Years of conflict. People – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters – ever moving, struggling, under acrid mists. The air clammy with suspicion and fear. A society flowing upon waters of constant apprehension. Terror seemed to tremble from every lip. A minority raised their voice against the terror. Others, cheered its race to ruin. Many more remained silent. The latter felt, maybe more acutely, the black wind against their faces. A wind perfumed by the blood of the dead, and the forever lingering shiver of dread. This dread, in turn, seeped into families. Soaking some in the dreary, grey rains of the Troubles which curtained over our bomb-hollowed streets.
It still resides within many, that feeling of hopelessness. A sense of no function, no future. Its easy to envisage our family, our friends – the world in general, to take it to its extreme – without you in it. People move on. They move on quickly. The ‘many’ that is, not the ‘few’ (to paraphrase a political slogan). Those few who have suffered bereavement and / or violence in the name of some warped ideology cannot simply move on. Some will forever live in that trauma, in that time of loss. The future cannot reconcile the void they carry. A loss of a loved one might become a loss of self. A loss of a limb might become a loss of purpose (the witnessing of such losses is, often, no less traumatic). In some cases a survivor is left with a sense of guilt – they may torture themselves with thoughts of ‘it should have been me’. You will also relive the moment(s) over and over again – through the waking day, and in your hells of sleep. The symptoms of PTSD are many and unpleasant. But in the context of the supposed ‘post-conflict’ of our society – of Northern Ireland – symptoms such as depression, a future already lost, as well as the struggle for identity, seem endemic to society, especially amongst our children. A slow, unconscious, dripping poison has flowed down through grandparents and parents into our children. Those from working-class backgrounds seem most affected? Of course, those estates and communities bore the brunt of the Troubles, coupled with poverty and the continuing grip of organised crime gangs who garb themselves in uniforms of thuggery and brutal histories.
How do you cope with that loss of identity – that loss of purpose? For the young they have to forge an individual identity while already being branded at birth as ‘Taig’ or ‘Prod’. Doesn’t matter if you don’t want to let these terms define you. People want to know what school you went to, where you were christened. How do you stand back from something when your friends, your peers, may easily isolate and turn on you for not joining the herd? How do you reconcile watching your friend die in your arms while onlookers jeer? How do you live in peace when everyday that bomb explodes, or that bullet tears through time – the one that took your loved one, your friend, your limbs, your wholeness? How do you try and hold on to some semblance of control while the world pulls away from you?
Pain? I posted the poem below some time ago on Twitter. I think it was more to myself? Again, that urge to write out the scars, the need to hurt, to wound. To self-harm. I think I was quite angry when I wrote it? Another overdose was around the corner, now I had no firearm to fumble with. Still, there was the blade – that hard, shining mirror which reflected the ‘unreality’ that around me. Only my blood, and its attendant pain, could draw me back into this world. A world I saw in every, bright, crimson line. A world which had detached itself from me until I cut an opening for it to flood around me again. Of course, I was seeking a more permanent ‘escape’. Working in a constant environment of threat and death had stripped me of any identity. When I retired I went into a gradual free-fall. I grasped those spinning blades of despair and darkness. I was the outsider; a stranger amongst strangers, and I had no place amongst them. Their world, and their time, was not mine. It could never be, I believed. My world was a maelstrom of steel. A brutality of bombs and the crippled sneers of killers. I simply wished to rid this world of my shambling flesh. I had no place in it any longer, and it had no interest – or need – of me remaining. All light was leaving me.
Thankfully, as I’ve already written, my family began to observe my behaviour; my withdrawal into myself, and the mental isolation I had begun to forge around myself. Ultimately their love saved me from myself, and continues to do so. But there are many who do not have that support, or are better at hiding their methodical transformation to a place apart from others, and means of leaving this life.
I still had to write, even as I struggled with the words. I still had to give written form to that dark wind in which I was caught. I think I was almost searching for a justification to wound and kill myself. I had to convince myself that I was not needed any longer and a burden on my family. I nearly succeeded a number of times. Yet, when you write you create. Words are, in a sense, the material offspring of your trauma, but – and it’s important – the more you transfer your mind to the page, the more you take these thoughts – these images – of self-destruction and YOU CREATE. YOU GIVE LIFE TO SOMETHING GOOD. Poems or a story. They don’t hurt anyone. They let other see how you feel without you having to speak. You have already articulated your feeling OUT of you and CONTROLLED them. YOU CONTROLLED their assembly and formation onto a page. YOU are not some redundant husk drifting through a world were you are not welcome. YOU have taken your trauma and YOU have turned it into a gift. Many poems are melancholy – don’t worry about the theme of your poems. They will still rise from the page with a beating heart. An affirmation, of sorts, because YOU have made your trauma a part of THIS world – by doing so you have used them to step BACK INTO THIS WORLD – YOUR WORLD, as much as anybody else’s. Such writing also provides a view of the stages of your past. As I reiterated, I was angry and in a self-destructive place when I wrote the following. But, I wrote a part of that destruction out of me and I regained an element of control over it and diminished it.
We all have the capability within us to control the demands of our trauma. With mine I poured it out as words. You can do, too: words, pictures, whatever. I am now able to recognise that the hate I speak about below was self-hatred, self-loathing. By seeing that for what it was I was able to HEAL, in part.
And the web of wounds, wound,
where in this burning world
is there room
for the mutilated, the drowned
who cut and slice
at stubborn flesh
to gain ground
on sight of bullet’s butchery
or bomb’s cruelty?
I strike with blade,
I hate this world;
Happy to bury me.
Thank you for reading. I hope to continue with another poem and more thoughts in my next post.
Below are agencies which can help with how you may be feeling.