I grew up on an inner city housing estate and, after my dad left when I was 18 months old, my childhood was very unstable.
I had a chronic pain condition from a young age and that, combined with circumstances at home, meant that, even though I loved learning, I couldn’t concentrate at school. I left school at 16 with two GCSEs and managed to get a job at a riding school – studying for an NVQ.
The situation got worse at home, and I was taken in for a year by a family who saw that I was neglected.
People didn’t know what to do or how to help me and, although the family tried their best, they didn’t engage with social services or gain me access to housing or further support.
I was trying to get to the bottom of the extreme pain that I was living with, but all the tests were inconclusive. I completed my NVQ L2 and got a new job at a livery yard. The family were struggling to drive me to the new place every day and I was at risk of having to hand in my notice.
The owner was a 57-year-old man and his young wife, and they offered me a room at the farm. At first, he and his wife were kind but I did not realise that I was being groomed. When the abuse – both sexual and physical started – I was trapped there with no or little wages and at the mercy of what he wanted to do to me.
The sad fact about abuse and exploitation is that you come to believe that this is what you deserve, and I truly thought that we were in a relationship – albeit one that caused me physical pain.
There were times when I should have got help but he was a wealthy and renowned figure and everybody around us turned a blind eye.
He sent me to the GP – insisting that I went on the pill – and I could tell in her eyes that she knew something was wrong, but I still didn’t tell her how old my ‘boyfriend’ was. Experiencing pain in relationships was very normal to me so I thought that this was just what life was like.
During all of this, I was still trying to get to the bottom of why I was in constant pain, and I found an independent therapist (long before I even knew that SV2 existed) who took a neurological approach and it started to work. He was kind to me, and this gave me the courage to get away from my abuser.
I lived with my auntie for a while until my therapist invited me to live with him. Despite this being a breach of the therapist/patient code of conduct, we spent nine years together. Although it was another relationship with a power imbalance, it was the only time in my life that I felt genuine recovery and progress out of pain.
Over the years, I became far more self-aware and started reading more about the effects of trauma on pain which made total sense.
I decided that I had to leave if I was going to put my life back together and got a part time job. It was however a really hard time as, with no references, money, or family support, I became homeless. I was fortunate to find a room to rent and the man who owned it didn’t need a deposit or references and I could pay weekly from my wages.
Things started to look up when I got a permanent job at Boots which meant I could pay my rent, bills and food.
One day I saw an advert on TV saying that sex with someone who doesn’t want it is rape and I had a terrifying realisation. The concept of consent had never even crossed my mind. I was used to having no choice, no voice and no control over my life. The idea that I did have a choice was totally alien to me and my understanding of reality had been completely distorted by adults who should have protected me.
I found out about SV2 and started seeing a very experienced counsellor who I got on well with. I was having horrible night terrors as my brain was trying to figure things out and I was still experiencing relapses in my pain condition.
Counselling and therapy can be uncomfortable as it’s not a sticking plaster – you need to dig deep to get to the root of what has happened. My SV2 counsellor has really helped to ground me and process my thoughts. She has been my anchor and I wouldn’t be where I am without her.
My support through SV2 empowered me to see things more clearly and, alongside their services, I have benefited from somatic based therapies which have re-trained my brain and body and I am now pain free.
I did contact the police a few years ago. Even though my abuser is now dead, I wanted my experiences to be put on record in case anybody else came forward.
My life is very different today.
Therapy helped me realise just what a healthy relationship is, and I now have a caring partner in my life. I have wonderful friends and colleagues at work, and I have been promoted to store manager.
I am part of a supportive community at my local church and my faith has helped me to move forward with my life.
I also went back to college to study part time where I gained GCSE’s and then a degree in Equine Science. I am now doing a Veterinary research degree and then I am considering going on to do a PhD.
My childhood made me vulnerable to exploitation and unfortunately this can be repeated over generations, but I am determined that this is the end of such behaviour in my family, and I can put the demons to rest.
I have also questioned over the years why this happened and I am particularly concerned that we, as a society, do not question people in power who many aspire to be.
My abuser recognised that I was vulnerable and took advantage of that. It is far easier to victim blame a scruffy young girl than it is to call out an abuser – even if they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
He was a predator – addicted to the control and abuse that he meted out – knowing that he would not be stopped.
Far too many people ignored the red flags and probably thought that I was lucky to have an older man ‘looking after’ me. I built up a shield and people became blind to what was behind it.
I hope that my story will encourage others to see that they don’t have to be defined by what has happened to them and give up on life.
As psychotherapist Peter Levine says: ‘Trauma is a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence’.