My story started when I was 15 years-old. I was a very young 15 year-old , coming at the world with wonder, wide eyed and not at all street wise. I was pulled out of my hometown, my country New Zealand and moved over to Australia with my Mother.
I was only given short notice of this move. I’m sure it felt like the right thing for my Mother as she had family in Australia and my sister was already dancing in the Australian ballet, but for me it felt like I was ripped out of a just beginning sense of self, away from friends and knowing who I was.
It felt like the plug had been pulled and I was watching myself swirling down the drain. I don’t think I had ever been a deeply happy child, but at that time I totally shut down and I stopped talking for 6 months.
I was lost in anxiety and didn’t dare speak as I didn’t want to stand out. I didn’t want people to notice my accent fresh out of New Zealand. I was aware of a great cultural difference. Australia and New Zealand are brother nations in terms of global positioning and history, but I could feel this incredible culture gap. I didn’t understand how things worked here, how people interacted, what I was supposed to do to fit in. I tried to be invisible.
I went from doing pretty well in school to being bottom of the class. My whole life basically stopped. At the time I was silent, numb. I couldn’t get outside myself to get perspective or communicate what was going on for me. I was stuck in shock.
While my parents were tying up details of their divorce, I was staying with my sister in Melbourne. She would bring home her dancer friends and have parties. She told me later that she had the parties to try and get me to connect, to say something – anything. It was the only time I would speak more than one word.
So heading into 16 years old was when I discovered the joys of alcohol. I felt that drinking softened the numb feeling, the ‘deer in the headlights’ constant discomfort. When I drank, I could feel something other than nothing.
We didn’t talk about the pain and trauma of my parent’s sudden split in my family or even why I wasn’t speaking. I had squashed it down, but alcohol released me and as I got older I became more reliant on it.
I would have these massive binge drinking sessions because I didn’t really want to be here. I didn’t want to be inside my skin. The underlying pain was “Why didn’t my Dad care enough to want to hang onto me?” Why did he not fight for me? Why had he just let me go without even having a conversation with me about it?
I realize now that my father was just as disconnected to his feelings as I was. It would have been a coping mechanism for him to get through that really difficult time of his family leaving him.
The capacity that I have now, the opportunities that I have now in front of me – none of these would have been possible for me if I had stayed with my Dad. I love my Dad, but his silence, like my silence helped nobody.
I am a highly sensitive person and my mother was pretty disconnected as well with me. She was coping in her own way. It is amazing how damaging it is when genuine love is withheld. She experienced that in her own relationship and I think she didn’t know or remember how to open that back up with me – her depressed son.
I understand why she was disconnected. As a young woman she had fallen pregnant and had twins – children she had to give away for adoption. I figure that experience would have broken her heart. My mother had her own journey with depression. I get that now as an adult. How hard her walk must have been for her.
It was a long road out for me. I became involved in a local church from my late teens. I lived this good-guy/bad-guy church going Youth Leader/ Blind drunk guy in the weekends. I was really good at putting on a mask to show people the Matthew they needed to see – confident, outgoing, making them feel good. But then there would come a time when I just needed that volcano of energy rattling underneath my skin to escape – get out of me and I would get drunk.
I wanted my family, friends, anyone I was with to not feel uncomfortable with me, or worry about me, so I showed them the face of a leader, someone that people would look up to as “The Good Guy” and then had this other hidden world.
I felt for a long time that I let other people down. I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of being the guy who was up the front of the church prayer leading, hanging out with the band and then on Friday night getting beyond obliterated. I mean you just couldn’t get any more alcohol inside of me. It got to a stage that I would throw up and then go back and start drinking again. It was nuts.
It was a really dark time for me, but what amazed me was that there was another part of me behind everything else that was going on that kept prompting me on. This deeper self was not the masked smiling guy or the drunk guy – it was another part of me that kept asking “You know what, maybe this approach to life kind of isn’t working for you”
Something inside me started wondering if my “approach” to life sucked., not that my life sucked. People have all sorts of names for that kind of wisdom within, but for me it’s just the real me – the voice of calm wise reason. The real truth behind everything, simple, effortless and playful.
I got to a point where the way I was living had to stop. I was really good at being there for other people –no-one would have known anything about what was going on underneath for me at that time. That is why these days I am pretty passionate about checking in with people when you get a sense of something being off. It’s important to ask them “Are you Okay?”
Men are good at hiding that deep pain. So are the ones that tend to try to help everyone else. Checking in and having a genuine connection with people is so important. We all need to do that more for each-other.
For me, I came to the end of myself. I hated my life and it was incredibly difficult to be me, because I didn’t know who I was. I wondered how it would be if I wasn’t here anymore. I had a moment of clarity and it was “I can end my life” or “I can end my approach to my life, that isn’t working for me.”
I left the church, I left the city with all my drinking buddy friends. It was counter productive for me to keep that lifestyle going. I had to get sober, not just in a drinking or drugs sense, but to actually get enough of a fresh start to get a sober mind, a clear mind and to really start figuring it out.
At that point, I knew I had none of the answers. It was a great place to be, the best place to stay as then you become a wide open cup that is never full, always ready for something new, to learn more, to grow more to expand more, to love more and be a more open channel to all the good stuff rather than being this closed monkey-mind human that ends up creating more mess.
Things did not change quickly for me. For some individuals they do have this miraculous moment of clarity and I love that possibility for people. For me, that was not the case. Sure, I had more and more moments of clarity, good days, good minutes and I realized that I needed to celebrate every crack of light that was coming through that very dark shell of mine. As best I could in those times I could see what worked and what didn’t.
Success leaves clues, there are many good books and people’s ideas out there that can guide you, but we are all different and it is important to find out what works for You. There are commonalities. Over a 10-year journey I found some simple ideas that came up time and time again that have worked for me to heal and come into a warmer connection with who I am.
One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I found was the understanding of perspective. We wage wars over words, we will fight people to the death because they use the word Allah, and we use the word God or if we use the word Buddha and they use the word Jesus.
It doesn’t matter to me what words people use, as long as they are not waging wars. If they are creating more hope, love or help in the world then all power to them. But what has really liberated me is that understanding that perspective is the key for everything and I am not just talking about spirituality here.
Perspective is how you see the world, how you value everything around you and it can determine your outcome, how your life feels, what it looks like, where it ends up and who your friends are.
Perspective has this incredible potential to shift your reality. For me the most important thing is to look at the hard times differently. As an example, I now have a great sense of gratitude for the darkness I have experienced because it has given me this incredible depth and ability to feel just how good it is when life is good! Also I now have this incredible ability to connect with people who are going through the same thing and maybe help them find some perspective.
I can now see all of the greatness and the capacity in people on the flipside of living through the hard times. It drives me every day and creates energy and opportunities in my life.
When you are deep in that dark place you are not going to be thinking like that but you have to work with what you have. Say for example you are being kicked out of where you live because your roommates have had enough of you. You could get all down about that, but the perspective I would bring to that would be “Well, hey, here’s an opportunity to start again, find a better community or to discover something about yourself because you were locked in that physical space, a space that was probably representative of your emotional state. Maybe take this opportunity to find a space that is more supportive. Maybe your friends hate you and you know what, that’s great, because maybe they weren’t supporting you at all. Maybe they were the people keeping you down.
I know when you are in deep depression it feels so real and so painful, but to be able to get a new perspective on all of that stuff that is making you feel down and depressed, or energy-less it is incredibly liberating.
The next step along from that is something I call “bridging.” Using the idea of possibility, I ask myself questions. I often ask myself “Is that really true?” “Could this be different to how it is?” “Am I blowing this out of proportion, bigger than it needs to be?”
It is really hard for most people to go from dark depression to life feeling amazing. What I have learned in the last five years is that if you can bridge from one place to the next, it is possible, but it is about returning to your true self – the self who doesn’t judge where you have been.
Many people are attached to their story, their pain and that is what makes them who they are and what makes them important. If you know someone in that place all you can give them is love and extreme patience as your words might not land.
What kind of breaks my heart about the world right now is the great lack of community. We have 5000 friends on Facebook and no community. How did that happen? They are often not real friends, real community. There’s no checking in with eye contact and seeing how someone really is under that great looking selfie! We all want that and yet we are so disconnected with real human community.
I feel that humanity is one big experience happening with millions of perspectives, but we are often so far from remembering that. We get lost in our monkey minds and lost in separation – ego to ego . It’s unhealthy and sad and the cause of so many problems on this planet from competition, to greed to war.
What gets me up in the morning is the glimmer that I see of more and more people knowing the idea that we are a human community.
At our core we are not broken, there is nothing wrong with us. Some of the most powerful conversations I have had with myself has been to come at my journey as an understanding that it has been an exploration. We are explorers, and we can look at the hard times and say to ourselves “Yeah, that wasn’t so great, but thanks for the lesson, I don’t have to do that again. I’m going to move on now.”
Another idea is spectrum. Sadness and happiness –same spectrum. When you stop labeling things as good or bad, but see it all as part of the learning curve of emotional spectrum, there’s a freedom in that.
My journey has helped me with connecting with my children. I don’t have my kids all the time. I have not always been Number One Dad, but I am incredibly grateful for the understanding I now have around the need for Dads to communicate with kids and allow them to be who they are...
Matt's Story - an excerpt. All Rights reserved 2016
Full story to be published 2017 in "Made by Scars- real men's stories'