they both place demands on me that I’ve been unable to live up to.
Either, I let myself down, or someone else gets hurt.
If I hate that little girl for the impact she has had on my life, then it follows that I must hate myself for the impact I have had on the lives of others. And I do.
Who is to say that she isn’t sitting at home right now, devastated by the things she did, the things she said?
The past needs to go away now. It needs to be dealt with, but not fondled. Not taken out and looked at. I have my answers now. I am crazy. I am a complete mental fucking mess. But I know why.
And that means I can do something about never letting this happen again.
All I have left to me is a future. The past is a locked door that holds nothing but pain – for me, and for others.
For better or worse, I have to leave it behind, and only time will tell whether it was the right choice. But that, too, is life.
And it’s my life. I have one of them – god knows I wouldn’t want another. So with what’s left of it, I am going to allow myself to be angry, to be sad, to be hurt.
But I won’t continue to allow myself to be so emotionally selfish that I simply ignore the fact that other people are also in pain. Particularly when I may be the cause of it.
Being a human is really difficult. But I’m not ready to throw in the towel. I have a lot to make up for, and one day I’m going to make myself, and others, proud.