It Feels Like This, Eddie!


As I was driving home earlier, Sheila Fogerty and Eddie Mair on LBC were asking what it feels like to be adult survivors of sexual abuse including during childhood. This comes after the guilty verdict of Harvey Weinstein that was announced yesterday. Another day, another story of abuse – another trigger that is hard to avoid when you exist in this modern world where televisions, radios and newspapers are abundant.

Well, Sheila and Eddie – this is how it feels:

In many ways I feel worse now at the age of 52 than I did as a child. My fears are bigger and all encompassing. Rather than just being afraid of the step-monster, I am afraid of all monsters including the ones that might be under, on top of and in my bed, out in the street, next to me on the bus, across from me in an office. As a survivor, monsters are literally eveywhere.

My husband is a loving and gentle gentleman. The fear is still there because it is now embedded in every cell in my body and in every beat of my heart.

I dissociate. I didn’t know that that was what I was doing until one of my many therapists explained that’s what it was. How could I possibly know when I was a tiny girl that watching myself from the outside, doing every day things like crossing a road or walking down the street was not what everyone else did and was specifically only what I did and what I still do.

It’s exhausting to be hypervigilant; to be so aware and so suspicious of your surroundings every moment of every day – and night – that you can never relax. Not for a moment because you know that if and when you do – something is out there waiting to get you and for some of us, it does. Again and again.

At 52, I now know that my life has definitely not played out the way I hoped and dreamed. My freedom of choice was cruelly snatched away from me with my innocence. I was 5 when the abuse started. It went on for 15 years in my own home. There was no escape. The result of that abuse was that in order to keep myself as safe as was possible I avoided situations that I thought would exacerbate my ‘issues.’ Despite a genius IQ and ability, I effectively stopped ‘learning’ at the age of 16, when the girls’ school I went to became a mixed 6th Form.

Dreams of going to University and training for a career was not something that I felt I could safely pursue. I did not want to be around an abundance of hormonal, possibly drunk/ drugged frisky teenage boys for a further 3 or 4 years, for obvious reasons.

I am not remotely the woman I could have been without the ‘interference.’ My thoughts, actions and reactions to everyone and everything are all tainted by the abuse. I’m sure people think that I am odd.

At 52, I have also learned that no amount of ‘therapy’ – (we’ll get back to that as a subject shortly) – will change anything fundamentally. Everyone throws the word at you so that if you don’t have therapy, or you are still not quite ‘right,’ after years of it, you feel as though it is something that you are responsible for. You didn’t do it properly – otherwise you would be fine. It’s assumed to be the fix. It is not. Nothing is.

It was in my 30’s, when seeing an acupuncturist from Singapore (in Kentish Town), that my eyes were opened and the hope dashed from beneath me. The lady was lovely and fun. She was also wise and honest. As part of my assessment for treatment, I laughingly asked whether she could stick a ‘pin’ in me somewhere that would fix how I felt about my childhood trauma. She very kindly explained that nothing could ‘fix’ that; the horrors that I had endured, survived and carried with me were part of who I was, my make up. Nothing could take them away – as much as nothing can take away any of our formative experiences and memories.

“It happened,” she explained. Nothing anyone does can reverse that. I was like an amputee asking for acupuncture to regrow a limb that had been removed.

At the age of 52, Sheila and Eddie, as the adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have decades more of the abuse within me. I have severe chronic PTSD – a common occurrance for someone like me – which means that I don’t experience time in the same way that either of you, or the rest of the world do.

The trauma that happened at the age of 5, 6, 7 or 8 – perhaps at 9, 10, 11, or 12 – maybe at 13, 14, 15 or16 and even at 17, 18, 19 and 20 – is stuck in my brain (hence the PTSD) and is continually triggered, so that although now middle-aged, at any point on any day emotionally I can and do feel like I did at any of those ages, as I relive the terror and revulsion of what was happening to me by the simplest of triggers – a sound, a smell, a sight etc.

So, it didn’t just happen to me ‘back then,’ for 15 long years of my young life but has continued to happen to me every day since then.

You asked on your show, “what happened when you told someone of the abuse?”

This is what happened to me when, rather than me tell the person, they boldly asked me what was going on. I was 14. I hadn’t said a word to anyone (other than my foster brother, who was 4 years older than me, when I was 5 and the abuse had just started).

This woman – the mother of my friend at the time – in front of her daughter and her husband asked me the question a few minutes after I stepped into their car, as they picked me up from home. She said and I quote, “what’s going on in there?”

I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. I was completely unprepared and afraid of what catastrophe my answer would start. I needn’t have worried – I should have just run for my life. Despite asking me very personal questions about the abuse, encouraging me to let out my feelings and pushing me to cry and fall apart, she/ they took me back to that home and the horrors therein for the next 6 years, and did nothing at all to actually help me.

They were generous, extremely so at times, but having opened the Pandora’s box that I had kept so carefully shut, up until then, did nothing to keep me safe but very much dug deep into my brain every time I saw them – which at that time was very often – to bring it and all of my feelings up each and every time. This went on for years.

Looking back, now I am 52, I feel anger and hurt that there was absolutely no compassion at all for my situation – my circumstances were used, I now feel – as a way of manipulating me, like a puppet on a string as the woman’s project. No sane adult who knew that a child in their home, in their lives, in their arms was enduring such ongoing abuse and making me vulnerable and fragile by constantly encouraging me to talk about it could possibly think that taking me back to the abuse for the following years was a good idea. Surely, that’s even more abusive?

The daughter was younger than me but not by much and was extremely precocious and emotionally mature for her age, or so I thought. Again, looking back, it seems not so much. When going out I would try to hide myself by wearing shapeless or more masculine clothes (it was the 80s, so I was not alone in this), whilst my ‘friend’ would wear barely there tutus, stockings and crazy heels. She was by this point only 14 and would laugh at my clothing, referring to me being in a ‘kaftan.’ I also laughed at this time, not realising that the joke was on me. There was absolutely no understanding of why I dressed that way – and why I felt responsible for keeping her safe – especially when she was literally parading around like a paedophile’s wet dream.

Over the years, the pearls of wisdom from this ‘friend’ were that I should have children to take my mind off ‘it’ and wondering why when I was 16 I didn’t do anything to stop the abuse. As I sit here typing this, the feeling of sickness in my stomach remembering these conversations and total lack of understanding is almost making me gag with the hurt, disappointment and anger that I should have expressed then and there. BUT should doesn’t exist and I was still that same little abused girl being abused further by these people who up until recently I believed to be my saviours and the family I chose. How wrong could I have been?

So getting back to therapy, as I promised I would do earlier. It doesn’t really help in the long term – as explained by my conversation with the acupuncturist – but there are times when it can take the edge off making day to day survival more possible. If they get it right.

My therapy started in my 20s. The aforementioned woman who forced me to talk about the abuse – whilst it was still happening – bought me 5 sessions for my 21st birthday. The therapist was awful and told me that she felt sorry for my boyfriend of the time when I was trying to explain how I felt in the relationship…due to the 15 years of abuse I had suffered that had only just stopped a year earlier – only because I had removed myself.

The next therapy was even worse. 4 years of NHS psychotherapy with a woman who sat opposite me week in and week out whilst I relived every moment of horror in the hope that she would do something that would make it go away. She did not. It did not and years later when I self-diagnosed as having PTSD – I realised that I had spent 4 years being forced to relive and trigger every trauma over and over, that had ever happened to me…and that a supposedly trained professional had at no time considered or recognised that I had severe chronic PTSD and that the worst thing that could possibly happen to someone with PTSD, would be exactly what she was making me do on a weekly basis in that little room off the Portobello Road.

More therapists came and went. No help.

At the age of 34 I worked out that I had the symptoms of PTSD by chance after reading a couple of paragraphs about it. I then researched appropriate treatment for it and discovered EMDR. I went to my GP and requested that I be referred for the treatment and she told me to go and get myself officially diagnosed before she would send the letter. I did. I found the most qualified person I could – a forensic psychiatrist – who not only said that I definitely had c-PTSD but that she was astonished that I had survived what I had, as most people in similar circumstances committed suicide, or died through taking drugs or alcohol.

I had 12 sessions of EMDR and felt much better but was not ‘cured,’ as discussed above.

A few years later I asked to be referred again and waited a full year for 6 sessions that did nothing. The therapist agreed and said that she would try to get me more sessions. A year to the week later, I got a letter from her offering me one more session. I didn’t bother. Who would? Therapy is not for the fainthearted so why churn it all up for one session that would do nothing?

More therapy ensued over the years. No real help as the therapists and treatment were not up to the job.

In 2015, after the stepmonster passed away, my husband and I gave up our lives to care for my mother who has dementia and Alzheimer’s; a mother who never looked after me.

She is a massive trigger. We live in her home where ‘he’ lived; another massive trigger.

Life for the most part is unbearable and yet despite doing everything I can to remain alive and well, it is unspeakably hard. What happened to me in real time as a child, as a teenager and as a young woman, continues to happen to me daily via triggers and flashbacks and nightly through nightmares. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify the constant struggle.

I haven’t been able to work long stretches of time for most of my life and so I am not eligible for benefits. I am also not eligible for benefits that are not based on contributions – PIP, for example – as an untrained assessor decided that I was not anxious enough when interviewing me.

My levels of anxiety are off the scale (as assessed by trained psychiatrists). Children who are abused more often than not do not speak up or allow anyone to see the truth as a survival mechanism. We believe that we will be blamed for everything that has befallen us and that we will be responsible for what we imagine to be uncontrollable and horrendous consequences thereafter.

In November 2018, I saw my GP (in Camden) and explained that I could barely function because of my c-PTSD and I was referred for therapy. In Feb 2019, I was seen for a 2 hour assessment and it was confirmed again that I have c-PTSD, anxiety, depression, hypervigilance etc.

In July 2019, I was again assessed by the same local authority who confirmed the above…again and was told that in order to have EMDR – the therapy that eventually works – I would have to attend group therapy first (a year before the EMDR , which is a 2 year wait). Being so traumatised, the thought of being in a room with other traumatised people is akin to me having a communal cervical smear – out of the question for all of the abvious reasons. I was told that unless I agreed my name would be crossed off the wait list and it was.

We are barely scraping by – scraping being the operative word.

I am 52 and would love to know what it is like to be carefree and truly happy; not happy that ends somewhere in my solar plexus when I try to take in a deep breath.

I am exhausted by this life and yet I go on. From the outside you would have no idea of what I am carrying. I have achieved so much and because people are so ignorant of childhood sexual abuse, do not appear to be a victim based on how I look and how I carry myself. None of this was caused by me. It was inflicted upon me in the same way no one invites a burglar into their home, or a pigeon to crap on you from a great height.

This only skims the surface of what it is like to be an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It’s an utter and neverending hellish existance that we cannot escape.

On a day when minding my own business, the papers, TV screens and and radios everywhere currently have Harvey Weinstein’s ugly face/ name plastered across them; a man whose looks and energy are eerily similar to the ‘stepmonster,’ I hear the question, ‘what’s it like to be an adult childhood sexual abuse survivor,’ over and over again. I feel like there is nowhere safe to escape to.

It feels uncomfortably like what we have all suffered has oddly become a form of entertainment disguised as news – as nothing significant seems to have changed for us, despite the constant headlines, promises and chatter that has been going on for years, including from us answering that very question.

My question to you is: now that you have your answer, what are you going to do to help us? God knows we need people like you to highlight the absolute lack of support.

Click this link if you really want to know what it’s like to be a survivor: