By John*, a recent RISE client
I was pushed beyond my limits. I wasn’t able to handle the child crying. It triggered sensations within me that I found unbearable. The only way I could stop the sensations I was experiencing was to stop the crying. Animalistically, I lashed out.
It was my first born, a son. I couldn’t ask him to stop crying, I couldn’t reason with him. I was by myself and one thing led to another and I squeezed his leg to the point of bruising when he was just an infant.
My wife Sally* responded as if I stabbed a knife in her. She was horrified and insisted we tell someone about it immediately. As it was late at night at the time, we contacted my dad by phone, who was both compassionate and wise. The following morning we gathered a small support team around us and told them what happened and asked for help.
We were already booked in for a GP visit the following day and my wife asked me to come with her. Of course I agreed, I was concerned at what I had done to our son, at how brutal I had behaved. This was simply not in my nature, but I know that I broke in a very stressful situation. I confessed openly to the GP and, in the following weeks, my wife and I attended counselling through our pastor and with a professional. Plunket were also involved in supporting us as a family. For some time after, we managed to get through the early months of my son’s life without another incident.
But I broke again. I pinched my son on his bottom just before he turned one. Again, it was an attempt to stop him crying and wriggling while I was changing him. I was horrified and remorseful. My wife was furious and completely devastated. That night we contacted the close support network that had been involved the first time, including my counsellor. The following day my counsellor gave me a window of grace to report my actions to Oranga Tamariki before she did. I called them immediately. I was also referred to RISE, formerly SVS – Living Safe. My wife and I went back to the GP, Plunket was again involved, and this time also Barnardos.
Once Oranga Tamariki got involved, life became extremely difficult. There was an emergency meeting at our house and our lives got turned upside down for months. They told us there was no negotiation, we were to follow all instructions without exception. It was very hard at the time, but looking back now, I can see it was the start of my healing and I am grateful I was honest and got help.
My involvement with RISE began with group therapy over about half a year. To start with I had my defences up during these sessions. But in time I became impressed with the professionalism and the content. The group clinicians brought the content together in a way that made sense to me and helped me understand how to cope when warning signs are present.
The whole experience was so beneficial for me. It gave me the toolset I need to interact with my son. It also helped me learn how to better interact with my wife. They cover adult conflict in the sessions and not only do I know now what my breaking point is with my crying son, I have learned valuable skills to have a healthy argument with my wife. Conflict is a part of life and you need to deal with conflict in a healthy way. Now I can.
When my son cries, it is my primary trigger. Being a rather relaxed person normally, I didn’t know where the anger came from. During counselling I was able to get to the bottom of some of this and to find healing from some of my own childhood experiences. I couldn’t stop my own child from crying and I became overwhelmed and turned to discipline him, wrongly. Now I am able to confidently assess where I am with my triggers and keep both my son and myself in a safe space.
Over time I have changed and have proven to my wife that I can confidently and safely parent my son. Because of what I’ve gone through and what I’ve learned, with the help of RISE, Plunket, Barnardos, and our incredible support team, my wife has expressed to me that she trusts me to be alone with our son. It is all that matters. She knows that when I am triggered, when I say ‘I can’t handle this right now,’ she doesn’t think twice, she steps in and gives me a break. And I do the same for her when she is triggered and stressed. It is the warning we now both follow. And it has given me the gift of being able to love my son even more, not to see him in distressed times as a threat.
Note from RISE: John is now a successful, loving father to three beautiful children.
*Names have been changed for privacy.