Welcome to Driftwood Passage

“Driftwood is a 25 year old writer, presenter and consultant based in Melbourne, Australia. Driftwood developed a love for the written word shortly after his mother passed away in 2000 and he was gifted a sympathy note inside the first Harry Potter book.”

I mainly write short memoir pieces and non-fiction reflections on life, some of the topics I have written about are quite dark so read on at your own discretion.

The way the host website works is that the newest posts are at the top, so if you would like to read my writing in order of the date published you will need to scroll to the bottom and then work your way up the posts.

– Driftwood

Christmas 1997

As a child Christmas was always a time of inner turmoil, growing up in Foster Care I quickly learned that Christmas in real life, was far different from the idea of the day that had been sold to me in psychedelic children’s cartoons. The holiday season always seemed to be a time of heightened emotions and increased alcohol influence. When you live with volatile people who are prone to sudden, violent explosions of emotion, instead of being a time to cherish being around people, it becomes a time to watch even more closely for the signs of imminent danger and hysteria.

My first memory of Christmas goes back to when I was about four years old. I was living in an awful foster home in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne, the family had been given on and off care of me ever since I was an infant but I had never been accepted as part of the family, I was always the resented ‘other’.  I awoke, put on my fluffy robe and slippers and padded over to the loungeroom where the rest of my foster family had already gathered, there was my foster mother and father, their poisonous brother, my foster uncle, and their two biological children, one boy and one girl.

I scanned the room delighted to see piles and piles of brightly coloured presents all around, my foster siblings ripping right into them with huge smiles plastered across their faces. I sat on the floor by the door and watched, waiting to be invited into the action, knowing not to overstep and intrude just in case I was banished from the room in annoyance as was usual. My stomach felt like oil and water, on one hand I was delighted to witness such a beautiful Christmas day but on the other hand, I missed my mum and wanted to be part of the day, not just an unwanted observer to someone else’s joy.

After everyone else had opened their mountains of gifts, all eyes turned to me, my foster mother handed me a brightly wrapped package and I almost squealed in glee. I carefully peeled back the tape that bound the package together, wanting to make the moment last as long as possible. I was never given gifts so I could hardly believe my luck. As I peeled off the last piece of tape and began to pull off the remaining paper, a kilogram bag of homebrand salt was revealed, I didn’t understand. What was I supposed to do with all this salt? I looked up at my foster parents, searching their faces for some kind of explanation, trying to be thankful for having received anything at all. My foster mother sneered, a cruel icy expression creeping into her eyes as she snarled in my direction “naughty children get salt”.

The floor dropped out from underneath me, I tumbled into the roiling pit of my stomach, my head spinning and trying to make sense of what was happening. I must have done something bad, I was a naughty child, how could I even think that I deserved a present? I tried and failed to stop the tears falling from my eyes, I was spinning inside my body as I sat cross-legged on the floor. My foster brother who was a few years older than me and usually prone to overt resentment, came over to me and handed me his 200 gram salt shaker and said he would swap it for my kilogram of salt because he was bigger. An attempt to calm the situation and blunt the sharpened, predatory air that had developed as a result of my tears. From that moment, presents became dangerous objects to be rejected or opened in the safety of isolation.

Even today, two decades later, when I receive a wrapped present, that small four year old child inside of me recoils in panic for a split second. It takes a moment before I can remind myself that I am no longer back in my childhood, that the people I have chosen to surround myself with are safe, loving and kind people who wouldn’t subject me to that kind of treachery. It has taken work to rethink the idea of Christmas, not as a time of danger and threatening parcels, but as a time when I can retreat into the forest to spend time with the ferns and the birds, gifted brief encounters with the creatures of the forest who have no pretence about them.

Milestone

In 2011 I began on a journey of deep, critical psychotherapy. Working to heal and resolve the huge burden of complex trauma and unhealthy coping mechanisms I had developed to be able to cope until that point. When I began on this journey I was still deep in a cycle of chaos that involved drug and alcohol use, stubbornness and an absolute terror of being with myself and holding my emotions in the moment. I felt fractured, my psyche and personality in fragmented pieces that never enabled me to feel whole beyond a brief moment in time. Mindfulness, healthy behaviour and hope spilled through my clenched fists at a rapid rate, I could never hold these moments beyond my initial contact with them. I could glance into the mirror for a split second but I could never hold my own gaze.

For seven years I have worked with my therapist to build a foundation in my life, a building block of stability, healthy decision making and critical reflection on my misguided thought patterns and perceptions, something I never had the chance to develop up to that point. We both showed up every session to work diligently on the muck my subconscious had brought to the surface that week, ever so slowly refining and filtering through the debris left over from the aftermath of the initial traumas during the first decade of my life. The goals were simple, yet far from an easy undertaking.

It was only in the past two or so years that I felt a tangible sense of this foundation being built. I began to understand I would always spiral, but it seemed like the lowest I ever went, wasn’t a place of complete external destruction like I had succumbed to in the preceding years, it was definitely still painful and involved some level of internal destruction, but it was no longer manifesting into external destructive behaviours that used to level my life into rubble. The peaks and troughs were becoming much more healthy in their oscillations. A dear friend of mine has always told me ‘life isn’t about the absence of problems but the way in which you manage them’, slowly I was becoming able to actively manage the ups and downs of life.

In the past few months, this idea of building a foundation in my life has progressed into something I never imagined to be possible. It’s difficult to describe the solidity, the true tactile sense of feeling whole that has recently developed. I hold my palm in the centre of my chest and actually feel myself existing. I really hate to use a Star Trek metaphor but it reminds me of when the characters are phased onto the ship, during my whole life up until this point my existence has felt fleeting and vaporous, at risk of being extinguished at any moment, but now I am struck with this sense of being a concrete form, substantial and consolidated, finally phased onto the proverbial ship.

I don’t believe the work will ever truly be done, there is a path of refinement that leads ever onwards but this moment in time feels like the most physically tangible and concrete threshold of progress I’ve experienced.

Parliament House Speech 26/11/18

Today I was honoured to be able to share my story here at Parliament House in Canberra. I just wanted to write this to clarify my stance on the issues surrounding the adoption laws that are being implemented.

The topic of permanency and adoption is rightly controversial and desperately frightening for some people, especially the aboriginal community given their recent traumatic history with the stolen generation and the overwhelming ratio of aboriginal children in the care system at that is ever increasing.

What I’m here to do is share my story, stating what worked and might have worked for me, I cannot and will not speak for anyone else or advocate for sweeping changes, I will always push for each child to be treated as an individual, with their own individual best interests considered. I will always advocate that aboriginal people be at the centre of all the decision making and legislative change that effects them.

But I am also a huge advocate for permanency in placements for children who cannot return home, after real reunification attempts and intensive support for the family to get back on their feet again. The kids of our community must not suffer further trauma and chaos at the hands of the systems incompetence at making timely decisions that are in the child’s best interests.

Here is my speech in full:

“I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which meet today, and pay deep respect to all elders, past, present and emerging. I would also like to acknowledge that given the over-representation of aboriginal children in care, it is imperative that aboriginal voices are at the centre of the decisions that so greatly affect their communities, families and culture.
 
Today I am going to be sharing a very small part of my story, growing up in the Victorian out-of-home care system. I can only speak from my experiences, about what I believe would have worked for me.
 
Most people in our community are like leaves cradled by the loving branches of their family trees. When I was born, though my family loved me, they just didn’t have the skills or support to hold on and so I slipped from their grasp and landed in a care system that looked like a rapid, ever flowing river. I hit the water and was tumbled from house to house, carer to carer for eighteen long years.
 
I bounced between emergency foster homes that lasted just a few days, permanent care that lasted a number of years and also residential care placements that were usually only a few months in duration but each felt like a lifetime due to the substandard care that was provided.
 
By the time I was eighteen years old, I had been moved from house to house over seventy times. The longest I had ever lived in a single home was just four years. I’m sure as most of you know, just one experience of moving house can be stressful, imagine yourself as a child, with no input into their home and little to no warning prior to a move, being carted from house to house, all over Melbourne.
 
I remember a day when I was just seven years old, I came home from primary school to find all my possessions packed in black garbage bags, stacked on the couch by the front door. My foster carer unceremoniously informed me that my case worker was on their way to take me to my new house.
 
At the age of eight I got the opportunity to go into permanent care for four years. For the first time in my life I had finally been given the chance to live somewhere for a long period of time, with loving parents and a chance at what most would consider a normal life. I believe this opportunity for stability, consistency, and a family who wouldn’t give up on me, played a key part in me being able to develop resilience and understand there was another side to life. Until that point, all I had known was the cycle of chaos and disadvantage I’d grown up in, these experiences had shaped the way in which I viewed the world and the people I met.
 
Living with my new family, I experienced for the first time, the routine of attending school everyday, the stability of being in one home for a long period of time, and having parents who were consistent in their love for me. These positive experiences began to shape and heal my eight year old brain, building new neural pathways that came from experiencing safe, loving care.
Healing didn’t happen right away though. The trauma, grief and constant upheaval of the first eight years of my life, had shaped the way my brain and responses had developed up until that point. Imagine for a moment, that life before this time had been a cold winters night and the new family environment was a bathtub filled with hot water, even just dipping a toe in can be an excruciatingly painful transition. These things take time, and it is understandable that kids can flinch back from this painful warmth they may never have experienced before.
 
It took a long time for me to develop trust in my parents, that their intentions were good and that they weren’t going to move me on like everyone else had. It was four years of three steps forward, two and a half steps back. For a number of different reasons though, including lack of support after moving in, and little education for my new parents about the effects of trauma, I was moved on again by the time I was twelve. Though I am still in contact with my parents to this day and see them as family. This extended stay with a stable, consistent family laid a foundation for me to begin healing from the chaos and trauma of my earlier life.
 
When I was fourteen, I was one of the first young people to live at Hurstbridge farm. The Farm was one of the very first Therapeutic residential care pilots in the country. I lived at Hurstbridge for almost three years, and I believe the farm was another crucial building block in my development, during my time there I was surrounded by carers who were educated in not only trauma informed practice but who also put that into action with a therapeutic model of care. Not only were the staff educated in the theory of trauma but they also had strategies to work with the kids in a way that wasn’t re-traumatising and gave us the best chance to begin to heal and trust again. I was finally being supported by carers who were encouraged to develop relational rapport with me, and who understood trauma and all the pervasive effects of it.
 
Though I had been unconsciously starting to build a foundation of healing at the permanent care placement that began when I was eight, during my time at the farm I began actively working on my healing journey, understanding that it was actually possible to shape my future and eventually live the life I dreamed of.
 
What I’ve shared with you today have been just a fraction of my experiences. Each of the 40,000 children in the out-of-home care system at this very moment has their own individual story, their own individual needs and strategies that will support them to survive and to thrive. It is important we treat these children as individuals and make decisions that are tailored to suit the best interests of each of them.
 
We can express futility at the complexity of the care system and how powerless we feel to make change within it, but the system is made up of individual people. Every single one of you has the chance to take action, and make positive change within your role and in your lives. It is up to you to find the resilience within yourself to uphold your values and continue to hold hope, for the children whose lives and recovery depend on you doing so.
If I can do it, I’m certain you all can too.
 
 
Thank you”

Escape from the Monsters Den

I’ve been listening intently to the rhythm of the breathing beside me for hours. I count, calculate, triple check, make sure the breaths signal deep slumber and not just the mere pretence of it. I feel the firm bed of carpet beneath me as I roll painstakingly slowly onto my side, my heart thundering in my ears and I pray it isn’t loud enough to wake the monster sleeping in the bed beside me.

I know that it’s now or never, I need to make my escape now in the dead of the night or I will be trapped here yet another day. My entire attention is focused on moving my body as silently as possible into a crouching position, moving one centimetre at a time, hoping the floor of this strange house doesn’t betray me with a creak, alerting the monster to my escape.

All the exits in this house are locked and can only be opened with a key, there was a flashing glint in the monsters eyes as he had explained that this was for my safety, we must make sure DHHS and the police can’t take me away. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness of the room as much as possible but with the curtains drawn and no moonlight I only have my sense of touch to guide me. I pat the carpet in front of me gingerly, the key to the door is in the pocket of the monsters tracksuit pants, I heard the muffled jangle as they hit the floor when he took them off, sliding snakelike into his bed.

My hand taps the soft material pile of his tracksuit pants on the floor, this is the most dangerous part. I must take the keys out of the pocket without making a sound, the monster sleeps in the bed right beside the floor where I am crouched. I locate the ring of keys in the pocket and grip the bundle tightly so they won’t knock together. One millimetre at a time I desperately transfer the keys from inside the pocket and into my hand. I grip the ring of keys so tightly they cut into the palms of my hands, they must not make a sound, I cannot explain this away.

The sound of the breath in the bed beside me is rhythmic and consistent, the lion still sleeps. I slowly rise to my feet, trying to quieten my breathing just in case the sound wakes him. One foot in front of the other, I step as quietly as I possibly can towards the bedroom door. One hand reaching out in front of me, feeling for any obstacles and trying desperately to locate the door, the other hand grips the precious keys to my chest. I twist the cold round door knob, praying there is no sound as it turns. As I open the bedroom door, light enters the room and I realise I must move more quickly now. I dart to the other side of the doorway as silently as I can and close it behind me.

There is another monster somewhere in the house, it is his house, but I don’t know where he is. I silently pad my way to the back door and unlock it, it is a heavy glass roller door that makes what seems like a cacophony of noise as I slide it just wide enough for me to slip through. I am outside. The fresh air fills me with a nervous excitement, I am almost free.

A ten foot high sheet iron fence winds around the perimeter of the suburban house. The huge sliding gate is closed like a fortress. How the fuck am I supposed to get out of this monsters den? I try to climb the fence but it is just too high for me to get a grip on the top of the sharp metal to pull myself over. I look at the padlock on the gate and try to see if any of the keys match up. The keys jangle and my heart pounds in my ears, I am so close but I am not free yet.
One of the keys finally matches the lock and the padlock clicks open, I pull it off the gate and throw it into the garden bed. The ten foot high metal gate is heavy and the screeching metal sound it makes as I try to push it open fills me with complete terror. The monsters must have heard the sound, how long will it take for them to get outside and catch me in my escape attempt. How many seconds do I have left.

I notice a car key on the key ring and decide I’m going to have to drive through the gate, I haven’t got the strength to open it any further. I unlock the car, jump in and turn it on. I’m going to have to reverse through the gate and hope for the best. I’ve only driven forwards on a straight country road so the mechanics of reversing are foreign to me. I smash the car into the gate and knock it half way off its roller, there is a terrible thunderous sound as the car hits the metal, my heart pounds in my chest and I know it’s go time, I must have less than thirty seconds before the monsters get to me. I drive forwards and then reverse again with my foot to the floor, the car somehow makes it out of the gate. I throw the car into drive and screech away into the freedom of the night outside the monsters den.

I drive until I find a parking area where I get out and assess the damage to the car. The side mirror is hanging off and there are deep scratches down the entire left side of the car but it is still drivable. I just need to get home now. I make futile attempts to stick the mirror back on to the car but each time it swings back down again. I rip the entire mirror off and throw it away onto the bitumen of the carpark.

I don’t know where in the city I am, I am lost and just want to get home. I drive, following the freeway until the names of the turnoffs look vaguely familiar. Attempting to obey the road rules I know of and draw no extra attention to the fourteen year old kid driving a beat up car in the middle of the night.

It’s just starting to get light as I hit my home street and my body relaxes slightly. I have survived, I made it out of the monsters den alive. As I drive up my home street I notice a car driving slowly in front of me, I wonder if I should go around it but hesitate. Then right when we are crossing a one way bridge the car in front stops suddenly and flashing red and blue lights appear behind me, I am wedged between the two cars and have nowhere to go.

A police woman walks up to the drivers side window and asks me to get out of the car. She reassures me that I am not in trouble, they are glad I am safe and it’s time for me to go home. One of the youth workers from my residential unit picks me up in their car and takes me the last 500 metres to my house.

I am safe, I am free, I am finally home.

0 To 100 In Ten Seconds

There’s often a saying that kids in care go from 0 to 100 in a split second, sometimes for what seems like no reason at all. One minute they’re seemingly fine, sitting on the couch and watching TV, then suddenly, the couch is tipped over, everything in sight is being thrown around and then the kid is creating an abstract expressionistic art piece on the kitchen floor, using every single condiment and cleaning product.

Something to understand is that kids who have experienced lots of trauma have nervous systems that are in over-drive all the time, even when they’re sleeping. This means that instead of being at 0 like those of us who can regulate or calm ourselves down, so we can stay at our baseline of 0, or close to it. These kids are often functioning with a baseline that is more likely to be around 80.

This means that smaller triggers have much larger emotional impacts, take for example a comparison between a kid who isn’t traumatised and one who is. Kid A who we will call ‘Jessie’ with no trauma history, is watching the Hulk on the loungeroom TV but it’s 11pm on a school night, his Mum tells him it’s time to switch off and head to bed. Jessie is at a 0 baseline, he hears his mum and feels a bit fed up as he is right in the middle of watching his show. Jessie’s numbers might kick up a notch to 5 or 10 and so he grumbles a bit but that’s the extent of it, Jessie pretty much heads right to bed after back-chatting his mum under his breath.

Kid B who we will call ‘Josh’ is consistently at a baseline of 80, he had a shitty day because got a call from his mum who was in an emotional crisis of her own and it sounded like she had been drinking, meaning that she had broken the sobriety she had been working so hard on to get Josh back home and living with her again. Josh had been heightened from his baseline of 80 up to 90 all day after the phone call with his mum, he had just calmed down to a point where he could sit down on the couch and watch his movie, without feeling that constant, almost painful rush of adrenaline, which made it impossible to sit down and concentrate for more than a few minutes.

It was 11pm, the resi unit rules stated that the TV had to be switched off at 10pm on a weeknight but the worker who was on shift that night had turned a blind eye to the extra hour because she knew Josh was in the middle of his movie and didn’t have anything on in the following morning. At 11pm the worker made her way into the loungeroom to check in with Josh how long the movie had left to finish because it was 11pm. Josh didn’t hear that the worker was just checking in as to how long the movie had to go, he was already at 90, all he could hear was the worker imply that he had to go to bed, immediately breaking the concentration on the TV that had been able to get his mind off his day for a little while.

Josh lost it, all his cylinders started firing and he was immediately at 100, he felt like he had nothing left to lose. His mum had given up trying to get him back, so he was stuck in that shit hole resi-unit for good now. Josh throws the entire couch at the wall and then starts punching at the wall until he has made a hole through both sides of it and he can feel the cool night air pour in which calms him slightly. The worker must comply with workplace policy and call the police, leading to Josh being charged with property damage and beginning a link into the juvenile justice system.

Josh didn’t go from 0 to 100, he already had a baseline of 80 and had been pushed up to 90 due to the phone call from his mum earlier that day. From the workers point of view, he had been a little more restless and irritable that day but that was somewhat usual for him. It would have taken someone who really understood the effects of trauma to spot the warning signs that Josh was escalating, because Josh didn’t show much emotion usually, he had been taught to keep it all in.

Each kid in care has a different baseline with different things that will trigger them. Some kids will be triggered into anger, some into dissociative almost catatonic like states, some use substances, some run away and some will cycle through a few of these responses. Each kid is different and needs to be approached differently. It is so important that youth workers start to inform themselves about the effects of trauma, that way, when kids do become triggered, the workers may have a really valuable chance to work with the kid to help them understand what they are feeling in that moment, and how they can manage those feelings.

A Letter To My Younger Self

Dear younger me,

I have decided to write to you when you were in the darkest, most painful time of your life because I know this is when you needed to hear my following words the most.
You are currently thirteen and living in a residential care unit, you face violence every time you leave your room, even if it’s just to use the bathroom or find some food to eat. Even behind your locked bedroom door you are still afraid, there is nowhere you feel safe.
The staff members who work at your resi unit are mostly just there while they study other things and don’t truly care for the young people they work with. The fleeting ones with their heart truly in it move on too quickly and are restricted by policy in the care they can show without losing their jobs.

I know you feel completely alone in this world, I remember just how isolated and frightened you felt and it still breaks my heart. I know suicide and death are like a comforting blanket you can hold in the darkest part of the night, you truly have no hope you will make it through the next day let alone until your next birthday. Life is bleak right now but I have something to tell you.

I know it will be hard to believe me but I want to let you know that you will make it to your next birthday, you will even make it to the age of 25. You will eventually live in a safe and stable house that is independent of ‘the system’, you will grow to love the body you despise right now. Things will be tough for a few years yet but I promise you that things will get better. Slowly day by day you will learn to make space between your feelings and the choices you make, you will learn about your brain and how your traumatic experiences in your childhood shaped you in so many ways you blamed yourself for. You are not a monster, you are not broken, you will recover.

I know how much you hate people who make false promises so I do not make this promise lightly, I promise you that you will make it through this time of your life, I promise you that you will one day be able to enjoy eating a good meal (yes, sometimes even in a restaurant!) and feeling the warm sunshine on your face. I promise that you will have people around you who deeply care for you and inspire you everyday to do better. I promise you that eventually your life will be completely removed from the chaos, agony and hopelessness you currently feel.

If I could tell you just one thing, it would be to try to treat yourself kindly. Have compassion for yourself, you have been treated so awfully by so many people in your life, there is no need to do the same to yourself. You will eventually live a life you enjoy but will carry the scars from many years of reckless indifference. You wont be ashamed of your scars but you will want to hold that teenager who put their body through those tribulations, cry with them and show them that the pain will eventually end.

You will eventually heal enough to share your story, to use your experiences to help professionals in the system understand what kids like you really need. You will develop your love for writing into another way you can help people understand, you will even be paid for it occasionally.
You will spend your days running training, speaking to big groups of people, teaching yourself about systemic and policy advocacy to understand how to make a real difference to the system.
You will have high hopes for yourself, even if you don’t know exactly what the future looks like you will know that you have control of how to shape it. You know that life will always have hurdles but you will develop the skills to be able to manage them.

I wish I could walk beside you for a time, answering your questions and convincing you that all I have said in this letter is true. I wish I could make your pain stop but I trust you, I know that you will eventually teach yourself all you need to know to make a great life for yourself. I understand that the experiences you are facing and will continue to face for a few years will be turned into lessons. You will be reborn through the flames, your steel will harden and you will become a warrior for those who are still going through the darkness. You will not only make it through this but you will go on to do great things. I will hold the hope for you because I know you can’t hold it for yourself just yet, I promise you life will get much better.

With so much love,

Your older self, twelve years down the track.

Rise And Shine

A tiny child, born into the world ten weeks too early. A child who when finally released from the confines of the humidicrib ten weeks later, was still small enough to fit into a single one of his fathers cradling hands. This tiny child held on through being born so early his lungs weren’t fully developed yet and a severe case of Bronchiolitis. He fought to stay alive in the cold and scary world he was dropped into far too early, cradling this tiny spark of light he had been gifted, with everything he had.

This tiny child became a small toddler who was removed from his mothers care and then placed back into it time and time again. A tennis match volley between horrific foster care placements and his mothers utter inability to care for herself, let alone a tiny child. He was slipping through the cracks of a system, supported only by small moments of love, gifted to him by the heartstrings of carers who passed through his life in ever so brief moments.

This child grew and instead of learning about the love of a family, he learned how to spot an oncoming violent outburst and find the perfect hiding spot where the adults couldn’t reach him. An escape artist after Houdinis own heart. He learned how to pack his favourite toys into a garbage bag as quick as he could, so he wouldn’t leave them behind again when the workers showed up to bundle him into the car and on his way to his next foster placement.

He learned that the hardest part of every day was home time at school, when the bell would ring and all the other kids parents would come into the classroom to give hugs and ask all sorts of questions about how their day was and what they had learned. His eyes would automatically sink to his shoes as if that was a way he could avoid the heartbreak of witnessing those moments shared between everyone but him. He would make his way to the front of the school and hope that the foster carer who dropped him off that morning, was the one picking him up that afternoon. If anyone came at all.

He felt as though he was living in a completely different universe to every one of his classmates, they complained about how awful their parents were because they wouldn’t buy them the complete set of toys that were the current fad. He was just grateful to not have to wrap his arms around his dinner plate in the evening so that his food wouldn’t be stolen from under him.

This child, who had been raised by chaos and violence quickly learned how important small gestures of kindness could be. He learned the enormity of a kind smile shared between two strangers passing each other by on the street. That a small act of warmth in a cold world could mean the difference between life and death, to someone who was ready to take the emergency exit.

A child who had only known instability began to learn the true value of this thing called ‘home’ even if he had never truly experienced one. He was cultivating an internal scrapbook of all the times he witnessed someone turning on the light for someone else who was trying to navigate in the darkness. He savoured those moments like a melting chocolate on his tongue, collecting them like precious objects to be stored away in some safe part of himself the darkness couldn’t get to. He explored all the intricacies of each moment of kindness he witnessed, and used them as glue to begin to fill the cracks left in the foundations of his childhood.

A child, who had only been taught by the outside world that he was expected to fall and become the darkness he was raised in, slowly began learning that the only way to build himself out of the life he had found himself in was to rise, and to shine. To rise, every single time he was pushed to the ground when the world came crumbling down around him. To shine, every single time the world enveloped him in darkness, and he couldn’t see his way through to the other side.
He learned that the most important thing about life was not just the ability to rise after falling to the earth, but to continue to shine a light of kindness and hope for others, even when the easiest thing to do would be to shut off from the outside world that had caused so much pain.

That child eventually grew into an adult who decided with every fibre of his being that he was to rise and overcome his experiences, to shine a light for those who hadn’t learned to to cast one for themselves yet. To convey the importance of compassion and hope and how small acts can change a persons entire life trajectory. One act of kindness doesn’t cost much to give but it can be valued as a gift that shapes another persons entire world. Dig deep, no matter how thick that blanket of darkness gets, continue to make the choice to rise, and to shine.

Behaviours From The Inside: Part One – Dissociation

I am sitting in the lounge-room at Hurstbridge Farm, wrapped in a faux mink blanket and staring at the flickering light cast from the fireplace. I can’t remember how I got here, in fact I can’t remember much at all about what led to this moment, all I know is that my body is in pain from being frozen in the same position for a long time and though I’m wrapped in the blanket I’m still shivering but I can’t seem to feel the cold.
I feel like I have partially come out of a day dream, I am stuck in two worlds and my foggy brain can’t figure out how to move forward. I am unsure how to move my limbs, they have been frozen still for so long and I just can’t seem to get the message from my brain to my hands, asking them to move.
I am distant from the situation, watching a small part of myself wrestle with being unable to move or think, I am safe in this detached place of my mind, nothing can harm me here. I am a million miles away from myself, almost as if I am seeing someone else’s body through the movie theatre screen behind their eyes.

The world around me is made of cotton balls, everything is dulled and soft. I have been staring into the fake flames of the fireplace for so long that the room in my peripheral vision is becoming distorted and misshapen. The walls around me swaying as though they are made of the same stuff as fire, contorting and collapsing on themselves around my tunnel vision of the flames.
Even if I wanted to act on the impulse to turn my eyes towards the disfigured walls to check what was really happening, I just can’t seem to move them, they are stuck as they are and no amount of trying to flood them with messages to just move will work to avert them.

I am in a safe place, there are staff around me who flitter about like moths leaving gifts of water and sometimes resting their hand on my shoulder; this is helpful because I can feel it, it gives my awareness an anchor point to attach to. I come back to my body in the small area of this safe touch but can’t seem to come back more than in that minuscule way.

Though the touch is grounding and helps me return in some small way, it is also excruciatingly frightening at the same time. I am very vulnerable in this moment, I couldn’t make my body move even if I wanted to.
I need to know the person is safe, to have a trusting relationship developed with them, if someone who I didn’t trust tried to rouse me with touch, this waking dream would turn into a nightmare. Being frozen still and flooded with boiling hot fear and an urge to run, to get to safety is like being torn apart from the inside.

I spent a lot of time being dissociated over the course of my childhood and teenage years, a left over coping mechanism from experiencing trauma at a time I couldn’t act to protect myself with a fight or flight response, so I withdrew into and away from myself for protection.

I eventually learned to spot myself feeling dissociated and distant, I have a small river stone I used to hold in the palm of my hand until I could come back to myself again. I remember a time years ago when I held onto that stone for an entire day before I was able to feel present enough to let it go.
I was given this beautiful river stone on a day I had called a dear friend and mentor of mine Stephan because I was in a heightened state and had ended up in a tricky situation, Stephan invited me to come see him, probably sensing that I was heightened and needed help to become grounded again. Of all the people I’ve met over the years who know how to put their knowledge of trauma theory into practice, Stephan does it with such grace.

Stephan took me to a nearby river and we went swimming in the cool water. Surrounded by trees, polished stones and a trusted adult I felt safe enough to come back to being grounded again, (though this was from a heightened state versus being in a dissociated state) the rhythmic motion of the small lapping waves and swimming freestyle in a repetitive motion probably aided this grounding process.
After a quick rock throwing competition to see who could hit the fork of a submerged tree first, winner gets a Kit-Kat, Stephan hands me my stone, a gift from the river.
A dark blue-grey and slightly oval shaped stone that fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, something I still keep to this day.

The river stone has positive memories attached to it, a memory of being safe and happy. Holding it was like an anchor point to the safety and connection in that time, even if I wasn’t consciously able to remember it when I was needing to hold the stone. This connection to a safer time helped me to feel safe enough to return to the present.

Sanctuary Within The Pages Of A Book

I’m fourteen and still spending time in the hallway of my residential unit almost every night, petrified and alone, waiting for the safety of morning to come so I can retreat back to my room and try to sleep.
I can’t leave the house very often, even if the logistics pan out for one of the workers to be able to take me, I still have an internal war waging that makes the process an ordeal.

I am scared, all the time. I am certain that every single person who glances at me as I’m walking down the street can tell I’m a resi kid, they can tell my tattered, over worn clothes had to come from a strangers washing line, because I couldn’t get my DHS worker to respond to my request for my $200 clothing allowance. The one pair of jeans I had left were so big they would fall down if I didn’t keep my hands in my pockets, holding them up.

I am on my fortnightly trip to the local library two suburbs over, the five-minute drive in the safety of the car passes too quickly and we’re in the busy car park and it’s time to get out. As soon as I open the door it feels like my safety bubble has popped, the outside world rushes in loud and bright, I scan around for any immediate danger but everything seems dangerous.

Every single person I see is a threat, I can feel them staring at me, I stick out and they know I don’t belong here. Making my way over to the doors of the library every sound in the car park signals danger, adrenaline pumping through my body I am ready to run or fight at a moments notice.

Inside the library there is less sound but the people seem noisier, they fill my head with a buzzing anxiety. I wonder if there’s a reason they’re all staring at me, maybe I’ve done something terrible and forgotten about it. Maybe there’s a manhunt and I’m a wanted person, do they all know? Are the police on their way and they are just trying to keep the appearance of being calm to keep me there until they arrive? Maybe that’s why it was so easy to get the worker to bring me here this time, they are all working together.

I scan the titles of the books as I walk down the isles of the library one by one, mostly interested in epic fantasy novels that will take me into a different world or gritty fiction that hurts my heart but makes me feel less alone.
I wonder if the police will check my library history when I’m arrested, am I accidentally setting myself up to look guilty by my choice in books to borrow? I start second guessing every book I am interested in picking up.

I can barely take in the titles of the books in front of me, I am so heightened and overwhelmed it’s hard to process the writing. Without realising it I find myself going through the motions of scanning the spines, not taking them in but just noticing the different colours and sizes of the books.

When I come back into focus I find myself in the fantasy and sci-fi section, just the place I want to be. Each book holds the promise of the perfect universe, the chance to escape for a little while into a journey where I am a character who has purpose and every catastrophe holds meaning. I am drawn to the largest books I can find and also to long series, I want to be immersed in this new universe for as long as possible.

I end up checking out a stack of 12 novels, comics and audio books, I’m surprised as I let out a laugh with the librarian about the possibility of me getting through this many books in a month. I don’t think she believes me as I tell her I can read a 500 page book in a day.

Making my way back to the car I am almost hugging my stack of books, clinging to my safety net, knowing that now I might be able to make it through the next two weeks.
I am already calmed with thoughts of which book I’m going to read first and wondering what adventures are waiting for me within the pages.

When I’m reading life drops away and I become the characters in the book, I am no longer laying in a bed with the other kids I live with banging on my door or yelling threats to kill me through the cracks in my window. I am on a quest to save the kingdom or trying to get through some fantastic ordeal.

Within the pages I find a rare comfort, a sense of peace I can find nowhere else. The outside world shuts off along with the painfully loud chatter of my mind. I am finally free, I have found sanctuary within the pages of a book.

Speedwobbles

It’s late spring in 2008, I’m living in a pilot therapeutic care program an hour out of Melbourne in a country town that grew roots in my heart; the first place that still feels like home.

It’s a warm day and we’re restless, two 15 year old kids with a painful need to always be chasing the next distraction. After deciding we want to go skateboarding, we then have to round up the staff and convince them to drive us to the local skate park. A tiny place with one bowl and one half pipe, surrounded by acres of neighbouring farm properties and a pony club.

The car pulls to a stop and before the worker has the chance to put the hand brake on we’re out of the car and heading over to skate.
My housemate, for the sake of anonymity we’ll call him Meerkat (His head was always on the pivot and his dark brown eyes and messy hair reminded me of Meerkats I had seen at the Zoo) was heaps better at skating than me so after the 1.5 seconds it took him to build up the courage to drop in on the half pipe, he’s going back and forth attempting to spin the board as he gets to the top so he can stop then drop right back in again.

After five minutes we’re frustrated we’re not already pro-skaters so decide to up the stakes and head for the nearest massive hill we could find. We all pile back into the car and drive around the local country roads searching for the perfect hill, we’re just about to give up when we see a one that would put fear in any of the local kids, it’s pretty much vertical bitumen for 100 metres.

The worker parks the car at the bottom of the hill and me and Meerkat make our way to the top, projecting bravado because there’s no way either of us are going to chicken out at this point. As soon as we make it to the top of the hill we both decide we’re going to go down at once instead of taking it in turns. The hill is so steep that immediately after putting both feet on the skateboard I’m hurtling towards the bottom of the hill at an ever increasing speed. The wind is rushing past me so fast it’s making my shirt stick to my chest, my eyes open wide and I square my body lower to the ground to get more balance. I feel so alive, there’s no thoughts going through my head except for making sure I’m balancing ok and not headed towards any of the parked cars that are scattered on the side of the road.

Everything is going fine until I’m halfway down the hill, my trucks that I loosened so I could turn easier start to make the board wobble, at first its manageable but it quickly becomes a lost cause. I begin to panic, I’m three quarters of the way down the hill now and going so fast I know bailing isn’t going to end well. I have no other option so I step off the board and try to force my legs to keep up with the speed the rest of my body is hurtling down the hill. I can only keep it up for a few giant steps before I hit the road, sliding on my elbow and side for at least four metres on the hot bitumen before finally coming to a stop.

One of the workers races up to me to make sure I’m ok, I’m sore and have some pretty gnarly grazes on my elbow and knees but I know I haven’t done any serious damage. As soon as I can stand back up again I hunt for my board which had shot past me when I got up close and personal with the bitumen. I decide that I’m not going to let this hill beat me, that before I can talk myself out of it I’m going to try again straight away.

I’m a man on a mission, I limp my way back up the hill sore but determined as ever. At the top I take a deep breath and look down at the spot where I had stacked it just moments before, there’s no way I’m going to leave this hill before showing it I won’t be beaten so easily.