Damn, I had the beginning of this post all worked out in my head, sitting neatly alongside the just-for-fun rom-com script idea which burst into being over the weekend and the early frame of a grand theory of being which me and my superwife thrashed out on our dark drive home. Not that it matters, as my ideas are intact and I’ve started anyway.

Actually I have no idea how to begin this. This weekend hasn’t been the making of me, but it has made me whole for the first time in perhaps my entire life. I have slotted the final piece of the puzzle into its rightful place. What has followed has been an almost unbelieveable state of peace and a near immediate quietening of the wavering doubtvoice.

Had I known, just a few years ago, that the solution I was looking for was so simple I would not have believed it. In fact, I didn’t believe it. Several months of counselling had led me to a breakthrough which started the process that this weekend capped off, but the shock of that milestone (and its own simplicity) meant that I waited, held my breath and expected everything else to slot home without my doing anything.

Many, many years ago I took money from a place I shouldn’t have, oddly echoing a much earlier, much smaller theft in that the person whose trust I most directly betrayed was my mother. When my counselling revealed how that had haunted my life ever since I was blown away while at the same time of course I knew that coming clean and confessing was what I had craved all that time.

So I revealed my crime, my guilt, and it was met with amused astonished shock, no shouting or blaming simply an acceptance and understanding and an agreement to make good on the wrong. I wasn’t looking for forgiveness, and although paying back something helped soothe the guilt (which I’d already attempted to resolve through charity elsewhere) and provided a real ‘act’ of repentance, it was the coming clean, removing the deception, which made the difference.

It’s no surprise that confession was good for me – my Catholic upbringing (unlike CofE, Catholicism is a cultural stamp on your life, not just a religious one) has surely shaped my intense guilt, shame and the catharsis of confession. The biggest part though, perhaps, was that I was making an act of complete trust in my parents by confessing my ‘sins’.

I remember the whole situation gave me a sense (before and after) of being able to do anything. If I could do this, I could do anything. I didn’t have any more counselling and I got on with my life, and soon afterwards I was meeting my wife and our relationship was off to a glorious start largely due to my ability to live without guilt, to live entirely as myself. I believed it was over.

Except. During those counselling sessions we’d talked about writing a letter to my mum, about talking about other memories, other moments of grief and need and guilt and so many more compacted and compressed emotions. This never went anywhere except to pinpoint the nature of the confession, the flashpoint of my guilt-ridden self-punishment. And, of course, deep down I knew that the confession would never be enough on its own.

In the past two years I’ve examined myself with more detail, more optimism and more direction that I’d ever managed before. I was seeing it as a positive exploration, a quest with a valuable goal that wasn’t merely about portioning blame or pointing out culpability or shouting or raging or whatever, it was about truth. My own truth. My own true self.

But I still couldn’t look directly at it. I could only hold it at a distance, depsite getting so close to it at the point of confessing, despite knowing that this bigger confession, this bigger act of trust, always lay just beyond and I was refusing to grasp hold of it. And so, though I thought I was healing back then, what I know now is that I was just beginning to reveal to myself and everyone else the size and fevered state of the wound that I carried.

I have been deeply depressed in turns throughout the last 20 years, swinging wildly between childish excitement and enthusiasm and hunger to cold, deep hopeless powerlessness where life is something which can only cause hollow heartbreak. Fortunately I have seen enough of the consequences of self-pity and hopelessness, and my soul is too bright and essentially ambitious for those nights in the black cave of despair to be terminal.

Still, living at either end of the spectrum left me reeling, confused and emotionally ill. Even when things could not be better I would wake and in those naked moments know that all was not right, that I could not bear to stand and return to life, that my only escape was sleep and dreams and warm, soft nothingness. Then I would get up and get on, because I am stronger than I often believe.

After this weekend I can see that these were the bare, vulnerable moments before I put on the mask which allowed me to live. To be gruesome, it was in these moments that my wounded soul, the gash at my core, was exposed – and I could see how sick and festered it was, before my strength covered up this heart-rending reality and bandaged it shut, like those terrifically unfortuate men who hide embarassing injuries in ever more bloody wrappings in the hope that forgetting about them will heal them.

At other times from youth to only recently I have caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, or sought out my reflection, and stared at it, questioned it, searched for the me in that image. When I was younger I’d occasionally alarm myself by realising that I looked good, attractive, healthy – who was this unfamiliar reality? My self-image was haunted by my self-doubt and utterly out of sync with my real self, creating a tortured Venn self-diagram where the overlapping point saw the merest edge of reality twisted out of shape by fear and doubt.

My ‘confession moment’ was how I resolved this, I thought. I felt so positive, so complete afterwards that I really could believe that the rest would take care of itself. But all I’d done was finally clean the wound of the disease, the irrational guilt which stopped any real healing taking place while it was hidden away underneath the bandage. I’d started the process but I didn’t have the gumption or the self-acceptance (I was so desperate to be fixed) to actually start the healing.

Eventually, this freshly cleaned wound proved more painful than it had ever been before. I ignored it and crossed my fingers and believed so hard that I’d done enough but I while I kept it clean I always really knew that wasn’t enough. As my life moved on, as I discovered my soulmate, as I got married and began thinking about my future, our future, our lives, the pain only got worse and the wound only got harder to hide. And as soon as you show the love of your life that you are carrying a wound, they will want you to get it healed properly.

So last week I finally, emotionally, explosively and almost without warning revealed this wound, this heartbreak to the person I’d always protected from seeing it – my mother. I did so clumsily, though there is no other way to utterly expose something which has been hidden for so long – to push my slightly contrived metaphor even further, I was ripping off the plaster. Whatever the image you use, I was finally being honest with my mother.

That was an intensely upsetting experience, an overwhelmingly grief-striken conversation. Because of course I was grieving, as I finally dropped the pretence I had spent so much life-energy on preserving for certainly my entire adult life and perhaps further back even that that. Before we spoke again, this weekend, I felt physically sick. Awkwardly, even Oedipally, the ‘this is impossible’ heartblock feeling I had was the same I’d always been destroyed by whenever I wanted to ask a girl out, to talk to a girl in a club.

I’m sure now that my girl-problems stemmed from the fact I’d never addressed this specific trust issue, that I’d never trusted my mother enough to be honest with her and that this had stopped our relationship becoming an adult and equal one, forever arresting my development, paralysing me in a child’s role and preventing me from ever becoming a man, a real man, a man who could proudly approach someone and expect at the very least deserved respect and reasonably hope for more with true self-belief.

Finally I said the things I’d wanted to say all my life, all the time I had known how wounded I was. There is further to go, certainly, but it was the first real act of healing I have ever achieved. Finally I could let go, could stop protecting her from the person I am and how I feel and stop fearing, truly dreading, the reaction which I always believed would obliterate me. The phonecall was tragic and awful, but my fears that such a reaction would end the world were utterly and comprehensively rubbished.

With the healing really started and the knowledge that I won’t always be wounded and that crucially I am responsible for making that happen, I could sound like the final chapter of a self-help manual. But it is all true and it has all happened and the results are all so eye-openingly real. At last I can validate myself. At last I have my self-belief. At last I feel I really know who I am and how wonderful that is. At last I know what I am capable of.

There were some early wavers. My parents responded so well that my better-half had to slap down on a mini reversion-to-role blip I had. But I know there are no more confessions I must make in order to maintain this peace, that I am finally being myself at all times and in all moments. That although there are some confrontations to come, these are only outcomes of this biggest breakthrough, this singular self-healing.

Yesterday I came up with a fully formed idea, we drove home debating the subjects I find most intriguing and which I feel I can understand and explore and I went to bed knowing I can be a great writer, that I can at last make good on my prolific ideas and become a prolific completist as well. And today I know that I will not waver. I have found my constant. I have my anchor. I will ride out the choppiest seas and the strongest winds. I am healing. And I am whole.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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