My Story

long way

Welcome to my story,  please take a moment to read the trigger warning below before continuing.

TRIGGER WARNING

Before you read any further  you must understand that this has been written by an adult survivor of child sexual abuse and adult domestic abuse. This is a full, no-holds barred, account of what happened to me from the age of 4.

I decided to share this for a number of reasons;

          • I felt it was important to document what happened as part of the healing process, it has been a useful exercise in sifting through my feelings about what happened.
          • I hope that other people read this and find strength in the knowledge that things do get better.

If you are not comfortable with this material then please navigate away from this page now.

OK so here it is finally in one place from start to finish. I will start by apologizing to those that I let down, that I failed to help when they needed it; I am genuinely sorry for the pain I caused you.

I begin at the very beginning as I sometimes think that is were it went wrong – with my birth. When I was born my Father was in the Army and my Mother was an Army Wife, they were both living abroad with my Father’s Army Unit. I do have some very vague memories of being happy and having fun during those initial years but they are fading fast. I tried for a while to hold onto them as proof that it wasn’t always so bad but I have found it better to create new memories of happiness in my life in the hope that, in time, there will be no more room for the sad memories.

Not long after I was born my Mother developed post partum depression, this was very difficult for her – being so far away from home and not having the support of her family. Despite the fact that her Dad, my beloved Grandad, often came to visit us it didn’t get any easier and in the end my parents decided to move back to their home town to be closer to my Mum’s family and so just before I turned 4 we packed up and moved overseas.

When we first arrived we lived with my Grandparents (my Mother’s parents) for a short time until my parents were offered a council house. This was the point where the downward spiral got really steep; we were moved into a sink estate miles away from the main town with only one bus into town per hour and we had no car. I went to the only School in the neighbourhood which was so small that the entire intake for my year consisted of only 8 kids in total. All of the other kids had all been born and brought up on the estate and in most cases were the youngest of a larger family whereas I was an only child and an outsider from another country. I immediately stuck out like a sore thumb and was not accepted by the other kids, I don’t blame them for that – there was a culture of distrust on the estate, particularly for any “outsiders”. For a short time I had a friend who, like me, was from another country and we bonded instantly over our shared “outsider” status. Neither of us cared about the other’s origins, all we knew was that we were fellow human beings in need of friendship. Sadly her family encountered a lot of racist abuse from the other residents and they moved away to a different town leaving me friendless and devastated. I tried to become involved with the other kids but it was difficult as they had all known each other for a long time before I arrived and they did not like anything that was different in any way. It didn’t help that I was suffering from anxiety caused by the upheaval of such a big move as well as being painfully shy and introverted. I was quite advanced at reading and so I tended to read a lot which annoyed the other kids as they thought I was nerdy.

In the end things got so bad that the Teachers told the other kids that they had to be friends with me and they were forced to include me in their games. This served only to infuriate the other kids further and so they used me as a punch bag in their games, I became a source of fun for them rather than a playmate. I knew what was going on and I hated it but I had no one to talk to about it – my parents told me that it was my own fault for not making an effort, for not being more like them and so I allowed them to torment me in the hope that I would one day win their approval and fit in.

Then one day I met my “rescuer”, I was being picked on yet again; this time they had decided it would be great fun to throw my new pencil case into the cesspool at the back of the school and I was pleading with them not to do it. I knew I would be in trouble if I went home and had to tell my parents I had lost it; I had a habit of “losing” items and my parents were getting pretty annoyed with me as we didn’t have a lot of money. Just as one of the girls was about to throw it over the fence an older boy (a teenager) came across from one of the houses and gave the kids hell, they instantly backed down and my pencil case was returned to me. I was over the moon, this was the first time someone had been nice to me and it felt so good, it seemed like from out of nowhere I suddenly had a friend. I was instantly indebted to him for saving me from having to go home and face the wrath of my Parents. If only I knew then what a heavy price tag it would come with; I would have let them throw all my worldly goods into that cesspool if I had known what would happen next.

When the other kids had dispersed he asked if I was ok and if they had hurt me at all. I was totally dumbstruck at the time so I just stared at him in wonder; he then asked me if I knew why the other kids had been picking on me. I just shrugged my shoulders as I was still unable to utter a word. He then told me his name (I will refer to him as P from here on in) and said that I was to come to him if I had any problems with any of the other kids again. It turned out that this boy held the status of “top dog” within the group of kids on the estate, no one dared cross him and if he said the other kids were to leave me be then his word was law. He lived with his older brother (Q) and his brother’s girlfriend (K) – I thought this was so very cool; they were in a house all to themselves with no parents. He took me over to his house so I could get cleaned up, that’s when I met Q and K for the first time. They asked me my name and stuff and I answered as best I could albeit with a terrible stammer, they said I was “cute” and then asked P to run to the shops for them. P asked me to chum him on the errand and I tagged along like a lost puppy. We chatted a bit more on the way to and from the shops, he asked me about where I had come from, who my parents were and how long we had been on the estate. He didn’t seem at all bothered about where I was from; in fact he said it was “cool” that I was new and different. When we got back to his house I was offered a milkshake by K which I was very excited about, my parents said milkshake was very expensive so we didn’t have any in our house. I just about guzzled it in one; K laughed at me and said I was welcome to come around anytime for more milkshakes as they had plenty. After the milkshake I went home, just as I left P said I wasn’t to worry any more about the other kids as he would look out for me from here on in, I felt like I was on cloud nine and practically skipped home.

price to pay

The day after meeting P the other kids steered clear of me altogether which was a relief in some ways but disappointing in another as I wandered about the school playground on my own again; bizarre as it may seem I think I almost preferred them teasing and harassing me as it meant I had some interaction with other human beings as opposed to none.

There was some relief to my loneliness as it was around this time that my Grandad started to come over to our house every day in order to help my Mum out; my Dad was working night shifts so he was out in the evening returning during the day while I was at school and would go to bed until it was time to get up for his next shift. My Mum was struggling to keep everything going in the house and I know I wasn’t helping much as she lost her temper with me an awful lot, on quite a few occasions she hit me and would tell me to get out of her sight until she had calmed down.

In order to give my Mum some respite my Grandad came up a few days a week and he would meet me at the school gate, walk home with me and sit with me while my Mum rested. I really enjoyed this time as he always talked to me about what I had learned that day and would often bring me new stationery items or books to read. I also went to stay with him after school on a Friday through till Sunday morning when my Mum came round and we went home again; I was always really excited to go to Gran and Grandad’s for the weekend as they kept a beautiful garden full of colourful flowers which I loved to play in. Grandad also had a greenhouse and we would cultivate plants from seed in there – we grew tomatoes, strawberries and an apple tree all from seed, I was fascinated by it all. On Saturday we would spend most of the morning walking around the local country park identifying wildflowers before meeting Gran at a café in town where we would have a drink and some cake and then Sunday would be taken up watching wildlife documentaries until Mum came round.

After a while, when things started to pick up for my Mum again, my Grandad stopped coming along as frequently and I walked home after school on my own before going out to play in the streets out front. My weekend visits to my Grandparents kept going although I now only went every other week instead as my Mum and Dad started to take me out into town on a Saturday.

A few months after I first met P he appeared at school, due to the fact that he had missed a lot of school in previous years he had to re-do the final year of his primary education. I was overjoyed to see a friendly face during school hours and he seemed genuinely pleased to see me; he sought me out during the play-break and asked how I had been keeping. He asked me to run some errands for him and I was only too pleased to be of service to him. Initially it was simple things like running to the shops for something that Q or K wanted so P could play football with his friends instead. I was more than happy to do this as K always gave me a milkshake whenever I brought their shopping in. As ridiculous as it sounds I remember this time as being a good period of my life- I was always welcomed warmly when I visited, I know now that their warmth was not genuine but at the time it seemed so.

In hindsight I was clearly being groomed by P, he had rescued me from the bullies and I felt indebted to him – so much so that I would do anything he asked, even when it didn’t feel right. It started so very slowly though, P would ask me to “snuggle” with him and I admit that at first I enjoyed the feeling of warmth I got from being held, it was new to me and I liked it, he said I was his “special” friend and that he wanted to feel closer to me and wanted me to make him feel special too. At times I was uncomfortable with some of the things he asked for but I had no one to talk to about this, no one to seek advice from as whenever I tried to speak to my Mother she was always “too tired” or had “better things to do” and so despite my reservations I continued to do as P asked, partly from fear of losing him and being lonely once more and partly due to fear of him; this went on for years with no one noticing, as far as everyone was concerned I was no longer annoying them and so I could be ignored.

If only someone had paid just that little bit more attention – I was prone to contracting  urinary tract infections, I was very quiet and withdrawn, I would disappear for hours on end yet no one put the pieces together as all they could see was that I was no longer annoying them and was, therefore, one less thing to worry about.

 

betrayed-quotes-sayings

I put off writing this section for some time, I even considered writing about a later point in my life and coming back to this later but I promised myself I would keep the chronology in order so as not to confuse things. This has been, without doubt, the most painful part of my life to write about. Not because of the horror of the event itself though, no, the pain comes from the knowledge that this is the point where I let so many people down. Of all the things that have gone wrong over the years this is the moment I would most like to return to in a time machine so that I could put things right and prevent other people being hurt.

I know I was young (I was 9 years of age by this time and had been in P’s thrall for nearly 4 years) but I had a fair idea of what was right and wrong, I knew P was not a good person but I chose to ignore it; my need for a friend was so great that I overlooked the things he did that I wasn’t comfortable with. I was also afraid of his darker side which I had seen on a few occasions and I didn’t want that unleashed on me so I went along with his requests as it seemed the easier thing to do. This went on for quite some time until one day it all became too much and I foolishly decided to fight back.

On this particular day I had gone round to P’s house after school, Q and K were in the house with another man I hadn’t seen before, they were all smoking in the living room and I remember that I could hardly see anyone as the whole room seemed to be full of fog from the smoke which had a sickly smell to it. P asked me to “snuggle” with him as usual and the others sat around laughing at me. When P was done the other man asked for his turn. It was at this point that I snapped, I felt sick to the pit of my stomach and I didn’t want to “snuggle” with this stranger. When the man came over to me I tried to push him off, he laughed and carried on going so I bit him as hard as I could. I have no idea where I got the idea from but it worked – he screamed in agony and started calling me an f’ing b*tch. The next thing I knew someone kicked me in the face followed by a blow to the side of the head. I went down on the floor like a lead weight. They continued kicking me and screaming at me then P said he would teach me a lesson – he would pull my teeth out. I have no idea what he was using but I could feel something metal scraping against my teeth as I struggled to get out of his grip, in the background I could still hear the other man screaming. I kept trying to break free and I had almost made it to the front door when P grabbed at my hair, the pain was intense and I fell to the floor again hitting my head against a radiator as I went down. I lay on the floor exhausted, I had no fight left in me at this point and when I felt someone kick me again I just stayed down. I heard K ask someone if I was still alive and then felt someone prod me and shout at me to get up but I stayed down, I figured if they thought I was dead they would leave me alone at last. After I had remained really still for what seemed like an eternity they began to think they had killed me or at the very least I was out cold. I heard them arguing amongst each other about what to do next, how to deal with this mess. Eventually I heard them go through to the back of the house so I picked myself up, crept out of the door ran as fast as I could.

I was running in a blind panic, not paying any attention to where I was going and so I didn’t see one of the neighbour’s reversing their car out of their driveway, I ran straight into the side of the car and bounced off it. I landed on some broken glass and cut my legs pretty badly, I tried to get up again and make a run for it but I was totally out of breath and I just sat there and cried. My neighbour got out of their car and screamed when they saw me, I was quite literally a bloody mess by this point. My neighbour then started crying and apologizing, saying they hadn’t seen me and asked if I was ok. Another neighbour then came out and started screaming about calling an ambulance and before long it seemed like half the street was out. I guess I was in a state of shock as I couldn’t say a word, I tried to speak but nothing came out. A lady came out of a house and said that she was a nurse; she asked what had happened and then asked someone to go and find my parents while she checked me out. I remember her asking me for my name and I just stared at her, still unable to speak. She started to look over my injuries and kept telling me to calm down, that it was ok, but I couldn’t stop crying. I don’t remember much about what happened next, I remember there being a lot of people talking at me but I couldn’t say anything. At some point I was transported home and the lady who said she was a nurse took me to the bathroom to get cleaned up, she said that I’d had a nasty knock but would be ok. My Mum kept asking me what I’d been thinking, why hadn’t I looked where I was going and did I know how bad our neighbour felt that they had hit me, that they could have killed me. I know I should have spoken up and explained what had really happened but I couldn’t say a word, no matter how I tried I couldn’t seem to catch my breath to speak. As an adult I know how bad that neighbour must have felt and I am so sorry I allowed them to think they had hit me and that they thought they had caused all my injuries.

The next day I was taken to the dentist for an emergency appointment as some of my teeth had been knocked loose.

The beginninchildhoodtraumag of my Dental Phobia

I was taken to the Dentist the day after my run in with P & Co, some of my teeth were loose and my parents wanted to get them checked out as they were adult teeth and so they were worried I might lose them. The entire day was traumatic and resulted in me not venturing into a dental surgery again for at least 7 years.

I had never been keen on going to the Dentist at the best of times, it usually resulted in pain of some description whenever I did go and this time it was ever more terrifying. I’m not entirely sure what it was that kicked off my massive tantrum but I do remember feeling like I absolutely had to get out of that place and no one was going to stop me.

I remember my Mother yelling at me to behave, someone trying to hold my head still and the Dentist looming over me as I tried to break free. I think the situation was just too close to what I had endured the day before and my confused brain got the idea that the Dentist was planning to finish the job that P & Co had started. I know it seems irrational but I don’t think I was capable of rational thought that day; all I could think of was that I needed to find a way to escape and get to a safe place. I am ashamed to say that I kicked the poor Dentist pretty hard in the stomach as he approached me, I know now that he was only trying to help but at the time I just saw him as a threat to fend off as best I could. My Mother was furious with me and slapped my legs pretty hard before holding them down. Thankfully the Dentist took the sensible approach to leave me alone and told my Mother that I should come back another time.

When we left we went immediately to my Grandparent’s house where my Mother told them how I had disgraced her whilst I sat in a corner and cried. I’m not entirely sure how it came about, I guess I had really pushed my poor Mother over the edge with this one, but a few hours later my Grandad asked if I would like to stay with them for a few days needless to say I was delighted with the idea. My Grandad said he would take my Mum home and get some of my things from the house but I started to panic again, I’ve no idea why but for some reason I felt like I wouldn’t be safe if Grandad wasn’t around and so in the end my Gran went with my Mum and I stayed with Grandad.

About a week later we tried to return to the Dentist, this time with a handwritten letter of apology from me however we only got as far as the reception desk before I started to feel very ill and vomited in the waiting area. We went away again, this time to the GP who told my Mother that I was probably in shock and should stay off school for at least another week until I had calmed down. For some reason I was happy enough to let him see my teeth, I think it was perhaps because he was sitting down when he spoke to me so I didn’t see him as a threat and I had seen the same GP since we had arrived in the area so I felt used to him. The GP said he wasn’t overly concerned by my teeth but that I should let the Dentist check them out when I was feeling better as one of them was very loose.

After the visit to the GP we went back to my Grandparents house and I was told that I would continue to stay with them while I was off school.

I can’t actually remember how long I stayed out of school for but at some point I was taken to a new school to meet the Headmaster there with a view to me joining the new school after the next set of holidays. No one really explained what was going on at the time but it seems my parents were getting quite a bit of hassle from the locals on the housing estate and it was decided that it wouldn’t be safe for me to go back there. I was told that my parents were in the process of buying a house nearer to my Grandparents, that I would be starting at a new school and in the meantime I would continue to stay with my Grandparents until everything was sorted.

During this time a couple of attempts were made to get me to the Dentist for a check up but every time it was even suggested I would have a melt down and eventually my Grandad said that the best thing to do was leave it until I felt I was ready to go. I think that with everything else going on the last thing they needed was for me to make a massive scene at the Dentist again and I wasn’t having any noticeable problems with my teeth, not any that I was letting on about anyway.

The new school was like a breath of fresh air, it was much bigger than my old school both in terms of the building and the number of children attending. What startled me the most though was the fact that everyone was excited that there was a new girl; they actually liked the idea that I was new and different and they wanted to be my friend. I made quite a few friends really quickly, it was wonderful to have genuine friends for a change and I was very happy there. My parents also bought a house, it was very small but it was in a really good neighbourhood and I moved in with them at the start of the summer holidays before I started high school. It was probably the best summer of my childhood, we were in a lovely area with beautiful parks all around us and we had a new family member – a pet dog.

Unfortunately the transition to High School was not an easy one and brought with it a whole new set of problems as my past began to catch up with me.

normal

There were 4 High Schools in the area I grew up in and so when my friends and I left Primary School we all went in different directions. Some of the friends I had went to the same High School as me but we were then further sub-divided into classes and there was not a single person in my class that I had known before. I found the first day pretty terrifying, I think that unless you have a good level of self-confidence High School is a nightmare. I did make a couple of friends on the first day, like me they were nervous and just wanted to get through the first day in one piece so we kept ourselves in the background and looked out for each other as best we could. I found High School very cliquey and it was difficult to find our niche within the myriad of cliques – we were not good looking enough to be in the pretty crowd, not clever enough to be in the academic crowd, not sporty in any sense of the word so we were totally unsuited to the sports crowd; in the end we made our own band of “misfits” and we were happy enough despite the regular ridicule from the other crowds.

I spent most weekends out walking my dog, reading fantasy novels or watching Star Trek movies on video, I absolutely loved Star Trek – it gave me hope in the dark days as this was a show that celebrated diversity and kindness to others. Although it was all very solitary I did enjoy it and I’m glad I didn’t succumb to the pressure to join any of the “in” crowds which would have involved having to watch soap operas, listen to mainstream music and spend money on clothes. My parents weren’t too happy about it, they wanted me to fit in better and integrate with the other teenagers but I didn’t want to be a fake in order to fit in, I wanted to be me, whoever that was.

It was during the later part of my first year at High School that I began to realise that P & Co’s behaviour had not been appropriate. We had a special series of lessons called “Personal and Social Education” which involved a guest speaker coming in every week to talk to us about bank accounts, careers advice etc. After a while the class was split between girls and boys as people came in to talk to us about puberty and relationships. I know it sounds strange but I had no frame of reference beforehand, no sense that I had the power to say no if I didn’t like something; I just went along with what P wanted as I felt beholden to him for protecting me from the other kids. When I did finally realise that it had been wrong I felt dirty and guilty that I had permitted it and I retreated ever further from the social scene as I began to think that people could tell I was unclean, like there was some kind of tell-tale mark on me that people could see. The one good thing to come out of it was that I threw myself into school work in order to take my mind off things and I found out that if I applied myself properly I was actually fairly intelligent. My grades improved dramatically and I was given a number of academic awards as I broke records for achieving high pass marks in end of year exams. I found that I loved science as much as I loved science-fiction and despite struggling with mathematics I did really well in Biology, Chemistry and Physics and decided to enroll in Tertiary education when I finished school at 16.

The-most-painful-goodbyes-are-the-ones-that-are-never-said-and-never-explained-5

Although school was going much better in the later years as I threw myself body and soul into studying life at home was not so good; my parents were not getting on well together and the tension was palpable with both of them being extremely short tempered. I started to spend more and more time at the local library which became my second home for quite some time, I liked the peace and quiet and access to so much knowledge it provided, it was my “safe place”. I also started to venture out further afield at the weekends as the travel company in the area I lived in offered an all-day “Rover” ticket for a mere £2 which was valid on all buses and trains in the region and so I began to explore new worlds and new civilizations (ok not quite on the scale of Star Trek but it felt exciting to me).

It was after a long day spent exploring that I came home to find my Mum sitting in the middle of the living room sobbing. I had never seen her like this before and I asked where my Dad was, she said, “He’s gone, and he’s not coming back.” For a moment I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying and I asked her where he had gone, she replied, “He’s gone to her.” By now I was completely baffled and had no idea what she was talking about so I asked her to explain what was going on, she told me that my Dad had come home from work and told her that he couldn’t carry on anymore, that he had been seeing someone else for quite some time and wanted to be with her. I was shell shocked, I had not seen this coming, perhaps I should have done but I didn’t.

My Grandparents arrived and I was told to go out and walk the dog while they spoke to my Mum. I must have walked the poor dog for miles in the darkness that night, I carried on walking because I didn’t want to go home; I didn’t know how to cope with this. Eventually my Grandad came out to find me and told me that everything would be ok, that he would come and help us out and we would all take care of each other.

Things between my Mum and I became very strained after Dad left and we both relied more and more on my Grandad for support, in fact it was the one thing we had in common.

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Things between my Mum and I became very strained after Dad left and we both relied more and more on my Grandad for support, in fact it was the one thing we had in common.

It was my Grandad that I turned to for help when I finally needed to see a Dentist again. I woke up one morning to find my upper gum was incredibly swollen and I felt dreadfully ill. My Mum was out at work at this time so I called my Grandad for help; he came round, looked at me and said I needed to get to the Dentist. Although the idea filled me with dread I knew he was right – something was very wrong.

When we got to the Dental Practice my Grandad went up to enquire about an emergency appointment. After a short wait one of the Dentists came out to speak to us, my Grandad asked if he could speak to him in private and he was taken into the exam room. I have no idea what it was my Grandad said to the Dentist but when he came out my Grandad said, “I’ve had a word with Dr X, he is going to take good care of you and I’m going to be right here if you need me.” The Dentist then invited me through to the exam room, I was shaking and crying as I went in, dreading what was going to happen next. The Dentist was absolutely lovely though, he told me that my Grandad had explained that I hadn’t been to the Dentist for some time and asked why that was. I tried to speak but was struggling because of the swelling on my gum, in the end all I managed to say was, “Scared.” He then asked if he could take a look in my mouth, I took a deep breath and said ok. The Dentist told me that my tooth had died and abscessed, it was one of the teeth that P had tried to remove years ago. He explained that I would need to have a hole drilled in the tooth to allow the abscess to drain and that I would need to come back to have it cleaned out thoroughly before having a crown fitted, he said it would take quite a few appointments to fix it but if I didn’t get it fixed properly the infection would spread and make me very ill.

The Dentist wasn’t overly dramatic but it was clear that I would not get better unless I had treatment.

Looking back I can’t help but wonder if the Dentist had studied psychology or if he was just very perceptive as he asked me if I was ok to have my Grandad in the treatment room with me, the reason he gave was that he didn’t want my Grandad to worry about me. I was delighted by this as I desperately wanted him to come in and hold my hand but had been too terrified to ask if it was ok. My faith in the Dentist was well and truly cemented when we returned to reception to make a follow up appointment; the Dentist walked back to reception with us and told the receptionist to book me in again for further work over the course of the next few weeks, the receptionist then looked at me and said, “Hopefully you will keep these appointments as I see you’ve missed quite a few reminders from us over the years and see what a mess that has got you into.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see my Grandad was fuming and getting ready to say something but before he did the Dentist said, “Actually this has nothing to do with missing appointments, this is just one of those things that can unfortunately happen and it will be fixed up just fine, now please make the appointments I requested.” My Grandad shook hands with the Dentist and thanked him; he then told the receptionist that he would ensure I attended the appointments. Although I was grateful for what the Dentist had said I also wanted to die of embarrassment because I knew deep down the receptionist had a point. I regret that I never did thank the Dentist for his kind words, he has no idea what a difference that made to me that day.

The Dentist wasn’t overly dramatic but it was clear that I would not get better unless I had treatment.

Looking back I can’t help but wonder if the Dentist had studied psychology or if he was just very perceptive as he asked me if I was ok to have my Grandad in the treatment room with me, the reason he gave was that he didn’t want my Grandad to worry about me. I was delighted by this as I desperately wanted him to come in and hold my hand but had been too terrified to ask if it was ok. My faith in the Dentist was well and truly cemented when we returned to reception to make a follow up appointment; the Dentist walked back to reception with us and told the receptionist to book me in again for further work over the course of the next few weeks, the receptionist then looked at me and said, “Hopefully you will keep these appointments as I see you’ve missed quite a few reminders from us over the years and see what a mess that has got you into.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see my Grandad was fuming and getting ready to say something but before he did the Dentist said, “Actually this has nothing to do with missing appointments, this is just one of those things that can unfortunately happen and it will be fixed up just fine, now please make the appointments I requested.” My Grandad shook hands with the Dentist and thanked him; he then told the receptionist that he would ensure I attended the appointments. Although I was grateful for what the Dentist had said I also wanted to die of embarrassment because I knew deep down the receptionist had a point. I regret that I never did thank the Dentist for his kind words, he has no idea what a difference that made to me that day.

It was some years later that I realised what an impact my silence had on so many other people. I had not blissfully forgotten about it but I was at a point where I was more comfortable with life. I was studying at Tertiary College which I was really enjoying and I had begun to integrate with the other students, I was still spending most weekends alone or out with my dog on long walks but I was getting better at being around other people.  That changed dramatically when I received a letter from the Police asking me to contact them at my convenience in order to assist with an enquiry. It came completely out of the blue and my first reaction was to wonder what I had done wrong. I went along to the local Police Station with the letter and spoke to a Police Officer on the desk there, he went away to make some calls and then came back and asked if I would be able to go a different, larger Police Station, in another town. I said I could get a bus along and asked if he knew why I needed to go there, what had I done? I’ll never forget the way he looked at me – almost as if he was about to cry and then he let out a deep sigh before saying, “You haven’t done anything wrong petal but there’s Detective in X Station that needs to speak to you about an investigation they are conducting as you might have witnessed something and be able to help them.” I asked what it was I might have witnessed but he wouldn’t tell me anything more, he offered to arrange for transport to the other Station and said I was welcome to take a friend or relative with me if I wanted to; he kept re-iterating that I wasn’t in any trouble and that I shouldn’t worry about it which actually made me feel more nervous rather than reassured.

Eventually I told the Officer that I would just get a bus along and he said he would phone ahead so that they were aware I would be coming in. I didn’t for a minute contemplate that it could have had anything to do with P&Co, I’ve no idea why but it was in actual fact the furthest thing from my mind at that point.

Despite the fact that they had been expecting me I was kept waiting for what seemed like an eternity when I arrived albeit it was probably only five minutes in reality. In the end a lady came out to speak to me and asked if I was ok to talk to her for a while in private. We went into a room which had armchairs in; it was like someone’s living room and not at all what I expected. She introduced herself and asked me some basic questions about my age, address and so on. She then told me that I might not remember much about what they needed to speak to me about as it was a long time ago. My first thought was that it was about the arson attack on the take-away were my first friend from school had lived with her parents. She then brought out some photographs of P, K, Q and some other men that I didn’t recognize she asked me if I remembered them from the estate where I used to live, they looked different to how I remembered them but I knew them alright. I could hardly breathe let alone speak and the lady’s voice seemed to come from a long way away when she asked if I was ok, it was like she was speaking to me from the end of a tunnel. I nodded my head and she asked me again if I knew them, I nodded again as my mind started to recall all the things we had done, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in big trouble despite everyone’s reassurances and I decided that I would say as little as possible. She asked me how I knew them and if I could recall any interactions I had with them, she said it was ok if I couldn’t remember anything as it was a long time ago and I said I barely remembered them but I did know of them.

She then told me that she had some distressing news for me and asked if I wanted to call anyone in to support me, I didn’t understand where this was going but I declined her offer, I couldn’t think of anyone I could call and I told her as much. She explained to me that they had arrested all of these people and that during a search of their property they found a number of items relating to child pornography which included Polaroid photographs and that I had been in some of the photographs. She asked if I had any memory of photographs being taken of me and told me that I may not remember any of it as they had also found evidence that they had been using strong sedatives in fizzy drinks and milkshakes which they had been giving to kids on the estate in order to make them forget things. I remembered all those delicious milkshakes that K had given me over the years and I felt very, very sick. I had no memory of a Polaroid camera but I did remember drinking plenty milkshakes, I asked the lady what had been in the photographs and she told me that I wouldn’t be able to see them as they were evidence in an ongoing case and they had not yet identified everyone. At that point I finally realised how bad this was, I asked her how many other local kids had been involved and she said they couldn’t tell me but it appeared that they had been doing this for some time. She asked me again if she could call someone to support me as it was a lot to take in but I said no, I didn’t want anyone. She asked me again if I remembered anything that had happened during my interactions with P&Co and to this day I have no idea why but I told her I couldn’t remember anything, I think I wanted it to just all go away and thought that if I could bury it then I wouldn’t be bothered by it. She kept reassuring me that it was ok if I couldn’t remember anything and told me that they had already been charged with a number of offences which would hopefully ensure they got a long prison sentence, it was at that point that I realised what an impact my remaining silent had on other people – if I had said something earlier then all these people could have been spared. I know it wasn’t my fault that others suffered but I feel ashamed that I didn’t help, I was too wrapped up in my own feelings to consider the possible repercussions of my silence.

The lady gave me a card and asked me to call her if there was anything I remembered and assured me that I was not in any trouble nor did they think there was any danger in my coming forward with information. She then advised me to see a doctor and get a well woman check up as a precautionary measure, I didn’t really understand what she meant at first but she then explained that it would be wise to get checked for possible STIs and blood borne diseases, she told me that if I didn’t want to go to my GP then they could recommend a specialist clinic that would do the tests in confidence. I asked her if there was a likelihood that I had caught something from them and she said she couldn’t say but that it would be prudent to get checked out and try to get access to support.

I left the Police station in something of a daze with a bundle of leaflets and telephone numbers. When I got home I went to my bedroom and tried to make sense of everything, I was all over the place emotionally – tearful one minute and angry the next. I wish I had been able to speak to someone at that point but I had no one to turn to.

PTSD

It is only very recently that I have come to understand that I have suffered from PTSD and anxiety for quite some time and although there is still a stigma around mental health I actually feel comfortable knowing that there is a reason I feel the way I do and that there is support available.

I have been hyper-vigilant ever since the attack by P & Co, I never feel comfortable in a room unless I can see the exit, I do not like people sitting or walking behind me and am often jumping at my own shadow, in the past I had always put this down to being a “born worrier” and it was no big deal but when I had my first flashback episode I thought I had gone totally mad.

I understand now how it was brought about and why it happened but at the time I was terrified and it led to me avoiding any dental treatment for over 20 years.

It was a few days after my interview with the Police that I went to the Hygienist for a clean which had been recommended after my latest check up appointment, I had been to the Hygienist before so I knew what to expect and was no more anxious than usual despite the conversation I’d had in the preceding days. Whilst in the waiting room I saw another patient reading a story in the local newspaper about P & Co’s recent arrest, I have no idea why they wanted to engage me in conversation but when I sat down they started to rant about what “evil b*st*rds” P & Co were and how had no one done anything about it, surely someone knew about it. I know they were just incensed by what had happened but I felt like they were asking me to answer for it, almost as if they were saying, “Why didn’t you say something? You could have prevented this! Why did you not speak up?”

I started to feel sick and dizzy, I wanted to ask for a glass of water but just as I was about to approach the receptionist to ask I heard someone call my name and looked up to see someone I didn’t recognize; she introduced herself as the new Hygienist and invited me into the treatment room. I am guessing that she had not read any background notes about me as she told me to sit down immediately which was not the way I usually did things, whenever I had attended previously I would have a brief conversation with whoever was treating me and then sit down. I remained standing and she got quite short tempered with me and said, “Come on, I haven’t got all day you know, let’s get a move on.” My anxiety levels were approaching stratospheric levels by this point but I sat down as asked and she gave me a disclosing tablet to chew on. Once I was done she looked into my mouth and started “tutting” at me, I can’t remember exactly what she said but it was something along the lines of, “Have you not learned your lesson yet, you’ve had all this work done and still your teeth are coated in plaque. This will take quite a bit of cleaning, you really should take better care or you’ll lose all your teeth if you’re not careful.” She then handed me the mirror so I could see for myself, I looked in the mirror and all I could see was red dripping from my teeth, like they were bleeding and then all of a sudden I could taste blood in my mouth, the next thing I knew I was transported back to the day P & Co turned on me, I re-lived the whole thing again like I was actually there – it was a full sensory experience which included smells and sounds, the only way I can describe it is that it was like I had been put into a time vortex and spat out on that very day.

When I came back to reality I was sitting in the waiting room and everyone was staring at me, the receptionist had a glass of water in her hand that she was trying to give me but I couldn’t move, I felt frozen with fear and my mind was racing with questions – how had I got there? What did I do? Had I said or done anything I shouldn’t have? The receptionist kept repeating my name over and over but I just stared at her like a mute, eventually she said, “I think you should go home now and come back another time, we are way behind scheduled thanks to your silly antics.” I got up without saying a word, left the building and never, ever returned. It was some 20 years later before I got the courage together to visit another dental practice.

It took me quite some time to recover from my melt down at the Dental Practice, I spent most of that time either walking my dog or watching Star Trek videos. As daft as it may sound my dog was the one thing that kept me going during those dark days – the fact that she relied on me to take her out for exercise and feed her gave me a reason to keep getting up every morning and keep moving. I’ve no doubt that the exercise I got from walking her and the feeling of companionship most likely prevented me from sinking into the darkest depths of depression.

Eventually I plucked up the courage to attend for a Well Woman check up, I couldn’t face the idea of going to my GP and explaining things to him so I phoned one of the places that the Police had given me a leaflet for.

I was absolutely petrified when I went along but they were fantastic, they were very patient with me and explained everything they did in simple terms. The worst part was that some tests took longer than others so I had quite a long wait before I was able to get all the results back. In the end I tested negative for blood borne diseases but unfortunately I had developed Pelvic Inflammatory Disease which had most likely been caused by an untreated STI. The result of this was that I had sustained damage to my fallopian tubes and I was told that I would most likely have difficulty conceiving naturally. At the time this didn’t bother me as the thought of starting a family was the last things on my mind – I hadn’t even had a boyfriend at this point let alone started to think about having children. I was much more worried about Hepatitis and HIV infection which thankfully all came back negative after an agonising wait. However in years to come the PID issue did cause a number of problems, particularly with regards relationships.

A Day In Court

I really don’t know why I decided to go to Court that day, I wish I had just kept my head down and stayed out of it but I guess curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to see justice being done. In the end I just made things a lot worse for someone and I will always regret that. I frequently look back and wonder if I really could have been of any help, my rational mind thinks that I probably wouldn’t have been able to help them but I can’t shake the doubt that my actions on that day precipitated things.

On the day I went they were still hearing evidence from the Prosecution and I got to hear the extent of what they had done to other kids from the estate in more recent years. I couldn’t see much of the evidence from the public gallery but it was described in enough detail to make me feel ill and I decided I needed to leave and get some fresh air. I had been told I could leave at any time I wanted to as long as I was quiet so I decided to get up before any witnesses were called as I didn’t think I could face seeing any of the other victims knowing how badly I had failed them. Just as I left I caught the eye of a man sitting in the back rows, he got up and followed me outside which instantly made me nervous and on edge. He called after me and asked me if I knew him, I said no and he asked if I had lived on the estate 10 years ago. I started to panic and decided to deny everything; I told him that I had just come in to see what a court room looked like while I was in the city for a day trip. He looked really despondent at this and apologised profusely, he told me that he had mistaken me for someone he thought lived on the estate where P & Co were from and that he had been wanting to talk to someone about what happened. I felt really bad for behaving like a Judas towards him and was about to tell him the truth when another man came over to us and introduced himself as being a reporter for what I can only describe as a gutter-press publication. He asked if we knew P & Co, I said no and left very quickly leaving the two men together.

I’ll never forget the look on his face, he looked like he was carrying a very heavy burden, probably more than I could have possibly hoped to help with but I’ll never know as unfortunately he committed suicide a few weeks after the trial, I found out about it when I saw his photograph in the obituaries column of the local newspaper. I don’t know the true story but I heard from the local gossips that in his suicide note he said that he had been a long-term victim of P & Co’s sordid games and had been unable to cope with what happened. I know I am not responsible for what P & Co did to him but I really wish I had not turned away from him when I saw him in Court that day, I could have at least tried to help him but I didn’t and I will never be able to forgive myself for that.

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After my encounter in the courtroom I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to leave town and start afresh somewhere new. Fortunately for me I was in receipt of a number of offers from Universities across the UK and in the end my decision was made based on which institution was furthest away from where I lived, I believed that if I could get far enough away then I would be able to leave it all behind, unfortunately it really doesn’t work like that.

Before I could leave I had to face up to the worst part of having a pet – saying a final goodbye. My dog was now at quite advanced in age and both my Mum and Step Dad were worried that they would be left with the tough decision of when to call the vet in and so they asked me to consider having her put to sleep before I left as the decision should be mine. I agreed to have her assessed by the Vet and they advised me that she wouldn’t last much longer and that she would pine terribly when I left so I agreed to book her in to be put to sleep the following week. Despite the fact that that my Grandad and the Vet kept telling me that it was for the best as she was clearly in pain I half hoped that she would pass away naturally before the day came and thus save me the horrible duty.

In order to try to distract me from the horrible task awaiting me I decided to arrange a farewell get together for my college friends. I had three friends at College, M, B and S although S had left our course early due to ill health I remained in touch with her outside of college and she had become a very close friend and confident. I met M and B for lunch in town and we had a great time, we were all full of excitement and hope for the next chapter in our lives and promised to keep in touch despite the distance.

I had arranged to see S at her home as she was too ill to make it out for lunch with M and B but unfortunately the day before I was to go and see her I got a call from her husband telling me that she had been moved into a Hospice as her health had declined very suddenly. The news was devastating; we knew that she wasn’t going to recover from her illness but no one had expected her to decline as quickly as she did. S’s husband told me that she was sleeping most of the time and was refusing visitors other then him as she didn’t want people to see her looking as poorly as she did, she preferred it that we all remembered her as she had been when we had last seen her. Whilst I totally understand and respect what she wanted I wish I had been able to see her one last time just to tell her how much she meant to me.

I had my appointment with the Vet a couple of days later. On the day I took my dog for one final walk before getting a bus to the Vet’s, it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it would be, I was allowed to stay with her right up until the end which was very peaceful and I remained calm throughout; it wasn’t until I came out afterwards that I broke down in tears. I sat around in the park for a good while and then went home. When I got home there was a message on the answer-phone from S’s husband to tell me that she had passed away that morning, although it was only 2pm in the afternoon I went straight to my bed and cried myself to sleep.

S’s funeral took place two days before I left town, I’m pretty sure I was still hungover when I boarded the train that would take me to my new life but I was also full of hope that I would be able to re-invent myself somewhere new where no one knew about me.

As I said before, when I boarded the train to take me to my new life I had high hopes that I would be able to re-invent myself and leave my history behind. I didn’t have wild dreams that I would change radically though, no, I just wanted to be average, nothing special – just plain average and above all normal.

One of the good things about starting out at University is that everyone else is in the same situation – everyone feels like a fish out of water and wants to make connections with others so it was fairly easy for me to introduce myself to others as there were so many opportunities to do so. I made friends with a fairly wide group of people quite quickly and got invited to a number of nights out, it felt good to be one of “the gang” and I was pleased that I was integrating with the other students. One of my big hopes was that I would finally have a consensual adult relationship with someone, I know I was still young (19) but I was genuinely beginning to think that spinsterhood awaited me as I had never even had so much as a sneaky snog at the school disco let alone go on a date with anyone. I wasn’t looking for “the one” but I did yearn for a boyfriend so that I could fit in with society’s expectation of me and prove to myself that I was normal and well adjusted despite everything that had happened. In hindsight I was rather naive in thinking that it would be plain sailing as it was anything but.

“D” was my first “proper” boyfriend, he was on the same University course as me and I developed a terribly obvious crush on him from the moment we met, I thought he was charming and charismatic but I didn’t dare say anything about my feelings for fear of rejection and the accompanying humiliation that would ensue. In the end it was D that made the first move, we usually went out for lunch as a group every Friday but on this particular day it was just D and I as the others were busy. We talked for hours, well into the evening and he told me that he would like to go on a date with me but had been afraid to ask in case I wasn’t interested; I was over the moon and naturally said yes. Our first date was dinner at a restaurant in town and D drove me home afterwards, I had my first kiss in his car and it was everything I had hoped it would be. I spent the next day on cloud nine, I was so happy that someone actually found me attractive and wanted to spend time with me.

We had another couple of lunch dates and then D suggested I stay over in his dorm room the next Friday night. Although I felt I was ready to spend the night with D I was still a bit nervous about it, I had told him it would be my first time and he had been surprised to hear that but told me we would take things slowly.

Everything was going fine at first and I was comfortable with the pace but then I had a panic attack when D asked me to give him a blow job, everything went pear shaped very quickly and I had what can only be described as the most humiliating night of my life. Up until that point everything had been perfect – we were snuggling and making out like normal teenagers and then D asked me to go down on him; I knelt down on the floor and he grabbed the back of my head and started to shove my face into his groin which, before I could even take a moment to think about it, sent me into a state of overwhelming panic.

It was like a primal instinct had taken over me and I felt I no longer had control of myself as I roared out, “no!” and shoved him away from me. I was quite surprised by the force I exerted but then of course I was no longer a pudgy nine year old girl, I was a pretty hefty 5ft 7inch tall adult in a blind panic and D was a somewhat rangy man so he stood no chance against me. Thankfully he didn’t hit anything when he toppled over; he was more confused than anything as to how the mood had taken such a sudden turn. I was horrified with myself and burst into tears immediately; I sat on the floor with a sheet wrapped around me and sobbed for ages while D tried to ask me what he had done wrong. Eventually I calmed down sufficiently to be able to speak to him; I explained that I had been the victim of sexual abuse as a child and that when he grabbed my head I had panicked and thought he was going to attack me. He was silent for quite a while and then asked me if I was ok, I said I was fine and that I was really sorry for pushing him but I hadn’t expected to have that reaction, I thought it would be ok. He offered to call a cab to take me back to my lodgings but I declined and said I would walk as it wasn’t that far, I apologized over and over and he said it was ok although I could tell it wasn’t as he was keeping his distance from me; he clearly thought I was wasn’t safe to be around. I gathered my things as quickly as I could and went to the bathroom to sort myself out then said a brief goodbye, apologized yet again and left.

I didn’t see D again for almost a week, I’m pretty sure he was deliberately avoiding me as he would arrive late for lectures and would leave immediately afterwards. I eventually caught up with him in the Student Union bar; I went to speak to him just after he had ordered a drink so I could be sure he wouldn’t make some excuse to leave. I asked him if he had been avoiding me and he denied it, I told him I didn’t blame him if he had and apologized for my behaviour yet again. He apologized for not checking up on me over the weekend, he made a pretty feeble excuse about being busy and I asked him where we should go from here. He said he wanted to remain friends but no more than that as he didn’t think he could deal with my “problem” and that I should go and speak to someone qualified to deal with it. My heart was broken but I wanted to maintain at least some semblance of dignity so I downed my drink, said thank you and walked away just as the tears started to roll down my cheeks, as I left I saw some of my friends coming in, they asked if I was ok I said yes and hurried off home.

Thankfully D didn’t say anything to any of our friends about what had happened and we tried to carry on as before but it was hard work as I could tell D didn’t like being around me anymore unless others were there. It made me feel like I was some dangerous animal and once again I started to retreat into myself and withdraw from the company of others.

I wish I had taken D’s advice and spoken to someone but the truth is I just didn’t know where to turn to for help so I tried to handle it all myself which just didn’t work.

fear

After my humiliating night with D things went downhill pretty rapidly. I tried to put it behind me but I began to feel that I was no longer safe to be around other people in case I took fright again and caused someone some serious damage. I was horrified with myself for hurting D, more so because I had felt I had no control over what I did and couldn’t be sure that it wouldn’t happen again. I felt that it was better for others if I kept to myself and so once again I withdrew from the social circle. I had expected the old adage of “time heals all wounds” to be true but no matter how many years passed I was still being dogged by the same fears that had haunted me since I was a child. I felt unable to trust anyone – least of all myself I felt like I was living in a constant state of alertness, always looking out for danger in any situation. I was in effect living in a prison of my own making – a prison called fear.

My personal tutor noticed the marked change in my demeanour and recommended that I go and speak to the Campus Counsellor. It was the first time I had attended counselling and I wasn’t comfortable with it – I found it very difficult to try to describe how I felt when I couldn’t even figure out how I was feeling myself and I didn’t entirely trust the counsellor so I disclosed very little information about what was going on. The counsellor thought I was still grieving the loss of S and they recommended that I finished up early for Christmas and spent some time at home in the hope that I would come back refreshed in the New Year. It was actually quite a pleasant Christmas break; my Mum was in a pretty good frame of mind and seemed pleased to see me and an old school friend sought me out to reconnect with me, we had a lovely time catching up and I spent boxing day with her and her family having fun and relaxing, for the first time in ages I felt comfortable in the company of other people.

I returned to University in the New Year feeling energised and ready to pick things up again however it didn’t last. I found it very difficult to concentrate in lectures and as I had missed quite a few lectures I had fallen behind with a number of assignments which I was struggling to catch up on. I was also getting into very dire straits financially; I had used up my student grant within the first few months of the course and had now maxed out two credit cards. I decided it was time to try and find some employment in order to improve my fiscal health, I was lucky in that I managed to get an evening job fairly easily but it became difficult to keep a balance between the job and lectures. I started to feel persistently tired and worn out and this only served to fuel my anxiety as I felt unable to keep going and was acutely aware that I wasn’t giving either University or my emplpoyer the best of me, I felt like I was letting everyone down. I coasted for a while but it was like I was a zombie, I was not performing well in anything – sometimes the best I could manage was to make an appearance and eventually I decided that I needed to go home again and take some time out to re-evaluate things.

I didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms when I called my Mother and told her I wanted to come home for a while as things weren’t working out for me but nor did I expect her cold response, she said, “It’s not really convenient right now, we thought you had left for good and were planning to redecorate the house.” Thankfully my Step Dad overruled her and told me I was welcome to come back for as long as I needed and so I filled up my bags and headed home again feeling like a complete and utter failure.

Accept

My parents were, quite rightly, very clear that I would not be spending my time at home navel gazing all day long so I got a job as a cashier in a service station. It was only part-time hours but it brought money in and gave me a start towards clearing the mountain of debt I was in as well as paying rent money to my parents. The work was easy enough and there was a good variety of people coming in each day which kept me occupied although I knew it was not what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. After a few months I decided to enroll in a local University which agreed to transfer the credits I had gained at the previous University.  The course had a lot less lecture hours (12 hours a week) than my previous course and as some of the lectures took place in the evenings this meant I was able to keep my part time job.

It was while working at the Service Station that I met R, the man who became my husband and almost broke me altogether. The strange thing about my relationship with R is that it took me a long time to realise that it was an abusive relationship. I had always believed that I would never allow myself to end up in another abusive relationship; I promised myself that I wouldn’t put up with anyone abusing me ever again, but I did. It’s clear to me now that I accepted R’s behaviour towards me because my self esteem was very low, this was why I never questioned his logic when he blamed me for his outbursts of aggression.

R was a long-term, regular customer at the Service Station I worked in. He would stop in everyday to get fuel for his works van and always chatted with the staff. I found him to be very charming and engaging and I always looked forward to him stopping by as it was good to have someone to speak to every now and again as most other customers practically filled up their cars and then threw money at you before rushing off leaving you feeling like a piece of crap.

At Christmas R bought me an extravagant gift of jewellery which I was bowled over by, everyone else in the Service Station told me that he was clearly besotted with me but I didn’t believe them, I couldn’t believe that anyone would want to be with me.

R asked me out just after Christmas and we went out for drinks at a local bar after one of my weekend shifts. He behaved like a true gentleman during our first date, he listened attentively to me as I told him that things hadn’t worked out like I planned and I had returned home again to start over, that I was at University and hoped that I would get a good job when I finished. He told me about his job and plans for the future and that he hoped to find someone to share it with before he got too old (I found out that he was 10 years my senior but that didn’t bother me at the time). After a few more dates he asked me if I wanted to stay over at his place, after my disastrous night with D I decided I had better warn R beforehand. I told him that I would like to stay but that I was very nervous about it as I had been abused as a child and found intimacy very difficult. He asked me questions about what had happened and I told him as little as I thought he needed to know. R then asked me if I had seen a doctor, at first I was confused as to what he meant by that but then he said, “Are you clean? Did you get any diseases from your abusers?” I told him about having had PID and that, other than that, I was ok. He told me he needed to think about this for a while and we called it a night. I fully expected that I wouldn’t hear from him again and I didn’t blame him, who would want to take on someone with my history?

R called me the next day and said he wanted to meet for a coffee, I was surprised but excited and agreed to meet him the next day. He told me that he had thought long and hard about what I told him.  He told me that he had a strong desire to have children of his own one day and the fact that I was unlikely to be able to was difficult for him to accept but he liked me enough to overlook this. I was absolutely delighted to hear this, it was like I had been granted a stay of execution – in actual fact I had given him his first round of ammunition against me. I should have called a halt to things there and then but quite frankly I was so grateful that anyone would give me a second glance that I fell into a trap of trying to please him all the time as I didn’t want to be alone.

I started staying over at weekends and things went ok, there were no flashbacks, no panic attacks, it was all ok. Things at home though were not so good, I was clearly cramping my parents style – my Mum would frequently ask me if I could move into halls of residence at the University rather than commute each day. I wasn’t keen on this as I was still in a huge amount of debt and knew that more would ensue as I had to buy books. I started to stay over with R more and more frequently and after a few months he asked me to move in with him but only as his fiancee. I was absolutely delighted – I would get out of my parents hair and cement my relationship with R. Instead of being the beginning of something wonderful it became the start of a nightmare period from which I couldn’t see a way out.

R had a bit of a jealous streak from the outset, he didn’t like the idea of me having male friends and would always want to accompany me if I went out with male friends from university or work. At first I thought it was endearing as it meant that he thought I was good looking enough that someone else might fancy me and I felt good about it but over time he became so overbearing that my friends backed off as they didn’t feel comfortable in his company. If I did go out without him he would phone constantly to ask what I was doing or would sulk when I left him home alone. Eventually I stopped going out and spent time in the house with R instead, he would constantly tell me how lucky I was that he was willing to put up with me and that I wouldn’t find anyone else willing to be with me given that I was unlikely to ever be able to have children and I believed him.

R also had a very violent temper and would fly off the handle at the slightest thing, he would tell me that it was always my fault for not doing it right or not doing it when he wanted it done. Again I never questioned the logic of this – instead I modified my behaviour to please him and so prevent any violent outbursts. The level of violence increased in such small increments that I barely noticed, he started by throwing things around, knocking over furniture and then breaking things that were important to me such as a tea cup that S had bought me for my birthday, it was a beautiful cup with a poem inscribed on it and he smashed it in front of me because his dinner hadn’t been ready for him arriving home one night.

Despite all these things I married him, I truly wish I hadn’t but I seemed to be propelled into a course of action that I could see no way out of. I think deep down I didn’t want the humiliation of calling the wedding off, I didn’t want to be seen as a failure. I hated my wedding day, hardly anyone came outside of immediate family and that was because I couldn’t think of anyone to invite, I was practically friendless by this point because of R controlling me.

R treated the wedding certificate as some kind of proof of ownership of me. He wouldn’t let me go anywhere unless I had “permission” from him and had told him exactly who would be there and if they were single or not.

Things got very ugly when I got a new job in an office, my new colleagues were very sociable and always organising work nights out which led to many clashes between myself and R. I confided in a work colleague and she told me that R was an abusive spouse, I tried to deny it as he had never hit me but she told me that this was irrelevant as it would only be a matter of time before it escalated to that. She put me in touch with another colleague in a different department who had fled an abusive spouse the previous year and she told me about her relationship, a story which mirrored my own. With the support of my colleagues the scales slowly fell from my eyes and I realised that R’s behaviour was not right. I started to challenge some of his outbursts but this led to his rage increasing and he told me that “those whores” (my work colleagues) were “putting ideas into my head”.

Unfortunately my colleague had been right – it was only a matter of time before he hit me and that was when I found out that blood might be thicker than  water but friendship is thicker than anything.

Family

I know that I have, at times, been disparaging about some members of my family. This has never been intentional on my part as I don’t blame them for anything that happened during my formative years – they were all doing the best they could under the circumstances; however I do harbour feelings of anger towards them for the way they treated me following the break down of my marriage. The people that I thought I could rely on turned their backs on me when I needed them the most and left me with very complex issues around feeling abandoned. I was incredibly lucky that I had some good people, who were not related to me, that helped me through the incredibly difficult time and I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for those people I would not have made it through at all.

Although I was doing well at University and was enjoying my part-time office job life at home was not good; it seemed that the more I grew in confidence the more violent and controlling my husband became. There was very little left in the house that hadn’t been smashed up by him during one row or another which usually revolved around me not doing what a “proper” wife should do. I felt like I was walking on egg shells trying to make him happy and prevent any outbursts of rage and I knew that this was not what a healthy marriage should be like but I was scared to make a move as I didn’t know where I could go. My work colleague told me that I should contact the Women’s Refuge but I didn’t feel I deserved a place there as he had not actually hit me. I had been caught in the cross fire of him throwing things and had cut myself on a number of occasions when picking up pieces of broken ceramics and glass but I believed that this was my own fault for setting off his temper and being in the way when it erupted. After each and every eruption he would remind me how lucky I was that he was willing to put up with me, that no one else would want me given my past and that I needed to appreciate him more and not make him angry. I fell for this every single time.

Eventually things escalated to a new level and thanks to the intervention of some work colleagues I finally got out. I had been on a night out with work colleagues to see a show in town which had started later than planned due to a fire alarm going off which interrupted the show. I had told my husband that I would be home at 10am, in the end I got home at 10.35pm and he was livid, he accused me of having an affair with a work colleague, of being a whore and many other hurtful things. I tried to explain what had happened but he was off on a full scale rant which plunged new depths as he accused me of having enjoyed the abuse I suffered as a child.  He told me I had been born a prostitute and that was all I knew how to do – offer sex in return for favours. He then went to smash up my model of the Star Ship Enterprise which was the last remaining item that meant anything to me in the entire house – it had been presented to me as a prize in a competition and I was so proud of it I couldn’t bear the thought of him smashing it. I tried to make a grab for it but he pushed me away and I fell down the stairs hitting my head on the heater at the foot of the stairs, the broken pieces of the Enterprise were thrown down after me along with even more insults.

The next day I went to work with a cut and a massive bruise on the side of my head, my colleague knew immediately what had happened and wanted to call the Police but I refused. A short time later my boss called me into his office and told me that he didn’t know what had happened but he knew enough to tell me that I shouldn’t return home and offered to give me a lift to anywhere else but home. I broke down in tears and told him what had happened, that I didn’t know what to do or where to go but that he was right, I didn’t want to go home ever again. Another colleague came forward and offered me a sofa to sleep on for a few nights until I could sort something else out as her children were staying with their grandparents for a new nights. I gratefully accepted the kind offer and my boss told us we could both leave early as he would draft in support from elsewhere for our shift that day. My boss then made a few phone calls and within an hour he had arranged for a male colleague to drive my colleague and I to my house to get some things and then drive to my colleagues house to get settled for the night. I was amazed at the level of support offered – no one had ever been this kind to me before.

I was so grateful to have my work colleague with me when I went to grab my things – my mind was blank as to what I needed but she was practical and gave me a list of essential items which I threw into a bin bag and then left the house.

The next few days were a nightmare; I went to see my parents to tell them what had happened and that I had left. My Mum told me they had no room for me to stay with them and suggested that I should go and register as homeless at the local Council Office. I then went to see my Grandmother in the hope that she would let me stay in her spare bedroom until I could see someone at the Council. I didn’t tell her what had happened to make me leave, I only told her that things weren’t working out and I had decided to leave. I didn’t get the reaction I expected, she told me that I was disgraceful for leaving my husband, that I should go back to him and make it right. I told her that it wasn’t going to work out, that we weren’t right for each other but she insisted I should stick it out and that I would get no help from her if I refused to go back to him. I left in tears and went back to stay another night on my colleague’s sofa; promising her that I would be out of her way the next day as I would go to the homeless shelter the next day. She told me it was fine and arranged for her own kids to stay on another night at her parents’ house but I felt dreadful, I was disrupting her family life and it wasn’t fair to them. I swore to myself that I would not return the next day until I had found alternative accommodation.

The next day I went to Citizens Advice, the news wasn’t good – as I was a registered student I would not qualify for any benefits, nor would I be considered a priority for housing by the Local Council, they told me that as I was single and without children I could expect to wait for up to 18 months to be housed in a local authority scheme. They gave me a list of private landlords and the address of the emergency homeless shelter. I went to the homeless shelter but they were full for that night, they asked me if I had somewhere to stay and I said that I could probably eke out another night on my work colleagues sofa but that I had promised I would leave by now, they were very sympathetic but unable to help.  I got back in my car and headed off towards my colleagues house to tell her I had failed to get anything, part way there I pulled into a local Country Park to sit in the car park and have a think about things. Whilst there it occurred to me that I could just huddle down in the car – I had a travel kettle and a sleeping bag in my bin bag that was stuffed behind the sofa at my work colleagues house and so I went back, told her that I had got a room in the shelter for the night and would be out of her way that evening. My colleague made me some dinner and then went to collect her children whilst I sorted out my belongings and got the car ready for the night.

Thus began my three month stint as a nomad and an outcast from my own family.

Homeless

Whilst I am relieved that I got through three months of sleeping rough I am in no way proud of what I did to survive; although I didn’t resort to theft or begging at any time I did go scouring taxi ranks, phone boxes and parking meters for dropped change and I retrieved discarded take-aways from bins because I was desperate to eat something other than a cup-a-soup or pot noodle.  On some occasions, when seeking day time shelter in a cafe, I would pick a recently vacated table and eat the remnants of whatever was left on the plates before someone came to clear them away. In short I behaved like a scavenger and I am ashamed of this.

I felt that, as my own family had turned their backs on me, I didn’t deserve to have anyone care about me. My family believed everything that my husband told them – that my work colleagues had turned me against him, that they were filling my head with silly ideas and that he was happy to have me back despite everything I had done. They told me that he was a good man and that I should go back to him and be a good wife to him; they thought that if they refused to help me leave him that I would give up and return to where I ought to be. Of all my family members my Grandad and my Stepdad where the only two people who believed I should do what I wanted to do but both of them were prevented from talking to me until I “saw sense” and did the right thing.

I was very lucky that I had support from friends and colleagues because after the first night of sleeping in my car my resolve was close to breaking point. I had thought that it wouldn’t be too bad as it was early spring, the temperatures didn’t seem too low and I had a good quality sleeping bag but the cold seemed to penetrate every part of my body that night and I barely slept at all. The feeling of being cold persisted throughout the next day and I went to work wearing three layers of clothing whereas most of my colleagues were dressed in summer clothes. My colleagues were wondeful, they kept my spirits up and made me endless cups of hot tea in an effort to try and get me warm. A number of them offered to let me stay on their sofa but I declined and told them I was ok apart from being a bit cold, I really didn’t feel that I could impose on them any further and I planned to try the homeless shelter again anyway as they had said they would keep a space for me that night after having to turn me away the night before.

The homeless shelter was pretty scary; it was a large hall with row upon row of camp beds and matresses laid out. I got even less sleep there as I found the presence of so many people in the same room terrifying, particularly when the lights went out, I was bolt awake everytime someone so much as sniffled.

The next day I decided I would be better off living in my car after all so I went out to scour the charity shops for some fleece clothing and bought a couple of hot water bottles to help keep me warmer at night. I spent the rest of the day in the library writing up my final dissertation for my Degree studies and making plans for survival.

My main priority was to look for a full time job and in the meantime keep the car on the road as well as keeping myself fed and clean. I calculated that as long as I was very careful I would be able to stretch the wages from my part time job to keep the car running and as I only had a travel kettle to cook with I could only eat things that involved having hot water poured over them so my food bill was very cheap albeit very poor nutrition-wise. Keeping myself clean was easy on work days as my workplace had a shower in the bathrooms so I would check in early for my shift and get washed beforehand. In the evening I would use a public bathroom and on days off I used the facilities at the local swimming pool.

The weekends were the worst time as the usual parking space that I parked up in to sleep at night would be overrun with boy racers and as a result was often patrolled by Police Cars. In order to avoid trouble I would keep moving during the night and catch a few hours sleep in the morning before going to work but the unusual sleep pattern combined with a poor diet played havoc with my health and I felt constantly worn out.

The search for a full-time job was not easy, I knew I was not looking or performing my best at interviews and as a result was getting nowhere. I was also waiting to get the result of my degree studies which was not due for another month, I was confident that I would pass and knew that once I had the qualification confirmed I could start to look further afield for a job. It was this knowledge that kept me striving on; I knew there would be an end to it one day and so I kept going.

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My main priority was to look for a full time job and in the meantime keep the car on the road as well as keeping myself fed and clean. I calculated that as long as I was very careful I would be able to stretch the wages from my part time job to keep the car running and as I only had a travel kettle to cook with I could only eat things that involved having hot water poured over them so my food bill was very cheap albeit very poor nutrition-wise. Keeping myself clean was easy on work days as my workplace had a shower in the bathrooms so I would check in early for my shift and get washed beforehand. In the evening I would use a public bathroom and on days off I used the facilities at the local swimming pool.

The weekends were the worst time as the usual parking space that I parked up in to sleep at night would be overrun with boy racers and as a result was often patrolled by Police Cars. In order to avoid trouble I would keep moving during the night and catch a few hours sleep in the morning before going to work but the unusual sleep pattern combined with a poor diet played havoc with my health and I felt constantly worn out.

The search for a full-time job was not easy, I knew I was not looking or performing my best at interviews and as a result was getting nowhere. I was also waiting to get the result of my degree studies which was not due for another month, I was confident that I would pass and knew that once I had the qualification confirmed I could start to look further afield for a job. It was this knowledge that kept me striving on; I knew there would be an end to it one day and so I kept going.

My main priority was to look for a full time job and in the meantime keep the car on the road as well as keeping myself fed and clean. I calculated that as long as I was very careful I would be able to stretch the wages from my part time job to keep the car running and as I only had a travel kettle to cook with I could only eat things that involved having hot water poured over them so my food bill was very cheap albeit very poor nutrition-wise. Keeping myself clean was easy on work days as my workplace had a shower in the bathrooms so I would check in early for my shift and get washed beforehand. In the evening I would use a public bathroom and on days off I used the facilities at the local swimming pool.

The weekends were the worst time as the usual parking space that I parked up in to sleep at night would be overrun with boy racers and as a result was often patrolled by Police Cars. In order to avoid trouble I would keep moving during the night and catch a few hours sleep in the morning before going to work but the unusual sleep pattern combined with a poor diet played havoc with my health and I felt constantly worn out.

The search for a full-time job was not easy, I knew I was not looking or performing my best at interviews and as a result was getting nowhere. I was also waiting to get the result of my degree studies which was not due for another month, I was confident that I would pass and knew that once I had the qualification confirmed I could start to look further afield for a job. It was this knowledge that kept me striving on; I knew there would be an end to it one day and so I kept going.

A short time later my blood test results came back clear and I was told that I was ok to be discharged but they needed someone to come and collect me. I explained again that this wouldn’t be possible and that I would be ok on my own but they kept asking me for the name of someone to call. I got very distressed and burst into tears of frustration, at that point another nurse came over and said that she knew me, I didn’t know who she was at first but she told me that she was the cousin of an old school friend of mine. I was a little wary at first but then she told me her maiden name and I recognised her at once – from here on in I will refer to her as “N”.  I explained what had happened and that I didn’t have anyone that I could call or anywhere to go and she offered to give me a room for the night, at first I said no as I didn’t want to impose, particularly not on someone I hardly knew, but she insisted it would be ok and that she considered me to be family on account of my close friendship with her cousin. I agreed but told her that I would leave her in peace the next day, she laughed and said we would talk about it in the morning. I had to wait for her shift to end before I could leave but she took me to the canteen and gave me a plate of food and warned me not to wolf it down in case I was sick.

When we got to her house she made up a sofa bed for me in the living room and I fell asleep immediately. I slept all the way through until 2pm the next day – I’d had about 14 hours of solid sleep. When I woke up I heard voices in the kitchen and was terrified at first but then N came through and said her brother and my old school friend had come over to see me as they had a proposition for me.

I was very nervous about speaking to them as I had fallen out of touch with my friend, T, after my wedding and was worried that she would be angry with me. I had never met N’s brother, J, before and had no idea why he would be interested in speaking to me. They all came into the living room and sat around me, I felt like I was about to be interrogated. T spoke first – she said, “Well I never did like your choice of husband, I always thought he was a dick and I’m glad you’re away from him now but why didn’t you come to me and ask for help?” I started to cry as I explained that I had thought she wouldn’t want to know me anymore given that I had cut off contact with her after the wedding and that I didn’t feel I deserved her friendship anymore. T was fantastic, she told me that she knew what R had been like but also knew that I needed to see it for myself before she would be able to help me, she said she had been waiting to hear from me and was willing to help however she could. I felt completely overwhelmed and hugged her as hard as I could. J then introduced himself and explained that he wanted to offer his assistance with regards accommodation; he told me that he had been struggling to maintain his house due to ill health and had been having to rely on family to help him keep it clean for him as he had frequent spells of being bed-ridden. He offered me his spare bedroom in return for assistance with the housekeeping as this would alleviate the burden on his family.

At first I didn’t know what to say – he was a total stranger to me and quite a bit older than me, my first instinct was to wonder why he would want to do such a thing, after everything that had happened in my earlier years it was deeply ingrained in me to be suspicious of any offer of help and my mind was racing with the possibilities of what this would cost me. T then asked to have a word with me in private, J and N left the room and T said, “Listen up, J is a good guy – he is a genuinely devout Christian and an all-round gentleman. I strongly suggest you take him up on the offer as you will be doing both J and yourself a favour. I know you’ve been mucked about with that arse of a husband but J is not like that, I would trust him with my life and that is no word of a lie.” Despite my fears and misgivings I knew I could trust what T said and that it would be stupid of me to refuse a genuine offer of help and so I accepted but insisted that I give J some of my wages as rent money.

I moved into J’s spare room the next day and I am so glad I took a chance and accepted his offer of help, it came from out of nowhere – almost like someone sent me a guardian angel and changed my life forever.

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I am sure J must have wondered what on earth he had let himself in for when I first moved into his spare room although he always denied having any misgivings when I later asked him about his impressions of our first encounter.

I was naturally very cautious of J and his offer of assistance despite T’s assurances about him – I couldn’t help this as I had come to expect that any offer of help would come at a price. J proved me wrong though, and in doing so he restored my faith in humanity and set me on a path towards healing; something which I am eternally grateful for.

I was very upfront, to the point of being rude, with J when we arrived at his house – I told him that I was an atheist and that I wouldn’t be converted to his religion, nor would I cook meat for him as I am a vegetarian. He merely smiled and said it was all ok with him as his offer of assistance was  based purely on the fact that a fellow human being needed a hand up. He could clearly tell that I was skeptical as when he showed me the spare room in which I was to stay he offered to get a bolt fitted to the inside of the door  in order to make me to feel more secure.  I declined his offer in favour of putting a chair under the door handle which, I am ashamed to say, I did for the first week of my stay.

Once I had  unpacked my stuff I went to make J some dinner and it was at that point that I discovered he was a fellow Star Trek fan. I went to set the table in his dining room and found a bookcase filled with Star Trek videos, I was almost giddy with excitement and he offered to let me pick out a video to watch after dinner. We chatted about our shared love of Star Trek well into the wee small hours and I felt much more comfortable in his company at the end of the night. Over the next few weeks we talked a lot about Star Trek and I began to open up about what had happened to me in the past that had led to me ending up accepting R’s behaviour towards me.  J was a great listener and very supportive. He helped me see that I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I had been by R and that I could move on from it.

A couple of weeks after moving in to J’s place I got the results of my degree studies – I  passed with an upper second class honours (2:1) which was better than I had expected. With J’s encouragement I applied for jobs that I would previously only ever have dreamt of trying for. The first few interviews were pretty rubbish as I was still feeling very raw from the split with my husband but as my confidence began to grow so did my performance at interviews. This was all down to J’s belief in me.

Eventually I was offered an amazing job but it was based in another country, over 200 miles away from where I was currently living. I was torn about taking it at first as despite the fact that I didn’t have strong ties to town I had built up a good friend base through work and J which I was reluctant to leave. My University Tutor, J and my work colleagues all told me that I would be daft to turn down such a good offer of employment and they were right but leaving them all was a massive wrench to me – a testament to how much they had all come to mean to me.

And so for the second time I made preparations to leave town and begin a new life; this time in a much more stylish fashion than before as my new employer delivered a company car to me and offered to cover any relocation expenses including a rental deposit on a flat.

I left it right up until the last minute to leave, spending as much time with J and my work colleagues as I could. The day before I left I took J out for a drive in my company car, we went up to a view point and watched the sunset together, he told me that he has happy for me and that he hoped I would keep him updated on how I was getting on in my new life. I told him how hard it had been for me to decide to leave and that I would keep in touch and hoped he would come to visit me at Christmas. J then dropped a bombshell on me, he told me that he would be moving into his parent’s house in the next few weeks as his illness was now at a terminal stage. He apologised for keeping it from me, he said that he hadn’t wanted me to feel obliged to stay out of sympathy for him. I was devastated by the news and wanted to reverse my decision about taking the job but he made me promise that I would give it my best shot and make him proud of me.

True to my word I kept in touch with J as much as I could, I sent him photographs of my new flat, places I visited for work and called him every evening to tell him about my day. In return he sent me letters and mix tapes for me to listen to in my car when travelling for work, I loved coming home to find post from J. My Grandad also wrote to me, he sent letters out via my step-dad and I replied via him so that my Gran didn’t know we were in touch. Grandad was overjoyed that I had a good job and was delighted that I was settling into my new home.

J’s parents invited me to stay with them at Christmas and I accepted their kind offer. When I arrived it was clear that J had declined very rapidly since I had last seen him, he had lost half his body weight and could no longer get out of bed, despite this his spirit was intact and I spent as much time as I could by his bedside telling him about my new job and watching Star Trek films. J’s parents were incredibly warm and welcoming, they made me feel like a member of the family despite having only met me briefly before at parties hosted by T’s family. I think it was my first glimpse of what family life could be like and I was touched to be a part of it.

T and N came to visit at New Year and persuaded me to go out on the town with them to bring in the New Year. I wasn’t keen at first but J insisted I should go out and party and so we went out to a pub and had a great deal of fun.

I spent most of New Year’s day sitting with J, he was sleeping a great deal at this point but I was happy just to sit with him. He asked me about my new year’s resolutions and I told him I didn’t have any, he then suggested I make a resolution to try dating and I told him I wasn’t interested in dating. I told him that I was happy with my own company and that I didn’t mind if I spent the rest of my life alone as it would still be better than life with my soon-to-be ex-husband. J told me that I shouldn’t let the past experience with R put me off; I told him that I was comfortable with the idea of being alone and that it didn’t matter to me that no one found me lovable. J then changed my world forever when he told me that I should never think I am unlovable, that I was worthy of love and I would find it one day. At first I dismissed his assertions, I told him that he was sweet for saying it but I didn’t feel I was the kind of person someone could love. He told me that I was wrong and I said, “Ok, we’ll see then, maybe one day.” He then said, “I know you are wrong because you are loved, I love you, I really love you and I have for some time now. I didn’t want to say anything before as the last thing you needed when settling into a new job was to start a long-distance love affair with a terminally ill man but to hell with it, I can’t leave this world without telling you that you deserve love, you are loved and you will find more love in your future.” I stared at him in silence for an age, I didn’t know what to say, I was overwhelmed but I knew he was telling the truth and for the first time in my life I finally knew what it was like to feel real, romantic love. I could barely speak for the massive lump in my throat but I kissed him on the forehead and said, “Thank you, I love you too.” We sat together in silence for some time after that and then as J was dozing on and off I left him alone and went to bed.

When I woke up the next morning I bumped into J’s Family Doctor on the landing, he was just leaving J’s room and behind him was J’s Dad who was crying. I knew immediately that it was bad news, J’s Dad looked ashen when I asked what had happened, he nodded at the Doctor who then told me that J had passed away in his sleep a few hours ago. I felt like someone had stabbed me with a knife and I fell to the floor immediately.

The next week was awful, I had to take time off work as I was having such terrible trouble sleeping and by the time of J’s funeral I looked like a panda because the bags under my eyes were so big. His funeral was beautiful though, he had requested that it be a celebration of his life and beliefs as opposed to a mourning of his passing and it was exactly that. He asked that everyone attending wear their favourite colour rather than black or grey and instead of hymns he had his favourite Queen songs played which we were all encouraged to sing along to. It was a fitting tribute to a wonderful person and I was privileged to have known him.

grief

According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying, grief is a process which the griever is expected to move through five stages:
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It sounds like a linear process, which, once you have navigated your way through each stage you are considered to be “done” grieving. Well let me tell you something –  this was not my experience at all.

For me denial, anger and depression came all at once in a tsunami-like wave. I couldn’t believe J was gone, I kept expecting him to call me, to get another one of his postcards in the post but it never happened and as each day dawned I still held out hope I would hear from him. I would wake up each morning and for a few brief seconds I would believe that it had all been some horrible nightmare but then reality closed in on me and I remembered that he was gone.

At the same time I was also angry, furious in fact,  I couldn’t understand how everyone else around me seemed able to go on with their lives. Didn’t they realise there was a big, gaping hole in the Universe now? How could the woman in front of me at the supermarket checkout not realise that the world had lost someone utterly amazing? Here I was feeling like my world had ended and there was this random woman acting like nothing had happened, I felt like I was living in a bubble and unable to communicate with anyone outside my bubble.

In hindsight I should have probably accepted the offer from J’s parents to stay with them until the funeral rather than take the 500 mile round trip home and back again for the funeral but I felt that I would be intruding on their grief if I had done that, they had lost their only son and it seemed as though no matter what I felt their grief was more in some way more worthy than mine. I know now that this wasn’t true but at the time I felt I had no place in the hierarchy of mourners – I was not a relative or his partner and therefore undeserving of a place at the table. J’s parents and sister didn’t see it like that though; they knew J meant the world to me and they insisted that I traveled to the church service in the same car as they did, from the family home, and sat with them on the front pew.

The worst thing for me was that it was difficult to enunciate to tothers how I felt. When I informed my line manager and colleagues they didn’t really understand the degree of loss I felt; I was not only mourning the loss of someone very close but also the loss of what might have been. J and I had been very close friends but it was clear there was something else beginning to emerge and we had been robbed of our chance to see where it might take us.

I also found that well-meant platitudes of, “it get’s better in time” did nothing but make me feel more angry. I found that as time wore on it healed nothing, it just took me further away from the point of impact. I found more solace in the quote by Rose Kennedy, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” than anything else anyone could say.

Depression took a terrible hold on me, I struggled to do even the simplest of tasks. I was in the process of getting a home office set up for my work and had bought a flat-pack desk which required assembling; it took me 3 solid days to put it together when the instructions advised it should take 2 hours. I did my best to get a routine going for work but it was difficult as I was a field-based employee and had to set my own timetable which I struggled with at first as I felt I had no direction. I was lucky that I was being mentored by another field-based colleague who lived fairly close by and they helped me with organising my working day. I wanted to do well in my job and I started to throw myself into working hard which helped give me some focus again but at times it felt very hollow as I had no one to talk to about it – J was gone and I still had the status of “Black Sheep” with my family. I was still in touch with old work colleagues but it felt wrong to call them up and howl in pain down the phone at them, I felt that they had endured enough of my dramas following the split with my husband and I didn’t want to burden them any further with tales of woe. So when I did speak to them I told them only about the different countries I was getting to see and the important people I was getting to meet; they were so delighted for me that I couldn’t bear to tell them the real truth – that I was lonely and missed them all dearly, that I cried every night and was struggling to get out of bed each day.

Eventually I confided in my work mentor and they suggested that I should try to find a club or society to join in order to provide me with an interest outside of work and to meet new people. This turned out to be the best suggestion anyone had for me – I joined a local walking group and a camera club and although it was tough to get going at first it turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made.

For anyone else going through something similar I highly recommend you try looking for local groups in your area using http://www.meetup.com/ it is a wonderful, free resource and could well be the change you need when you are ready for it.

moving-on

I won’t deny that it was tough getting back on my feet after losing J but I got there and it was all due to the confidence he had helped to instil in me.

Meeting new people was terrifying at first but each time I had a good experience it made it easier the next time. Eventually I felt confident enough to think about dating, being very shy though I resorted to online dating sites at first as it was easier to get to know people. I found it a really good resource and I ended up having a holiday romance with someone I met online.

It was a fantastic confidence booster for me to have someone find me attractive and want to spend time with me. It was also good that there was a time limit to the relationship as we lived on different continents and only came together for the duration of our holiday. Although we both agreed that our relationship could go no further we did remain in touch with each other and are still really good friends.

The holiday romance was the boost I needed to get me to realise that J had been right all along – I am worthy of love and I would find someone when the time was right, which I did.

I met C through some mutual friends which is a really good way to meet suitable people as a big test of whether or not a relationship will work is if they get on with your friends and vice versa. It was a rather obvious set up from the start as our mutual friend introduced as to each other as thus, “You two will get along great – you are both Trekkies.” The rest, as they say, is pretty much history – we are still together some 15 years on.

fall in love

One of the biggest differences between my relationship with C and my ex, R, is that C wants to be with me for who I am and not what I could be. He has never asked me to dress a certain way or change my behaviour to suit him – I am free to be who I am and it is the most empowering feeling ever.

After a few months of dating C I decided I would need to tell him about the fact that it was unlikely that I would be able to conceive a child naturally. I was keen not to make the same mistake as I had with R and so I decided that if it was important to C that he have a family one day then I would end the relationship so that he could find someone else who could give him what he wanted. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to tell him but when I did I couldn’t have imagined a better response; he told me that he wasn’t interested in what “might be” he was only interested in what we had in the here and now and if it didn’t include children then it would still be perfect as we would be together. I badgered him constantly for a good month to make sure he wasn’t going to change his mind; C’s sister was already planning a family and C’s parents were deliriously happy about this, I didn’t want to be the reason he let his family down but he stood by me and said that the most important thing was that we were happy.

I admit that I hadn’t ruled out the possibility of IVF treatment however it is incredibly expensive and stressful for both parties. The truth was I didn’t think I would be able to cope with the stresses of IVF treatment nor was I sure that I would cope with being a parent – after all if I had failed so badly at my own childhood how on earth could I look after a child of my own?

After some time my Mum got in touch with me out of the blue, it seems R had turned on them too and had a massive temper tantrum in front of my Grandmother. Now that they knew what he was truly like I was forgiven for leaving him and would be welcomed back into the fold of the family. I had very mixed feelings about this, I wanted my family to love me but not with conditions attached. In the end I decided to accept their olive branch, if nothing else I was pleased that I would now be able to visit my Grandad openly rather than have to sneak letters via my Step-Dad but I was still hurt by how they had treated me in the wake of the divorce. Even now the relatonship with my family is still strained but I have a lot of wonderful friends who love me for who I am I feel blessed to have them in my life.

Trapped by the Ghosts of my past

index

Despite the fact that I had been very careful about managing details about my past someone, somewhere betrayed my trust and gave my details to a tabloid reporter. That one act of betrayal set me into a terrible downward spiral which resulted in me being unable to leave the house for months on end and eventually losing my job.

I have no idea who it was that linked me to the reporter or how they managed to get so many details about me and that scared me as I thought I had managed to cut all ties to the past. In hindsight I should have denied everything but they caught me off balance during the initial phone call I had with them and I gave myself away. They told me that Q had passed away and they were writing a story about his “reign of terror” as they called it. The reporter asked to meet me but I refused and told them I had nothing to say about the matter, they then told me that I ought to speak out, “for the sake of all the other victims” I told them that I didn’t feel I could speak on behalf of others and that they should speak to the others themselves. The reporter then told me that I had to speak for them as they were unable to speak for themselves – so far all of the other victims they had tried to track down were deceased, most of them from drug related illnesses as they had become addicted to drugs supplied by Q. I hung up the call immediately after they told me this, I was shaking and like a leaf.

I tried to carry on with the rest of my day as normal but it was difficult and everytime the phone rang I panicked, particularly if it was an unknown number. That night I had nightmares about the other victims, I dreamt that they were trying to call me to ask for help but I couldn’t hear them properly and didn’t know what to do.

I was still on edge the next day and wouldn’t answer my mobile unless I recognised the number, any unrecognised numbers were sent straight to voicemail in case the reporter tried to call again, which they did, I picked up 2 voicemails from them but deleted them as soon as I heard thier voice, I didn’t want to hear anything else they had to say.

Later that day the reporter approached me whilst I was having lunch in a cafe following a work meeting. They told me that I was, according to them, the only one left that could speak about what Q did. I told them that I had no interest in digging up the past, that I had moved on and wanted to draw a line under it. They acknowledged that I had been hard to track down but they were intrigued to know how I had managed to recover so well when others had failed and that I should share my story in order to show others that it is possible to overcome abuse successfully. At first I was taken in by thier claim but as we continued to talk it became clear that they were only interested in the gory details of what Q had done. Eventually it dawned on me that this person had no interest in helping abuse survivors; they were only interested in a sensational story to sell their paper and garner accolade for themselves. I told them I had changed my mind and would not consent to speak to them or have any of my details used and left the cafe.

The reporter continued to call me over the course of the next week; they also turned up at a number of places I visited as part of my work so I started to avoid going to those places in favour or working from home more and more. The nightmares also continued – to the point where I felt afraid to go to sleep as I knew the nightmares would come. I phoned in sick to work as I couldn’t face going out in case I saw the reporter again. My health continued to deteriorate to the point where I felt unable to get out of bed, I told C and my employer that I had the flu, I thought that I just needed to catch up on sleep but after 2 weeks of being bed ridden I was no better. I arranged for a house visit from my GP, they told me that they thought I had a post-viral illness and signed me off work for a further 2 weeks. I started to recover slightly but everytime I started to think about leaving the house I was overcome with feelings of terror and had panic attacks. I continued to see my GP but the only symptom I reported to them was that of fatigue and they continued to sign me off work for 2 weeks at a time due to a post-viral illness.

After 6 weeks of absence from work my employer became very concerned, I receieved a letter asking me to make arrangements for a home visit by an Occupational Health Nurse appointed by my employer. I tried to call the number but everytime I picked up the phone I was overcome with panic. A week later I got another letter informing me that the Occupational Health Nurse would call to my house, I was terrified by the idea but still couldn’t bring myself to lift a phone. I decided to email the Occupational Health Agency and ask to rearrange the appointment, they told me this wouldn’t be possible but gave me a direct email address for the Nurse assigned to my case. I emailed the Nurse directly and they explained to me that everything we discussed would be in confidence, that the only thing they would tell my employer was whether or not they felt I has fit for work.  Afer conversing with them via email over the course of a few days I eventually admitted that I had been experiencing panic attacks when trying to use the phone or leave the house but was afraid of my employer finding out in case they thought I was insane. The Nurse was incredibly reassuring and we agreed to hold an initial meeting in the back garden of my house, me sitting in the kitchen and the Nurse in the garden.

The Nurse was a great help, I explained to them what was happening when the phone rang or I thought about going out and they asked me what had happened in the run up to all these problems. At first I didn’t say anything as I was worried that they might know the reporter – my mind was going over board with paranoia at this point. The Nurse told me that I didn’t need to divulge any details if I didn’t want to but that they needed to know if I had suffered a trauma or bereavement recently, they told me that my employer would not be informed of this; the only thing they needed to know was when I would be fit to return to work. I didn’t go into detail with them but I admitted that I had received some shocking news shortly before falling ill. The Nurse didn’t probe any further but suggested I would benefit from speaking to a psychologist and that as I had private healthcare provided by my employer it would be best to access a psychologist this way, they reminded me that my employer didn’t need to know who I was seeing and told me that they would send their report to me to read before submitting it to my employer so that I could be reassured that they didn’t know anything I didn’t want them to know. They also offered to make a referral to the private healthcare provider for me and again offered to send me a copy of the referral letter for me to read before it was sent in.

The referral went very quickly, I was initially contacted via email and given some exercises to do and then I had a phone consultation when I felt ready. It was tough going but after about 4 weeks I was able to go to the local shops and back, over the course of the next few months I ventured further and further. I was still suffering panic attacks but I was learning how to handle them – instead of trying to run away or fight it off I let the panic attack run it’s course.

I was assessed regularly by the Occupational Health Nurse as well as the Psychologist but it was becoming quite clear that it was going to take some time before I would be fit enough to return to my full-time duties. After I had been off work for 4 months the HR Manager got in touch to discuss a plan for getting me back to work. We discussed a number of options but at the back of my mind was the feeling that I was a massive burden to the company. After much consideration I decided to resign my post, both the HR Manager and my Line Manager tried to get me to change my mind but I didn’t feel I would ever be capable of returning to my normal duties and my company deserved better.

RISE

I completely underestimated how difficult it would be to get back into the world of work after quitting my job.

I had thought that I would get better quicker if I didn’t feel under pressure to return to my old job however money began to run out very quickly as I was self funding my private healthcare. Eventually I faced up to the fact that I would need to make my way back into the workforce but it proved to be harder than I thought it would be.

My first problem was explaining not only my career break but also my desire to change career too. Initially I applied for jobs that I thought I was qualified and capable of but after 20+ rejections I began to broaden my applications and as time went on and money got tighter I began to apply for absolutely anything but all I had to show for it was an ever inreasing pile of rejection letters.

Eventually I got a break – whilst registering with an employment agency an urgent job request came through for a temporary office clerk post and as I was available immediately they sent me along for an interview that afternoon.

The office turned out to be a set of portakabins on the outskirts of an industrial estate and the place was in quite a state of disarray. When I arrived there was paper lying all over the floor, the photocopier was sounding an alarm and the phone was ringing off the hook as the men in the office were huddled round a pc monitor looking perplexed. Another man then came in looking very harassed, he introduced himself as “B” the Manager and explained that he would be interviewing me, he then apologised for running late and invited me into his office.

B asked me some standard questions and I told him about my job history. Unsurprisingly B was somewhat skeptical about why I was applying for an entry level post given my previous experience, I had expected this and was prepared to give him a carefully rehearsed speil when the door burst open and a young man came in with a cordless phone in hand babbling about someone in the head office going “raj” because the payroll run hadn’t been sent through. B sighed heavily and told the young man that he would sort it out when he was finished. I decided to throw caution to the wind and discarded my well crafted answer in favour of the truth and said, “The truth is I need a job, I have been unemployed for a while after a bout of ill health but I am getting back on my feet now and I need to start earning money. It looks to me like we would be doing each other a favour if you hired me, I need a wage and you clearly need help here as you guys are in a right pickle and I can fix this for you.” B laughed, said that I clearly had “a set of balls” and asked if I was able to start immediately.

I began working there that very afternoon, my duties were to “sort the office out” and that is exactly what I did. After a few weeks I began to make improvements to processes in the office and things became much more efficient, it was quite a challenge as many it was an all-male office and many of them had very poor PC skills but I soon learned how to swear like a trooper and won the staff over by helping them with thier IT issues.

Within 6 weeks I became a permanent member of staff and a few months later I was promoted to the post of Office Manager with a healthy rise in salary and a very generous Christmas bonus to boot. I began to take on bigger process-improvement projects and also began to shadow some of the QS team members with a view to becoming an apprentice QS and I was really enjoying it. Unfortunately it all came to a grinding halt after 2 wonderful years; it was a Friday morning and we were all summoned to the meeting room where B delivered the devastating news – the company had lost a lot of money and as a result were looking to cut costs. One of the cost cutting exercises was to close all satellite offices and centralise operations at the head office which was some 200 miles away. We were told that we would all be offered a relocation package or we could resign from our posts. We were all sent home to think about our options and discuss them with our families before returning with our decision on Monday morning.

I didn’t need to discuss it with C, I knew I didn’t want to move away from where we were but I was devastated that I was about to become unemployed again when I had just begun to get somewhere.

When we returned on Monday we each met with HR and discussed our decisions with them. It was a very muted day and morale was low all that week. We were then given the timelines for the office shut down process and to cheer us all up the Manager told us we could have a party in the office on our final day. The party was excellent fun and we all promised to stay in touch – which we have despite the fact we were all scattered to the four winds when the office was closed.

Get Back UP

I was very lucky to find another job fairly quickly after the office closed down.

This time I moved to a completely different workplace and once again I faced another steep learning curve as I had to learn a lot of new systems and protocols but I picked things up fairly quickly and was given a number of projects to work on which was excellent. However the post was only a temporary contract and it too eventually came to an end but just as I thought I was about to return to the Unemployment Office once more I was thrown a lifeline; one of the Managers in another department had heard that I was about to be released from my contract and got in touch with me to tell me that they were about to advertise a vacancy that I would be eligible to apply for. The post was for a permanant position with the organisation and so I applied and was appointed.

Since that point there have been a number of restructures of the organisation and each time I have held my breath as I wonder if there will be a place for me in the new structure but each time I seem to survive the cull of staff and end up in a new department with a new remit. Each time I get a little more bruised and gun-shy but I keep going and always do the best I can wherever I end up because I know that each time this happens it’s not neccessarily the end of something but the chance to try something new.

regret is the worst

I do seem to have a recurring theme of regret in my life;  there are many things I wish I hadn’t done but the worst regrets of all are the times when I should have taken action but failed to and in doing so I let people down.

The one thing holding me back each time has been fear, it has held me frozen in it’s grasp time and again but things have been changing recently and I am learning to overcome my fears; albeit in some instances I have been too late to right the wrongs of the past.

Most recently I have started  working on overcoming my fear of having Dental work done and I finally made it into a Dental Surgery last June (2015) after a 20+ year absence. Since then I have had a number of deep cleans and a broken filling replaced. My one overwhelming regret about this is that I didn’t take action much earlier, if I had then I wouldn’t have ruined what was our last chance to get a family portrait done.

About 7 years ago I was at a dinner party with friends when I bit into an olive and felt something break in my mouth, I felt around with my tongue and sure enough there was a gaping hole in one of my front teeth. I was overwhelmed with panic and felt sick, most normal people would have contacted a Dentist and got it sorted out but not me!

Although I could feel that there was a bit of tooth missing I couldn’t bring myself to even look at it for a number of months, I avoided mirrors when brushing my teeth in case I caught sight of it, I started to press my lips together when smiling and putting my hand in front of my face when laughing in case anyone else noticed it. No one seemed to notice, or if they did they didn’t mention it. Eventually I decided I had to face up to it and one day I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror, it was horrific, not only could you clearly see that the tooth was chipped it was also turning black. Despite this I still didn’t take any action, I knew it would only get worse and I was well aware that there was every danger that the rest of the tooth could fall out but that somehow seemed more preferential than visiting a Dentist.

About 2 years later my Grandmother decided that she would like a family portrait as her Christmas present. I was mortified by the idea as I knew the black tooth would show up on the pictures, I tried to think of every excuse I could to delay the photo shoot but it only served to annoy my Grandmother.

In the end it was my Grandad that twigged what the problem was – he had noticed the tooth (there wasn’t much that he missed) and guessed that this was the real reason I was trying to avoid getting the portrait done. I admitted that I hadn’t seen a Dentist for some time but I lied and told him that I hadn’t been due to being short of money rather than admit that my phobia had returned. I felt awful about lying to him, more so when he gave me an envelope and told me that I was to use the money in it to pay for the tooth to be fixed. He also offered to accompany me to the appointment and hold my hand as he had done all those years ago.

I was on the verge of tears as I left my Grandparents house that night;  knowing I had lied to my Grandad and was letting down my Grandmother once again, at a time when we had barely begun to get back on an even keel following my divorce. As I left I promised my Grandad that I would keep the envelope and only use it to pay my Dental bill, that I would get it done as soon as I could after the Christmas holidays and when he saw me again I would have got the necessary dental work done.

In my defence I did try to do something about it, I got in touch with the Dental Practice I had walked out of years ago following my meltdown (I wrote about that here) to see if my old Dentist was still there but he had moved on and they wouldn’t tell me where he had gone. I tried to search for him using the internet but I could only remember his first name and so I got nowhere fast. I then tried to look at some Dental Practices nearby but I couldn’t bring myself to go near them – what would I even say? I tried to search for a Dentist that would use general anaesthetic as I thought that would be the only safe way I could be treated but no one offered such a service.

A few weeks later I took a call from my Mother, she told me that my Grandad had suffered a stroke and was in hospital, he was unlikely to regain consciousness again. My Grandad passed away about two weeks later, he died peacefully having never regained consciousness. I was devastated, not just because I knew that I would never see my beloved Grandad again but also because I had let everyone down thanks to my inability to act like a normal person. I put the envelope away without opening it, swearing to myself that no matter how bad things got I would never open the envelope unless it was to pay a Dentist to fix the tooth.

I finally opened the envelope last September (2015) when I used the money to pay for the tooth to be fixed. By pure coincidence I had the procedure performed on what would have been my Grandad’s 90th Birthday; I hadn’t realised the significance of the date until a few days beforehand when I was once again feeling like running away and giving up on my attempts to overcome my Dental Phobia. I had been on the brink of cancelling the appointment but when I realised the significance of the date I had been booked in for I went ahead with it. I know it doesn’t change the mistakes I made but my Grandad was very fond of reminding me that, “Now is as good a time as any to start” and although I sometimes think that it might be too late to start  I know that I owe it to myself to at least try.

it's never too late

It took me a long time to realise that I had been  living in the shadows; although I had survived everything I was not really living.

 I can’t really recall the exact moment when it hit me but I do remember that this time last year (March/April 2015) I began to realise things needed to change. It was around this time that I carried out my usual “spring cleaning” session and I came across the envelope that my Grandad had given me before he died – it contained money that I had promised to use towards getting my broken tooth fixed; I remembered my long overdue promise to get the work done and I felt bad about that the fact that I had failed to keep my word. I swore to myself that before the year was out I would fulfill my promise.

My first port of call was good old “google” I tried to search for my old Dentist, Dr X, to see if I could re-engnage his services but I couldn’t find him listed at the Dental Practice I had been to all those years ago, nor could I find any listing for him at a Practice in the nearby area. I dropped an email to the Practice to ask about him but received a terse reply saying that he no longer worked there.

My next step was to try to search for a local Practice that would deal with a nervous patient – a quick google search brought up a number of potential options and I sent an email to the nearest one to make enquiries “on behalf of a friend” who suffered from cPTSD as the result of childhood abuse. They politely replied with an offer of a twilight sedation service which terrified the life out of me as I knew I would not be able to undergo sedation – I’d had a horrific anxiety attack after taking a sedative that had been prescribed for back pain a few years prior, my GP believed this had been due to my previous history with drugs whilst under the influence of P & Co and I was advised that I would be better to avoid them altogether. I sent a reply to the practice to ask if there was an alternative to sedation and was told that the only other option would be to receive treatment under general anaesthetic but that they would be unable to offer this service.

I tried another google search and this time I came across the most helpful site ever – Dental Fear Central I found a wealth of information here including a very informative section on dental phobia in abuse survivors as well as the forums which are full of wonderfully supportive people. It was through this site that I found recommendations for a couple of other Dental Practices in the area. Thanks to the encouragement of the people on the forums I managed to visit two practices to collect information and eventually plucked up the courage to make a new patient appointment at one of the practices and thus began my very long road to recovery.

nothing-happens-until-pain-of-remaining-the-same-out-weighs-the-pain-of-change.JPEG

 One of the more unusual outcomes of my work towards overcoming dental phobia was that I finally made a move towards addressing the bigger issue – that of coming to terms with my past.

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