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Mine should have been a happy childhood, and in so many ways it was. I had, and continue to have, two amazing parents who have always encouraged my brother and me to chase our dreams until we catch them. The thing that has periodically ripped my family apart over the last twenty-three years came from outside. It came in the shape of a kindly older man who lived with his wife and grown up son in a house next door to our family. It did not matter that our parents had always done everything they could think of to ensure that we were safe. We were in danger as soon as we moved to that house.

I had not even started school when I eventually told my mum about the ‘secret’ I had, and seven when I finally spoke about what had happened. It was at this point that my brother told my parents he had also been abused. He has rarely talked about it since. In my mid teens I told mum that I had been abused by both the father and son at the same time; that they had passed me between them like a gift to each other.

I spent much of my teens wanting to die and I periodically devised suicide plans for years. These plans never came to fruition and I began to binge eat as well. As a result I have been fat for over twelve years. Being fat was meant to be a way to shield myself from the world, especially men. I could hide inside the doughy mass I had created and be safe; but it didn’t work like that.

I fell in love when I was seventeen. He had beautiful big brown eyes, floppy dark hair and a lovely body that I wanted to devour. He knew about the abuse, and my fear of getting too close to anyone and he told me he loved me all the same.

I was hooked.

The first time we had sex the flashbacks came in waves. I kept my mouth shut, my eyes screwed up, and my mind as blank as I could make it. Afterwards I told him it had felt lovely and he held me to him. I was willing to trade all the flashbacks in the world for that feeling of closeness.

The next time, we were both a little bit drunk and there was an urgency about his touching that I was not ready for. I told him that it didn’t feel right but he wasn’t listening. Eventually I said ‘yes’ because I could not cope with the implications of saying anything else. Again, he held me afterwards but the numbness did not leave. Everything was empty and that love I felt for him vanished as quickly as it had arrived. Two weeks later we split up and a few nights after that I had my first one night stand with a man I knew from the pub.

Thereafter all I experienced was a total blanking off from my mind. It started at kissing and then it would be almost like I fainted and I’d wake up having sex with someone I hardly knew and I didn’t have a clue how I had got into that situation. I was too empty to say anything, let alone tell them to stop. I stumbled from one man to the next hooked on the make-believe closeness that followed. It was a pattern I started at seventeen and I didn’t stop for many years. The numbness began with sex but eventually the blankness seeped into almost everything I did.

I couldn’t say how many men I have slept with. It is not that the number is extraordinarily high but more that I don’t want to remember. What I can say is that the majority of those men had my body but never got anywhere near my mind. There were a few that crept under the radar and that was more painful each time it happened. For those men, I would do anything just to spend some time with them.

One such man would sometimes ring me at three in the morning after a night out. I would crawl out of bed and trot round to his house just for the cuddle afterwards. I convinced myself that if I were good at sex then they would want to be with me. Every time was a performance and I got quite good at it. It was the only time I felt confident. All my life I had never felt that I truly fitted in anywhere and sex made me comfortable because I knew the rules. I knew how to play the game and I was convinced I was happy playing it.

I got into a very sexually abusive relationship. Its boundaries were fairly non-existent and I got into a cycle of competing with myself to see how far I would let it go. I should have realised things had gone a little too far when he ‘jokingly’ told me about a man he vaguely knew of who would pay me for sex. The problem was that I had to think of reasons to say no. Nothing could touch me, nobody could get close to me and my friends were more than a little worried.

Who was this person I had become? Why did I believe that there was an inherent badness inside me that everyone would eventually discover? Why did I feel so disconnected from everything? Why was I so numb?

I started going to Lifecentre and from the very beginning I was determined that I would finally get to the core of all these things that were controlling my life. I had been in counselling before and it was hard to go back. At first I felt ashamed because I still couldn’t get a handle on it all after all these years. I didn’t want to tell my mum and dad but there was no way I could keep it from them. I’m absolutely sure that it was torture for them to know how much pain I was going through but throughout, they were everything I needed them to be.

It was agonising to talk about things I had never really vocalised. All my life I have felt words stick in my throat as if they were making me suffocate. I would try so hard to make the words leave my mouth but I lost the air from my body and I would stay silent although I’d be raging inside. I crammed everything under the rug. If I didn’t want to feel something then I just didn’t. Simple. I needed to learn how to feel connected to myself. I had to teach myself to talk.

It was hard at first to face the actual abuse, the circumstances, and the mechanics of it. My anger was voluminous. It dropped out of me with a thud, compacted and waiting to spring open. How I hated that little girl. Her general presence reminded me of all that had happened and I detested her for it. I wanted to pretend she had never existed. If she didn’t exist then the abuse had never happened and I hadn’t ruined my life as a result.

The most difficult part was looking at the way I had reacted to the abuse as an adult; the dangerous, self-destructive things I had done and continued to do. There was a period of time when I was petrified of what I would do next. I had let my body become a virtual amusement park and most people could get a free ride if they felt so inclined. The offer of being paid for sex by a person who was supposed to care about me had confirmed all my deepest self-loathing. To this day I don’t really know what stopped me saying yes. Maybe I knew that once I had crossed that invisible line, I would never be able to get back to me. Whoever ‘me’ was.

Slowly, slowly things began to become a little clearer. I gradually stopped going out drinking at weekends and began to realise that time spent with my close friends was the balm I needed. A long while ago a friend had told me that sex with random men would not get me the love and acceptance I craved because all the love and acceptance I wanted was already there with my friends. It took me months to realise that she was right.

When I did start venturing out again I found it really hard to adjust. I was nervous and felt a step behind everything that was going on. I was finding it hard to ‘fit into’ me. All my confidence had been based on a caricature of the real me and I did not know how to make the new me comfortable and relaxed when in a crowd. It was made even harder sometimes because I thought people were watching me, waiting for me to ‘fall off the wagon’ and take someone home for the night. In reality that was my fear, not that of my friends.

Three months on and I’m seeing someone. It is still early days and I have no idea how it will develop. However I do know that he is a very kind and gentle person who, when he looks at me, makes me feel like the most desired woman on the earth.

We are slowly getting to know each other and his hugs get tighter and his kisses more gentle. Each time we have sex every last piece of me is with him and I am wholly there. Sometimes there are hairy moments when my insecurities come up and smack us both in the face but we know that it will pass if we keep talking. I think that even if it all ends tomorrow, I will have learnt some very special things.

In each counselling session I looked inside myself and dragged everything out for close inspection. Only when every last bit of me had been cleaned and dusted off was I able to put myself back together again. Without this I would never have been able to accept that I’m both worth knowing and deserve the friends and family I have. That being me is more than fine. Last week I joined the gym and as a result I’m filled with fear and excitement in equal measures. Losing weight is the final thing I need to do; I have no reason to hide any more.


If reading this client’s story has triggered challenges in your own sex life, you may find the following book helpful: ‘Breaking Free: Help for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse’ by Carolyn Ainscough and Kay Toon. One of our clients wrote: “This is a brilliant, easy to read, self help book that I personally found invaluable both as a survivor and as a therapist.”

View this book on Amazon

If you would like professional support for any sexual issues, you can request that your GP refers you for some psychosexual therapy.

If you are local to us at Lifecentre, you can receive this at the Fletcher Unit at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester. They have no geographical boundary on clients they will see. You can either get a GP to refer you or can self-refer by phoning 01243 831607. To find a private psychosexual therapist anywhere in the UK visit or call 02085 432707.