Only Dead On The Inside


Next year I will be 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.


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. #MeToo #TimesUp

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8 thoughts on “Only Dead On The Inside

  1. I so hope you are able to find a therapist that is compatible with you. Sometimes, it takes trying out a few to find the right one. I was lucky to find a match with my first try. Healing takes forever, but even a tiny bit of healing changes your life. I wish you the best:)


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