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Gabriel Byrne opens up about his past, overcoming obstacles and PTSD

Gabriel Byrne opens up about his past, overcoming obstacles and PTSD

Gabriel Byrne returns to his past in his memoir, Walking with Ghosts, in which the acclaimed Irish actor, known for his roles in The Usual Suspects, Jindabyne, and In Treatment, explores his working class roots in Dublin to his unlikely trajectory to Hollywood and international stardom.

Gabriel Byrne opens up about his past, overcoming obstacles and PTSD

Writing the book was a healing experience for Byrne, the eldest of six in a devout Catholic family, who overcame many obstacles including alcohol abuse, and in his early years, sexual assault by his favourite priest.

Bryne was married to actress Ellen Barkin from 1988 to 1999 when he lived in New York City and where they raised two children: Jack, born in 1989 and Matthew, born in 1995. He currently lives in Rockport, Maine, married to Hannah Beth King, since 2014 and they have a four-year-old daughter.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to go back to your childhood. I find it difficult to remember what I ate for lunch yesterday. Did you tap into friends or family to help you out?

I did. My mother helped me before she died and my father did as well. But the events that I describe in the book are crystal clear to me. And also, you’re confronted on every page with, ‘Is this the truth?’ because I have to be able stand over it and say, ‘Yes. That actually happened; this is absolutely right.’

You’ve overcome many obstacles in your life. How do you view those hurdles now?

Well, I don’t think we ever grow to the place that is perfection, where we just rest and say, ‘Well, now I have overcome every obstacle and life is now predictable from here on in.’ I’m still learning, I’m still learning how to be a human being, I still make a lot of mistakes.

Many people look at ‘the good old days’ through rose-coloured glasses. But looking back can also be very informative.

Yes. We learn from the past. It’s not that we want to go back there nostalgically and sentimentally and say, “Oh God, weren’t they the great old days?” Because, to a great extent they weren’t. But by remembering in a detailed way incidents from the past, you can illuminate the present. And you can see, ‘Oh, have I changed? Am I the same person? How was my relationship with my father? How was my relationship with my son, with my lover, with my wife, whatever?’ So recalling those moments is like when you look at a photograph, you can look at the photograph and see your father and mother when they were young. Maybe you could say, “Oh my God, look at my father how young he was.” But it raises more than that in the recognition of, “God, I look like my mother, I look like my father.” Memories are like photographs. I do believe in giving time to them, giving time to a photograph. Giving time to an experience and not rushing from it and saying, “Oh, well, that’s that. I dealt with that.” Because it’s a tremendous learning process. Because there’s two places that we don’t exist, really. One is the future, the other is the past. And trying to get to know who we were in the past, illuminates the present, and probably illuminates the future too.

How do you look back on your years as a child in the Catholic Church. You’ve been very open about being a victim of sexual abuse.

I think the church regards sexuality as an uncontrollable freedom and they need to shut it down. Now having said that the idea of celibacy in the Catholic Church in my opinion is ridiculous, especially in this day and age.

Do you recognise what you went through and the aftermath as having PTSD?

You know, oftentimes the last person to recognise the PTSD is the person themselves. I wasn’t aware to be honest, that I did suffer from that but looking back over the evidence of my life, it has probably been that it had a really profound and deep effect on me. I think one of the pernicious side effects of abuse is that trust is broken and it’s very, very hard to get trust back again. And I think that’s something that for a long time in my life I couldn’t trust what the people in authority were saying to me. And that extended into my working life as well. I couldn’t trust what critics were saying. They said, “that performance was really good,” I didn’t believe it, I tended to believe the opposite. And also that extends into relationships as well and that’s the pernicious power of it. And that’s probably what you refer to as PTSD.

What have you learned about yourself through writing the book?

There are things that I suppose I’ve learned, the things that I cared about and suffered over in my 20s and 30s don’t matter as much anymore, they just don’t seem terribly important, whether you do a movie or you don’t do a movie or if it’s successful or not successful, whether the play is well received or not, they don’t bother me so much anymore. I see our common struggle, our common humanity, we’re all struggling to be better and we are all struggling to get rid of the things that we don’t like about ourselves. And there’s something moving to me about our shared humanity and no matter what language we speak or what country we are from, we all recognise in each other the same struggles, the same failings, the same triumphs. We are all pretty much the same.

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