Only Dead On The Inside

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Next year I will be 50.

50.

Half a century.

That’s quite impressive.

It may be considered middle-aged to some and others may think that I am still a whippersnapper. However, to me there’s an absolute and complete horror that after living for almost 50 years on this planet, that I still carry around a ‘secret’ of which society says I should be ashamed, although the cause of which was completely and utterly outside of my control.

My name is Toula and I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor.

When I say survivor what I really mean to say is that I am only dead on the inside.

Some friends know my story, in as much as I have told them that my ‘stepmonster’ was a pedophile. The conversation often doesn’t last very long. They get uncomfortable. Telling people that you have been sexually abused taints their view of you. Somehow, the victim is either considered to be to blame for it happening at all, or for not stopping it happening. Either way, the fact that I was a ‘victim’ for 15 years is somehow my fault.

To add insult to injury, the fact that I haven’t pulled myself together now that I am almost 50 and put it behind me really proves that my suffering is all down to me.

The past few days have seen newspaper headlines about the DJ Tony Blackburn being sacked by the BBC. After almost 50 years of him working with and for them (my entire time on this planet, remember), he has been sacked due to reasons I am not even clear about to do with the Jimmy Savile report.

People are creating petitions to get Tony his job back, sympathising about his situation and are up in arms at the way he has been treated and yet all I can think about when I read those reports is that he has enjoyed the last 50 years of working in a job he loves, being part of a privileged elite and having had quite a life.

This isn’t about Tony – no personal axe to grind at all. I have met him numerous times and he has always been gentlemanly and funny.

My point is that in amongst all the people that you know, are people like me who didn’t get the opportunity to spend 50 years (or any years at all) without dragging around an enormous and overweighted sack full of: horror, terror, fear, trauma, stigma, guilt, pain (emotional, physical, mental) and so on with them so that they could enjoy such a life. Our biggest success is in still breathing and no one seems to care or acknowledge the strength of character it takes to achieve something this extraordinary.

It wouldn’t occur to even my closest friends, so why would it occur to you that every time there is a headline, “Missing schoolgirl…,” “Another Celebrity Arrested for Sexual Abuse…,” “Madeleine McCann’s Parents Will Never Give Up Looking For Her…,” and so on, that the knot of terror in the pit of my stomach gets a little tighter each and every time. I feel like it is all still happening to me.

Without going into graphic detail, let me explain a little of what it’s like to be a ‘survivor’ of childhood sexual abuse.

At the age of 5, I awoke one morning because I could feel the hand of a stinking, hairy middle-aged Greek man between my legs. The man was my mother’s boyfriend. I had met him only the afternoon before and now in the early hours of this particular morning, I had woken up in a bed with my mother on one side of me (still fast asleep) and this vile creature on the other.

I was 5 – not equipped to know how to deal with something like this so thought quickly and decided that the man clearly thought he was touching my mother. Naive but I guess that’s allowed when you are only 5 years old, so I decided to wriggle across my mother’s inert body to safety and to alert ‘him’ to the fact that he was touching me and not her. He was a pedophile so the touching continued.

And so began the nightmare that has forever changed the course of my life and who I then became because of it.

There is never a moment when I am carefree. I cannot put this behind me or let it go or forgive and forget or any other ridiculous new age sound bites because I have been forever seared and moulded by the sheer terror of waking up in the early hours of the night, too many nights to remember, with his rancid hot breath only an inch from my face as his hands traveled underneath my bedclothes to invade me.

I cannot scream out because somehow him being in my bedroom in the middle of the night touching me would be my fault and I would be beaten as well as being abused. Also, I am fearful of upsetting my mother, his wife, with what he really is because she clearly does not want to know the ugly truth about her husband, the man she has brought into our lives.

I am not carefree when I step into a hot and steamy bath through the years from 5 to 20. ‘He’ has a knife sitting on the chest of drawers in the hallway outside the bathroom specifically to be used to turn the lock  from the outside, so that I am on constant alert listening for sounds of the room I have locked myself in to being broken in to. For my part, I have wrapped the light cord as tightly as possible around the lock mechanism from the inside of the bathroom but that will not stop him gaining access, it will just inconvenience him slightly as it will be harder to open the door.

I am not carefree when I come home from school and switch on the TV and sprawl on the floor like most young girls, to watch my favourite programmes and then hear the creak of ‘his’ footsteps as he walks across the floor to lie down behind me and rub against me.

Please don’t think for one minute that I take this lying down (no pun intended) because I don’t. I fight. I scream. I try to escape. But. Where. To?

Perhaps, you think I was asking for it by laying down on the floor like that? What should I have done instead? Should I have gone to my room  or any other room in the house where he would have closed the door behind him…?

When you hear about those poor girls who were held captive for years in dungeons in Austria, Tahoe and Cleveland etc it’s almost incomprehensible to imagine what they went through and question whether they could ever get over the ordeal.

Well, let me tell you, I wasn’t locked in the house 24 hours a day but when there is never a single moment from the age of 5 when you can relax and not be in fear of your life, or in fear of taking his, trapped is exactly what you are.

If I was physically ill, I feel confident that a doctor would have tried to remedy that by offering me help from a system that I pay into.

When I go to my doctor for help, as I have been regularly doing for the past 28 years, explaining that I was sexually abused for 15 years from the tender age of 5 – not just once, not twice but all day every day, morning-noon-and-night, I am offered anti-depressants. I don’t have depression I tell the doctor. I am filled with absolute fear and there is a truly horrific reason for that fear – it’s not a chemical imbalance. They don’t like that. GPs want to be able to prescribe something and get the next patient in and out until it’s time for them to go home.

It wasn’t until I was 34 that I discovered what was wrong. I flicked through a book on PTSD that I had been sent when I worked at GMTV 10 years earlier and had carried though life with me but had never opened. Clearly, my subconscious was on the case. Better late than never….and all that. The list of symptoms on the page matched exactly the list of symptoms I had been reeling off to my doctors for years. I had/ have text book PTSD. Actually, it’s now referred to c-PTSD (the ‘c’ is for complex, or chronic – take your pick).

Obviously, my GP was furious that I had diagnosed myself and didn’t believe me anyway. You can’t win. Living your life looking how you feel: bedraggled and traumatised will probably ruin your chances at ever making something of your life. It will frighten people you know, not get you employment, be in your medical notes and so on. Remaining presentable on the other hand makes those who can help withhold it because they just don’t believe that your situation is as serious as you are saying it is.

Articulate, clean and drug free, I was told to go away by my GP (who I felt did not believe a word I was saying, or didn’t care anyway) and to get myself officially diagnosed with PTSD. They would then consider funding some specialised therapy for me…perhaps, maybe. So, I did my research and sought the opinion of one of the country’s foremost forensic psychiatrists and managed to persuade her to give me an hour of her time.

During that hour, this highly qualified doctor asked me numerous questions, made copious notes and then announced that she was surprised that I had managed to survive my life as most people who had experienced the things I had would be dead (through drink, drugs, prostitution or suicide).

She did not mark me down for speaking coherently, being clean and well dressed, having achieved substantial career landmarks (when I felt able to work) and so on. She was smarter than that. She actually heard what I was saying to her and knew that my way of dealing with the situation had been not to give in to it. The way I lived my life and presented myself to the world were all symptoms too.

Armed with a professional diagnosis, money was eventually found to pay for 6 sessions of specialised PTSD treatment (EMDR). To touch the sides, I was actually given 12 sessions and it did make a difference.

EMDR in essence breaks the connections between outside triggers and the internalised trauma.  As none of us fully knows all of the triggers, it is effective but not 100% able to undo the connections to the trauma. How could it? The trauma did actually happen and formed the the first 20 years of my life and who I now am and how I respond to everything.

The example I use for those who just don’t seem to get it is this: if I had been badly burned in a fire, with visible scars all over my face and body would you then light up a match in front of me? Of course you wouldn’t (unless you were a sadistic pig). However, having been horrifically scarred by childhood sexual abuse, the entire world is constantly lighting up matches all the time and everywhere.

Newspapers, magazines, TV, music, film, books…..society. Everything about our world is threatening to someone who has suffered in the way that I have, especially when 50% or thereabouts of the population are male.

I didn’t go to University because I was afraid. I did not want to be around overly hormonal heterosexual young men. Throw drink and drugs into the mix (both of which students are renowned for enjoying) and the entire prospect was just too dangerous to contemplate.

I failed right there and then. My future had already been taken away from me before it had even started. I could have been anything I wanted but my scars were weeping too much and were just too painful to be able to venture out into the cut and thrust of the world without them getting infected or damaged further.

Most of the people who know me are probably baffled by everything written here wondering what on earth I am talking about as I appear to be fully intact as a human being. The thing is, I am but the effort it takes to do all that I do each and every day is debilitating and sometimes I need to remove myself from any further pain without most of you noticing that I had ever gone.

The NHS website says this about c-PTSD:

“Complex PTSD may be diagnosed in adults or children who have repeatedly experienced traumatic events, such as violence, neglect or abuse.

Complex PTSD is thought to be more severe if:

  • the traumatic events happened early in life  – CHECK
  • the trauma was caused by a parent or carer – CHECK
  • the person experienced the trauma for a long time – CHECK
  • the person was alone during the trauma – CHECK
  • there is still contact with the person responsible for the trauma – CHECK *Up until Dec 4th, 2014.

As it may take years for the symptoms of complex PTSD to be recognised, a child’s development, including their behaviour and self-confidence, can be altered as they get older.

Adults with complex PTSD may lose their trust in people and feel separated from others.”

Feel separated from others? Yes, of course we do. We are separated by the pure fact that we do not comprehend the world in the same way as anybody else. We have been trained through trauma to never feel safe, to constantly be on high alert, to suspect people’s motives, to play-act what normal looks like to us so that we don’t give the game away and be victimised further.

Ultimately, people around us will consider us to be ‘different’ but not be able to pinpoint why. They may try to give that ‘different’ a name – think that we are stand-offish, overly protective of ourselves, a bit bolshy, or too amenable – whatever it is, people will smell ‘different’ on us and however much we are trying to blend into the world something will always make us stand out.

In reality, people who have experienced trauma experience time differently. All of the traumas are still ‘live’ in your brain and are current. I may have been only 5 or 6 or 7 when a specific thing happened but because the trauma is ‘stuck’ in time, I am emotionally still only 5 or 6 or 7 with regard to that situation.

I did go to the police about what happened to me. I was 26 and had been sexually assaulted outside my home. The lady detective I spoke to asked if anything similar had ever happened before. I took a very deep breath worrying about the can of worms I was about to open and told her yes.

In amongst giving her statements about the current attack, I started giving a statement about the years of attacks by my ‘stepmonster.’ The detective wanted to know in excruciating detail everything I could remember. 15 years solid of daily abuse in detail: what was I wearing, what was he wearing, what could I see, smell etc.

Do you remember a moment ago, that I mentioned that PTSD is caused by triggers? Just try to imagine for one moment that I, a 26 year old woman, who had only stopped being sexually abused for 15 years (that’s approximately 131,500 hours of attacks) just six years earlier and was also reeling from a current attack, was being asked to relive in intense detail all of these attacks – in order to get help. My undiagnosed PTSD was off the scale.

Three solid days of being mentally tortured by the detective asking endless questions was ended abruptly by a brief and matter of fact ‘phone call the following morning from her saying that the CPS had decided that it had all happened too long ago and that there was no proof so no guarantee of winning the case. Have a nice life.

No investigation. No nothing.

No proof?! I have spent the majority of my life behaving like someone who has been sexually abused for 15 years throughout my childhood because I was. More years sitting alone at home on my sofa too afraid to leave the house, watching or hearing a ‘phone ringing and feeling like it was a physical attack on me, no confidence to apply for jobs where at the first sign of bullying (and somehow the bullies can smell us a mile off) we will be the ones to be blamed for standing up for ourselves…and spending many ££££’s on therapy that hasn’t really made much difference but has given us somewhere (we hope will be safe) to go for 50 minutes every week.

I have flashbacks all the time (whether I am aware that that is what is happening or not. They can be triggered by a sound, a smell, a few notes of a song…anything and everything).

I have nightmares.

I hold my breath all the time because I am fearful.

I am totally dissociated  – always seeing my life from over my shoulder.

I am hyper vigilant – on the look out for signs of imminent danger. This results in being afraid to go for a walk alone, get on a bus, or an underground train or if I manage to do any of those things, to be so exhausted by the effort and adrenaline coursing through my body that exhaustion swamps me and my body aches from head to toe for days, weeks, months….

I am angry and suspicious.

I am so tired it makes me want to cry. I have never slept deeply and could wake at the sound of a feather falling. How could anyone sleep soundly when an attacker might be creeping into their room at night…?

I am constantly anxious about everything: the ‘phone ringing is the worst, an email or letter arriving, how much money I have, working, not working, staying in, going out, what I eat, losing control, fitting in, being safe, the house going up in flames, being buried alive..being killed. The list truly is endless and it’s beyond tiring to be afraid of so many things.

I live my life on a knife edge and can feel the tingling of my fingers, my skin as I use the constant supply of  adrenaline and cortisol to get me through each moment. It is slowly killing me but what can I do. The system is not set up to help people like me.

We abhor victims. Something about our perception of the word renders victims second-class. We especially hate victims who are not prepared to play the game and behave like victims.

15 years of constant abuse and there is nothing anyone can do because ‘there is no proof’ and it ‘was too long ago.’

But the news of Jimmy Saville’s vile behaviour changed all that.

Or did it?

Now we are second-class and only reporting the abuse to get compensation or because we are mad and attention seeking.

Next year I will be 50.

50.

Half a century.

That’s quite impressive.

It may be considered middle-aged to some and others may think that I am still a whippersnapper. However, to me there’s an absolute and complete horror that after living for almost 50 years on this planet, that I still carry around a ‘secret’ of which society says I should be ashamed, although the cause of which was completely and utterly outside of my control.

My name is Toula and I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor.

When I say survivor what I really mean to say is that I am only dead on the inside.

* I have written this as ultimately I would like to tell my story. I was asked years ago to write about my life by an agent but was not in the right frame of mind to do it justice. At some time in the future, I hope to be able to have the strength to put the good, bad and ugly down on paper so that those who can benefit from my experiences have the opportunity.

Related posts:

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/death-is-not-the-end/

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/no-such-luck/

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/dont-call-me/

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/definitely-a-date-to-remember/

 

 

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What Makes Us, Us?

Large Baby Toula pic

As a child at school, I often spent much of my time daydreaming and looking out of the window whilst a teacher (possibly Mrs Gilhooley) warbled on about things that I didn’t think would ever be relevant to me or my life. I was right. One of the most common trains of thought I had was that although the 30 of us girls in the class had this experience in common, what effect would all the different experiences in our lives lead us to…and is it those things that make the difference?

I am now grown and for the most part have had an interesting and somewhat out of the ordinary life, filled with many exciting experiences and people and still wonder what it is that made me, me.

Perhaps there are clues amongst these 10 little known facts about me.

What do you think – what makes us, us?

1. Although I have been known as ‘Toula’ my entire life, I recently discovered during a conversation with my mother that my given name is actually ‘Fotini.’

2. It wasn’t until I was 36 that I met my father. I discovered at this time that he had lived only a mile or so away from me throughout my entire childhood.

3. 4 days after meeting my father, he was extremely unwell so I took him to the hospital, only to hear the doctor give him 3 weeks to live.

4. My mother has dementia and Alzheimer’s so her oldest memories are easier to access than recent ones. I am finding out more about her now than I ever have before, like she was brought up in an orphanage.

5. The first ‘famous’ person I ever met was the Spurs goalkeeper Pat Jennings. I was 7 and had no idea who he was.

6. The most amazing ‘famous’ person moment I have ever had was when Audrey Hepburn personally returned my call and in that unmistakable voice said,”Hello, Toula darling – it’s Audrey here.”

7. The book(s) that most shaped my personality as a child were the What Katie Did and What Katie Did Next novels written by Sarah Chauncey Woodley and Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter. I first read them as a 3 or 4 year old and have regularly read them ever since. *

8. As a 12 year old, I won a coveted Blue Peter badge for writing a screenplay for an episode of ‘Grange Hill.’

9. Ten years later, I won a computer in a women’s magazine ‘Write A Blockbuster’ competition with something I hurriedly composed a few hours before the deadline called ‘The Adoption Option.’

10. I am convinced that if I were ever to be regressed I would discover that in a previous life I had lived in a Charles Dickens novel.

[*affiliate links]

Anything but writing….

Every single blog about marketing yourself as an author says to write your own blog. “Let people know all about the real you and you will soon build up a following.” That sounds marvellous and easy enough but nowhere do those blogs say how difficult that actually is to do.

Most of you don’t know me from Adam. I don’t even know who Adam is, which possibly makes me even less interesting that you already suspected BUT here’s the thing, I have friends who do find me interesting and oftentimes quite amusing. I’m not going to try to be clever or funny – hopefully over time you will begin to learn who I am by my writing but for now, I am just going to talk about things that strike me in one way or another.

Firstly, and I am not sure that everyone will agree with me but yesterday I was baffled by the fact that Andy Murray’s Mrs, having given birth THREE days earlier, was deemed ‘Breaking News.’ Happy and positive news, especially for those who are interested (ahem) in such matters but breaking news, no?

During those three days BIG things had happened: a devastating earthquake had hit Taiwan and killed and injured hundreds, two trains had crashed head on in Germany…..and so on.

So, it got me thinking.

What has happened to us, if anything at all, that real and important news is pushed aside to make way for news about celebrities and such like? Is that really what people want to read about? Is there some kind of comfort in glossing over the heartache and painful news and revelling in the lightweight happenings of the day. Either way, for the majority of readers neither (the good, nor the bad news on a daily basis) will actually touch our lives in any significant way (thank goodness).

Secondly and totally unconnected to that, I am finding it hard to actually write my books. It wasn’t like that before – they seemed to write themselves – but now I feel a pressure that wasn’t there and so instead am distracting myself with other tasks that I can pretend are worthwhile, like: the kitchen is spotless and everything has been put away/ laundry is washed (not sure my writer’s block is enough to resort to ironing it) and commenting on Humans of Bombay on Facebook (I even got the top comment on a post today – that has never happened before). So, today has sort of been a successful writing day – even though it was only with a random comment! I have been rewarded for typing some words and in normal circumstances would now be able to flop guilt-free on the sofa and watch Psychic Detectives but not today.

Today I am a grown up and acknowledge that I have complete control over my actions. Therefore, I WILL before the end of the day, have written at least 1,000 words of a book (the prequel or the sequel to Mortal End: A Simmering Pit of Jiggery Pokery), although I will be keeping those words to myself, so you will just have to trust me that they exist.

A friend (a very successful author and screenplay writer) once gave me the best piece of advice about writing, which was to keep the story to yourself until you are ready to tell it (i.e. it’s all written down and ready to go) because, like with any form of storytelling, the reward is in the response from your audience. Once you have had your hungry ego fed the urge to tell the story has been satisfied.

Talking of which, it is okay to take time away from writing to eat, right? Just feeling a little peckish…..

 

RIP Margaret Forster

I am incredibly saddened by the death of one of my favourite authors, Margaret Forster.

What an incredible writer with a talent to see right into the heart of her characters, many of which were real life people, including her own family.

In fact, one of the books I have read over and over is her ‘Lady’s Maid,’ the story of the poet Elizabeth Barratt Browning told through the eyes of her maid. Storytelling at it’s absolute finest.

Rest In Peace Margaret Forster.

Lady’s Maid – Margaret Forster