A Life Unravelled

A Life Unravelled.

Helen was in her late forties, and had never held on to a stable job in her life. In between her job description profile were large gaps when she remained unemployed, living off her previous savings or on the largesse of her extended family. She did not possess her own home, so moved from one dwelling to another, depending on the generosity of the men she met at watering holes during her nights out. Her sister, Jane, said that from time-to-time, the family did not know whether she was still alive or dead, as Helen would be off their radar, months at a time, and would remain uncontactable. Occasionally, she would appear with physical bruises or complaining of other maladies, or when she had run out of money. She never divulged where she had been or how her injuries were sustained. These events first began soon after Helen completed her high school studies. Jane brought her for counselling after Helen had been hospitalised following another severe beating by one of her partners, and her family decided it was time to get her some help. Helen was initially resistant to therapy.

Jane’s explanation of their dysfunctional family history at our first session provided some possible causes for Helen’s behaviours. Helen was the oldest sibling among the three. Their father was an alcoholic and abusive. The main mode of his physical tantrums were his hands and belt. When his wife was around, she would protect her children and was his principal victim. In their early teens, their mother, had passed on from a brain haemorrhage. Soon after, their father had a partner, and she escalated the abusive household environment. Helen bore the brunt of these physical and emotional torments and was the first to leave the family after graduating from high school.

In our subsequent sessions, Helen was regularly delinquent with her attendance. I would never be sure she would turn up, and even when she did, at times, her reticence to talk about herself either implied her resistance to therapy or reasons unknown to even herself! The fact that she would turn up without reminders seemed to indicate that she did not want to terminate these sessions, and when I attempted to clarify whether she would be more comfortable with a referral to another counsellor, she declined to be redirected.

Tests conducted over a period of several months indicated the presence of obvious post-traumatic stress, severe depression, with occasional suicidal ideation, and some anxiety issues. She was addicted to alcohol, and had been an intermittent abuser of other drugs prohibited under the law. I did not rule out the possibility of complications in her brain function as a result of severe head injuries suffered at her father’s and others’ hands, but Helen would not attend any neurological diagnostic procedures, even when Jane volunteered to foot the costs for them. It took over a year before Helen began to intermittently open up.