When I agreed to talk to the Nacoa helpline volunteers from Student Community Action, at Bristol University, I had to sit at my computer and write down all those dark secrets I had carefully stored away.
As a perfect child of an alcoholic, I had not told anyone my story. Even my husband had not heard the whole tale, only bits gleaned from snatches of conversation.
Facing my past was hard.
To start off, I did something I had never done before: I read some of my diary entries from when I was younger. I was shocked to find that reading those pages unlocked the little girl inside me. For the first time in years, I cried. I cried because of the hopeless situation Little Karen had lived through. Then I cried because I had done just that; I had survived. I looked through old photograph albums, read letters from years back and kept re-reading that diary.
It took many attempts to start writing my thoughts and even more to put them in a logical order. As I wrote, I would either cry or sit in a trance-like state, replaying incidents in my mind.
When I got started, my limited keyboard skills had problems keeping up with my thoughts. I read the words on the screen and asked what on earth they meant. Reading my diary entries and letters and looking at photos had been a catalyst for all the pent-up emotions inside me. Suddenly, I had a mass of things which I wanted and needed to say.
The problem then was that I had too much to say, and an alarming amount of it was negative anger. Then I thought
“I have the right to be angry. I have the right to cry. And now I have the right to tell”.
So I sat and wrote and, at points, I cried, interspersed with fits of frustration and rage. At the end of a five-hour session finishing at about 2 am, I had completed my notes.
I was more physically and mentally drained than I have ever been. Yet I felt more at peace with myself than I had ever felt. It was as if all the badness had been sucked out.
The next hurdle was the night itself. It was one thing telling my computer screen all the dark secrets of the past – but a group of strangers…. I drove to Bristol with a sinking feeling, not sure about what I was doing.
The only way I can describe the evening was one of coming home. The volunteers were responsive, understanding and, most importantly, they listened. I don’t know who gained most from the experience, the volunteers or myself. My thanks go to Hilary for encouraging me to face my past instead of running away from it and to those amazing students from Bristol University. I would say to all helpline volunteers ‘Believe callers. Always believe’.